Tag Archives: ballpoint pens

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Know Thy Obsession

Starting a pen collection isn’t always easy. There are soooooo many great pens out there in need of a good home. Where do you begin?

There is no right or wrong way to begin, but sometimes it helps to narrow your options.

Do you like dip pens, fountain pens, ballpoint pens or rollerball pens? Do you prefer vintage pens or modern? Do you want to write with them? If so, do you want to use them for everyday writing or do you want to perform calligraphy or Spencerian scripts? Do you just love their design and aesthetic? Are you collecting for an investment? Are you looking to make an impression during special signing ceremonies? Are you dedicated to a specific period in history and only want pens to go with what is perhaps a larger collection of that era? Do you love to tinker with things and want to learn the art of pen restoration? Do you simply love the fact that millions and millions of dollars were spent researching and designing many complicated ways to fill a fountain pen with ink?

It is not unusual at all to find yourself drawn to one or more of these questions. Over the course of this series we will begin breaking down each of these questions and discuss the pertinent issues with each of them, along with other elements of collecting pens.

TYPES OF PENS

Defining the four major types of pens is a good way to find common understanding and definitions of what you are interested in collecting. Most of this might be what many of you already know, but you would be surprised by how many people are still learning. I especially want to encourage people to learn as much as they can about this fun hobby…and obsession.

Some dip pens are made of glass, gold, silver, wood and even ivory.

This is a modern dip pen made of Murano glass. It is great for testing new inks.

Dip pens are the most basic type of pens that use water-based inks. You can still find many beautiful examples dating back as far as the 1700s when ornate metal pens began replacing feathered quills. A dip pen can be typically made of metals, glass, wood or ivory. The writing point is called a nib, which was usually made of gold, glass or steel. To write, you simply dipped the nib in ink and started scribbling. Depending on the pen, you could write about two to ten words per dip. You can find many base-level dip pens with steel nibs for around $1. Yet, some dip pens are ornately made with silver, gold, mother of pearl, ivory and other precious materials. Big flexible gold nibs from the late 1800s are prized for their ability to create works of art with the Spencerian handwriting method.

Mug Shot of Shelby Foote: historian, author

Author Shelby Foote wrote his comprehensive history of the Civil War using an authentic dip pen of the era.

FUN FACT: The famous American Civil War historian Shelby Foote wrote the rough draft to his extensive two-volume history of the war using an authentic Civil War-era dip pen and period appropriate nibs! He said he did it to feel a closer connection with the people about whom he was writing and to slow himself down to really think about what he was writing.

Fountain pens, also known as ink pens, use gold or steel nibs like dip pens, but these pens were the first to carry an internal reservoir of water-based ink. Originally made of hard rubber, these pens first came on to the scene in the late 19th century. Fountain pens seemed to enter their glory days in the 1920s through the 1950s. Myriad mechanical systems were invented to fill a pen with ink. Pumps, levers, buttons, pneumatics, diaphragms, pistons, cartridges and converters have all been used to load a pen with ink. Another feature unique to fountain pens was the inkfeed. This is a special assembly under then nib that delivers ink to the nib while regulating its flow. Typically, fountain pens can hold 8 to 12 legal pad pages worth of ink. Some pens can hold a lot more ink and others much less.

American author Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, was the spokesman for the Conklin Pen Company in 1903.

FUN FACT: Mark Twain was the first celebrity to be paid to endorse a pen company. The Conklin company of Toledo, Ohio, paid him to speak well of their Conklin Crescent. Twain claimed he liked their early fountain pen best because it carried its own ink reserve, and its crescent-shaped filling system prevented the pen from rolling off his desk. He left out the fact that he was the first author to ever write a novel on the marvelous new invention called the typewriter…and had no intention of going back to pens to write novels. Faster and ultimately easier to use and easier to read than a fountain pen, both writing instruments remained vital for myriad needs.

Ballpoint pens were first invented during World War II. Fountain pens use water-based inks drawn, normally, from glass inkwells. They are also gravity fed. Thus, while running around under fire in combat, it is difficult to keep your pen from making a mess and your inkwell to keep from breaking. A ballpoint pen uses a (typically) tungsten ball bearing at the base of a cartridge full of oil-based ink. The ink is more viscous and less likely to slop around and make a mess. The ball lets the pen write on most any surface. The early generation ballpoints had a lot of issues, primarily due to the ink drying too quickly inside the cartridge. Yet, once ink cartridges were perfected, these pens became infinitely cheaper and easier to mass produce than traditional fountain pens. The ink lasted much longer, dried instantly on the page and took a much longer time to dry out inside the cartridge. Soon the pens were gussied up with great designs that employed twists, clicks and caps to protect their writing points. These days, ballpoint pens rarely have caps and are more readily identified by being either twist or click pens.

