Category Archives: How Do I Start Collecting Pens?

Don’t Get Fooled by Fake Montblancs: Metamorphosis

When I first saw the Montblanc Rouge et Noir Metamorphosis pens, I was confused by the fact they featured a spider. I was thinking of Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” in which is main character Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to discover he is a cockroach. It took my good friend Tobias to remind me of Ovid’s tale by the same name in Greek Mythology, in which a woman named Arachnae does not give Athena–the goddess of wisdom, war and crafts–enough credit for being as talented a weaver as herself.

This is one of the three authentic versions we know of the Montblanc Rouge et Noir Metamorphosis limited edition pens.

Athena challenges Arachnae to a weaving duel. Arachnae wins with a tapestry showcasing the offensive behavior of the gods, which sends Athena into a rage. Athena shreds the offending tapestry and turns Arachnae into a spider and eternal weaver. Hence our modern scientific term for spiders being arachnids.

The modern, limited Montblanc pens are truly stunning pens that pay tribute to that story as well as some early designs of Montblanc pens in the 1920s. Unsurprisingly, fakers jumped on that design just as quickly as a spider jumps on a fly in its web.

This is a very convincing replica of Montblanc Rouge et Noir Metamorphosis pen on the surface, but a closer look reveals its flaws.

From a cursory look, both the genuine article and the fake look very similar. We do not have the sterling silver spider web version of the original to show, but we do have the fake. Montblanc made a plain black version like the one we have, a plain orange version and a black with silver spider web version. To the best of our knowledge, Montblanc DID NOT make an orange spider web version. Furthermore, the original silver web is more like a filigree. You can tell on the fake that the orange is painted on to the steel pen with a raised webbing.

The fake version of the MB pen has the same spider logo, but it is a little less defined, as it is a copy from a casting.

The actual spider logo on the fake is very convincing, but when you look closely at it, you can see by its slight lack of detail that it is made from a casting of the original.

Our authentic fountain pen has two other features that the fake version in fountain pen often do not have. The authentic pens have a spider etched into the nib, while the fakes with a steel nib often have a more traditional “4810” nib design. Also, the real FP has a piston filler, not a converter, as many of the fakes do.

Many of the real Montblanc editions, but not all, also have ruby eyes in the spider.

With any luck, these pointers will help keep you out of some fraudster’s web of overpriced fake Montblanc pens.

Authentic Montblanc Metamorphosis pens have a spider on their nib.

Don’t Get Fooled By Fake Montblancs: JFK

This is an authentic Mont Blanc JFK ballpoint pen with its original boxes and papers.

In an effort to pay tribute to the United States of America’s youthful, idealist president who was assassinated, the Montblanc JFK is a special edition pen. It is a handsome pen that came in several color combinations and was most sought by American historians and fans of the late president.

As with all popular Mont Blanc pens, the fakers jumped on the design as quickly as they could, and many of their replica pens make for very convincing copies. So far, we have only carried 2 authentic ballpoint versions of the Montblanc JFK. However, we recently picked up 4 fairly convincing fakes.

These fakes include 3 fountain pens and 1 rollerball pen. The burgundy models are especially realistic when compared with the ballpoint version above that is authentic.

Four fake Montblanc JFK pens are illustrated in this photo. The burgundy models look especially convincing at first glance.

As always, it is the closer inspection that reveals what is real. Luckily for authentic Montblanc collectors, these JFK fakes are easy to spot at a glance. We have never had one of the authentic fountain pens, but those pens have a rhodium plated 14k gold nib with the 1969 moon lander etched into them. None of these fakes have that design. Only one has a convincing standard MB etching, another has a really bad etching that at least mentions Montblanc. The third doesn’t even make an effort. Seriously, it looks as if it woke up hungover on Sunday morning, completely disheveled with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth. Don’t even get in its way until it has some coffee.


You know it is a fake when all of the pens have the same serial number.

Another easy tell on these pens is that they have the same serial number: MBCF 5RS85.

Another dead give away is the filling system. Real Montblancs employ their piston filler system. These fakes get a little credit for having a tail piece that unscrews, but inside is a removable standard international converter. The real tail units screw in and out but don’t come off. They just manipulate the internal piston.

Construction of the pens also plays a part. The fakes tend to be squeaky when the caps or tail ends are screwed and unscrewed. There also is a strange looseness to those parts. Montblanc threading is far more precise.

