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The History of Conway Stewart

The Beginning

In 1905, Mr. Frank Jarvis and Mr. Tommy Garner formed Conway Stewart & Co. Limited at 13 Paternoster Row London EC1, next to St Paul's Cathedral in London. Today, this area is known as Paternoster Square having been redeveloped after its complete destruction during the Blitz of World War II. Although there is much debate regarding the origins of the Company's name, it is believed that the name "Conway Stewart" derives from a popular vaudeville act of the day. Conway and Stewart were supposedly a comedy double act who appeared at Collins Music Hall in Islington.

Drawing from the knowledge and experience gained while working for De La Rue, Garner and Jarvis, two entrepreneurs, took a great risk in leaving their secured jobs to start a new enterprise reselling fountain pens made by other manufacturers. They concentrated their energies and invested in importing pens from the United States.

After an arduous month of persistent selling of their stock, they reaped the rewards of a rather healthy turnover of more than £13 and 9 shillings. This was a great accomplishment considering that the rent for their business premises was only five shillings a week. Even though this turnover would be pleasing to many new ventures, the strength of De La Rue in the fountain pen market made it impossible for the company to continue selling no-named fountain pens.

In the same year, De La Rue reportedly invested £50,000 in a promotion campaign for their new launch, the Onoto. However, Garner and Jarvis soon recognized there was an audience desiring good, reliable writing instruments that were also affordable. This is when Conway Stewart began to capture a market amongst the English. Jarvis and Garner developed a single aim, to produce elegant and beautiful, yet functional writing instruments - a principle that Conway Stewart holds true to this day.

The Golden Years

 


The 1920s was an excellent decade for the courageous owners. Not only did they trademark the name of the business 'Conway Stewart', but also their list of filling mechanisms available expanded to include eyedroppers, lever fillers, pump fillers and safeties. While the first of these pens were almost indistinguishable from others of that period, by 1925 Conway Stewart was coming into their own in terms of design. A trademark for the name "Dinkie" was registered in 1924, along with a patent for a new locking lever mechanism. Conway Stewart was rapidly growing in popularity and demand. So much so that they were taking away market shares from other dominant pen manufacturers.

Another introduction around this time was the use of brightly colored celluloid. In the 1920s, Conway Stewart were offering dozens of different colors in their various lines, and the customer could choose from either the simple and conservative, the bright and cheerful, or the downright flamboyant. The pens of this period were very well made, and of high quality, yet remained affordable. The wide range of models and materials allowed Conway Stewart to truly offer "something for everyone" when it came to fountain pens.

This reasonable pricing and successful marketing contributed to the success of Conway Stewart for the next decade. They invested in new premises in 1927, which became their headquarters for the next two decades. As the depression of the 1930s hit, Conway Stewart was in the enviable position of marketing pens that were considered "good value". Although this decade proved to be a low point for Conway Stewart in terms of profit, they were able to ride out the depression successfully.

Colorful plastics were soon becoming a signature for Conway Stewart. It is interesting to note that they did not designate titles for their designs. The names we recognize today have been adopted by collectors over the years. As an example, Cracked Ice and Reversed Cracked Ice, used for many of their models for over 25 years, and Tiger Eye, another favorite.

By the middle of the decade, Conway Stewart was ready to expand, and in 1935 they went public, with shares being offered to raise capital. Advertising campaigns managed to keep the name Conway Stewart in the forefront of the public mind, much the same way of advertising from Sheaffer, Parker and De La Rue.

The war years were no easier for Conway Stewart than any other manufacturer in England. However, they managed to emerge more than ready to participate in a post war boom. As the 1940s drew to an end, they were still offering the public good, reliable pens at reasonable prices. They continued to prosper accordingly. Their models were now sporting the famous diamond clip in place of the old 'ball' clip and names of their models were been phased out in favor of model numbers, except for the Dinkie.

The 1950s proved to be a continuation of the "golden age" for Conway Stewart, with many of their materials from this era being eagerly sought after today by collectors around the world. The Herringbone pattern and many versions of marbled colors are very popular today. Even more notable is the Number 22 Floral, with its flowered design set on a cream background. Today, fifty years after it's launch, there are still many discussions concerning the Floral. Was production limited due to the complexity of the material or was the market not ready to accept such an exotic plastic? Either way, whenever a mint No.22 Floral is found for sale today, there is always a demanding audience of pen collectors.

Unfortunately, the 1950s also ushered in the era of injection molding for the manufacture of pens. This led to the utilization of solid colored plastics in place of the wonderful patterned celluloids. By 1957, the Conway Stewart line was represented with pens that, while still very well made, and reliable writers, were not in the same league in terms of appearance. It was at this time that the first ballpoint pens were offered by Conway Stewart.

