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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.

Was Norman Rockwell a Pen Addict?

With their passion for Parker overriding their desire to kiss under the mistletoe, clearly painter Norman Rockwell understood the obsession of pen collectors around the world. Happy Holidays!

With their passion for Parker overriding their desire to kiss under the mistletoe, clearly painter Norman Rockwell understood the obsession of pen collectors around the world. Happy Holidays!

Just one look at this vintage Parker ad, and you know that its painter Norman Rockwell understood pen collectors very well. Sure, it might look a little schmaltzy with two attractive young lovers ignoring one another’s lips under the mistletoe, but they just got new Parker 61s! Of course, they are geeked about their new treasures!

We, here at ThePenMarket.com, hope you get exactly what you want this holiday season!

With respect to all faiths and those without faith, have a Merry Christmas, Happy (belated) Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a Fun Festivus, a Super Solstice and a generally warm winter filled with peace and love.

May you get your heart’s desire.

Best wishes from all of us at ThePenMarket.com

We Have a Winner!

Fireworks glow softly just out of focus on the Fourth of July. Congratulations to our winner of the First Ever Lamy Lottery.

Fireworks glow softly just out of focus on the Fourth of July. Congratulations to our winner of the First Ever Lamy Lottery.

Congratulations to Dacia N! She won the brand new Lamy AL-Star fountain pen and ink!

We had more than 30 entries from between June 4 and July 4. Thank you to everybody who purchased a pen during this time.

A special thank you also goes out to the good folks at Lamy who donated the pen for our drawing. It was a very generous gift, and we are grateful for their support of ThePenMarket.com.

This contest certainly seemed like a popular one, and I hope we can have more contests such as these in the future.

Thank you again to all of our participants, and I hope everybody had a happy and safe Fourth of July!

A Brief History of Cursive Writing

Since letters have been invented, people have looked for ways to write them more swiftly. Scribes writing on clay tablets developed a more fluid form of writing that served as an early cursive in Mesopotamia.

Spencerian script might well be the most ornate form of writing in the English language. Its popularity peaked in the 19th century but was used through well into the 20th century. Some people still practice it for artistic endeavors.

Spencerian script might well be the most ornate form of writing in the English language. Its popularity peaked in the 19th century but was used through well into the 20th century. Some people still practice it for artistic endeavors.

The cursive writing we recognize today started developing in Europe the 16th century. Connecting letters with loops and tails seemed to grow increasingly more uniform across languages as education became more available to the citizens of those nations. Instruction was made more simply by the invention of textbooks printed using a special copper plate. Students could trace the preprinted letters with their quill pens. The resulting form of writing was simply referred to as copperplate.

For a great example of copperplate writing, look no further than the U.S. Constitution.

Copperplate served as both a simple, functional script and as something that could be made to look fancy for special ceremonial papers. As literacy was far from universal, and the need for legible handwriting was great, copperplate writing was considered something of an art form to be seriously studied. Reading and writing was no small task in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Penmanship was critical.

Coca Cola is one of the most recognizable logos still using Spencerian script today. Ford uses a more simplified approach based on its earlier logos.

Coca Cola is one of the most recognizable logos still using Spencerian script today. Ford uses a more simplified approach based on its earlier logos.

The many forms of cursive writing in the centuries to follow evolved out of copperplate. Around 1840, a man named Platt Rogers Spencer believed it was important to make handwriting a true art form unlike those attempts that preceded him. A master craftsman in the art of handwriting Mr. Spencer developed his own variation of cursive that required dedicated training and skill to master its swirls and embellishments. The Spencerian method became the official writing style of government and corporate documents from around 1850 to 1925. Whole schools and textbooks were developed to teach this writing style around the country. The need for the super-flexible nibs most vintage pen collectors refer to today as “wet noodles” were essential for the modulating lines of Spencerian script that grew from extra fine to double and triple broad to accentuate a circle and add weight to the elements of each letter’s formation.

Ford LogoToday you can still see great examples of Spencerian script in classic century-old American brands such as Ford’s and Coca-Cola’s logos.

As elegant and beautiful as Spencerian script was, it was also time consuming and difficult to master. American business in the 19th century moved at a surprisingly fast clip by even today’s standards, and the Spencer method of writing was too slow for the needs of offices around the country. To keep up with the newly invented typewriter, secretaries, stenographers and many other white-collar workers needed a faster way to write.

In 1888, Austin Norman Palmer came to the rescue with his own method of writing. What became known as the Palmer Method caught on quickly for its legibility and ease of use. Most of the cursive writing we learned in school is, or was, based on the Palmer method.

Although Palmer method textbooks ceased publication in 1980, the very similar Zaner-Bloser method of cursive writing remains popular to this day. Developed in 1891, the Zaner-Bloser school realized the value in becoming a powerhouse in textbook publication for their handwriting and remain one of the top sources of handwriting instruction in schools across the country to this day.

In 1978, the D’Nealian handwriting method tried to breakdown the Palmer method into simpler steps to teach little kids how to write in cursive. It too remains popular, although my quick imperfect research into this piece seems to have found that the Zaner-Bloser method seems to dominate what is left of the industry to teach our youngsters how to write in cursive.

For much more detailed information about the history of handwriting and to learn how to master copperplate, Spencerian script, the Palmer Method and other forms of handwriting, visit The International Association of Master Penmen, Engravers and Teachers of Handwriting. The IAMPETH is an incredible resource for all of your handwriting needs.

Click here to be linked to their website: http://www.iampeth.com/.

Coming soon: Quick Tips for Taking Your Handwriting to the Next Level

Proud to Present Rare Mabie Todd Pen

Here is a nearly mint condition Mabie Todd Eternal. Fully restored, it works beautifully.

Here is a nearly mint condition Mabie Todd Eternal. Fully restored, it works beautifully.

We hate bragging so much we started a blog. Just be forewarned.

Although we try not to get too crazy about any one pen on our site, we think this one is worth all of the hype. It is an original, museum quality Mabie Todd Eternal fountain pen. More than that, this is our senior size or oversized edition.

The hard rubber body is practically perfect, as its orange and black design is immaculate. The imprint is a little faded in one spot but is otherwise strong. The trim is great with only a little brassing on the ball of the clip.

Oh, and the nib. The nib is spectacular. It is a 14k gold dream that writes a smooth medium line. This vintage fountain pen has been refurbished with a new ink sac. So you can use this pen or brag about it on display.