A 3-Month Ink-Fast Test

A gentleman at this year’s Chicago Pen Show showed me his very elaborate ink-fast test to see which of his inks could best withstand direct sunlight for an extended period of time. He tested dozens, if not more than 100 inks, to see how they looked new, at 3 months, at 6 months and a year.

As he said most of the damage was done to the ink within the first three months, I decided to try a 3-month ink-fast test on my 8 favorite inks.

8 inks testing day 1

Here are the fresh fountain pen inks on Day 1 of the trial before being placed in my sunniest window.

Hopefully the photos show the results. However, to clarify any difficulties due to all of the variations of computer screens, I shall describe the results, as well.

Lamy Green went from a bright kelly green a faded, almost camouflage green-grey.

Lamy Turquoise turned to a blue-black.

Monte Verde’s new blue fountain pen ink faired second to worst, turning from a nice medium blue to a light shade of grey.

Parker Blue-Black fared best, maintaining a strong dark color more black than blue.

Waterman Florida Blue turned medium grey.

Pelikan Edelstein Adventurine, which is almost a forest green, but not quite, turned turquoise.

Aurora Black Ink turned a medium to darkish brown. This made me wonder if Aurora put a touch of iron in its ink.

Inks after 90 days of sun

After 90 days in direct sunlight, all 8 inks faded. However, it appears that Parker Blue-Black ink held fastest and Yard-O-Led Royal Blue faded the most.

Yard-O-Led Royal Blue, which is an especially brilliant blue when fresh, fared worst and turned to a barely legible sky blue.

Although I had no idea how Waterman Florida Blue would deteriorate over the years, it has been my go-to ink since I discovered it in the 1990s. Now that they no longer make it and changed the formula to Parker’s slightly inferior blue Quink, I am on a quest for a new blue to love. I thought Yard-O-Led would be it, but now I have my doubts. A German friend has turned me on to Diamine Kensington Blue. We’ll have to see how that holds up to the sun.

When I know, I’ll be sure to share.

James Bond Has No Ordinary Mont Blanc

James Bond uses a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand solitaire fountain pen in the classic 1983 film "Octopussy."

James Bond uses a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand solitaire fountain pen in the classic 1983 film “Octopussy.”

Between the ages of 7 and 10, I set out on a quest to watch every James Bond movie made up until that point. Over the course of several summers, I was in a state gadget and spy bliss. I’ve keep up with Agent 007 ever since then. When an opportunity too good to pass up arrived, I was able buy each of the Bond movies in a mega collection on Blu-ray this summer for an insanely cheap price.

Satisfying my inner 10 year old over the summer has been tons of fun. Bond has a history of awesome pens, but the easiest one to identify was a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 Solitaire in the 1983 classic “Octopussy.”

Roger Moore plays Bond, and it is one of his better Bond films. Not as good as “The Spy Who Loved Me,” it is still better than most of his others. This time a fake Faberge egg leads to a ring of jewel thieves led by a mysterious Maud Adams in the title role. Yet, her backers are really using her as a cover for their own nefarious nuclear attack. Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi” fame) is the evil villain.

Unlike a typical Mont Blanc fountain pen, Q tricks out this one to hold a reserve of highly potent acid that burns through metal.

Unlike a typical Mont Blanc fountain pen, Q tricks out this one to hold a reserve of highly potent acid that burns through metal.

As the infinitely clever Q outfits Bond with his gadgets for the film, he hands him the sterling 146. Unlike a traditional fountain pen, it is loaded with a very potent acid instead of ink. The acid is strong enough to melt steel bars. Yet, it is mild enough not to eat through the plastic (oops, we mean “precious resin”) base of the fountain pen under the sterling silver. This is why Q gets paid the big bucks.

Spoiler alert: The pen comes in handy as Bond uses it to bust out of a prison cell in India.

The pen also holds an amplifier that allows Bond to hear conversations through walls. A very hand device for a super spy.

James Bond's sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 also holds a special amplifier that allows him to better listen to conversations through walls.

James Bond’s sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 also holds a special amplifier that allows him to better listen to conversations through walls.

Mind you, I absolutely love Bond movies. But the big question I always have is simply, once the villain identifies Bond is, in fact, Bond and captures him, as he invariably will, why doesn’t he take all of Bond’s stuff. By now they always know that Bond is a super-star assassin/spy who kills every bad guy he comes into contact with. Why do they always–ALWAYS–fail to take his watch, pens and other possessions. Even the ones who used to be spies themselves always fail to thoroughly search him for every possibly possession.

Anyhow, the one really unique thing about this pen in “Octopussy” is that Mont Blanc fails to brand the pen. Instead of their traditional snow cap star, they put on a sterling topper. Mont Blanc even gets special thanks in the credits. It seems odd they wouldn’t want to take advantage of the Bond sales bump.

