Tag Archives: mabie todd

TWSBI 580AL Pink (modified!)

This pen was bought specifically for modding, after reading several reviews from people who have successfully hacked some pretty cool nibs onto their pens. Here we go:

IMG_20170610_091159
Simple demonstrator design, very vape-looking.

Other than having the odd creaky-piston moment, my 580AL works very well, and at under £50 due to Christmas sales, it was a bargain indeed. I got mine from Bureau Direct, who managed to get it to me in a couple days despite the seasonal mail crunch.

IMG_20170610_092306
The barrel, a little colourful bit, and the nib assembly.

The stock nib is a #5 Bock, which I ordered in medium. I’m sure it’s very good and smooth like others have said, but the truth is that I never inked it up. The whole unit is made to be swappable with other Bock units, but the nib and feed are also friction-fit. So I pulled it out and stuck in a spare FPR flex nib that I’d got at their last sale, and it wrote pretty well, though I did have to deepen the ink channel just a little for the feed to keep up with the flexing.

My final aim was to house my vintage Mabie Todd nib for greater ink capacity and less mucking around with eyedroppering a fragile 100-year-old specimen. But the feed was far too long; Mabie Todd’s #2 is significantly smaller than Bock’s #5 (or Pilot’s #5 for that matter). To this end I was inspired by Leigh Reyes’s amazing post, and though she didn’t post a step-by-step or anything, she described her process enough for me to dare to replicate it. The cost of messing up a feed is the same as buying another TWSBI nib unit, so I wasn’t overly worried — plus at that point I already had experience modifying my far more expensive Pilot Custom feed!

IMG_20170610_091347
From left to right: the three nibs that have been in this pen.

From the picture above it’s easy to see how much shorter and slimmer the vintage nib is compared to the stock nib and the #5.5 FPR flex nib. As such I had to shorten the feed by about 1.5mm and shave it down so that its tip would be the same thickness as the uncut version. This was to prevent the feed touching the paper when I flexed the pen. And of course the ink channel needed more deepening and scraping out, which I did very very carefully. You have to err on the side of extreme caution, because there’s no going back once you’ve gone too far!

And I was rewarded with this beauty:

IMG_20170610_093158
Look at that flex. No pushing needed!

The demonstrator look is excellent, and easily being mistaken for a vape is hilarious. (I consider this a feature, not a bug.) It is well built for its price, and its customisability is incredible. The included wrench obviously encourages one to tinker as well!

Mabie Todd Blackbird (1930s)

There’s nothing more fun than trawling eBay and then realising you’ve got an absolute treasure when it lands in your hands.

IMG_20170407_130849
Very unassuming, until you open it up…

The Blackbird is regarded as Mabie Todd’s slightly lower-tier pen, beneath the Swan series. They come in a smaller range of designs, which, at least for someone like me, means a less bewildering time having to hunt them down. I managed to track down a date of 1933–38 for mine, which is pretty good indeed considering the condition of the pen!

IMG_20170407_131139
The imprint is still crisp, as is the chasing on the body and cap.

On the barrel it says “BLACKBIRD SELF FILLER” in the first line (see above), which is an early name for any pen that didn’t require eyedroppering or syringing ink into the barrel. This is a lever filler, and although the lever is a little rusted, the mechanism still works absolutely fine, and the sac must have been newly changed when I got it.

IMG_20170407_131712
Slight tarnishing on the lever bar.

The nib is a tiny little wonder, amazingly flexible despite its diminutive size. Made of 14k gold it is the only part of the pen that doesn’t have silver-coloured furniture and so it draws attention to itself. The stamped imprint on the nib is still crisp even though there the tiniest bit of brassing, probably from 80 years of exposure to ink.

IMG_20170407_131628
Made in England; the last line is set inside the section.

This is a rather small pen, on par with the size of the Pelikan M2xx/4xx series. It’s also rather light, though the metal lever mechanism draws the weight towards the back of the pen slightly; for me, the centre of mass rests just on the skin between my thumb and index finger, feeling perfectly balanced. The cap is a screw cap and mine opens with 2.5 turns, though this definitely varies between individual pens.

The true test of buying vintage is the moment of putting pen to paper. In this case, I was not disappointed at all! In fact, the nib was more flexible than I had hoped, judging from the photos the seller had posted. It does require a little pressure to flex, but the response is wonderfully snappy and it’s possible to get some really fine lines with high-angle writing.

IMG_20170407_132232
I cannot remember what recipe I used to mix this ink…

Mine is a rather juicy writer. I highly recommend anyone interested in vintage flex to search for these as a possible budget option to the high-profile Watermans (52/54, 42, 12) which tend to go for far higher prices online. To finish off, the Blackbird writes the word “blackbird”:

Mabie Todd Swan 2C (c. 1920)

It gets interesting here: this is (half of) the first vintage purchase I made, and it has a real flex nib. I bought this off eBay, and it came fairly cheap because of a previous owner’s personalised engravement on the cap. I didn’t mind that at all; it was really strange to realise that this was a pen used by generations of people up to a hundred years previously. It was the first time I felt like I was holding a real piece of history in a writing instrument.

I sent it to John Sorowka in Oxford, who gave mine a date of 1913–20. There are several kinds of Swan out there; the earliest were made in 1887, and there were lever fillers as early as the 1910s. But here we go:

img_20161111_164523
Vintage pen number 1; several more to come…!

A very slim pen, made of finely chased hard rubber, the cap unscrews to reveal a very interesting feature: a slim gold stalk with a little hole in it.

img_20161111_164706
It’s really quite hard to take a photo of things that are the same colour…

I have been told this is rare in Swans, and indeed I haven’t managed to find another example like it.

That’s an overfeed, and it keeps the ink flow to the nib going even when the nib is flexed hard away from the (under)feed, as below:

Hey, I tried.

The overfeed still exists today in nibs like the Sailor Emperor series, though that is not designed to deal with flex like this.

The nib itself is pleasantly fine for my taste, if slightly toothy on the upstroke. A little 12000-grit micromesh made it sufficiently smooth for reverse writing as well.

Close-up of the nib, too!

That’s a 5mm Fabriano dot grid, the same paper as I used for the Namiki Falcon review. And with all of that business going on in the section, it still remains very slim – all of these parts are delicately balanced. I had some trouble with the way the parts came together, and initially had to readjust positions so that the overfeed did not touch the paper when I flexed. And for the true test…

Writing sample with different types of cursive writing.

That’s a line thickness that varies from 0.3mm to 1.5mm easily; 1.8mm would perhaps be possible with a little pushing. But I’m not risking springing this nib! What a beautiful piece of art.

In closing, here is a complete tear-down of the pen: