Grand heritage and fine example of the Luxury pens
True luxury pens. Onoto, originally called Thomas de La Rue and Company Limited, has a very well respected British company that built a printing empire in the 19th century producing stamps, banknotes and playing cards for the commonwealth.
It was actually only in 1880 that they produced the first pen, the Anti-Stylograph. But this was very early in pen history. This is in fact three years before Waterman produced their first pen. A couple of years later, the company bought a patent for a plunger self-filling mechanism. And the Onoto pen was launched around 1905 with the plunger-filler system, that filled the pen using a vacuum of a piston.
Florence Nightingale and the Onoto luxury pens
The name Onoto was invented to help global sales and it needed to be pronounced in most languages, especially those of the far east. Onoto had formidable success in the twenties. Politicians like Winston Churchill, Field Marshall Haig, a high ranking British commander during world war but off course writers like Edgar Wallace, one of the most prolific writers in interwar period in England and Natsume Soseki, one of the most important Japanese novelist of the Meiji Era have been owners of the Onoto pens.
But Florence Nightingale is the emblem of this Onoto pen to me. There are not a lot of women linked to the history of fountain pens to begin with but Florence was unique in many ways. Yes, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a British social reformer and founder of modern nursing, but she was also a gifted and multifaceted writer. This is something most people do not know. It will not strike you if I say that most of her work published in her lifetime was related to medical knowledge. It was written in simple English to popularize the knowledge and careers. But she wrote on many topics, including on religion and mysticism which was only published after her death.
She was an authentic human being, a pioneering woman, and it was an obvious choice for me to place her (above others) next to the ‘Magna’. Although one would never associate her with luxury pens.
Onoto became very fast a global brand, and was quickly known even in the USA, India, Italy and France. Yes indeed, Thomas de la Rue knew a thing or two of marketing. The year the company launched Evelyn De La Rue had a marketing budget of £50,000 which equates to £2.5 million at current prices. I like to highlight that all pens were manufactured in Bunhill Row, London.
In 1921 Thomas De La Rue & Co Ltd was sold by the family to a consortium and the pen business became part of Fife, Scotland, renowned for producing Strathendry paper mill. Corporate governance steps in…
The plunger-filling Onoto pen was for several decades the backbone of their product line. Between the first all black Onoto pens of 1905 and the marbled Onoto pen of the forties, several successful plunger-fillers, all part of the luxury pen line followed each other: the red-chased Onoto of 1913, the over-sized ‘Mammoth’ Onoto (1924), the ‘Princess Mary’ Onoto in powder blue (1925), colored plastic Onoto’s (1928), visible-ink Onoto’s (1935) and finally, the great Onoto Magnas (1937).
The Onoto Magna first produced in 1937 was actually a wonderful product and very close to the Mammoth Onoto of a decade earlier. However its success was interrupted by World War II. Vintage pens can still be found. Thomas de la Rue bank notes factory was destroyed by fire during the Blitz on 11 September 1940. The Scotland production was now used for banknotes because London was no longer safe. Only in 1947 The Onoto Magna was reintroduced, now with a lever-filling mechanism. In 1955 Scotland ceased to produce. However the Onoto company revived once more. Almost half a century later (!), Onoto appeared at the London Stock Exchange in May 2005 with the announcement of the first new Onoto pen for 46 years. Looking at which of the luxury pens they have made since it is clear the Onoto Magna is again their mainstay in their product line. So against all odds the Onoto Magna, besides the vintage pens out there, is still produced and with us today.
If you want to add the vintage pen to your harem of fountain pens than this leaflet of the Onoto website is very useful. They compare the different Magna’s made pre-war, during and post-war. They all have a high resemblance. At the time there was some criticism on the writing experience of the vintage pen. There are several reasons for this. The feed/collector is supposedly too small, the filling of the plunger models was not always consistent and rapid temperature and pressure variations influenced too much the propensity. However the highly flexible No 7 nib has changed all that and is now known as one of the best nibs out there.
There are even brand new modern Onoto Magna Plunger-fillers produced on the market today. They are produced with limited series, and yes, this is how it should be with luxury pens. Compared to the model of 1937, they have an identical design, the same chevron clip and the same plunger-filler vacuum system. However, key components are now made from better materials than those which existed 50 years ago. For example, the plunger rod is made of carbon fibre; the cup valves are a special silicone rubber and use of cork is obviously gone as well. These limited series of luxury pens go up in the 800-1200£ range (or 1300-2000$ or 1000-1500€).
The Onoto Magna Classic come closer to the traditional fountain pen prices, of around 350£ (580$ or 430€). It is a very recognizable pen. The 3 sterling silver cap bands or the silver plated Onoto Chevron are so discernible. There is also a distinctive logo on the cap button.
The body is made of a very hard acrylic with high density. It is almost indestructible. They are always highly polished. The nibs are standard gold plated SS Onoto nr 7, as mentioned before a unbelievable nib recognized to most connoisseurs. However there is the option to either go for the 18ct gold nib or off course you can order your custom nib, for example italic, stub or oblique. This is not your ordinary pen, but rather -as mentioned before- it feels like a luxury pen, so for some this is a must. All nibs come in Fine, Medium and Broad (F, M, B).