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Onoto History  

De La Rue had made their name as high quality printers, responsible for the printing of bank notes and postage stamps. They had printed British and Indian stamps since 1865 and had started printing bank notes in 1860. By the first few years of the 20th Century, the directors had recognised that they may not hold on to the UK postage stamp contract and were actively looking for other sources of income. It was not surprising then, that the opportunity to move into the pen manufacturing business was met with such enthusiasm.

Sweetser's pen was openly embraced by Evelyn Andros De La Rue, a Director of the company who himself had recently patented a similar pen. Recognising the opportunity which such an invention would give his company the patent was purchased from Sweetser. At the time, the insertion of ink into fountain pens was undertaken largely with eye-droppers and was, at best, a clumsy and time-consuming affair. By making the ink-filling operation simple, Evelyn De La Rue recognised that his company would have an overwhelming advantage over all other pen manufacturing companies at a time when there was huge growth in the use of fountain pens.


Onoto, the trading name chosen for the pen, has no special meaning; it is said that it was chosen because it was easy to remember, easily pronounced and sounded the same in any language. One source suggests that the name was chosen because De La Rue had a large market in the Far East.

George Albert Rowe Sweetser was born on 29 May 1842, in Hoxton Old Town, Middlesex and married Maria Elizabeth Sanders at St. Saviour, Southwark, Surrey on 20 Sep 1869. Whether the marriage failed or Maria died is a mystery, for by 1881 his wife was Charlotte Kempton and they had three children, Maud aged 13 and twins Clara Helen and Helen Clara aged 11. At this time, George was a Magic Lantern Maker while Charlotte and her three daughters were to run a successful Ladies Outfitters. George was a prolific inventor and a number of his patents are still in force today. Oddly, he was also recognised for his skill as a roller skater! He is also thought to have written a book "How to Live to 100" but regrettably he died at the age of 98. It is thought that he might be buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.

The picture of George Sweetser is reproduced from "The House that Thomas Built - The History of De La Rue" by kind permission of De La Rue Holdings plc.