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Mabie, Todd & Co.

This is another company whose history predates the fountain pen itself, and the various sub-components which came together to create Mabie, Todd & Co. were working on dip pens as early as the 1843.  The company itself formed in 1869, and under the banner of Mabie, Todd & Bard (the last appearing in 1873 and disappearing in the early 20th century) produced their first effort at a fountain pen in 1878.  Note that this is six years before the Waterman feed came upon the world, which suggests that it was probably not an entirely mess-free pen.

1884 was something of a banner year for Mabie, Todd and Bard, as they opened a branch in England and began applying the model name “Swan” to their top-line pens.  The latter would persist until well into the next century and established the company’s habit of using bird names for their models, while the former would prove an interesting exercise in corporate auto-cannibalism.  For reasons that at the moment remain obscure, the English operation flourished, while the mother house became sickly, possibly because there was simply such a swarm of pen-makers in the US that they found themselves being pushed away from the trough.  By 1915, the powerful offspring bought up all of Mabie, Todd & Co.’s operations that existed outside the US (this seems a similar story to that of the less exhalted Eclipse Company).  These operations were not insubstantial, as the company had a presence in South Africa and Australia, as well as continental Europe.  The English firm advertised itself with some justification as “The Pen of the Empire”.  All this means that the model information which is nested under this page tends to refer to the British line, which is a nice change from my usual focus on North American information.

In the US, the company carried on, producing what appear to have been increasingly low-grade pens, until the end of the 1930s; I’ve seen dates varying from 1938 to 1941 for the end of production.

While a powerful producer, the English Mabie, Todd & Co. was not a great leader in technology.  They brought out a lever filling pen in 1918, a twist-filler in 1936, and an accordion filler of sorts, the Visofil in 1938; none so late as to seem behind the times, but hardly cutting-edge. 

Although the Great Depression did not do any apparent damage to the company, the Second World War put them on the slide to destruction.  Physical destruction did indeed visit Mabie, Todd during the war, as both the head offices and the factory were bombed.  In the wake of the war, the company put out a public share offering and from 1948 was a publicly-traded company.  In 1952, a majority of shares were in the hands of the Biro Company (whose name should resonate), and Mabie, Todd & Co. became Biro-Swan.   There were a few years of low-end pens produced until the whole affair fell into the hands of Bic and was shut down by 1960.

The company name was revived in the first decade of the 21st century, but unlike the folks that revived Conklin, the reanimators behind Mabie, Todd & Co.’s recent output are very shy, and I cannot find direct evidence of them on the internet; just some sellers of reasonably firm repute stocking the things, one of which appears to be quoting from the maker’s marketing: “ The revival of Mabie, Todd & Co. today truly reflects the early vintage designs of the 1920s and ’30s which made The Mabie, Todd & Co., writing instruments such a success during the golden era of fountain pens.”  Marketing bushwah of almost crystaline purity. Update: It appears now that the revived Mabie, Todd & Co. is more or less a house brand for The Fountain Pen Hospital. I cannot discover when this relationship developed, but the output seems to have come somewhat up-market since my initial exposure to it.

Models I’ve examined:

Alphabetically By Date
  • Swan (c. 1890 – c.1950)
  • Blackbird (c. 1915 – c. 1950)
  • Swallow (Modern re-envisioning, c.2000 – c. 2010)

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