Fountains Of Joy

Fountains Of Joy

by Ruth Lawrence

A chance discovery led Joy Madgwick to a fascinating new hobby of pen collecting. Ruth Lawrence pays a visit to see the collection for herself.

If you need to jot down a list or write a note chances are you’ll grab a throwaway plastic biro, something cheap, convenient and readily available. Joy Madgwick is a lady who never has to hunt for something to write with; she has a collection of over a hundred pens and she shared some of their fascinating histories with me.

Joy’s collection began with the discovery of a pen in a bureau when her aunt passed away in 1990; it probably belonged to her uncle and was a Canadian Parker Victory Mark II from the mid 1940s. She had the pen repaired by an enthusiast and dealer in Essex who later sold his entire collection at an eagerly awaited auction in London. Although Joy didn’t purchase any at the sale, she’d caught the collecting bug and her job working in a local pen department fed her passion for stylish writing instruments of every description.

One of her rarest pens is a 1955 Conway Stewart no.22 floral, in which flowers were printed onto a type of parchment, which was laminated onto the casing. Only 200 were made which now means these pens are highly collectable. Another pen by the same maker from the late 1940s features a cracked ice design and demonstrates how manufacturers had to constantly come up with new variations to feed an ever growing market.

Prices for a top quality pen could be enormously expensive; the equivalent of many hundreds of pounds in today’s money. Pens were promoted as luxurious gift items and advertising accentuated the unique qualities of every new design. Churchill used a Conway Stewart pen throughout the war years and the Queen was presented with two in gold to commemorate her Golden wedding anniversary.

Pen nibs always used to be made from gold but now are usually steel or gold plate and a company called Eversharp used to make adjustable nibs which could be slid up or down to increase the width of the nib edge. Eversharp’s best selling pen, the Skyline was designed by Henry Dreyfus, a famous industrial designer and would not leak even at high altitudes as it incorporated a breather tube. Although fountain pens have been around since the 1880s, prior to this, nibs were simply dipped in ink; there is record of Samuel Pepys reservoir ink pen in 1663.

Joy’s enthusiasm for her collection has evolved into a series of talks she presents for WI, Rotary and Probus groups and she belongs to the Writing Equipment Society ( that produces a members’ journal and host a large show on the first Sunday in October in London. There’s something inherently satisfying about writing with a well designed ink pen; Joy’s collection certainly reignites the style that words can conjure when so beautifully written.

If you would like to book a talk with Joy, she can be contacted on