We have a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen that is very similar to Bond's. Unfortunately, it only holds ink. DO NOT load it with acid!

We have a sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen that is very similar to Bond’s. Unfortunately, it only holds ink. DO NOT load it with acid!

We are more than happy to take advantage of it. We have one such sterling silver Mont Blanc 146 LeGrand fountain pen on our preowned luxury pens pages. It is in great working order and a helluva bargain compared to a new one.

My First Published Book: ‘Little Victories’

It was a dark and stormy decade, but I finally found a publisher for my novel, “Little Victories“!

The aptly named Last Chance Press released it today, which, coincidentally, is the 9th anniversary of ThePenMarket.com’s launch! I guess good things are meant to happen on August 5th. I should buy a lottery ticket.

Here's the front cover of my novel "Little Victories." It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

Here’s the front cover of my novel “Little Victories.” It was beautifully drawn by Kim Kagarise and designed by Rhonda Jackson.

My novel exposes the travesties and small successes of the American children’s mental healthcare system. From laws written to unintentionally benefit sex offenders and other abusers to spending cuts on social services, this story gives voice to the voiceless children across America who are being as abused by the bureaucracy as much as they are their tormentors.

Far from being a bleeding-heart crusade, it is a cold reality check that follows a year in the life of a mental health worker and the elementary school students she tries to help. The characters are fictional, as to write about real people would break confidentiality laws, but the events are events that happen every day in every community in the United States. I’ve spoken with scores of teachers, mental health workers, social workers and local child-protective agency employees. Specific wording of the various laws referenced in the book vary a little from state to state, but the core of the problems are the same in all 50 states. Experts in several states have read this and agree that I’ve nailed the heart of the problems while showcasing the lives most effected by them.

There are no long, dry political rants; this book just shows life as it really is from the points of view of the people most intimately involved in the system. It is a very fast-paced read that I hope keeps you turning the pages.

It is a hard-hitting book, which I hope goes a long way to help people, much like the Boston Globe’s unveiling of the Catholic Church’s child-sex scandal. That reporting only exposed problems in the priesthood. “Little Victories” sheds light on a far more wide-ranging national problem.

As depressing as it can be at times, I intentionally keep a steady stream of really dark humor running through the book. People working under that kind of pressure and duress keep their sanity via gallows humor, which I consciously included to pepper the dialogue and narrative as these employees would. It works much the way humor does in “Catch 22,” the classic Joseph Heller novel about World War II.

I would be hugely honored if you bought a copy of “Little Victories.” You can ask for it in any book store, and you can find it in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com. If you order it from Amazon, please, please, please write a review for it. If I can get enough reviews on Amazon, it will help tremendously to get the word out.

This wouldn’t be much of a blog post for a pen site, if I didn’t mention the pens I used to write this book.

When I started writing this book in early 2005, I was writing in my off hours when I was an editor at a newspaper. I needed some relief from the computer, so I opted to enjoy myself writing the 326-page rough draft longhand. I wrote with my entire–very limited collection–of fountain pens. I wrote the most with my late grandfather’s 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime (black and pearl), a gold Cross Townsend, a Cross Metropolis and a 1945 Parker Vacumatic Major in emerald pearl. I worked in a Rotring double-broad stub pen, too.

It is much easier to compose on a computer, and I probably won’t write another novel out longhand, first, but it was very cathartic to do it on this novel.

Please buy a copy of “Little Victories” and join the fight to help abused kids in your community. Thank you!

Still Hunting Parker Vac Desk Set Trumpet

While searching for the perfect matching desk base trumpets for his special Parker Vacumatic and radio desk set, Jaime A. found this great ad from 1936. We love these classic Vac desk sets from Parker. The 1930s might have been a miserable time to live, with the economy in the tank, but, man, they had style.

Check out these great desk sets Parker was offering in 1936. Imagine stumbling on a pen shop back in the day with those looking minty fresh.

Check out these great desk sets Parker was offering in 1936. Imagine stumbling on a pen shop back in the day with those looking minty fresh.

Fun Pen Repair Help

Not too long ago we were approached by a radio restoration expert named Jaime A. for help on his special 1938 Detrola radio desk set. One of the two Parker Vacumatic trumpets had broken and he needed a replacement. We just so happened to be lucky enough to have a replacement trumpet set.

Photo shows a 1938 Parker Vacumatic desk set that features a clock, weather station and Detrola radio.

A fully restored Detrola radio makes up the centerpiece of this nearly perfect Parker 1938 desk set!

