It’s obvious that old pens don’t work as well as newer ones. Take a look at the first fountain pens to be produced and how poor the ink delivery was due to feeds like tongue depressors. Like with any technology it takes a while to reach perfection. Another factor in early pens was that flexible nibs need a lot of ink to make those wide lines when the nib is under pressure. So in the late 19th century you wound up using a pen that would give you a nice ink blob in the middle of a word.
Various methods were attempted to make the better mouse…er…pen trap including some which were half or quarter baked. What is called an “overfeed” was effective enough to have lasted on some pens like Onotos and Swans for nearly 20 years. I won’t go into great detail but what the overfeed does is the same as the underfeed: ink saunters down it to the point from the reservoir. This gives it a double dose of inky goodness needed by super flex nibs.
I have a great example of this type of setup in an export Swan slip-cap eyedropper you see above. Why I say “export” is that this was sold in France where legally calling something “gold” meant that it had to be 18kt or above in quality. When I removed this nib I saw the text verifying this as well as the word “broad”. I think this is more a stub nib than a broad and with its flex is quite a joy to use.
If you want to see the few parts that go into this simple pen take a gander it during cleaning and restoration. There’s a barrel, a feed, a plug with wire retainer, a nib, the overfeed, and the cap. It’s such a graceful pen in how few bits make it up. Plugs go into holes and in this case it’s an alternative way to fill the pen. You can pull the plug (the Swan will not keel over) and use an eyedropper in that spot. The only confusing thing you might see is the modern addition of an o-ring on the section to seal it better.
Another interesting fact is that this is an American made Swan. The company that made Swan and other model fountain pens, Mabie Todd & Bard (just Mabie Todd in later years), goes back to the mid-19th century making dip pens and pencils. By the turn of the century they had been making fountain pens for a while and started a British subsidiary. That UK arm really took off and their product was a success while the U.S. sales slowly dropped. The single company became two and parted ways. The U.S. firm closed up shop in the late 1930s while the other advertised itself as “The Pen of the British Empire”.
I’ve never quite seen a pen that can put down a line as wide as this pen does when flexed. When ink runs out in these instances you get “railroad tracks” or a double line since there’s not enough ink to fill the center. So, one can see the odd feed is doing the job. Yay for old tech!