In 1905, Mr. Frank Jarvis and Mr. Tommy Garner formed Conway Stewart & Co. Limited at 13 Paternoster Row EC1, next to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Today, this area is known as Paternoster Square having been redeveloped after its complete destruction during the Blitz of World War II. Although there is much debate regarding the origins of the Company’s name, it is believed that the name “Conway Stewart” derives from a popular vaudeville act of the day. Conway and Stewart were supposedly a comedy double act who appeared at Collins Music Hall in Islington. The two entrepreneur took a great risk in leaving their secured jobs to start a new enterprise reselling fountain pens made by other manufacturers. They concentrated their energies and invested in importing pens from the United States.
After an arduous month
of persistent selling of their stock, they reaped the rewards of a rather healthy turnover of more than £13 and 9 shillings. This was a great accomplishment considering that the rent for their business premises was only five shillings a week. Even though this turnover would be pleasing to many new ventures, the strength of De La Rue in the fountain pen market made it impossible for the company to continue selling no-named fountain pens. In the same year, De La Rue reportedly invested £50,000 in a promotion campaign for their new launch, the Onoto. However, Garner and Jarvis soon recognized there was an audience desiring good, reliable writing instruments that were also affordable. This is when Conway Stewart began to capture a market amongst the English. Jarvis and Garner developed a single aim, to produce elegant and beautiful, yet functional writing instruments – a principle that Conway Stewart holds true to this day.
The Golden Years
The Roaring 20s was the golden age for fountain pens and Conway Stewart was suitably placed at the beating heart of this worldwide expansion.
The 1920s was an excellent decade for the courageous owners. Not only did they trademark the name of the business ‘Conway Stewart’ they also expanded their range of filling mechanisms to include eyedroppers, lever fillers, pump fillers and safeties. While the first of these pens were almost indistinguishable from others of that period, by 1925 Conway Stewart were coming into their own in terms of design.
A trademark for the name “Dinkie” was registered in 1924, along with a patent for a new locking lever mechanism. Conway Stewart was rapidly growing in popularity and demand, so much so that they were taking away market shares from other dominant pen manufacturers. Another introduction around this time was the use of brightly coloured celluloid. In the 1920s, Conway Stewart were offering dozens of different colours in their various lines, and the customer could choose from either the simple and conservative, the bright and cheerful, or the downright flamboyant.
The pens of this period were very well made, and of high quality, yet remained affordable. The wide range of models and materials allowed Conway Stewart to truly offer “something for everyone” when it came to fountain pens. This reasonable pricing and successful marketing contributed to the success of Conway Stewart for the next decade. They invested in new premises in 1927, which became their headquarters for the next two decades. As the depression of the 1930s hit, Conway Stewart was in the enviable position of marketing pens that were considered “good value”.
Although this decade proved to be a low point for Conway Stewart in terms of profit, they were able to ride out the depression successfully. Colourful plastics soon became a signature for Conway Stewart. It is interesting to note that they did not designate titles for their designs. The names we recognise today have been adopted by collectors over the years. As an example, Cracked Ice and Reversed Cracked Ice were used for many of their models for over 25 years, together with Tiger Eye, another favourite.
By the middle of the decade, Conway Stewart was ready to expand, and in 1935 they went public, with shares being offered to raise capital. Advertising campaigns managed to keep the name Conway Stewart in the forefront of the public mind, in much the same way as advertising by Sheaffer, Parker and De La Rue. The 1950s proved to be a continuation of the “golden age” for Conway Stewart, with many of their materials from this era being eagerly sought after today by collectors around the world.
The Herringbone pattern and many versions of marbled colours are very popular today. Even more notable is the Number 22 Floral, with its flowered design set on a cream background. Today, over fifty years after its launch, there are still many discussions concerning the Floral. Was production limited due to the complexity of the material or was the market not ready to accept such an exotic plastic? Either way, whenever a mint No.22 Floral is found for sale today, there is always a demanding audience of pen collectors.
Unfortunately, the 1950s also ushered in the era of injection molding for the manufacture of pens. This led to the use of solid coloured plastics in place of the wonderful patterned celluloids. By 1957, the Conway Stewart line was represented with pens that, while still very well made, and reliable writers, were not in the same league in terms of appearance. It was at this time that the first ballpoint pens were offered by Conway Stewart.
The End of an Era
The 1950s provided the last of the great Conway Stewart models. The company began to stagnate through the 1960s as the market turned relentlessly towards the disposable ballpoint. The company persevered in trying to keep up with the market trends with their ball pen and also by launching the 106, a cartridge pen mounted with a semi-hooded nib. In the 1960's the company was sold and relocated to Wales, where the last pen rolled of their production floor in 1975.