The set fits perfectly, but he wants to get one of the rarer chrome-based, ribbed trumpets to better match what originally came with the set. He also wants matching Parker Vacumatic desk pens (or a matching pen and pencil for such a desk set.). If you can help him out, please reach out to us in the comments, and we will hook you guys up.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this set. Jaime completely refinished the wood and stain, replaced the vacuum tubes in the radio and got the clock and weather station portions working. That’s a lighter in the center of the wooden base!

If any body has a chrome-base and ribbed Parker Vacumatic trumpet they would like to sell, please let us know so we can help Jaime A. finish the final touches on his Detrol Radio and Parker Vacumatic desk set.

If any body has a chrome-base and ribbed Parker Vacumatic trumpet they would like to sell, please let us know so we can help Jaime A. finish the final touches on his Detrol Radio and Parker Vacumatic desk set.

Clearly, those Sheaffers are not the original pens for the set. They are just temporary place holders until he can find the right set of Vacs.

Still, it is one of the rarest and most handsome desk sets we’ve ever seen!

Controversy in Chicago Part IV: Let’s Help the Veteran Vendors!

One of the things that surprised me most at the Chicago Pen Show discussion, in which some veteran vendors and rookie collectors had some difficulties seeing eye to eye on matters of collecting and navigating a pen show, was that several veteran vendors who are extremely well versed in the history and details about fountain pens seemed to know very little about the art of 0442 Sheaffer Admiralselling.

Several of their complaints about rookie collectors were misdirected. “Rookie pen collectors will ask a million questions and never buy anything.” “Rookie collectors only like modern pens/wet noodle nibs/etc.” “Rookie collectors take up too much space in front of my table during peak sales times.”

It isn’t the Rookie Collector’s fault for not buying or for asking questions. Clearly, the Rookie is interested in buying. It is the vendor’s fault for not “selling.” With a little sales training, these vendors can easily avoid these sales pitfalls, deliver excellent customer service and have rookie collectors coming back for more and better pens year after year!

Certain presidential candidates love to brag about the art of the deal, but I found I stumbled into the best sales training early in life. After college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be…and I was already grown up. When a new car dealership opened near me, I applied just so I would have work and time to figure out my next move. I always loved cars, and I’m perfectly comfortable talking up total strangers. It was a great fit for a year, and I probably learned more practical skills at that job than I have at most of my other careers since.

0385 Mont Blanc SolitaireThe neat part about this dealership was that it was one of the first in the country to offer a return policy, a 6-month warranty on its vehicles and a no-pressure, no-haggle sales experience. Deprived of the tactics associated with used-care salesmen, we were given extensive training about no-pressure salesmanship. As we were still commission-based, we had to learn to quickly weed out the tire kickers from the buyers. Everything I learned at the dealership translates directly to pen sales.

Rule 1: Nobody comes to a pen show without the intent to buy pens. As you might only see 100 customers in a day, you must make the most of every opportunity you can to maximize your sales.

Rule 2: Ask questions. You know your merchandise way better than any of your customers. Don’t rely on them to just walk past, spot that one magical pen they want and buy it. Slow them down. Say hello and pepper them with questions.

If you know what to ask, you can sell a $500 pen in as few as two or three minutes and move on to the next customer, without skipping a beat. As I carry a mix of pens on my table, I usually ask this question first of anybody I don’t remember from a previous encounter: “So. What are you into today? Vintage or modern?”

0144 Parker 21I follow that up with, “Do you have a favorite brand or feature you like about vintage/modern pens?”

Or if they said modern, I ask, “Ballpoint, rollerball or fountain pen?”  If they say vintage, I’ll narrow it down to brands, nibs or filling systems.

Maybe that gets followed up with “What price point are you looking for?”

In less than a minute, I’m pointing out all of the pens that I have that they might be interested in. If I don’t have what they want, they’re moving on and I’m free to sell to the next person walking past. Otherwise, I’m maybe getting them interested in a pen they want or didn’t know that they wanted.

Rule 3: Explain why your pens are better. As I show them the pens in which they are interested, I quickly point out that I do and stand by all of my own restoration work. If I know I am particularly competitive on a certain price, I point it out.

Rule 4: Get the merchandise in their hands. I gently demonstrate the pen and how it works. I hand it over to the customer, while holding on to the cap. (People are way less likely to inadvertently wander off with a pen if they don’t have the cap or the barrel.) If I know of a flaw, I point it out. I let them dip the pen and write with it. I ask about the way it feels and maybe explain how to find the sweet spot on the nib. This builds trust, rapport and confidence in me as a seller.

0831NRule 5: Ask for the sale. If they’ve spent a few minutes touching the pen, loving it, writing with it and it seems like a potential winner, I ask for the sale. The price tags are on my pens, and I often just say something like, “So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”

If I did my job correctly, the answer is yes. If not, I keep trying to fine-tune the search until they have a pen they do like.

