Mabie Todd Swan Visofil V Series 1935-1936
by Jim Mamoulides 9/10/02
Updated With Laurence Oldfield 1/19/03 and 5/31/03 and Steve Hull 6/30/04

Visualization Is All The Rage

Following the huge success of the Parker Vacumatic, by the mid-1930s most pen manufacturers responded by creating pens with visible ink reservoirs and plunger type filling mechanisms. Several companies had "ink visible" or "ink-view" pens in the works or already released. Dunn offered a plunger type pen with a clear barrel as early as 1923. Conklin released the Nozac in 1931, with its large view window, and also a plunger filler similar to the later Sheaffer Vacuum-filler as an "All American" line pen. The first English-made fully ink visible pen was Ford's Patent Pen, introduced in August 1931. Sheaffer, one of the world sales leaders, approached this cautiously, releasing its ink visible "Vacuum-Fil" plunger line in 1934 as a stand-alone brand, and then later adding the system to the low-end WASP line, before finally applying it to the flagship Sheaffer brand pens. But it was still the Parker Vacumatic that spurred the industry.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 1935 Advertisement Showing 'V' Series Models
Courtesy Laurence Oldfield

Mabie Todd entered this market somewhat late with its offer, introducing the Visofil pen in 1935. The pen was principally for the English and European market, selling in England at the premium price of 25 shillings. Unlike the Parker Duofold and Sheaffer Jade Senior, which were priced high during a decade of growth in wealth, the Visofil was introduced in the middle of the Great Depression, when money was very tight. The pen proved not to be a major sales success, making them now more difficult to find. They are probably very uncommon in North America, because by the time of the pen's release, Mabie Todd was winding down USA operations.

The Visofil V Series is a uniquely designed ink sac pen with a clear plunger providing a view to the ink level. This design gives the benefit of increased ink capacity, as the sac extends the length of the barrel and opens into the plunger. The V Series has a very long breather tube, a very early use of this device, which allows the pen to fill almost completely with a reduced number of strokes. This is a very cleverly designed pen!


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V211 / 60 Open, Ready To Fill, With Box and Papers c1935

The Visofil V Series line was made only in England. Production was from September, 1935 until September, 1937, when the VT series was then introduced. The VT series probably ceased production in early 1942, according to research done by Steve Hull. Mabie Todd did not renew production of the Visofil line after the war.

It's interesting to note that many pens prized today by collectors, such as the Parker Duofold Mandarin and the Sheaffer PFM, were also high quality pens that failed to captivate the market at the time.

The 'V' Series Visofil - An Ink Visible Plunger

There are two types of Visofil pens. The earlier 'V' series, or Mark 1 was patented in 1934 by Edward Sears and Mabie Todd and Company Limited, as an "ink visible pen with increased ink capacity." This earlier version has a long blind cap, being almost one third the length of the barrel, which covers a large octagonal clear plastic plunger, similar in size to a Parker Speedline Vacumatic plunger, and gives the pen a similar look. The plunger provides a view to the ink in the pen, giving the user an idea of how much ink is left before refilling is needed.


Detail of Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series 1935 Advertisement Illustrating How The Pen Fills
Courtesy Laurence Oldfield

Laurence Oldfield notes in his article, "Mechanisms Revealed - 1. The Swan Visofil", "The pen as actually produced differs only in detail from the patent, as can be seen from the parts: its operation is elegant and a natural development from pre-existing designs. The transparent hexagonal ink reservoir is an extension of the rubber sac and acts as a push button to compress the sac longitudinally against the action of a surrounding spring. The filler is prevented from rotating by a hexagonally bored brass bush fixed to the end of the barrel. This also provides attachment for the blind cap."


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series Box and Papers c1935

The 'V' series Visofil came initially with a filigree cap band and an assortment of colors. The Mabie Todd color names were Black, Russet & Jade, Amethyst & Gold, Italian Marble, and Brown Amber. This full size pen was fitted with a No. 2 nib, and is about 5 inches capped and 6 1/8 inches posted, and sold for 25 shillings. The clipless Ladies pen was fitted with a No. 1 nib, and is about 4 1/4 inches long capped and considerably narrower in diameter. This petite pen was produced in in the same color range and sold for 21 shillings.

In 1936, Mabie Todd redesigned the line, making two versions of both the full size pen and the ladies pen. Trim and color changes were made, including splitting the filigree cap band into three parts, the core filigree flanked by two narrow cap bands. The ladies pen was significantly increased in size, now measuring 4 3/4 inches long capped.

