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A Brief History Of Mabie Todd Ltd

This is intended as an outline of the company fortunes and not of it’s pen design and development. This may happen at a later date.




The company originated in America from the beginnings during the 1860s when a Mr. Todd and a Mr. Mabie began making pencil cases and pen holders in New York. Later they were joined by the Bard Brothers who made Gold nibs and by 1873 the company of Mabie Todd and Bard were established in New York.

By 1878 the first patent was filed for the design and manufacture of a fountain pen, achieved under the design leadership of one William Washington Stewart. The first Swan fountain pen followed just 6 years later in 1884 with an over-under feed with ink delivery assisted by a twisted silver wire.

This same year an office had been established in the UK with a showroom in Cheapside, London. The UK was being supplied with a steadily increasing supply of pens from New York and by 1905 new, larger showrooms were established in High Holborn. By this time the Swan pen had become synonymous with fountain pens at large. In 1906 the name of Bard was dropped in the US and the UK company subsequently adopted the title Mabie Todd & Co. New York.

In 1907 British production began, using imported nibs from New York and whilst the company in the UK flourished, the business in the US started to diminish under stiff competition from new manufacturers..

By 1915 manufacturing was doing well in England from a factory in Weston Street, London and the New York company agreed to sell the rights to all European and Colonial business to Mabie Todd & Company Ltd of England.

From then onwards, the development of the range mostly followed, rather than led the interests of the markets they were supplying. Even during the First World War the business continued to flourish. with factories in both London and Liverpool.

At the end of 1919 a new expansion plan saw the establishment of a new Headquarters in Oxford Street, London.

Throughout this period, some components were continuing to be imported from America, but gradually these diminished and during the 20s and 30s manufacturing facilities were expanded and by the end of the 1930s Mabie Todd were in full production, manufacturing pens in its London factory, gold nibs in Birmingham and ink in Liverpool.

Another new headquarters grew out of this period of abundance and market domination. when in 1936 they moved into Sunderland House in Mayfair, London, a highly prized mansion building.

Disaster struck early in the Second World War. Its prestigious Sunderland House headquarters was destroyed during the blitz, followed by destruction of its main factory in Harlesden, North London. Some machinery was saved and able to be used at another factory premises in the City, but like many other 'non essential' manufacturing, the main production was centred on wartime components such as rocket fuses and ammunition. After The War, in 1945 they moved out of their City premises to Park Royal and eventually in 1946 proper fountain pen production was resumed.

In 1948 the company decided to go public. But at the time they had no plans to enter into the market for the now growing interest in ballpoint pens, the result was the beginning of their slide into obscurity and subsequent demise.

They became Biro Swan in 1952 following a large share purchase by Biro Pens. Even though at this time they had just launched their new high profile Calligraph range to join the competition for the new market associated with a craze for italic writing, fountain pen manufacture under the new company was to suffer a lack of real support. The restyled ranges of 1956 failed to ignite market interest and with diminishing quality, the end of the Mabie Todd story was inevitable. After 80 years of Swan pens, the book was closed.