Rule 6: If you don’t have the pen or type of pens they’re looking for, and you are in a peak sales period…politely say you don’t have it and move on to the next customer. However, always be closing, even when turning people away. “Listen, Mister, I’m only looking for Mont Blanc pens that are under $50. Do you have any?” “Sorry, Man. My Mont Blancs start at $150.” If the unrealistic buyer is dead set on $50, let them keep walking. But, if they’re really just looking for good prices on Mont Blanc, your answer might help direct them to your Mont Blanc pens. Either way, you are making room for the next person or lining up this person to buy something. It is a win-win situation.

If it is a slow day, you can maximize your sales opportunities by acting as an ambassador to whatever it is you have on your table.

I often get rookies who have never tried vintage pens or fountain pens in general. I take the opportunity to show them different filling systems, nibs or other features to familiarize them with vintage pens. I get them dipping and writing with several to see how they feel. I try to keep the pens I show off under $50. This way, they might be more inclined to try vintage if the price tag isn’t too steep and the experience was fun and enlightening. I also try to teach them what to look for regarding damage and other issues with vintage pens. Maybe only 30% to 40% of the people buy something after the lecture, but that is still great considering that these same people were about to walk by without saying a word to me.

0968 Good Service PenHopefully, this advice helps you while hosting your next table at a pen show. This is the final article in my “Controversy in Chicago” series, and I really hope that the whole series has helped rookie collectors and veteran vendors get to know each other and make the pen show experience a far more pleasurable and useful experience.

Best of luck at your next show! Have fun buying and selling!

Controversy in Chicago Part III: Let’s Help the Rookies

Now that veteran vendors and rookie pen collectors are breaking the ice, let’s lend some veteran assistance to the rookies navigating their first pen shows.

1421 Waterman PhileasYour first pen show is bound to be an overwhelming affair. There will be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of vintage and modern pens. You will find rarities you never dreamed of seeing in the flesh, and you will probably want to spend 10 times the amount of money you intended to spend. Plus, there are all of the custom services, which might take months to get performed through the U.S. mail but you can have satisfactorily completed in a single morning or afternoon at a pen show. And then there are the spare parts, inkwells, papers and cases!

To help you safely navigate your first pen shows, here is some advice that ought to help you breakdown the experience and keep it positive.

PRE-GAME STRATEGY
Set a budget and a goal for the show. Need some repairs done? Want a nib ground to perfection? Looking for certain pens? Organize all that you hope to achieve.

1324 Waterman 100 Year PenYour best bet is to put together a list of all the things you’re looking for and hope to do. This way you can take some time to marvel at the splendor of the distractions before you check in on your list to focus on your goals.

Loyal reader Justin P. recommends contacting your favorite eBay and other online vendors to see if they will be at the show. If they are, let them know you can’t wait to see them there and give them a heads up to your list of pens or merchandise that you want. Many will gladly set it aside for you so that you can have first dibs. Plus, it always helps to put names to faces by meeting in person.

Many shows are offering more and more seminars about repairs and the histories of the brands. Check out the show schedule online or in your show pamphlet to see what special events you don’t want to miss. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to help you remember it is time to head over to the seminar. Time passes remarkably quickly, and it is easy to get sidetracked.

If the show offers a weekend pass, you might want to get it. To make the most of the show, it helps to attend all of the days it is open. Day one is your best opportunity to pick up a really rare pen before somebody else snatches it. If it is a 4-day show, days 2 and 4 are quieter days, which are better for meeting new people and asking more questions about the pens and the hobby. Day 3/Saturday will be the busiest day. During trading hours, few vendors will likely want to talk for long because this is their best opportunity to sell the most and pay for their expenses.

Glass Topped CaseYet, some of the best times are after the formal trading closes for the day. You’ll often find clusters of vendors and collectors hanging out, talking or getting a drink. Strike up a conversation with them and get to know who they are, what their pen passions are and let them get to know you. Pen People, regardless of their experience with the hobby, are usually very friendly and chatty. People can usually be found talking pens in the lobby of the venue well into the wee hours of the morning.

SERVICES:
As I don’t do any nib grinding or Mont Blanc piston repair work, I love coming to the shows to take advantage of these services. The trick to navigating these services is to be there the minute the doors to the show open in the morning. If you are one of the first on the repair-person’s list, you can guarantee your pens get done that day.

Be sure to clearly explain to the repair folks what you want done and ask for an estimate first, so you know their prices and aren’t hit with sticker shock. Most repairs are fairly affordable, but it is always best to know what to expect. Vendors won’t mind fixing 2 or 3 pens for you at the show, but don’t expect for them to fix an entire shoebox full of pens at the show. They might ask to take that many pens home with them to work on later.

