Jarvis and Garner had previously worked for the De La Rue Company, the leading British fountain pen manufacturer of the time. Drawing on the experience they had gained at De La Rue, the two started their own business, initially reselling fountain pens manufactured by other companies. The name “Conway Stewart” was apparently derived from a popular music hall act of the time.
The fountain pen market in Britain at that time was dominated by De La Rue and it was clear to Jarvis and Garner that only a very limited market share could be gained by reselling un-branded fountain pens. At the same time, De La Rue was embarking on a substantial marketing campaign by re-branding its products “Onoto”. Jarvis and Garner identified a market niche for attractive and reliable writing instruments at an affordable price.
The 1920s saw rapid development of the Conway Stewart product line. Pens of several different types of filling mechanisms, materials and sizes were offered for sale. The business model proved successful for Conway Stewart and its market share increased at the expense of other established manufacturers. As a result, Conway Stewart had outgrown its initial premises and in 1927 the company relocated to a larger facility which would serve as its home for the next two decades.
During the depression years, the company was able to remain profitable, helped by the public’s perception of good value products. In 1935, Conway Stewart went public, raising additional capital at the same time by offering shares. The years of World War II proved difficult for Conway Stewart and many other manufacturers; there were shortages of materials but the company managed to survive by continuing to offer good reliable pens at reasonable prices.
Emerging from post-war austerity in Britain, the 1950s proved to be golden years for Conway Stewart with the creative use of colored plastic reaching its peak. The company once again relocated to new premises but the golden age proved to be short-lived. At the same time, the ballpoint pen was being developed and while initially unreliable and more expensive than comparably finished fountain pens soon decreased rapidly in price. Conway Stewart, along with most other fountain pen manufacturers of the time, failed to anticipate the effect that this innovative product would have on fountain pen sales.
In the 1960s, fountain pen sales declined very quickly and Conway Stewart began to feel the effect of falling revenues. The company tried to compete by offering lower priced fountain pens and also introduced ball point pens to its range. The company relocated to Crumlin in Wales in 1968 taking advantage of regional development grants but its financial health continued to deteriorate. In 1975 the company was wound-up and production ceased.
The company was revived in the 1990s with headquarters in Plymouth, UK. Sales started in 1998 although some models had been produced for special occasions before that, including for the heads of state attending the 1998 G8 Summit in Birmingham. The company now manufactures for the high-end of the writing instrument market and the range is characterized by the use of precious metals, enamels, celluloid and casein plastics and the production of limited edition pens.
On 28 August 2014, the company was placed in receivership. The remaining stock, as well as the machinery and tooling, were liquidated and its offices closed. On November 11, 2014 the owner of the Wahl-eversharp Mr Caltagirone Emmanuel register the trademark Conway Stewart for the USA and there is no doubt that the revival of the brand is planned for 2015 at least for the US market.
Early models marketed by Conway Stewart were sourced from other manufacturers, were made of hard rubber and were indistinguishable from many other pens available at that time. By the mid-1920s, the company was establishing its own design style, helped by the use of colorful celluloid and casein plastics.
Conway Stewart's model designation is a combination of names and numbers. Important named models with approximate age ranges include:
1920s – 1960s: Dinkie (540-550)
1930s – 1940s: Duro (various numbers), Dandie (720, 728), Scribe (336), International (356), Universal (470, 479)
During the 1940s, model names were dropped for all product lines apart from the Dinkie. The model numbering is not chronological and the same pen may appear with a different numbers depending on whether it was sold in Britain or exported. Major model numbers include:
1920s – 1940s: 200, 217, 286, 380, 388
1950s – early 1960s: 12, 14, 15, 16, 22, 27, 28, 36, 58, 60, 73-77, 84, 85, 100,
early 1960s – 1975: 65-69, 94-98, 107
The plastics of the 1940s to 1960s were produced in a variety of styles and colors and while never specifically named by Conway Stewart, they have become known informally by collectors by names such as cracked ice, herringbone, tiger’s eye and crosshatch and the more common marbled finish. Of particular note is the model 22 which was produced in the 1950s in a floral pattern. This was produced in very small numbers compared to other models of the time. There is some uncertainty as to the number produced; estimates range from 200 to 2000.
Models: 1990s to present
Models produced in this era are made for the “high-end” of the market and feature precious metals, enamels and casein or celluloid plastics and 18ct gold nibs. Notable models include the 58 series, the Duro series, the Dinkie series and the 100 series, all styled after the original models and the Churchill series. Limited edition models have been produced on various themes mainly related to British history and leaders and luxury brand names, such as car manufacturer Rolls-Royce and piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons.
Notes and references
- "Steinway Fountain Pen by Conway Stewart", Pianki Website.
- Hull, Stephen (2010). Fountain Pens for the Million, The History of Conway Stewart 1905-2005. Shelley and Peacock; Marlow, UK. ISBN 0-9563444-1-0.
- Lambrou, Andreas (2003). Fountain Pens of the World. Philip Wilson Publishers, London. ISBN 0-3020-0668-0.
- Lambrou, Andreas (2000). Fountain Pens of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Philip Wilson Publishers, London. ISBN 0-85667-532-6.
- Steinberg, Jonathon (1997). Identifying Fountain Pens: The New Compact Study Guide and Identifier. BookSales Inc, NJ. ISBN 0-7222-6262-0.
- Official website
- Writetime.co.uk (A dealer's website - has useful illustrations)
- Conway Stewart Vintage Pens (A dealer's and collector's website with useful information and illustrations for Vintage Conway Stewart Pens and Pencils.)