Buying and repairing vintage UK pens

It seems my long strange trip into the world of fountain pens has led me to acquire a fairly large number of vintage English pens – Conway Stewart, Onoto, and Mabie Todd Swan, for the most part.  Virtually  all of the UK vendors, etc… that I have dealt with have been exceptional and in this little bit of rambling, I would like to share my experiences with them.


The Ebay seller stylophylist is Steve Hull has been selling off some beautiful Conway Stewart and other pens for some time now as well as parts lots on occasion.  Steve is a perfect gentleman who is exceptionally knowledgeable about CS, Onoto and other UK pens.  He has given me some tremendous advice and assistance, including recommending Brian Toynton (below) as a great repairer of UK vintage pens, among others.  Steve is very kind in that he always responds to my questions on a timely basis (no matter how dumb they may be) and shares his advice and experience freely.

Steve has co-written a number of books, including Onoto Pen Repair, the most recent of which is The Neptune Pen – A history of Burge, Warren and Ridgley.  I have a copy and it really is terrific.  Steve has been working on a new book, that is to be published very soon, on Conway Stewart that will be a must have for any CS enthusiast (like me – I have already started bugging him about where and when I can get my copy) and most likely of interest to any and all pen collectors.  The forthcoming book is The History of Conway Stewart:1905-2005, due for launch at London Pen Show, October 3rd 2010.

Funny thing though, Steve does not use any of his pens, rather he finds a Bic Cristal a great writer! Apparently Steve has no interest in writing – it’s really the history of the things that appeal to him!  Wow – all those fabulous pens, the temptation, etc…  Takes a stronger man than I am (no comments please!):~)!!

Penworkshop (UK)

Paul Baker sells pens and a great selection of tools, materials and kits on Ebay (penworkshop) and through the Penworkshop (UK).  I bought this beautiful vintage Onoto 1202 MINOR “brickwork” Fountain Pen, ca. 1938, on Ebay from Paul.  The picture below from Paul shows what a beauty it is but can’t fully capture its beauty.

He was exceptional to deal with and answered my questions promptly.  Paul was also kind enough to remind me how to fill Onoto piston fillers:

“To fill it you just unscrew the end and pull out the piston. Place the nib and half the section in the ink and then gently close the piston and turn the thread.  If there have been lots of bubbles in the ink you can be sure that the pen is full.
There is no need to test it by pulling out the piston again because this creates a vacuum which can break the back seal.

As I said, he also sells through his website and I have had reports of LPC members having similar positive experiences with him.  Make sure that you check out his website regularly as he is constantly adding new pens.

Paul and I have also been exchanging emails and I would like to share a great pen story that he passed along to me.

“Isn’t pen collecting wonderful – you never know what interesting item you will unearth next. This week I popped into an auction at Woburn and picked up the beauty which I have attached. It’s a fantastic sized pen measuring over 5 and a half ins closed. There is no maker’s name of any sort and I will have to do some investigating. 14ct gold Warranted nib. There is an imprint – James McLean 12 Woodside Terrace Glasgow 3 with the phone no Douglas 2420 on the cap top.
A couple of minutes on the internet reveals James McLean to be a high class bookmaker operating from the Woodside Terrace address in the 1920s. Was even able to confirm the Douglas phone number was his.  These beautiful pens were obviously given to his best clients. You had to have bank references to open an account with him. Wonderful piece of social history.  I may be a pen dealer but I love this sort of thing.  The maker could be just about anyone – Wateman? Onoto?  I have some pretty knowledgeable dealer friends who will probably be able to point me in the right direction on this.”


Nope, not the pen but redripple52 (Deb S.), another terrific seller on Ebay who I was fortunate to deal with when I bought this Mabie Todd Swan 3260 with a semi-flexible broad nib (one of her great pictures from Ebay showing my pen is below).

I also exchanged several emails with Deb and one of the topics was the restoration of vintage pens, and in particular, whether to reset a nib.  Her very good advice was the following:

“Over the years I have learned to be very conservative in restoration, but checking tine alignment and making any necessary adjustment is something I do routinely as part of the process of refurbishment and write testing.

Most old pens have developed a variation between the axis of the feed and that of the nib from years of use by one hand.  If the ink flows freely, I leave well alone.  It’s only if the nib is radically misaligned with the feed, or if has been pushed in or pulled out too far that I will consider knocking out the nib and feed.  Realigning a nib and feed in a section to
which they have settled for sixty years or more is no trivial matter.  Many do it but few make an improvement thereby.  After the section pliers, the nib block must be the greatest spoiler of old pens there is (emphasis added by editor). I would caution you to think twice about having the nib reset, but it is your pen and you must do as you think best.”


Brian Toynton sells fine vintage pens including Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Onoto and a number of less well known makes through Penamie.  While I have not purchased any pens from Brian, I was recommended to him for service of a number of leverless Mabie Todd Swans and a Swan eyedropper with an overfeed that needed to be reset. Brian was prompt in responding to emails and repaired the pens quickly for a very reasonable cost.  Brian can be reached through Penamie or by emailing him at

How Many Ways Are There to Define Mint?

Or perhaps, more accurately, how many ways should “mint” be defined?  The answer to the first question seems to be an infinite number while the answer to the second (and correct question) is one.

It’s really quite simple.  “Mint” when used as an adjective to describe something offered for sale, like a pen, means “new”, “unused”, and “perfect condition”.  Mint means that  the pen has never had a drop of ink in it, through it or on it.  It might have been tested with water to make sure that it operates properly but no ink.

Just take a look on a few pen discussion boards in the “for sale” section and you will see that it is obviously not so simple.  People love to use the word (almost as much as “rare”, but that’s another topic for another day!) to get your attention and hopefully buy the pen(s) that they are trying to sell.  Once they have your attention, that’s when the meaning gets modified (read: twisted) to suit their particular circumstances.  When I say “modify” what I really mean is that’s when they pull out the weasel words and thus begins the slippery slope.  You know what I am talking about – “mint but its been dipped … a few times” or “mint but its had just a few cartridges (or converters) run through it”. 

The best ones, of course, come from the wild west of capitalism, Ebay.  In fact, those are the ones that inspired me (read: pi$$ed me off) to write this.  Here is one of the latest (after I have corrected the spelling and grammar) – “MINT CONDITION…(please note I use the word “MINT” meaning that in my opinion it is excellent and shows little usage wear, if it wasn’t for the slight split in the cap …  If you look at the picture of the cap by the split it maybe missing a very thin gold band as well…”.  The vendor seems to think that if they clearly explain THEIR definition of “mint” or provide what they think is full and fair disclosure, they have absolved themselves of their irresponsible use of the word to begin with.  C’mon folks, get with it!

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”


“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”

Although I occasionally chuckle at some of these descriptions that are so off the wall, I am so frustrated by the time they have wasted by getting me to look at an advertisement that is false.  When I clicked on their link (or whatever) and read their ad, I was interesting in reading about and possibly buying a mint pen, not one that has been used as a tester by their entire family and is now missing a few parts, has a few scratches, bent nib, etc…

You get the picture.  We’ll tackle “rare” another day!