Posted below are additional images of the nibs and filling system found on the fake Montblanc JFK pens. Please feel free to add your own comments and observations. Thank you for reading.

This is the fake Montblanc nib that makes a little effort.

These are the best and the worst of the fake MB nibs.








This photo illustrates the fake Montblanc’s filling system. Real JFK pens don’t use cartridge/converter systems.

A Nib by Any Other Number…Is Still Confusing

Even for experienced professionals, it is really difficult to gauge a nib by its number. We get calls and e-mail with some regularity asking for a nib of a certain number. The trouble is, we often aren’t sure what the customer really wants. If the nib brand isn’t specified it can be a really challenging to know what is really desired.

A number on a nib doesn’t always mean what it seems to mean. Here a #4 is larger than a #5.

Take this 14k gold Conklin #4 and 14k gold Sheaffer #5 for example. It is often assumed that nibs always followed a standardized system of sizing. After all, that would make the most sense. Unfortunately, especially in the golden era of vintage pens, many of the companies sized their own brands differently from their competitors. The only thing that seems uniform is that within each brand a #0 or #1 nib was the smallest and the sizes could go up to 12 or higher, though many seemed to top out around 8. Here you have a Conklin #4 being larger than a Sheaffer #5.

The closest to a standard setter in the 1920s and ’30s might have been “Warranted” nibs. These were usually 14k gold nibs that were used by a wide variety of 2nd tier pen brands and repairmen looking to get a pen up-and-running, again, if they didn’t have the proper branded nib. In some ways, these were the JoWo or Bock nibs of their time.

Nib sizes vary widely by brand in this photo.

Check out these nibs lined up together. From left to right: Sheaffer Feather Touch #5; Sheaffer 3-25; Waterman 2A; Unbranded #2; Mabie Todd #2; Star PE #6 and Diamond Medal #5. Note their lengths and widths in relation to their numbers and each other.

To size a nib properly, especially if it isn’t a branded nib, it is important to measure the nib. To do that, let’s discuss the anatomy of a nib. Let us start with the writing tip, which usually has a special tipping material to keep the nib from deforming with a lot of writing. The tip grows into the two (or three for music nibs) tines. The breather hole allows for the exchange of air and ink inside the pen, helping to facilitate ink flow. Usually the breather hole is centered at the widest part of the nib known as its shoulders. As the nib tapers down to its tail, that part is known as the body of the nib.

Here are 3 more numbered nibs muddying the waters of size referencing. The 6 is a little bigger than the 3, but it is definitely smaller than a JoWo 6, which I didn’t have in time for this article.

If you are looking for a good replacement nib, measure the length of your nib from tip to tail. (It is easier in centimeters and milimeters than 32nds and 64ths.) Then measure the shoulder. These two measurements will get you pretty close. Probably close enough in 90% of cases. Yet there is one last  bit to account for, which is the width of the gold. As the technology improved nibs got stamped thinner and thinner. It is easy to feel the difference between a 1920s Sheaffer Lifetime and a 1950s Sheaffer Snorkel nib of open design.

This brings us to some of the more confusing numbers on nibs. Earlier you saw a photo of a Sheaffer 3-25 nib. Although most 3-25 nibs are the same general size, that number referenced the price and warranty length of the pen from the date it was purchased: $3 and 25 years. You might also see Sheaffer 5-30 and 7-30 nibs. If you ever find a 7-30 nib, snatch it up. Those are pretty rare. It was a clever marketing tactic by Sheaffer. For an extra dollar, you got the Lifetime warranty pen. If someone back then could already afford the $7, they could afford $8. Yet, how many people really used their Lifetime pens for 30 years or more? That is a question I would love to know the answer to. I’m sure a few did, but, for many, pens were a fashion accessory and statement, as well as a useful tool.

Sheaffer Lifetime pens of the 1920s and ’30s had elaborate serial numbers, which had for more to do with fighting black-market pen dealing than tracking customer pens.

Showcasing the 1950s Sheaffer numbering system are two more nibs. M1 = Medium Steel Open Nib and F5 = Fine-Point, Two-Tone 14k gold Triumph Nib.