L15S Lamy Calligraphy NibsAt most shows you can expect to find full-time repair specialists such as Mike and Linda Kennedy of Indy-Pen-Dance, Ron Zorn, Richard Binder and “Mike It Work.” All four of these vendors are nationally known for their excellence. You can’t go wrong with any of them. If you do have 15 to 20 pens you want restored at the show, it might be best to spread 3 or 4 amongst each of them to see who’s work you like best. Expect also a minimum repair bill to be $20 to $25 per pen. It could be up around $40 to $50 if you want your nib ground to a new size and shape.

If you are having nib work done, be patient and remember it is very precise and time-consuming work. Don’t rush your grinder. However, as you are asking for a very specific and personalized repair, don’t be afraid to say the nib still doesn’t feel right when they ask you to test it. They want you to be happy with their services, and they will work hard to get the precise feel you want in your nib. If they spend an inordinately long amount of time getting your pen just right, they might charge you an extra $5 or $10, which is okay. Time is money, and you will get to enjoy that pen and nib for the rest of your life.

DEALING WITH VENDORS
It came as a great shock to me that not all vendors are there to sell. Some table holders are just there to meet with old friends, show off an impressive collection or to do any number of other things. For most of us, it is a business.

To avoid getting overwhelmed or making rash purchases of the first things you see, spend some time walking around and keeping an eye out for the merchandise on the tables. I like to make a complete sweep of the show before making any purchases…unless I spot something rare that I must buy quickly or not see again.

Don’t be shy. Say hi to the vendors and don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for. It is really easy to overlook the pens you’re looking for on tables that seem lightly populated with pens.

Keep a running tally of prices in your head or on a notepad. It is safe to assume you will find dozens of similar pens at the show. Prices and quality could range all over. Plus, it will help you keep from going over your budget…or show you there is room from an extra new treasure.

1262CWhen you are ready to get serious about buying a pen, there is a whole checklist of things to do:

  • ASK the vendor if you can pick up and examine his or her pen (You’d be surprised at how many people break pens or inadvertently mess up an organizational system.)
  • Look over the pen carefully for cracks, dents, imprint quality and brassing
  • ALWAYS try first to UNSCREW the cap. NEVER YANK on a cap.
  • Search for cracks on the lip of the cap with your thumbnail. If you spin the lip of a cap over your thumbnail, it will gently pick up any crack that might not be visible to the eye.
  • Use a loupe to examine the nib. Are there cracks? Is the tipping good? Are the tines aligned? Are one of the tine tips cracked just below the tipping and about to pop free?
  • If the nib looks okay, then test it for flex with your thumbnail. Put the underside of the nib’s tip on the top of your thumbnail and gently add pressure.
  • ASK if you can test the filling system. If you feel any pressure or resistance in the filling system, don’t force it. Ask the vendor if it needs restoration? (Lots of vendors complain about people breaking levers and other pen parts while checking out the filling system.)
  • Finally, ask if the vendor has ink and if you can dip the pen to try it out.

CLOSING THE DEAL
Cash is king. All pen dealers accept cash. However, many are now accepting credit cards due to the simplicity of smart phones and apps by Square and PayPal.

Before you start negotiating the final price, ask if they accept credit cards…if that is all you have with which to pay. This might save everybody some time and trouble. Don’t be upset if they say yes but also tack on an extra 2% or 3% to cover the fee charged by the credit card company. Some deals run the profit margin pretty thin, and it is fair to pay the processing fee.

1265 Pelikan 400NNTo negotiate a deal well, it helps to be well informed about the pen you are buying and its current prices. Be sure to highlight any flaws in the pen and make an offer that is fair and realistic. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that is still too high for you. Yet, don’t be afraid to accept a counter offer that is reasonable, especially if you received good customer service.

Many vendors don’t put prices on their pens. Some of them like to game you a bit to see how much you are willing to pay. Let’s say you’re looking at an aerometric Parker 51 in black with a lustraloy cap. You ask how much, and the vendor replies $100. It’s okay to smile, say thanks and put it back down. Unless it has something rare like a stub nib or some other uncommon feature, he or she will likely counter, “Well how much were you hoping it would be?” You can honestly say–because you know there are 3 bajillion black 51s in the world–that you were hoping for around $50. The vendor will likely acquiesce with something like, “Well, I can do $55.”

Feel free to ask vendors lots of questions, BUT understand that they might expect you to buy something if you take up too much of their time. If you have tons of questions, but aren’t ready to buy, save them until you are with a vendor whose pens you will be buying or until the show slows down and the vendor has more free time to talk.

And, of course, if you do get a cranky vendor who doesn’t treat you as you feel you should be treated, just move on to the next. There are often well over 100 vendors at most shows, and somebody nice will likely have just what you’re looking for.

Have fun!

