Tag Archives: modern pens

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 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.

Goodies from the Ohio Pen Show

November has been a crazy-busy month. First, I turned 40 near the start of the month. Friends flew in from Montana, and others locally joined in for much mirth and madness.

Here are three trays of new fountain pens for this website. Most of them are already fully restored!

Here are three trays of new fountain pens for this website. Most of them are already fully restored!

The following weekend saw me in Columbus, Ohio, enjoying their glorious pen show.

This weekend was Thanksgiving weekend.

I haven’t forgotten you, loyal readers. I’ve just been recovering and gearing up for a killer Cyber Monday and a spectacular holiday shopping season.

Ohio was wildly successful for all of the new connections, old friends and amazing pens. I finally got to meet the incredible nib specialist Richard Binder. I also met the legendary pen repairman Ron Zorn. Jonathan Veley gave me my first lesson in vintage pencil repair. A Mont Blanc specialist was able to assist in several specific repairs.

I picked up this mandarin orange Sheaffer Snorkel Statesman and Fiesta Red Clipper for my own collection, I love them

I picked up this mandarin orange Sheaffer Snorkel Statesman and Fiesta Red Clipper for my own collection, I love them




I scored more than 30 new pens for your perusal, and I picked up two rare color Sheaffer Snorkels. A mandarin orange Statesman and a fiesta red Clipper made my entire trip. Sorry, folks, I’m keeping those two for myself.

Yet of the 30+ new pens, there are ample rare colored 51 pencils to match up with any solitary pens in your collection. Pelikans, Parkers and Sheaffers make up the bulk of the collection. Yet, my favorite is a sky blue Conklin! It is difficult for me to resist it’s pull.

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.