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Reviving great names of the past is very fashionable in these rootless times. If you have enough money, you can buy a new Bugatti sports car or a Maybach limousine; if you don't, you can still run out to the department store and buy a Fisher stereo or a Bulova watch.
In the pen universe, makers like Pelikan, Parker, Sheaffer, and Montblanc have issued modern products reminiscent of their older classic designs. Reviving the names of defunct companies, however, has been a bit tricker. A German firm issued high-quality pens under the legendary LeBoeuf name back in the 1990s, but neither the pens nor the promotion had much to do with the history or products of the old Massachusetts firm. These pens are now out of production, with unsold stock frequently appearing for sale on eBay.
By all appearances, however, the fate of the revived Conway Stewart firm of Plymouth in England will be a much happier one. They have not yet stepped into any such chuckholes of historical ignorance. In fact, they actively celebrate the legacy of their namesake, and aren't above a little waving of the Union Jack to go along with it.
In our last episode, we saw how Conway Stewart, one of England's foremost native penmakers, was forced to the walk the plank by the advent of disposable stick pens and the globalization of the pen business. Twenty-five or so years later, however, a group of English entrepreneurs revived the name for a line of luxurious, hand-made, and unapologetically exclusive pens.
For their first product, the folks at the new firm reissued the famous miniature Dinkie, in a variety of casein and acrylic plastic styles. The new Dinkies are offered in ballpoint pen versions, as well as a cartridge-fill fountain pen. Originally, they came packed in little leather pouches complete with authentic vintage postage stamps and coins (those would be in the gloriously old and confusing denominations of shillings and pence; no pounds or guineas or sovereigns, though).
New models have followed in succession; the model 58 is an accurate copy of the original 1950s model 58, appropriately offered in a variety of colors and finishes. The Churchill copies the early large-size Duro pen of the 1920s (including the "ringed" derby and the stepped clip). The Dandy falls between the Dinkie and 58 in size, but has more of an early-1930s appearance, as does the Duro (which is a bit larger than the 58, and is based on the mid-1930s Duros, which in turn looked a bit like Parker's "Streamlined" Duofolds).
Another very new pen in the line is the model 100, introduced in 2004 and styled after Conway's largest pen of the 1950s, but now offered in a rainbow of colors never seen in the original (which came only in black) and fitted with the new firm's first fixed piston filler. This turns out to be an apt choice for the year 2005, the 100th anniversary of the founding of Conway Stewart.
Conway Stewart has (um, 'have'?) offered a variety of commemorative pens, such as sets for Liz Windsor's (oops, "Her Royal Highness'") diamond jubilee, and for international summits like the 1998 "Group of Eight" meetings. They've managed to get their products into the hands of such notables as the aforementioned Mrs. Mountbatten, along with Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac, and Bill Clinton (no jokes please). This sort of promotion goes back many years in the pen trade, such widely publicized giveaways were intended to generate some press buzz and prestige that could be passed on to the pens sold to the grubby public. Other new C-S pens are so exotic as to be practically one-offs, including the Cracked Ice and Harlequin models, and the £10,000 hand-enameled solid-gold reproduction of the famous 'floral' model 22.
Conway Stewart uses (uh, 'use') a variety of materials for their pens, including casein, acrylic, and hard rubber ('ebonite'), as well as solid silver and gold models (chased, etched, or enamelled) for those whose pocketbooks can stand the strain. They have reproduced some of the more famous patterns of the past, such as Cracked Ice, Hatched, and Le Tigre, but have also come up with colorful new finishes like Heather and Dartmoor. Their hard rubber pens are often laser chased (a technology that Lewis Waterman could not possibly have envisioned when he first set up his mechanical chasing jigs) or offered in the classic red-black swirl pattern. Each pen is laser-etched with a company imprint and a serial number (all Conway Stewarts effectively being limited edition pens).
At first, the firm offered only cartridge/converter pens; however, they now have vintage-style filling systems (button and lever) as well as the 100's piston filler, and you can even have some of the models with any of several different fillers.
Conway-Stewart apparently outsources their nib and feed construction, possibly to Bock. This is very wise, since such a small company would find it difficult to replicate the skills and tools needed to do a decent job in this tricky area. While nowhere near as responsive and idiosyncratic as the points found on older Conway Stewarts, the modern nibs are very solid looking and smooth-writing, and tend to be rather rigid like most modern pens.
Retro is fashionable among vintage pen makers, but while many firms only claim to be following vintage designs (sometimes their own, but more often someone else's), the new Conway Stewart firm comes as close to delivering faithful recreations of its namesake's products as one could reasonably expect from a brand-new firm. They've focused on bringing back the lively colors and patterns of midcentury Conways, as well as authentic filling systems (thank you, thank you). The 18k points write well for modern hands, although I must confess that I prefer the responsive, singing 14k points of the older pens.
With street prices starting at around £200 and moving rapidly north, these pens are anything but cheap. Such lofty prices aren't part of the Conway Stewart tradition, but given the painstaking hand labor (er, 'labour'?) involved, and the fairly limited market, they're realistic. And, anyway, these kinds of prices demonstrate not so much that fountain pens have gotten expensive, but that ballpoints and rollerballs have gotten incredibly cheap and raised our price/performance expectations.
Note that some of the new Conway Stewart pens are made of casein plastic, and must therefore be kept away from prolonged soaking lest they swell up and become disfigured.
|Construction||Various (casein and acrylic plastic, hard rubber, precious metals).|