Controversy in Chicago Part II: Getting to Know Each Other

DISCLAIMER: Painting in broad brush strokes, it will be nearly impossible to describe all of the individual experiences, personalities, struggles, complaints and desires of veteran vendors and folks who are newer to pen collecting. In listening to the “New Pen Show Attendee Forum” at the Chicago Pen Show–and in many conversations since–these are the observations I have made in an effort to better foster understanding and friendship between pen lovers of all ages.

Depending on who you talk to at a pen show…and depending on their age…it isn’t all that uncommon to hear variations of the following statements:

  • “Young people never buy vintage. They only buy limited editions and cheap Asian junk.”
  • “The veteran vendors are a bunch of grumps.”
  • “New pen people are always breaking my pens.”
  • “I’m sick of veteran pen dealers always ripping me off.”

In addition to that, each group seems to find the other group anti-social, although each group is extremely social. One chats all the time online, and the other prefers talking more in person. Each seems out of touch with the other, and it is high time we all got to know each other better. With all of the technology we have, there isn’t a lot of pen love out there any more, and we should unite.

Without further ado, Newbies, meet the…

VETERAN VENDORS:
Without most of the veteran vendors you meet today at a pen show, we wouldn’t have a hobby, and we likely wouldn’t have many–if any–new fountain pens being made.

0800 National The LincolnPen collecting really got its start in the 1970s. The whole world had switched to ballpoints (there were no such things as rollerballs or gels), and everyone was convinced that no one was ever going back to fountain pens.

A group of younger people, almost entirely independent from one another at first, still loved the old fountain pens. They were drawn to them by their beautiful designs, superior writing qualities and curious filling systems.

The pens were plentiful and cheap. Seriously, guys have told me stories about finding Parker Duofolds for as cheap as a quarter at flea markets and in antique stores.

The more they bought, the more they got curious and became amateur historians. There was NO INTERNET. These guys had to track down vintage advertising, catalogs, former employees and corporate archives to find most of the information we can now find in 10 seconds online. They spent whole decades of their lives uncovering this information.

0119NThey also taught themselves and others how to restore vintage pens. One person even bought, restored and began using a rubber ink sac and diaphragm-making machine to keep supplying us the parts to keep restoring these pens.

Many vendors/collectors became obsessed with finding perfect models of every pen a certain company made. Imagine tracking down every color and size of each model pen a company such as Sheaffer or Parker made. Many of these guys have museum-quality collections, and they got much of them for under $20 a pen! (This is an important detail to save for the second half of the post.)(It also is important to note that most of them have spent hundreds, if not thousands, to acquire a single rare model for their collections, as well.) (Another important detail.) These collectors often consider themselves “completists.”

Eventually, the different collectors began to find each other and form pen shows, clubs and publications. Again, no internet, so these organizations grew slowly.

Collecting among these folks–for many but not all–became very competitive. Bragging rights were involved with cutting the cheapest deal and making the largest-margin deal. Bragging rights also were involved in finding the rarest pens, knowing the most about a particular subject and sometimes even conning a fellow/rival collector. Most of it was good-natured, but some people got to playing a little rough, too. There are a lot of good pen war stories out there, for those who are interested.

For those who enjoyed the competitive side of collecting, their core philosophy was something to the effect of: “It is up to the individual buyers to do their due diligence before purchasing a pen. If you don’t investigate the pen and/or do your research, it is your fault for handing over the money without negotiating a better deal.” They also will be the first to tell you that they’ve all been ripped off more than once.

0829 Mont Blanc 149I’m not here to state whether that is right or wrong. I’m not saying every veteran vendor is that way. In fact, I think a lot of them are much more consumer friendly than that. (Many veteran vendors are actually very eager to meet and teach new collectors some of what they have learned in the past 40 years.)  Mostly, I’m just trying to explain some of the bruises new collectors pick up at a pen show.

Further, it is very important to note that vintage vendors turned pen collecting into viable businesses. More than one-man shows, many of these businesses employed people and developed real operating costs. Demand and overhead contributed to the rising prices of pens.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, pen shows were drawing thousands of attendees from around the world. Before long, pen companies began taking notice of the rising demand for vintage fountain pens. In 1992, Mont Blanc released the now coveted Hemingway fountain pen. It was a monster hit with vintage collectors and drew renewed interest from modern pen users. Around the same time, Parker reissued the Gen. MacArthur Duofold, resurrecting the iconic model for the 4th time.

0585 Parker DuofoldAs the popularity of the hobby swelled, vintage pen prices ballooned. The internet and eBay made collecting much more accessible without the need for pen shows. Many of your veteran vendors are big eBay sellers, too. The hobby remained more vintage heavy until the Great Recession in 2008.