The End of an Era

The 1950s provided the last of the great Conway Stewart models. The company began to stagnate through the 1960s as the market turned relentlessly towards the disposable ballpoint. Conway Stewart persevered in trying to keep up with the market trends with their ball pen and also by launching the 106, a cartridge pen mounted with a semi-hooded nib. In the 1960's the company was sold and relocated to Wales, where the last pen rolled of their production floor in 1975.

Following a significant investment in research and development, a new era began with a focus on making pens for those who appreciate traditional craftsmanship, objects of timeless beauty and utility, and the pleasure of using a fine pen. Not to mention the ever growing number of pen collectors around the world who treasure the Conway Stewart name and all that it stood for as Britain's greatest pen maker. Thus a new era of Conway Stewart was born.

 

The Second Golden Age

In the 1990's, the company launched a range of pens made from solid gold; "the Gold Collection" to showcase the work of English master craftsmen in various fields, including hand painting, enamelling and engraving. These fantastic pieces which can sell for £10,000 ($18,000) and more continued Conway Stewart's tradition of excellence and are fitting companions to the pens of earlier generations.

After significant research Conway Stewart was also the first modern day pen maker to reintroduce the use of casein as a material for making pens. Casein made from milk protein particles (confusingly known as nibs) are dyed and then laid down under high pressure to form slabs from which the components are eventually formed. Each slab has to be cured in preservative for five to six months before "weathering" for a further two months before any parts can be made. This lengthy period rewards the eventual owner with a material that has warmth and lustre that cannot be achieved in any other material. In 1996 the Churchill model was introduced to celebrate the life of Sir Winston Churchill and his prolific interest in writing and literature throughout his lifetime.

To celebrate the company's Centenary in 2005 the new One Hundred Series was launched, produced in various handmade resins. Accompanying the 100, the stunning Silver Duro pens arrived on the market. Made from pure English sterling silver over-laid with resin veneer, the sterling silver Duro echoes the great designs of the Edwardian era. Also launched to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Conway Stewart were several limited editions, detailed on our limited editions page.

Owners of modern Conway Stewarts are in excellent company, as Conway Stewart pens have always been the preferred choice of the most discerning and famous people from around the world and this tradition continues to this day.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh were presented with two Conway Stewart pens from "the Gold Collection" to commemorate their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Recently Prime Minister Blair presented Russian President Putin a Conway Stewart Churchill Burgundy Fountain pen on a state visit to Russia and French President Jacques Chirac was given a Brown Marble Churchill to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Conway Stewart was the official pen chosen by the British Government for the G8 Summit at which Prime Minister Blair presented a Conway Stewart No 58 set to each of the G8 world leaders. We are suppliers to No 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister as well as the British Royal Palaces.

President Bush and President Clinton both own a Conway Stewart. Conway Stewart creates exclusive pens for many prestigious corporate and government accounts, including the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows, Rolls Royce, Mensa, as well as numerous other high profile corporate accounts.

 

 

Collecting Vintage Conway Stewart Pens

Collecting Conway Stewart pens can be a very demanding, but ultimately rewarding challenge. The numbering system used for their models is unlike that of any other major pen manufacturer. Normally model numbers relate to the various aspects of that individual model: size, filling system, or nib size.

The advertising of Conway Stewart shows that model numbers were issued without any real order. Many times, the same model was designated with two different numbers, depending upon whether it was sold for the domestic market, or for export.

For the enthusiasts, this can make identifying any given Conway Stewart model very demanding. The pens can be defined mainly into two groups: "early pens" and the later celluloid pens. Both groups have their adherents among collectors, and many simply choose to collect both!

The early pens, made of hard rubber, can be more of an adventure. It is important to remember that the Conway Stewart pens were marketed as being "everyday" writers. Thus, the original owners used them everyday. After ten, twenty, or thirty years of constant, everyday use, can leave an impression on even the best made of pens!

Searching for an original Duro lever filler in mottled hard rubber in mint condition can be quite a quest and will not be as easy as locating some of the later pens. As with all vintage pens, the larger models will be more expensive and difficult to find than the smaller models. A large Duro such as that pictured here can require quite an investment in both time and money to add to your collection.

Of course, it's not necessarily a simple task to compile a complete collection of the later production pens. Some of the celluloids are very rare today, and command a premium price.

The Herringbone patterns, in Green, Red, and Blue, for example, are considered to be quite desirable. Others however, can be easier to locate, and allow the collector the opportunity to enjoy vintage Conway Stewarts at an entry-level price.

Given that the nibs available on these pens from the late 1940s and 1950s are every bit as good as those found on the earlier Conway Stewarts, if you're looking for a collection that also serves for daily use, these later pens can be the ideal choice.

My personal favorites of their signature celluloids are the Herringbone in every color; Mottled hard rubber in Red and Black; Black lined Olive Green; Floral and of course, the famous Cracked Ice. Once you begin collecting Conway Stewarts, I am sure you will find your own favorites!

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