J and D's Vintage Pens - "Missing pens"

any of the pens in my "Book of Numbers" have only been recorded from the literature. Although new Conway Stewart numbers turn up fairly regularly there are still big gaps that remain to be filled. I should like to divulge some of these mysteries. Perhaps you can help solve them?

Advert from Lambrou's Foutain Pens of the World

The narrow streets of Chennai

aken straight from Lambrou's "Fountain Pens of the World" - page 180, is this Conway Stewart advert for Duro button fillers. The interesting thing is that most of these pens, namely the Numbers 21, 22, 31, 51, 52 (on sale at 13 to 19 rupees = 30 to 44 cents each) have never ever been seen in auctions, collections, or anywhere AFAIK. Now this advert was placed by Messrs Stephens and Co. Ltd., themselves pen and ink manuafacturers in their own right for their shop in Calcutta. This conjured up to me a picture of vast numbers of CS pens especially manufactured for the Indian market, being sold over the counter to supply the endless demand of the British Colonial administration for copying columns of items from ledger to ledger throughout the realm. And then I noticed that the Oriental Mercantile Agency in Madras was their sole sub-agent. At this point my thoughts turned to Phileas Fog as I imagined him noting his progress in his diary with a Lapis blue Duro No. 51.

ell, it just happened that in 1999 I was invited to a wedding in Mysore in the State of Karnataka, Southern India. While there I found that there's an express train which can take you from Mysore to Madras, (now renamed Chennai), in 9 hours flat. So wedding over, elephants fed and "bedded down" for the night, with photocopy of advert in hand, with adrenalin surging, I took the train and set out on my quest for Conway Stewart Duros. Madras is now a big City with a population of several million. Does 19/20 Linga Chetty street still exist after 70 years? Will there still be a box of NOS Conway Stewart Duros hidden in the attic of the Oriental Mercantile Agency? I showed the advert to the taxi driver and - "no problema" - he knew the street in the downtown commercial area. I soon found myself in a traffic snarl that is particular to India; between the buses, trucks, taxis, motor-rickshaws, hand pulled rickshaws, and wandering cows, only an Indian driver dare maneuver. We found the street, one-way and very very narrow but lined by large buildings from the Colonial era, a good omen, and we started at number 350. Progress down Linga Chetty street was at a snail's pace, but I certainly saw all the wares of India laid out on the pavements and spilling into the road. Eventually we reached Number 20, a not too impressive building but definitely well over 70 years old. Then, out of the main door came a young man carrying a whole pile of cardboard cartons. Could these contain the last shipment of 1935 Conway Stewarts repacked into boxes bearing the name Sony? Hesitatingly I enquired if these were the premises that belonged in the past to the Oriental Mercantile Agency. No sir. The whole street was renumbered about 15 years ago. The earlier low numbers are now the high numbers. My dreams came crashing down on me, but there was no time left. I asked the driver to take me straight to the airport.

his really is a true story; it just shows how fanatic one can get about pen collecting.

Now for the sequel:

ince I told this sad tale in 1999, there have been developments that I feel duty-bound to impart to you my potential readers. I think I shall call this sequel:

"The black ink-wells of Calcutta".

r perhaps:

Goodness gracious, I guess I gotta go to Calcutta

ubsequent to my Madras experience, I started looking out for Indian pen collectors, and although I contacted some, Conway Stewarts were not in their field of interest. However, just recently I was informed of a pen auction house other than the much-frequented Ebay. This one is called http/:www.penauctions.com. It is affiliated to the "Pen Club of India" and upon entering their site I immediately came upon 2 Conway Stewarts for auction. Surprise, surprise! Both of them were very early models, one being a mottled No. 24 eye-dropper. This confirms my suspicion that Conway Stewart made eye-droppers for the "Colonies" in the belief that rubber sacs would not last long in the tropical climates. In England, these eye-droppers are extremely rare, so this was quite a find! Fortunately, my bids for both these pens were successful and they are now in my collection. This enabled me to make the acquaintance of the seller Ashok Jain, President of the Pen club of India. Later he put three other Conway Stewarts up for auction and I managed to purchase two of them. One was a mint No. 10 safety pen, eye-dropper of course, while the other was a mint 353 Pixie lever pen in its original cellophane package, both dating from around 1920 and without nibs.
have since met Ashok and I told him about my Chennai experience. Then I asked him about his source of Conway Stewarts, to which he replied: the 'Conway Stewart agent in Calcutta', (presumably the same one in the advert). He told me that some years ago he bought up the remaining stock of (NOS) Conway Stewarts, but that most of them he had sold to his friend David Isaacson in the US. Recently I was able to contact David Isaacson who told me that he too had obtained a couple of Safety pens, the larger No. 13, and a group of early chased Vulcanite no-number Dinkies.
o far, so good. I think my next foreign travel will be to Calcutta, for a trip to 275 Bow Bazaar Street in the vague hope that some Conway Stewarts will still be lying in the gutter. After all, the mystery of the missing Duro pen series from the 1930s has not yet been solved.