Tag Archives: luxury pens

DC Pen Show Was Din-O-Mite!

ThePenMarket.com just celebrated its 10th birthday in style at the Washington DC Pen Show! I can’t believe we have never gone in the past. Despite some organizational hiccups, it was phenomenal. So many pens! So many collectors! So many new and old friends!

This is a Neuport 28 fighter plane used by the Americans against the Germans in World War I

My four days at the show were my four hardest working days of the year. Surrounded by so many great folks, it was all pens from sun-up until well past midnight some nights. It was especially great meeting several long-time Mid-Atlantic customers for the first time in the flesh.

So many pens, supplies, ephemera…

Working my table, I don’t have time to shop much at the show, so my one real show purchase for myself was my long-desired Mont Blanc Boheme with the rarer emerald clip stone. I’ve always loved these modern recreations of the “safety” fillers. Who doesn’t love retractable nibs on fountain pens?

Three WWI planes rest side-by-side when 100 years ago they would have been in a desperate fight to the death. Please note the excessively frail design of the twin-engine observation plane on the top of the photo.

For me the trip to and from is also part of my vacation time. On the way down to DC, I stopped at the Civil War battlefield of Antietam. It is breath-taking to stand on the site where more than 23,000 Americans were killed or wounded in a single day of combat. Sept. 17, 1862. The battlefield has been beautifully preserved by the National Park Service, which tries its best to recreate exactly the way the battlefield looked on the morning of Sept. 17. Kudos to them for their efforts. I won’t bore you with all the bullets and history this time around, but I learned so much from the rangers that most books seem to leave out.

It was a far more political battle than normally gets described, and while the soldiers basically fought to a tactical draw, the North crushed the South’s political goals and ambitions with its incursion into Union territory.

On the way home, I visited my other historical obsession: aviation! I went to the new branch of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum out by Dulles Airport! This was absolutely fantastic. From an only-one remaining and phenomenally frail looking twin-engine World War I trench observation plane to the Space Shuttle Discovery, it is truly impossible to grapple with all of the rare planes that broke myriad records and the gear from some of the most famous people in aviation. I loved seeing the uniform of America’s top WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Seeing one of Amelia Earhart’s flight jumpsuits was great. There are even items from Charles Lindbergh.

Okay. It isn’t that disappointing. The P-40 is easily my favorite plane from World War II, although this is not a genuine original used by the famed Flying Tigers. It still looks pretty nice hanging from the ceiling!

World War II aviation is my favorite, and the museum did not disappoint. Okay, I was actually really disappointed that they mocked up a P-40J Kittyhawk to look like a real plane used by the Flying Tigers when it never saw that actual action. BUT, the collection of insanely rare and limited German and Japanese planes was especially mind numbing. Many were the only remaining examples.

It is difficult to imagine any such museum where an actual space shuttle is just not as impressive as the rest of the collection. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how huge the space shuttle is. Plus, looking into the restoration hanger means that even more great rarities will soon be on their way.

Alexandre Dumas: The Man & The Pen

Alexandre Dumas wrote some of the greatest novels in history. It is difficult not to love “The Three Musketeers,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Alexandre Dumas is my favorite writer of the 19th century. Nobody comes close to his adventures, characters or ability to capture the human condition. If you spend any time with his most famous novels, all of his characters are easily recognizable as people you can identify with in modern times. That is the secret sauce that elevates his writing to a timeless status.

My love of his work started at the age of 13. I picked up “The Count of Monte Cristo” on a bit of a whim. Before I knew it, I was hooked. It was pure literary crack. In spite of its length, I could not put it down. The tragic tale of Edmond Dantes and his need for vengeance is still rivetting. I teach fencing classes to junior high and high school students. Every 4 years or so, as new batches of kids rotate into class, I give them an end-of-the-year gift of a copy, and those who read it…even the 12-year-old girls…all come back grateful for a read that rocks their world as much as any Harry Potter or “Hunger Games” novel. (The highest praise of youth today.)

And honestly, Dumas only gets better with age! If you only read his works as a youth, you NEED to revisit them. Since turning 30 more than a decade ago, I’ve made a concious effort to reread at least one of his novels every year. There is soooo much more depth and realism that I missed my first time through as a teenager.

Here’s a small selection of my books by Alexandre Dumas featuring early translations and modern reprintings.

“The Three Musketeers” take on an almost cartoonish quality in our modern pop culture, but to revisit them, you find a complicated story of love, sex, loyalty, honor, war and true friendship. The musketeers are ordinary men in extra-ordinary circumstances. Clever, hard working, mostly honest (you really can’t trust Aramis much), these are 4 fellows who know how to game the system and make the most of the life of warriors. Dumas first wrote the novel as a serial in newspapers in 1844. It took Paris, and then the world, by storm. He actually followed it up with 4 more books: “Twenty Years After,” “The Vicomte de Bragellone,” “Louise de la Valliere” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The last one is my absolute favorite, and its symbolic significance–no spoilers, I promise–completely held me in its grasp. Not only did it fully reveal the truths of all the main characters to me, it really helped me to make better sense of the world around me at the time I first read it. Pretty impressive for a novel that came out 170 years ago in 1847.