Everything went topsy turvy with the recession. Vintage prices crashed along with the stock market. Also, and very sadly, the folks who started the hobby in the 1970s began passing away. Pen makers the world over started producing fountain pens in high numbers. New ink colors were unleashed by the hundreds. New, younger collectors began putting a new face on pen collecting. For better or worse, many of the veteran vendors are having a harder and harder time recognizing the hobby and industry they started.

And thus, it is now time for the veteran vendors to meet the…

NEW GENERATION PEN COLLECTORS:
Young collectors are a lot like veteran collectors 30 and 40 years ago! They are drawn to the hobby by the beautiful designs, superior writing qualities and curious filling systems of fountain pens. They are hungry for more information about the pens and companies who make them. They socialize and congregate by creating new social media forums, blogs, podcasts and Youtube videos and channels.

0830 Visconti OperaNew generation pen collectors likely didn’t grow up using fountain pens. Fountain pens, whether vintage or modern, are still extremely exciting and fun writing instruments to use in their daily lives. They are just learning about the joys and fun to be had by writing with everything from extra-fine nibs to stubs to flexi-points.

Cursive writing hasn’t been taught in public schools in most cities for most of this new millennium. New generation collectors are fascinated by cursive handwriting and are often very eager to try their hand at classic Spencerian script.

They are diving into all of the various colors of ink available to see which ones they like best. They are making the most of some of the options not available to veteran collectors when the veterans were first getting into the hobby.

I have heard many veteran collectors sneer at the fact new generation collectors are users and not completists. This is a misguided sneering that I really want to squash.

As I stated earlier, veteran collectors had a very different economy to start collecting. Not only were vintage pens prevalent in “the wild” for really cheap prices. Wages back then kicked the asses of wages today.

0940NNew generation collectors are buying a lot of cheap Asian pens and Lamys because they are affordable and under $30. New generation collectors likely came out of college with $50,000 or more in debt. Modern housing often costs 50% of their paychecks. Jobs for 20 and 30-somethings are hard to get, and a lot of them are excited if they can get a job that pays at least $40k a year. Plus, many are getting married, starting families and juggling other traditional responsibilities.

Base-line vintage pens are prohibitively expensive to collect as a completist would. If you could buy a good used Parker 51 in 1975 for fifty cents, that same pen now likely goes for $60 to $80. If you want a green, blue, black, golden pearl, grey and burgundy Parker Vacumatic in the standard size, five of them will cost at least $85 a piece and the burgundy will get at least $150. That’s $575 all together. You can spend $2,000 easily to get their matching Maxima companions and another $400 for the demis. Toss in Shadow Waves and Toothbrushes…. Well, you get the idea.

Plus, there is a huge degree of competition from modern pen brands. Vanishing points, Pelikans, limited editions, inexpensive pens with unique, smooth nibs…there’s a lot out there to explore.

So, while new generation collectors aren’t completists, they are serious collectors. Frequently on a budget, they eagerly try a little bit of everything: needle-point extra fines, flexi wet noodles, stubs, vac fillers, limited editions, lever fillers and all of the other cool features that make up the pens we all love.

0979 Omas MarconiOn my site and at my tables at pen shows, I find that the new collectors are very curious about the vintage pens, but they are a little gun shy. They’ve likely seen and read a lot about them, but they have never seen them in the flesh or tried them. Many are a little nervous to admit that they don’t know much but want to learn, so I make sure to give them basic rundowns of the pens, which I put in their hands and let them try. As expected, they often love the vintage and want to explore more. So if you’re a veteran vendor, don’t be afraid to talk to the young’uns and share a little of what you know and let them try the greatness of vintage.

Finally, it is important to note the art of the deal.

New generation collectors have lived their entire lives in a price-posted-is-price-paid economy. Even many car dealerships today don’t negotiate car deals. The older generations hated this enough to kill these type of sales in most retail environments. Plus, the internet makes it impossible to negotiate a price but EASY to comparison shop. It is safe to say that most new generation pen collectors go into pen shows expecting honest, competitive pricing on the merchandise and no-hassle honest deals. Many have done their homework and won’t even deal with somebody with seemingly inflated prices. As users, many new generation collectors expect the pens they buy to work, and if you don’t inform them upfront that the pen is unrestored, it is reasonable for them to feel ripped off, especially if you won’t refund the money once they discover this issue.

It can be argued a pen show is a buyer-beware environment, but forget about repeat business if you run your business this way. Now if you are the type of vendor with 500+ pens on your table, it is safe to say you might not know which pens are restored. Newbies won’t fault you for that, as long as you go over the pen with them to make sure it is what they want. Besides, if you have that many pens, if that pen turns out to be something they don’t want…you’ll likely have another they do. Build trust with them, and they’ll bring their friends to buy more. As simplistic as it sounds, it really boils down to treating one another with fairness and respect.