The Second Golden Age
The 1990s saw Conway Stewart rise from the ashes with the launch of 'The Gold Collection'; a range of pens made from solid gold that showcased the work of English master craftsmen in various fields including hand painting, enamelling and engraving. These fantastic pieces sold for in excess of £10,000 ($18,000), continuing Conway Stewart's tradition of excellence in fitting tribute to the pens of earlier generations. In 1996 the Churchill model was introduced to celebrate the life of Sir Winston Churchill and his lifelong, prolific interest in writing and literature.
Conway Stewart the chosen pen for G8 summit
Prime Minister Blair presented a Conway Stewart No 58 set to each of the G8 world leaders. President Bush and President Clinton have both owned Conway Stewart pens. Conway Stewart also created exclusive pens for many prestigious corporate and government accounts, including the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows, Rolls Royce, Mensa, as well as numerous other high profile corporate accounts. Rick Wakeman, rock star and pen enthusiast, has a large collection of Conway Stewart pens of which he is justifiably proud.
2014 to Present Day
The Conway Stewart Story continues...
In August 2014, the doors of the Conway Stewart Plymouth factory were suddenly closed when the company went into administration. Was this the end?
Fortunately, a company called Bespoke British Pens Limited bought most of the stock from the factory in Plymouth and all the technical drawings of all the pens. The directors were Alastair Adams (previously Managing Director of Onoto), David Cooper (previously Marketing Director of Onoto), Peter Robinson (previously Managing Director of Carville who made the components for the Parker Duofold and Onoto), and Francis Katz (a lawyer, an avid pen collector and owner of Inkwell Pens).
Originally based in the Isle of Wight, they later set up a workshop in Emsworth in Hampshire near to where their Production Director, Peter Robinson, lived. In early 2015 they started to assemble Conway Stewart pens from the original components and sold them worldwide directly to the public via the website and through a select small number of retailers. The range of Conway Stewart pens on sale on the website grew each month as new pens were launched using the original materials acquired from the Plymouth factory.
The range included the Churchill, Winston, Series 100, Series 58, Wordsworth, Wellington, Nelson, Marlborough, Belliver, Capulet, Dandy, Bard, Coronet, Duro, Henry Simpole’s: Marilyn Monroe pen, Raleigh, and the Regency.
These pens used the original CS branded nibs bought from the administrators, but soon these nibs were all sold, so the Flag 18ct gold semi-flex nibs were launched. The “Flag” was naturally the British Union Jack flag to show the world that Conway Stewart pens were still alive and being made in Great Britain. The same nib company that made the original CS nibs was used to make the Flag nibs, and they were engraved in Birmingham, England with the Flag logo. These new nibs were universally praised for being smooth and beautiful writers straight from the box, and many regarded them better nibs than the old CS nibs.
The company continued to supply pens to some of the world’s most prestigious companies such as Rolls Royce who ordered 35 bespoke Sterling Silver pens for their 2018 Silver Ghost Limited Edition model.
A Churchill Classic Black Fountain Pen was used in another famous film launched in 2017 called The Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.
They also supplied the pens for various famous films including the Kingsman films: The Secret Service, and The Golden Circle. In the first Kingsman film, one of the pens, a Marlborough Vintage Ebonite Lever Fill, has a major role to play as it was used to kill Michael Caine’s character, Arthur.
In the iconic scene inside a Panzer tank, Connery’s character Henry Jones Sr., uses the lever-fill mechanism to squirt ink in the eye of a Nazi tank operator, to save his friend Marcus Brody’s life, and that of his son’s, Indiana Jones played by Harrison Ford. The scene finishes with Marcus Brody’s humorous comment “Henry, The Pen. Don’t you see? The pen is mightier than the sword!”.
The company also renewed its links with the Churchill family and launched the Churchill Heritage range of pens to support Churchill Heritage Ltd through which the Churchill family distributes money to charities and good causes that keep alive the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill and the spirit of the words of wisdom he penned. Each Churchill Heritage pen has Winston Churchill’s signature engraved on the barrel with one of his famous sayings. The second pen in the series, “NEVER GIVE IN” is a fitting axiom for the directors of the company who were determined that Conway Stewart should live on.
The website domain name, conwaystewart.com, was bought and relaunched soon after the Trade name “Conway Stewart” (European Union of Intellectual Property Office Certificate of Registration No. 017948469), and the Conway Stewart Trademark (European Union of Intellectual Property Office Certificate of Registration No. 018074073) were obtained by Bespoke British Pens. Ed Adams joined the company as a shareholder, and was instrumental in designing the new website, www.conwaystewart.com and re-launching Conway Stewart to a global audience.
Handcrafted by master pen makers, the rich heritage of Conway Stewart rests in your hand every time you use one of these beautiful British pens. We believe that whether you are giving or receiving one of our pens – or perhaps buying it for your own use – it will provide a lifetime of pleasure and become a cherished companion. When Conway Stewart was founded in 1905, Jarvis and Garner had a single aim, to produce elegant, timelessly beautiful, yet functional writing instruments. Today, more than one hundred years later, we still hold true to those original goals. Luxury, history and enchantment combined – we hope you will agree.