A new book of the Musketeer series called “The Red Sphinx” was just rediscovered. It was in serialization when Dumas died in 1870! Technically, it doesn’t have an end, but some of his notes divulge how it was to end. Although I have yet to read it, it is supposed to take place about 20 days after the original “The Three Musketeers” novel ended.

More than this, Dumas wrote 300 books! He also wrote many plays, newspaper, magazine and fictional short stories. Another of his most famous stories is “The Corsican Brothers.” Here nobel twins, who were separated at birth, can feel each other’s nervous systems and emotions from across great distances…eventually learning of their parents tragic murder and uniting to extract revenge.

I own and have read dozens of his lesser known works. Most of them are as good as his biggest hits. The real trick is finding good translations! For me, the tranlator helps to be from the late 19th century or early 20th century. They try to capture the English language of the time period in which Dumas was writing. This builds a rhythm and poetry that Dumas conveyed in the original French. Modern translations fail for me because they try too hard to make it sound like modern, American English language and times. It destroys the cadence of the language and the romance of the 1800s, as well as the eras in which Dumas was writing about.

These are 2 of three volumes that I own of the original source material of “The Three Musketeers.” These are “The Memoirs of D’Artagnan” in an early 20th century translation!

How big a junkie am I? I found an early 20th century translation of the 3-volume biography of the actual 4th musketeer D’Artagnan! I have yet to read it, but I can’t wait. It supposedly gave Dumas the inspiration for writing the adventures of the musketeers in his fictional masterpieces.

Dumas also was a fascinating man, even without his incredible skill as a writer. He was a biracial man born of a white mother and black father in 1802. His father was one of Napoleon’s top generals…until they had a falling out during the Egypt campaign. (Any number of historians thought that Napoleon’s not listening to Gen. Dumas was one of his greater blunders in Egypt.) Although his father died in exile, young Alex got to encounter Napoleon as Napoleon changed horses while beating a hasty retreat from Waterloo.

Alexandre started writing as a young man, primarily for the stage. His early plays were often political and controversial. (France was undergoing several revolutions during his lifetime.) He didn’t really find success until he wrote a play about Henri III. Historical fiction was practically his invention. (Shakespeare mastered it on the stage, but Dumas really developed it into an art form in novels.) With great success, came great loves and travel adventures of his own. Ultimately, no matter how much money he made, he spent far more. He died heavily in debt and fairly poor.

This is a 1996 Mont Blanc Writers Series Alexandre Dumas fountain pen with the wrong signature on the cap and box.

Mont Blanc wisely chose to honor him in 1996 with one of its early limited edition writers series pens. The pen was handsomely trimmed in classical French style accents, such as a fleur de lis on its nib. Collectors especially love this pen because it features a significant mistake on the part of Mont Blanc. The company’s early releases of the pen featured not Alexandre’s signature but the signature of his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, who famously wrote “Camille.” The company scrambled to recall these pens and replace them with the right signature. As such, the wrong signature pens are worth more than most of the other writers series pens.

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!

Great Finds @ Atlanta Pen Show

It has taken us nearly a week to recover from the awesomeness that was the Atlanta Pen Show. It was that good. The show was packed with collectors on Saturday and Sunday. We got to meet hundreds of people, and we saw more awesome pens than we could afford.

I did come away with a handsome Sheaffer PFM in maroon with a factory italic nib. It is wonderful, but I otherwise restrained myself.

However, along the way we met some great folks at businesses who are tied to our inky world. They weren’t other pen dealers so much as writing enthusiasts.

Cursive Logic is a new way to help teach kids how to write in cursive, when it is no longer being taught in many schools!

Cursive Logic is a new way to help teach kids how to write in cursive, when it is no longer being taught in many schools!

You might recall my series of blog entries about the demise in cursive writing education in America. Well, we met a woman who is as concerned about it as you and I are. More so, in fact. She has started her own cursive-writing teaching system called Cursive Logic. It is for kids who want to learn to write cursive outside of the classroom. I highly recommend checking out her website! www.cursivelogic.com

The folks at Candy Spotting make really incredible laser-cut cards with witty slogans and puns!

The folks at Candy Spotting make really incredible laser-cut cards with witty slogans and puns!

Another cool business we encountered is a new greeting card company called Candy Spotting. They make specialty laser-cut designs in cards, such as this one with a fountain pen nib! Many of their other cards are similarly witty. I highly recommend checking out their website at www.candyspotting.com!

Of course, there were many wonderful collectors and dealers with whom we got to talk and swap stories. It was wonderful seeing everybody again from last year, and I cannot more highly recommend the wonderful Southern hospitality. Visit if you can next year.

In the meantime, we are only a week away from the oldest pen show in the country: the Chicago Pen Show! Please come and say hi to us there!

Celebrating 7 Years!

Has it been seven years since we first launched already? It hardly seems possible.

Birthday CakeOn our opening day we had about 20 pens for sale and dreams of fountain pen glory that were horribly naive at best.

Thanks to your support, we are finally starting to realize those dreams and make this one of the best pen stores online.

With nearly 100 fully restored vintage pens and another 100 pre-owned modern luxury pens in stock, we proudly offer a pen for every taste and budget.

Thank you for these wonderful past seven years, and we can’t wait to make the next 7 for you even better!