By Dyas Anna Lawson
One of the more interesting trends in the pen world in the last couple of years has been the tendency among several pen companies to draw inspiration from vintage pen designs, reinterpret them with a modern flair, and introduce a pen with a taste of both old and new pen eras.
Another in this line is the new Conway Stewart 58, with the same numeral as its vintage predecessor as well as the same size and profile.
I'll interrupt this new-pen narrative for a minute to say that I once owned a 58, and I quite liked it for several reasons. It was a good, solid, reliable little workhorse, of a good size, balance, and weight, and attractive to boot. It came among that small but beloved category of pens that would be among the line-up in almost every situation, because you know you could count on it when other, rather flightier pens declined to function for some reason or other.
So this new 58 has immediate positive vibes, just in looking at it and recognizing that familiar outline with the pointy conical cap and end jewels. Kind of like recognizing an old friend in a fancy new outfit.
Color is where we start to see modern interpretations for this pen. While Conway Stewart was known for having unusual, attractive colors and combinations, and for being unafraid to try unusual colors, even the old C-S guys might have been a bit nervous about at least one of these.
Of the four prototype colors we saw (and since these are prototypes, we've no assurance that they'll be the final production colors), three were quite bright and cheerful. One, a pearlized deep purple, caught the immediate attention of two of our folks. Another comes in a patriotic red, white, and blue theme of stripes (which colors fortunately work for several countries).
The third, possibly the most interesting even though the colors themselves are not my favorites, has a laminated appearance with three layers, the base colors of which are cream, a taupe or tan, and gray. Within each of those base colors is swirled a medium brown in delicate thread-like designs, giving the whole a much more complex appearance than any of the stripes would singly.
In addition, the gray section of the cap contains a stripe of a silvery color, just about the shade and iridescence of a rainbow trout leaping in the sun. Since the cap is machined a bit larger than the barrel to fit over it, I suspect this silvery shade was part of the original acrylic rod from which the pen was machined; it's kind of too bad it couldn't be kept on the barrel, too, because it adds a really different touch to the pen.
The fourth pen, which we actually got to ink (thank you, Conway Stewart!) and use, is a red/black woodgrain hard rubber version that is really lovely. True to its vintage roots, using an increasingly popular vintage material (though it's hardly fair to call it that, since hard rubber is becoming ever more popular even though it tends to be called "ebonite" and other such things), the pen would fit beautifully into a line-up of vintage-only pens. If you didn't know it was a new model, you'd never pick it out.
The pointy conical cap and end jewels on all four pens matched the bodies, giving them a coordinated look. The maker aligned the stripes on the red/white/blue and laminated-like versions as nearly as possible with the stripes in the bodies -- a nice touch that many makers don't bother with. The alignment on the laminated-style model is just about perfect, and it gives it a really sharp touch.
All the new 58s have gold-plated trim with three solid-gold cap bands in a thin-thick-thin pattern. Another gold band accents the barrel end and yet another separates the section from the barrel at the threads.
Of the four pens we had, three had black sections while the woodgrain version had a self-section. I'm hoping that the sections of all of them, once they're in production, will match the barrels; it gives a much more complete look to the pen.
Also -- and this is a big selling point for me -- some of the new 58s are lever fillers. Of all the filling systems, I think my favorite is the lever filler. Though I enjoy the engineering of more complicated systems, the quirkiness of some of them, and the large ink capacity of piston fillers, the plain, basic simplicity of the lever filler has a cachet that no other system will ever have. And it, too, adds to the workhorse sensibility of this pen. Solid, sensible, and unpretentious in size, shape, and features, but the snazzy colors give it a sparkle you just wouldn't expect.
These pens have an 18K nib that is spectacular -- smooth, buttery, just lovely. Though the only paper sitting around was Clairefontaine, and anything other than a rusty file will feel smooth on that, I wrote on a paper towel with this M nib, too, just to give it a good test. It came through beautifully.
Writing with this pen was definitely a pleasure, although the initial downstrokes of letters, particularly at the beginnings of words, tended to hesitate and sometimes skip. As we wrote (finishing off about two full pages), the hesitation and skipping reduced somewhat, so it's entirely possible that this was just a manufacturing-oils issue that would disappear with a cleaning or after a couple of fill-ups.
Other than that, the nib laid down a wet, solid line that flowed with virtually no pressure from the fingers. The nib has a little responsiveness, but between the buttery smoothness and that luscious line, you'll be having too much fun to think about whether you'd like some flex.
This was without question the best first-time, factory-fresh flow I've seen on a new pen in I can't remember how long -- we all know how often they require tweaking, adjusting, or even expert help to write as smoothly and freely as we want them to, and this was there right out of the gate.
The nib is in nice proportion to the body, with the clean curve to a narrow heel that has been characteristic of Conway Stewarts. The cap posts securely and the pen feels good in the hand, well balanced, whether posted or not. And, since I got to test it for more than a dip's worth, I know the cap doesn't loosen while writing -- at least, not during 15 minutes or so of constant, sometimes vigorous writing.
The early Conway Stewart pens occupy a space in my mind similar to that of Esterbrooks -- sort of the English version of Esterbrooks -- as the unpretentious workhorses of the pen world. These modern versions seem to have the ambience of the early ones, but the modern acrylic designs and the woodgrain give them an elán that's definitely not shy and retiring.
I think Conway Stewart has a winner in this revival of
a pen. With the woodgrain version, in line with present hard-rubber woodgrain
prices, running to a suggested retail of $350, that's not quite in the
value-pen line-up, but the other pens are likely to be somewhat less.
And with street prices usually well below manufacturers' prices, they'll
be lower still.