God knows I’ve gone on long enough for one post, but I hope that I’ve expressed many sentiments veteran vendors and new generation collectors feel. I hope this opens up some more discussion and tears down a few barriers between the two sides of this same pen collecting coin. We’ve got far more in common than we seem to know.

Controversy in Chicago: Generations at Odds

Tensions mounted during an after-hours seminar last month at the Chicago Pen Show.

The Pen Addict, Brad Dowdy, and long-time pen collector and publisher Paul Erano held a discussion that was intended to help new pen collectors learn how to navigate their first pen show. It was a brilliant idea and an honest effort to welcome more so-called pen newbies into the fold of pen collectors.

Yet, sparks flew when several “newbies” expressed some serious complaints about “veteran” vendors treating them with disdain to outright ripping them off. Some of newer attendees found the pen show experience to be more of a bruising contact sport than a pleasurable gathering of like-minded pen lovers–not with all veteran vendors but with more than many newbies would have liked.

Several veteran vendors in the audience pushed back with a litany of problems they had with the new generation of pen collectors who often grabbed their pens without permission, accidentally broke their pens and generally asked too many questions without ever buying anything.

Everybody was civil, and many veterans and newbies were trying to ease tensions more than stir them, but, personally, I felt this was a conversation that is desperately needed in the pen community. It actually made me happy to see the two sides talking to each other and trying to come to a better understanding. And they were getting a great opportunity to do just that.

However, as entrenched as some members of each “side” were in their position, I think each had a really hard time fully expressing their point of view and getting it fairly addressed.

Over the course of the next week or two, I hope to address both sides of this discussion with helpful tips on how to navigate a pen show as both a buyer and a vendor. It is a role I feel uniquely qualified for.

I didn’t go to my first pen show until I was 31 years old…9 years ago. It was a remarkably overwhelming experience that was severely bruising. I was overjoyed to have finally found “my people” only to find that they really didn’t seem to want me to be a part of them. I was frequently treated poorly and ripped off mercilessly. Yet, I’d never seen that many pens before and loved finding them and learning about them. Now, at 40, I’m still one of the youngest vendors in the room, and I’ve made friends with many of the veterans and totally get their perspective as a vendor, myself.

It is my goal to bridge the generational divide of expectations at a pen show. In my next post, I take a look at some of the differences and cultivate a better understanding of who the two generations of pen collectors are. In the post after that, I hope to help acclimate new attendees to the joys and benefits of shopping at a show. In the following post, I hope to teach a few of the “old dogs” new tricks to maximizing the growing youthful turnout at pen shows in a way that rings up more sales and brings many more to come at future shows.

Testing Lamy Nibs & Inks

If you caught us at the Chicago Pen Show, then you saw our really fun Lamy nib-and-ink-testing station. It was a great opportunity to try each of Lamy’s 7 nib sizes used on their super-popular Safari, AL-Star and Studio pen models. Each of our pens was loaded with one of the 7 different ink colors Lamy sells in cartridges.

Check out the 7 standard nib sizes and ink colors put out by Lamy. These range from extra-fine nib to a 1.9mm stub! Blue-black ink gives the best shadowing in a Lamy pen. These nibs can be ordered for any Lamy Safari, Lamy AL-Star and Lamy Studio fountain pen.

Check out the 7 standard nib sizes and ink colors put out by Lamy. These range from an extra-fine nib to a 1.9mm stub! Blue-black ink gives the best shadowing in a Lamy pen. These nibs can be ordered for any Lamy Safari, Lamy AL-Star and Lamy Studio fountain pen.

This sample shows the nibs ranging extra fine, fine, medium, broad, 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm. I think our most popular seller was the 1.5mm nib followed by the medium nib. Extra fine is popular these days, but so many write with a bit of feedback. Personally, I love the medium, 1.1mm and 1.5mm nibs. The stubs offer nice line variation at a very affordable price. In a Lamy Safari, they make great travel pens that can get beat-up or lost without inducing guilt. Plus, with a fancy stub nib, your postcards and journal will look great.

The broad nib is actually much juicier than the image makes it look.

Our most popular inks were purple and turquoise. Purple was no surprise, given the popularity of the new dark lilac Safari. Turquoise did surprise me. Men bought it in droves, and they typically stick to standard blues and blacks. Yet, I’ve been thinking of using it much more than in years past. It’s a nice color.

For folks who like the stub nibs, I highly recommend the blue-black ink by Lamy. As you can see, it offers the most shading. The black is more solidly black without as much shading as a Parker Quink or Pelikan. Green is a great color that seems underused.

We are thinking of making the Lamy nib and ink stations standard for any show we can drive to. Hopefully, we will see you soon. In the meantime, I hope this photo serves as a good indicator as to the qualities of these Lamy nibs and inks.