Mabie Todd Blackbird Guide

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1911, and they are dandies, too!

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 2:06 am

Earlier, I mentioned that Blackbirds likely predate creation of the British MT&Co Ltd in 1914 and that they were introduced as early as 1911. Well, I knew that I was onto something but couldn't remember why 1911. I often say that my memory is good but short. Indeed it is.

I was browsing my old notes and screenshots and found that the Blackird fountpen was mentioned and advertised that year in the Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality (1911, 75):

'5/- And they are dandies, too! This simple fountain pen does not claim to be equal to the world-renowned SWAN - though made by the same makers & gives exceptional value for a small sum - gold nib, iridium pointed, strong holder, large ink capacity.'

Then, in 1912, in the Bookseller (J. Whitaker and Sons, Limited, 1912) we can find another early advert:

'[Blackbird fountpen's] delightful smoothness, reliable action, its comfort and case, will surprise you. It is made for those who feel disinclined to pay 10s 6d. for a “ Swan." Gold Nib. Reliable Feed. Strong Holder'

Well, when we take into account that fountain pens used to be given as gifts and pen companies often adjusted new models launches for the Christmas season, we may guess (again!) that the Blackbird debuted in 1910.

The original price was 5 shillings and with the end of the WWI it increased to 6. The new safety cap self-filling pens were sold for 7s. 6d. when introduced in 1921. This price for the main line Blackbirds remained unchanged until the WWII, including BT200s.
Last edited by btine on June 20th, 2018, 9:31 am, edited 4 times in total.

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For boys, girls and fighting men

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 9:05 am

In the second post I wrote that in the 1920s Blackbirds started to be advertised as pens for school kids and young people. Well, it seems that British MT targeted youth from the very beginning. They were pens for 'boys and girls' and for 'those who have much writing, figuring and study' (adverts from the 1914). Also, the relatively low cost, 5 shillings, made them more suitable for younger people more likely loosing things:

'Because the price of the now famous “Blackbird Fountain Pen is 5/- only, some regard it as a boy's or youth's pen-one that may be ill-used without much loss. This is true, and yet it is also a pen for hard workstrong, lasting and serviceable.' (Bruce Bairnsfather. The Bystander's Fragments from France. Bystander, 1916)

By the early 20s the Blackbird was called the 'Swan Pen's junior', 'the practical gift for a boy or a girl at school [...] to assist them to cultivate good handwriting -- asset which is often the stepping-stone to a good position' (advertisements from the early 1920s)

However, when the WW1 came the Blackbird was also advertised as a 'pen for fighting men', 'quick and easy to write with, and nothing to get out of order'.

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Blackbird adverts 1 - Wouldn't I just like a Blackbird

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 1:22 pm

Well, I love adverts. Here are some

December 1915, still High Holborn as the main location, already MT&Co Ltd. but not updated imprint on the Blackbird (MT&Co)

1919-1921, new location: Swan House on the Oxford Street. The list of all point sizes available: broad, medium broad, medium, fine, oblique and turned-up point (ballpoint tip?), new price: 6 Shillings. Source:,_Todd_and_Co

1927-1930, BB2B/52 (Blue or Lapis, bottom left corner) entering boldly the Swan flock. Picture not mine but can't remember the source.

As above, 1927-1930, BB2/60 (Black) & BB2B (Blue or Jade). Now, this is an interesting ad because of the price list. The regular Self-filler (Safety) BB2/60 (which replaced the older similar pen made of ebonite) costs 7/6 and the new short BB2B costs 10/6. The cheapest regular black Swan would cost 15/- and Swan Minors were priced between 10/6 and 12/6. However, the most intriguing thing for me is the presence of 'non-self-filling' (dropper filling) pen, which I thought would be gone by then.

Now, which were the most expensive Blackbirds? The price states 10/6 for both BB2B (Blue and Lapis) and the most expensive model in black. But which is it? Can it be No 3? Possibly. How much would be the Big Blackbird? I don't know.

I've looked through some other advertisements on the internet and there were even more expensive Blackbirds which cost 12/6. New celluloids of the regular size like BB2/46 (Blue & Bronze)? It's possible. Anyway, what is obvious is that the top Blackbirds were priced similarly to Swan Minors but still below 15/- for the basic Swan.
Last edited by btine on June 24th, 2018, 2:47 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Blackbird adverts 2 - Don't be accused of bad handwriting

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 1:49 pm

I'm pretty sure I should have some adverts from the 30s but can't find them at the moment. I'll update the post at some point, I hope. Meanwhile, let's touch upon the 1940s.

The pen in the picture is likely to be 5261 (black hard rubber). I can only guess that the advert is from the mid 1940s.

Again, I don't have the exact date but I can only imagine that because of the pen in the picture (No 16 of my guide, 1st streamlined postwar Blackbird) the advert is from the late 1940s.
Last edited by btine on June 21st, 2018, 2:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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How am I to use it?

