My first fountain pen

It was my first fountain pen, and started my love for the archaic writing tool. But what brand is it, and where did it come from?

I will try to trace the manufacturer in the text below. Where I got it though, still remains a mystery. And what has James Bond got to do with anything?

But first, why do I like fountain pens? Well, they are archaic – the design of them are reminiscent of quills which are – to me – a bit too archaic. But the fountain pen was used for hundreds of years as your standard writing implement, so there is nothing inherently bad about them.  They simply look cool, and people take note if you bring out your fountain pen – rather than your standard ballpoint thingy. They simply look classy, well maybe not cheap stuff like the Pilot V-pen, but still – you get the idea. Affordable luxury … And the possibility of using different inks, with different qualities, like colour, shading and sheen. It’s simply something you can’t do with your ballpoint. Granted, there are ballpoints where you can switch between black/red/blue/green ink – but once you start using them – the result just looks flat.

No – to me, the fountain pen is simply a superior product.

Platignum pen

Platignum Pen Co. started life in 1919 as the Mentmore Manufacturing Company, named after its first premises – Mentmore Terrace in London. The company’s first product was a self-filling fountain pen with a gold plated nib which sold for 6d (2.5p).

Around 1925 it seems there was some sort of reorganization of the company, and that the intention was to use the Platinum name, but this was not registrable as a trademark since it’s the name of a metal. Mentmore therefore introduced the Platignum brand with the slogan ‘As good as gold’ to reflect the use of stainless steel, for its lower-end pens production at general market/student target markets. Not all Platignums have steel nibs however, some have very good 14ct ones that are or can be as good as any Mentmore made over the years. Mentmore’s upper range pens over the years were the Diploma, the Auto-flow, the Supreme, Imperial and a couple of others, they did several ‘Ladies’ pens in smaller sizes.

As the name was slightly changed, the Platignum Pen Company (it is not clear how much independent from the parent one) was specifically created, and it began directly marketing Platignum branded pens. Also in 1925, the first replacement nib unit was developed – a revolution in pen design. Platignum were furthermore, the first company to use a plastic injection moulding in the production of their pens, possibly to keep costs down. From early on Mentmore made pens under other names, and for retailers including at one time for W.H Smith, many of these are what otherwise would likely have been marked as Platignum but some are unmarked Auto-flows or Spot. The Mentmore group also made advertising pens for various companies and even newspapers for commercial giveaways, mostly but not totally of the Platignum sort of quality. For some time, the two brands were produced together. It is not clear when, but little by little the Mentmore brand was progressively replaced by Platignum, eventhough throughout the late ’30s to the ’50s, there is still a large production of pens under the brand of Mentmore. According to some collectors, Mentmore pens are “attractive [and] exceptionally well-made”, and were reportedly very popular, especially between 1946 and the mid 1950’s. Towards the end of the period Platignum, introduced ink cartridges.

Q holding a pen
Q showing Bond a new spy pen (probably not from Mentmore, but you never know).

During the war the pens production was reduced to meet the needs of the war effort, Platignum were only allowed to produce 25% of its pre-war pen output, with the major production concentrated on munitions, aircraft parts and cap badges. It is reported that the company produced pens for spies with maps and compasses or with poisonous darts which could kill at 20 ft! The normal pen production resumed after the war also with the creation of ballpoint pens. Of the Mentmore pens, the Diploma in its earlier, open nib version was a lever filler and used a good sized and usually very pleasant writing nib, this was for several years the top of the everyday range. The Auto-flow was effectively the button fill version being similar in size, the nibs were in general but not always roughly the same size and of the same quality as the Diploma, the other open nib pens with the Mentmore name on them like the Supreme are either uncommonly seen and/or rather later. As to current market value, there are listings of vintage Mentmore pens in the range of GBP 80-150.

The association of Platignum with Mentmore is kept at least until 1951, a decade which also saw the introduction of the ballpoint pen for 5/- (25p), and soon after the invention of the retractable ballpen. In 1957 the company moved to Stevenage, which meant more space and allowed the company to diversify into plastic stationary accessories and fibre tipped pens. They later moved yet again, this time to Royston.

In 1997 Platignum was acquired by Adare Printing.The Mentmore Manufacturing Co ceased to produce pens, the Mentmore brand name continued to be registered though its owner Platignum. Platignum itself it seems has changed ownership and its core business activity altered too. As far as can be ascertained, in early 2000’s the Mentmore brand was owned by a company who‘s main activity was document storage and had no connection with pen manufacturing.

The brand registration for Mentmore lapsed (simply because no fee was paid to the relevant trademark authority) and became available to be re-registered by different owners. A partnership of pen enthusiasts with business experience grabbed the Mentmore name with the intention of re-establishing the brand as a quality name in pen manufacturing. The business plan includes the marketing of a small range of pens which have components sourced mainly from Korea and Japan and then assembled in the UK. It is possibly these pens that sell approximately GBP 10. At a later date the revived Mentmore company plans to produce exact copies from the original moulds for Mentmore Auto-Flow, Diplomat and 46.

Grip, handling
It writes very well, even if somewhat drier than the No Nonsense, but starts without serious problems. The look is more interesting than the No Nonsense (but then, what isn't?) with marble coloured, fluted, metal barrel and cap with section rings in silvery metal. Looks decent - if not spectacular. As for filling mechanism, it takes cartridges - can't really fail with that - haven't tried a converter with it. Slightly more of a Wow! pen than the No Nonsense (but as I said ...) but it kind of looks a bit cheap, or maybe it's me knowing its origin.