In the 1950s Sheaffer started an alphanumeric nib classification system, which was really quite inspired and gave a great deal of information about the nib. The first letter of the code was the point style: A = accountant (extra, extra razor-thin fine); B = Broad; F = Fine; G = Gregg Shorthand; M = Medium; S = Stub and X = Extra Fine. On hyper-rare occasions there could be two starting letters led by an F for flexible such as an FB5, as you will soon read.

The numbers that followed the first letter were: 1 = Steel Open Nib; 2 = Monotone 14k Gold Open Nib; 3 = Two-Tone 14k Gold Open Nib; 4 = Palladium Silver Triumph (conical) Nib; 5 = Two-Tone 14k Gold Triumph Nib and 6 = Palladium Silver Open Nib. And for those keeping score at home, the two-tone nibs were solid 14k gold with a decorative Palladium plating over about half the nib.

On rare occasions there was another letter that followed the number: L = Left Oblique and R = Right Oblique.

And there you have it. At the very least it is a start to understanding the numbers we see on nibs and what they might mean. I hope you found it to be helpful.

Don’t Get Fooled by Fake Montblancs: The Fauxeme

Is she? Or isn’t she? Can you pick out the real Montblanc Boheme in this photo?

One of my favorite additions to the Montblanc line-up in the past 20 years was the Montblanc Boheme. What made it my favorite was the retractable nib, which made it look similar to the classic safety fillers of yesteryear. Unlike the messy and unreliable vintage pens that still remain, this modern pen took a standard international cartridge. Another nice touch in the authentic Boheme was the realistic jewel placed in the clip. Genuine, factory-made jewels, they looked like convincing sapphires, rubies, emeralds and the like.

Or maybe one of these is the genuine Montblanc Boheme. Unless you are a really dedicated MB collector, it likely isn’t easy to tell truth from fiction.

We recently acquired a huge collection of pens. Making my life easier, this collector separated his collection of fake Montblancs from his collection of the genuine article. If you’ve read my past stories about fake Montblancs, you know I’m really saying something when I say these “new” fakes were extremely impressive.

Today we will look at the fake Boheme, which I like to call the “Fauxeme.” I’ve posted 4 pens in the photos here. Can you tell which one is the real Montblanc Boheme? Don’t read ahead. Seriously. Take a guess. I’ll reveal the real McCoy in a little bit.

Making it harder to tell the truth about which pens are real is the fact Mont Blanc made a ton of different options on this line of pen. The most easily recognizable Bohemes have retractable nibs. But, MB made some with permanent nibs. I once rejected one such Boheme as an option to buy for the site because I had yet to hear about the fixed-nib models. Montblanc also varied the jewel colors and various metals and pen designs.

Which is the genuine Montblanc Boheme nib?

Fakers had a field day offering up their own designs which look insanely convincing. Look at these nibs in this photo. At first glance can you really tell which is real? The sections, collars and logos are identical. The imprinted words are different but can vary sometimes by the markets they are sold in. The one on the right is the authentic MB nib. The biggest difference between them, to me, is that when you write with the two nibs, one is clearly a scratchier steel nib. But if you are buying online, you can’t test for that.



These two Montblanc Fauxemes share the same serial number, which is a well-known fake Montblanc serial number.

We established before that Montblanc sometimes recycles its serial numbers on the pocket-clip rings. However, if you look at the database we are developing of fake Montblanc serial numbers, you can cull two pens from this herd as fakes. It would be highly improbable to get two authentic pens with the same serial number. And the numbers on these caps are known fakes.

For as impressive as the fake Bohemes are, a lower quality of manufacturing gives away the pens, when you can examine them in person. The nib seems to be the biggest tell in many cases. First, if it is a scratchy steel writer that reminds you of a vintage Esterbrook, you know you are on the right tract to unmasking the facsimile. Yet, if you get to take an extremely close look at the two-tone version of the nib, you might see where the gold coloring is incomplete or worn off.

Can you see where the gold color has faded out on this steel nib?

When it comes to the operation of the pen, the genuine Boheme has a bump sensation as you lock the nib into place to write. The Fauxeme hasn’t this feature. Also, when fully retracted, the real MB has no exposed nib tip.

Another good indicator might be the setting of the “jewels” in the pocket clip. Montblanc will do this in a very clean and precise way. In the clip photo below, you can see the poorly set “onyx” that is glued in place and sports a big gap. Yet, the “emerald” version is snuggly fit without any mess.