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 2:34 pm

How-to leaflets can be interesting too but I admit I've had a problem with dating them. I was scanning the few I have in the morning and finally saw daylight. All the leaflets are coded and it seems that the last pair of digits stands for the year of publication, well, I hope so. For now, let's assume it's true.

?1916, Wartime price increase?


?1925, Factories in London, Liverpool and New York. Also, the new MT&Co Ltd in Belgium is listed. It's a detail but I think quite significant. It's more than another branch, and likely means more autonomy. Some later Blackbirds will deviate from the British models; we'll see slender button and piston fillers. I have just stumbled across the Belgian advert from the 1922 listing MT&Co Ltd (Belg.) SA. Does it mean that Blackbirds were produced on the continent too around this time? Maybe.
Last edited by btine on June 21st, 2018, 2:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Puzzling leaflet and late dropper filler?

Post by btine » June 20th, 2018, 2:47 pm

Dating the leaflets according to the last two digits of the serial number seems to work well with the exception of the leaflet below. The question is if it's really 1932 and 6 Shilling dropper fillers are still in production or it's the mid to late 1920s and the number 32 stands for something completely different. Anyway, we have a new set of factories: London, Liverpool and Birmingham (instead of New York).

Edit: I'm getting convinced that the non-self-filling dropper fillers remained in production until at least the mid 30s. However, possibly in the very late 20s or early 30s they underwent a long due transformation. They gained a screw-on cap with a clip and changed the shape. They became slightly shorter but remained relatively slender when compared to other Blackbirds. Initially, they were made of hard rubber and later of semi-transparent celluloid.

So yes, it seems that it's likely that the leaflet is from 1932.

Last edited by btine on June 25th, 2018, 1:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mystery G3 and the Blackbird code

Post by btine » June 23rd, 2018, 12:39 pm

By the late 20s British Mabie Todd didn't use any sophisticated system to stamp Blackbird model designations on their pens. One can guess that there was no need to have any because of a rather limited variety of colours, sizes or finishes.

There were the Standard type (dropper filler with the slip-on cap), the Blackbird propelling pen P.P. and the Safety type (safety screw-on cap) self-filling models: regular size (which later, with the introduction of celluloid, become BB2), the Thin Blackbird Self-filler (Blackbird S.F.-T.), the Blackbird Self-filler No 3 (bigger number 3 nib and likely always with a integral clip) and the biggest Big Blackbird with the number 8 nib.

Additionally, G.P. can be found on the ebonite pens and likely indicates a gold plated clip.

The introduction of celluloid forced the company to introduce more complex system to include growing number of colours and finishes, and find the place for Blackbirds among other company's pens (Swans, Swan Minors and Eternals, and Jackdaws). Hence,

BB2 - Blackbird with the 2 size nib (only the late 50s numberless pens have smaller nibs)

BB2B - as above, the last B - a short version

BB2(B)/xx - as above, xx - colour code

60 - Black (chased celluloid), 61 - (black chased hard rubber or earlier: red hard rubber, and later on sacless pens: Black & Clear) 41 - Green, 45 - Grey, 50 - Jade, 52 - Blue (lapis blue), 46 Blue & Bronze, etc.

BB205B/xx - as above, 05 - type of decorative elements (in this case: one cap ring)

BT200/xx - Blackbird Topfiller, 2 - nib size, 00 - no 'decorations', xx - colour: 60 - Black & Clear, 82 - Blue, Gold and Black, 81 - Green, Blue and Black.

52xx - 5 - for Blackbird serie, 2 - nib size, xx - colour

76 - Green, 77 - Red, 75 - Blue, 60 - Black (smooth), and possibly later MT revived old marbled colours known from the BB2 pens and added some new.

There are still mysterious BB2(B)/G3 and BB2/G2 popping up sometimes. I don't know why the number 2 or 3 but the letter G seems to indicate a gold plated clip, marking used probably very briefly in the late 20s. Maybe MT didn't plan to stamp the colour code at first.

I know very little about the Belgian and French, Italian and Spanish MT pens, but in the French language advertising Merle Blancs are referred to as MB2 instead of BB2, and Spanish pens have sometimes G2 or GG (for Gaviota or Gaviota Gigante), if I can remember correctly. Mabie Todd Jackdaws (in celluloid) were sometimes stamped with J2/xx.
Last edited by btine on June 25th, 2018, 10:59 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Blackbird quality

Post by btine » June 23rd, 2018, 9:23 pm

Blackbirds formed the economy line of Mabie Todd pens in the UK but I think it's wrong to call them second tier pens. Many then contemporary pens were of much worse quality and function. Blackbirds probably still felt premium when compared the other brands' top offerings.

In terms of the material used and finish they differ very little from the most basic Swans. They were cheaper but the target client base was different and also Mabie Todd likely also saved a lot on less intense advertising.