Interestingly, the Visofil was advertised "not intended to supercede or replace the Leverless," indicating some concern Mabie Todd had about the new line cannibalizing the sales and profits of an existing line.

Following is a run down on all the V-Series models, including spotting elements and colors available. Color names are the original Mabie Todd names and spellings. Visofil pens followed the Mabie Todd numbering system, where a Black V-Series full size pen would be numbered as model V211 / 60. In this case, the "V211" is the pen model, the "2" is the nib size, and the "/ 60" indicates the Mabie Todd color number.

1935 V-Series Visofils

The first offering of the V-Series Visofil was in September, 1935 and the line consisted of two models, a full sized man's pen and a very small clipless ladies pen. In general, the V-Series line followed the look and finish of the Mabie Todd Swan Leverless pens.

V211 The early, large V-Series Visofil is the most commonly found model. Available with matching Fyne Point pencil at 7/6. The Fyne Point pencil also matched the Leverless pens.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V211 / 63 Russet & Jade Pen c1935

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 59 Italian Marble, / 60 Black, / 63 Russet & Jade, / 64 Brown Amber, and / 67 Amethyst & Gold - a black pen would be model V211 / 60
  • 1/4 inch wide rolled gold filigree cap band
  • Rolled gold washer clip with Swan logo stamped at top, split two faceted tang, and large ball end
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "2" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #2, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 5 inches long capped and 6 1/8 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 25 shillings

V111 The V111 is a very small pen, similar in size to the dainty ringtop pens of the previous decade. The V111 followed the larger V211 in styling, though without a clip and smaller in size. Available with matching Fyne Point pencil at 7/6.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V111 / 59 Ladies Italian Marble Pen c1935

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 59 Italian Marble, / 60 Black, / 63 Russet & Jade, / 64 Brown Amber, / 67 Amethyst & Gold - a Brown Amber pen would be model V111 / 64
  • 3/16 inch wide rolled gold filigree cap band
  • Clipless
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "1" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #1, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 4 1/4 inches long capped and 5 1/8 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 21 shillings

1936 V-Series Visofils

Several changes were made in the line for the second year of production, which began in October, 1936. These changes included new colors, new trim, and two new models. The petite V111 was upgraded substantially in size.

V211 Several changes were made in the V211 in the second year of production, including new colors, splitting the filigree cap band into three pieces, and reducing the size of the ball on the clip. Available with matching Fyne Point pencil.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V211 / 66 Emerald Pen c1936

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 49 Imitation Mother-O'-Pearl, / 52 Blue, / 66 Emerald - an Emerald pen would be model V211 / 66
  • Two narrow rolled gold cap bands flanking a diamond filigree band, totaling 1/4 inch wide
  • Rolled gold washer clip with Swan logo stamped at top, split two faceted tang, and small ball end
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "2" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #2, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 5 1/8 inches long capped and 6 1/4 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 25 shillings

V212 In October, 1936, Mabie Todd introduced a two cap band variation of the V211. Essentially the same pen, in all other respects. Available with matching Fyne Point pencil.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V212 / 66 Emerald Pen c1936

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 49 Imitation Mother-O'-Pearl, / 52 Blue, / 66 Emerald - a blue pen would be model V212 / 52
  • Two narrow rolled gold cap bands
  • Rolled gold washer clip with Swan logo stamped at top, split two faceted tang, and small ball end
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "2" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #2, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 5 1/8 inches long capped and 6 1/4 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 25 shillings

V111 The V111 continued to follow the larger V211 as a ladies clipless version. In October, 1936, Mabie Todd made the pen much larger, and created a plainer version, called the V112, expanding the line for the ladies model. Available with matching Fyne Point pencil.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V111 / 66 Ladies Emerald Pen c1936

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 49 Imitation Mother-O'-Pearl, / 52 Blue, / 66 Emerald - an Imitation Mother-O'-Pearl pen would be model V111 / 49
  • Two narrow rolled gold cap bands flanking a diamond filigree band, totaling 1/4 inch wide
  • Clipless
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "1" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #1, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 4 3/4 inches long capped and 5 3/4 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 21 shillings

V112 The V112 was introduced in October, 1936, and is styled as a clipless variant of the V212, but is sized the same as the new and larger sized V111. Only trim differentiates the the V112 and the V111. Available with matching A40 Fyne Point pencil at 10 shillings.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V112 / 59 Ladies Italian Marble Pen c1936

Identification guide and features:

  • Plastic cap and barrel in the following colors, shown by the Mabie Todd color number and name: / 49 Imitation Mother-O'-Pearl, / 52 Blue, / 66 Emerald - an Emerald pen would be model V112 / 66
  • Two narrow rolled gold cap bands
  • Clipless
  • Black hard rubber cap top with stamped and white highlighted Swan logo
  • Conventional 14 karat gold nib, stamped "SWAN" over "1" over "14CT" over "MABIE TODD" over "& CO LTD"
  • Nib is Mabie Todd #1, which is stamped on the nib face
  • Nib grades included extra-fine, fine, medium, broad, and oblique, in firm and flexible
  • Swan Visofil imprint, with the Swan logo, appears on the center middle of the barrel
  • About 4 3/4 inches long capped and 5 3/4 inches posted
  • Black hard rubber section
  • Retail price for the pen was 21 shillings

Performance

Visofils are definitely not common pens, especially in the USA. The only examples I have purchased have been off eBay or from collectors in the UK. All of the eBay pens have had to be serviced. For this review, I was able to sample each of the 'V' Series models. These are all very different pens with some strong common Mabie Todd characteristics.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil 'V' Series V111 / 59 Ladies Italian Marble Pen c1935

It was a real treat to be able to try out these pens. I have never seen one in the wild and only a very few at a pen show. The full range of colors and the depth of the plastic is very impressive. The emerald color is much more vivid in natural light than shows up in photographs. A real challenge to bring that out!

I have had the opportunity to see all of the colors and the blue and Mother-O'-Pearl are most impressive. The Mother-O'-Pearl is probably the rarest color. Emerald and black appear to be the most common. Emerald, blue, and Brown Amber look like the same plastic in different colors. Mabie Todd used some very beautiful plastics.

The pen sits fairly low in the pocket due to the top mounted washer clip, positioned high on the cap. Each pen has a sturdy and high quality feel, with everything fitting together snugly and tightly. Each posts with no fuss and quite securely, but with the exception of the tiny ladies pen, each barrel is long enough that it feels well balanced without.


Mabie Todd Swan Visofil #1 Nib - Note English "Carat" Marking

The large 'V' Series pens with the filigree cap band is a bit feminine in tone. The cap band design works better on the smaller Ladies pen, in my opinion.

This selection of pens had a range of nib sizes, and the nibs varied from firm, to springy, to very flexible. All are quite smooth and very nice writers, a Mabie Todd trait. This is a characteristic I've noticed on many Mabie Todd pens, and is of note that in the 1930s, when pen manufacturers were solidly on the path to larger and stiffer nibs, Mabie Todd pens appear to be more generally available with smaller, yet softer and more flexible nibs.

Filling the pen requires the same repeated pumping until the ink level rises up the plunger, which is fun to watch. I put the early 211 / 60 black pen in rotation and it is an exceptionally good writer with large ink capacity. The filler design is quite unusual, with only the plunger indicating ink level, which is effective, but requires the blind cap to be unscrewed to check.

The tiny 'V' Series V111 / 59 Italian Marble Ladies pen is a very appealing design. It's clean and well balanced, and the cap band looks perfect as the only ornamentation. The plastic is very attractive, with a lot of depth and color. If I have any complaint about the pen, it's that the cap does not post very well, so larger hands may find the pen cramped, rather than cute, in use. This little pen needs a nice purse to be kept in.


Mabie Todd Swan Pens (Left To Right) - Note Size Comparison
Leverless / Visofil 'V' Series V211 / 60 / Visofil 'V' Series V111 / 59 Ladies

Visofil pens are very uncommon, but I would not call them rare. They can be found in the USA, and will command a moderately high price, similar to high end Vacumatics. They are much more likely to turn up in the UK, and UK vintage pen dealers do offer them from time to time. If you want one, make certain it has been serviced. Although not especially difficult to restore, the Visofil V Series pens are serviced by a small number of repair people, and most of those who can are in the UK.


Acknowledgement

Grateful thanks to Laurence Oldfield. A great deal of the information used to update this article, especially technical details and model information, is from his article, "Pen Mechanisms Revealed - 1. The Swan Visofil", and is used with the permission of the author. Dr. Oldfield repairs Visofils and can be contacted at his website, The Pen Practice. Dr. Oldfield also supplied the second photo in the left margin and the advertisement scans used in this article.

Also, many thanks to Steve Hull who supplied the color identification information and detail information about the different models of the V Series Visofil pens from his as yet unpublished work on Mabie Todd pens. Steve supplied the advertisements and patent details for Laurence Oldfield's original article.

Comments on this article may be sent to the author, Jim Mamoulides
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Last Update 7/18/04