When a ballpoint just won’t do
Posted 5 May, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker
To some, pens aren’t just a slightly more indelible pencil, they are beauty personified. I might lust after an MGB GT, or a Bugatti Veyron, but to others Montblanc or Parker are what set the pulse racing. Perhaps it’s time another name joins this illustrious company, that of MacNiven & Cameron.
MacNiven & Cameron were new to me when I stumbled upon a sheet of advertising produced for them by Bartholomew on 26 August 1879. I am told twelve reams were printed, and accepting that these were printers reams, that equates to 6192 copies. Their premises, at this time at least, was to be found at 23 to 33 Blair Street, Edinburgh.
One of the things which instantly struck me about the company was the sheer choice offered to the discerning pen lover. No mere ballpoint or fountain pen on offer here but how about a Rifle Pen or a Ladies’ Pen? One which particularly troubled me was the oddly marketed Hand Pen, but all was revealed when later down the list you come across the Shoulder Pen, one can only imagine how that might have worked!
Various testimonials from highly regarded newspapers attest to the quality of the products on offer. A particularly glowing one makes the extraordinary claim that:
“There is magic about these pens”
That might explain the shoulder thing….
But, they didn’t just stop at pens and pen nibs; they also produced stationery of repute and notably The Royal Exercise Book.
As can be seen, what better to sum up the claimed regality of this product than a semi-naked charioteer, slightly feminine looking horses and Pharonic masks! And that’s what I like about MacNiven & Cameron. I don’t know much about their pens and I don’t know much about them but what they leave behind in this small collection of advertising is a glimpse into the insanity of their world. The names of the products, the ardent nature of the testimonials, surely not entirely honest. Maybe the newspaper review in its entirety read:
“It’s certainly not true to say that there is magic about these pens”
Nevertheless, it was a formula which worked for them as MacNiven & Cameron were successful for almost 200 years and well into the 1960’s. And although the firm may no longer exist even the quickest internet scan reveals something of the current cult nature of this firm and its advertising. One can even purchase an ironic t-shirt. With the odd imagery and the layer upon layer of hard sell it’s hard to not be sucked in and maybe start coveting a MacNiven & Cameron above cars after all.