FUN FACT: Parker first introduced its Jotter model click ballpoint pen in the 1950s, and it is still one of the most popularly sold ballpoint pens today!

Rollerball pens were the last major evolution of pen designs. Many pen users found that they missed the smooth, fast-writing action of water-based ink but preferred the ballpoint style compared to fountain pens. As such, the rollerball was born. It combined the best of both worlds by having cartridges that hold water-based ink that is delivered with a very smooth, fast and efficient ballpoint.

What type of pen is your favorite?

Me? I love all pens, but my greatest passion is for fountain pens. After discovering my late grandfather’s Sheaffer Lifetime when I was 9, I was hooked. It wrote better than anything I had ever experienced. I was a particularly strange child. I clearly remember resenting my first grade teacher who made us write with pencils. Dirty, ever-shrinking and inconsistent pencils. The sloppy, ugly stains left by erased mistakes. “Only adults can use pens,” my first through third grade teachers insisted. I genuinely resented them for it, and I routinely asked special permission to use pens on homework that was especially important. Weirder still, I would try to rally my classmates in protest of pencils. Honest to God! And I resented them when they preferred pencils and being shackled with the label of irresponsible children not yet ready for something as clean, dignified and mature as pens. I actually rejoiced when Ms. Bartuce permitted those of us with especially neat handwriting to use ballpoint pens toward the end of fourth grade.

You can ask my parents. I am not making this up.

I never dared bring my precious fountain pens to school, but I was particularly devoted to my clickable Parker Jotter in junior high. When I was an exchange student in Germany during my junior year of high school, all of my classmates saved up their money to drink themselves blind in a country that served alcohol at 16. Me? I knew that most Germans still use fountain pens and that I could get real bargains on brand new fountain pens that would be way too expensive in the U.S. Instead of getting drunk every night, I insisted my host family take me to a quality stationary store where I fell in love with an elegant stub-nibbed Rotring. (I wasn’t totally square. I also fell madly in love with a beautiful blonde fraulein who liked me as much as I liked her. We just never drank to the point of vomiting in the gutter.)

Farewell, President Obama

After faithfully serving the country for 8 years, for better or worse, through thick and through thin, President Barack Obama hands the reins over to Donald Trump today. Judging by the uproar online and everywhere else, it will be a sadder day for some than others.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

President Barack Obama signs a bill into law using a black-and-sterling-silver ballpoint Cross Century II. During his first term in office, we noted he was using Cross Townsend pens to sign bills.

However, as we put aside politics for our shared love of pens, we noted earlier in his presidency that President Obama was signing bills into law with Cross Townsends. As we have noted the changes in presidential pens from Esterbrooks to Parkers to Cross pens, we to must acknowledge one last change in President Obama’s signing pens.

Some time during his second term we spotted this photo of him using a different Cross pen. These are the Cross Century II ballpoint pens in black lacquer with a sterling silver cap. It is a handsome pen and nicely weighted, while being a little thicker around the middle than the more common Cross Century pens each of us likely has two dozen of rattling around a desk drawer or shoe box.

With that observation, we wish the Obama family well and thank them for their service to our country … while wondering what pens President Donald Trump will use.

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!

Visit Us at the Chicago Pen Show

It is almost time for the Chicago Pen Show, and we'll be there with 2 tables! Stop by and visit. We can't wait to see you there.

It is almost time for the Chicago Pen Show, and we’ll be there with 2 tables! Stop by and visit. We can’t wait to see you.

Believe it or not, I think this will be our 5th year at the Chicago Pen Show! We just got our confirmation in the mail that we will celebrate with not just one but two tables! The show runs May 2 – 4.

This is our home show, so we will be loaded down with the things you can’t buy from us online. Vintage ink towers that are still full. Pen cases. Pens we have restored but not yet had time to post. Parts! And then there are the perennial favorites: our $1 and $5 collections. Clunkers, ballpoints and god knows what else for extra cheap.

The Chicago Pen Show is the nation’s oldest and original vintage pen show. It now also features plenty of bargains on modern pens like our pre-owned pen collection, too. The giant pen auction is still a favorite for most people.

My favorite part is always meeting the customers and other dealers. As a 9-year-old who was totally geeked out by pens, I couldn’t find another soul who shared that interest…not even among adults. As I got older I collected in isolation, assuming I was the only person left who was into vintage pens. Although I had some success selling restored pens at an antique store, you can imagine my first Chicago Pen Show when I was suddenly surrounded by thousands of people who shared my passion for pens.

Every year I learn hundreds of new things and make countless wonderful connections. I can’t wait to attend in just another couple weeks. Who knows who I’ll meet and what I’ll learn. Please stop by the table and gab for a spell.