What places them apart are very basic decorations limited to what's the most functional and older engineering solutions which worked well on older Swans but were less labour intensive. One simple type of feed, one size of the nib and probably the most common shape of caps and barrels which could be made along parts for regular Swans must have provided very streamlined and compact line of production and lowered the costs.

What makes Blackbird actually feel cheaper in my opinion is equipping nibs with a tiny amount of iridium in the 1920s, possibly less elaborate work on the nibs and rather poor plating of clips and levers. However, these details don't really change the fact that these pens possibly worked as well as most Swans.
Last edited by btine on June 25th, 2018, 1:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Spanish Gaviotas, since 1923

Post by btine » June 24th, 2018, 10:30 am

According to the blog Pluma Hispana Gaviota was registered as a brand in Spain in 1923.

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A few final observations

Post by btine » June 25th, 2018, 12:38 pm

Blackbird bird imprint

Swan people were rather consistent when stamping the Blackibird logo on pens. It's usually characteristic to a specific model or a group of contemporary models.

However, the Blackirds before the introduction of celluloid had a number of differently looking birds imprinted. More complex and messy the feathering is the older a bird is; i.e. the oldest Blackirds have three- instead of two-part tails.


All the self-filling pens up until the late 20s had a bell shaped section front (with only minor variations). The long celluloid BB2 model retained this section throughout its lifespan. Also, the first BB2B Blue and Jade had it, but in the newer shorter models it was replaced with the tapered version (again slight variations between models).

BB2B Jade and Blue and BB205Bs had slightly shorter sections, bell-shaped and tapered respectively.

The safety cap dropper fillers have the tapered type screw-in section.


The ladder feed was introduced in Blackbirds in the late 20s, around the time when new celluloid pens appeared. Therefore, the late ebonite pens may have the ladder and the earliest celluloids still feature the flat feed.

There were at least two version of the flat feed.

I think that the feeds are generally interchangable between all nib size 2 pens except the 52xx series (and later ones) which have a feed of slightly smaller diameter.

BB205B and removable clips

Blackbirds BB205B (and Swan Minors ?BB205B) have removable clips and it has always puzzled me. Maybe there was still a need for clipless pens or maybe school children more likely broke them and MT looked for an easy way to avoid complex clip repairs. Well, there may be another explanation.

Blackbird Self-filler or Blackbird Self-filling pen

The names seemed to be used interchangably, but the 'Self-filler' is found usually on the shorter Blackbirds.


The nibs from the 30s, 40s and early 50s are relatively similar in terms of imprints and general shape. Earlier ones, specially these from the 20s underwent several transitions in terms of the shape (including breather holes) but it is beyond the scope of my knowledge to present the changes in time in detail.

In general the nibs from the 20s have less tipping material and display less careful manufacturing. On average they are slightly softer but there are also more rigid nibs than in the 30s or 40s pens.


'M.T&Co 14Ct -N.Y.-' - nibs on the American made dropper fillers, before or after the US entered the War?
'M.T&Co 12Ct No2' - nibs on pens made by the American MT during the WW1
'BLACKBIRD _._ 14ct M.T & Co -N.Y.-' and 'BLACKBIRD _ _ 14ct M.T & Co -N.Y.-' - nibs found sometimes on the first self-fillers, what may suggests that nibs for British pens were still made in the US long after the war.


'M.T.&Co <> 12Ct No2' - British Blackbirds including drop fillers usually have 14 Ct nibs, but some have 12Ct ones as well. Maybe some early to 1915/16 dropper fillers then? Maybe the Blackbird started as a pen with the 12Ct nib?
'BLACKBIRD 14Ct MADEINENG M.T&CoLd 1 [or something else]' - found on both self- and dropper-fillers, possibly first half of the 20s but may be earlier
'BLACKBIRD 14Ct MADEINENG M.T&CoLd L' - ?late 20s can L stands for London?
'BLACKBIRD 14Ct MADEINENG M.T&CoLd' - late 20s and early 30s, still found on some celluloid pens with the simple feed
'BLACKBIRD 14Ct No 3 MADEINENG M.T&CoLd L' - as above, Blackbird Self-filler No 3
'BLACKBIRD 14Ct M.T&CoLd MADE IN ENGLAND' - standard nib imprint from the late 20s or early 30s untill the early 50s, together with the ladder feed only

'BLACKBIRD G 14Ct M.T&CoLd MADE IN ENGLAND' - not sure what the G stands for but similar nibs can be found across all pens from the 1930s (possibly including the late 20s and 50s). The ones I tried are rather pleasantly soft.

'BLACKBIRD D 14Ct-585 M.T&CoLd MADE IN ENGLAND' - ?early 50s, export version, D probably stands for a carbon copy nib

The very late Biro Blackbirds have smaller nibs with simplified imprints (Swan image) and additional D, H and K letters (and others?). The K possibly stands for kugel (ballpoint type of a nib).
Last edited by btine on June 25th, 2018, 1:24 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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