The pen on the left has a bit of the nib’s tip still visible when fully retracted. The authentic Montblanc pen on the right has the nib retracted out of sight, where it won’t get injured by a closed cap.

If the photos and explanation haven’t given it away already, the only real Montblanc Boheme in these photos is the lovely green-jeweled model.

With any luck, this article has helped you have a little more confidence in identifying authentic Montblanc Boheme pens. As a reminder, I am not an authorized Montblanc pen authenticator. I am sharing what I know with the public to help as best I can. If you would like your pen authenticated, please reach out directly to Montblanc, as it has an authentication service, though last I heard they charge a fairly stiff fee for their time and work. To learn more about Montblanc (and pen collecting, in general), please feel free to read through our previous stories listed under “How Do I Start Collecting Pens?“.

Notice the shoddy setting of the “onyx” jewel of the Fauxeme pen on the left. See how the “emerald” on the authentic Montblanc is a much better fit?

Shopping for a Sheaffer PFM

The Sheaffer Pen for Men, more commonly known as the Sheaffer PFM, was a luxury fountain pen first released in 1959. Like the Ford Edsel, it wasn’t quite as popular in its time as it should have been and was made for only several years. Years later, it has become an iconic pen for vintage pen collectors.

From left to right are a Sheaffer PFM I, II, III, IV and V. Notice the changes in the caps and nibs.

Keeping a car analogy in mind, PFMs came in 5 trim lines counted out in Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV and V.

• SHEAFFER PFM-I—This was the most basic and inexpensive trim line. It sports the same plastic cap and body as in higher trim lines, but the cap clip and band are steel, instead of gold plate. Its inlaid nib is made of “palladium silver,” which today is likely more valuable a precious metal than gold. All trim lines of the pen filled with a larger version of the Sheaffer Snorkel filler.

• SHEAFFER PFM-II—This pen was identical to the PFM-I except for its cap. The PFM-II cap was made of steel. It also should be noted that the palladium nibs feel much firmer than their 14k counter parts.

• SHEAFFER PFM-III—Some collectors choose to focus the most on these pens, as they were a gold upgrade with a matching plastic cap and barrel. The cap trim was gold plated and the nib was an inlaid 14k gold nib. Many collectors find these nibs to feel a little softer and smoother.

• SHEAFFER PFM-IV—PFM-IVs sport a polished chrome cap with gold plated trim. You also spot a flat gold-plated plate on the back of the blind cap. The rest of the pen remains the same as the III.

• SHEAFFER PFM-V—The pinnacle of the line, Vs were the same as IVs, except they had a completely gold-plated cap that featured an etched pattern reminiscent of the New York skyline.

In addition to the five standard trim lines, Sheaffer made a “Demonstrator” version of the pen so that pen stores and traveling Sheaffer reps could show how these complicated fountain pens worked on the inside. These pens were not for sale to the general public and were made in very small quantities. Worse still, their fragile clear plastics are known to get little cracks in them called “fractals.” The pens, which are effectively PFM-III models that are clear, are valued on clarity, internal ink staining, cracks like a normal pen and these little fractals.

An average to bad PFM Demonstrator might still command more money than a PFM-V, which normally gets more money than the other trim lines. A near perfect Demonstrator can cross into $2,000-plus territory in the year 2023.

In addition to the clear model, PFMs came in black, blue, burgundy, green and grey. Grey seems to be the rarest of the colors and also commands the highest prices. A PFM-III in grey would likely get more money than a grey PFM-V because the grey caps are so hard to find.

Cracks in the pen are the bane of collectors’ everywhere. Sheaffer, and the world, was still experimenting with plastic. The plastic chosen by Sheaffer for the PFMs tends to get increasingly brittle with age. When shopping for a Sheaffer PFM, you want to look very closely for tiny hair-line cracks in both ends of the barrel, at the start of the section nearest the barrel, around the inlaid nib and under the nib around the feed area. A crack in the barrel all but guarantees that the pen won’t fill properly, as there will be too many air leaks for the pneumatic filler to function properly. Cracks around the section and nib might equate to seepage of ink. This bothers some people more than others.

Sometimes, whatever held the inlaid nibs in place to begin with starts to deteriorate, and the nibs can seep through no fault of anyone. Yes, PFMs are a little more high maintenance and problematic than many other vintage pens, but they can also the pen you want to turn to most.

Restoration of these pens is a bit complicated, as are all snorkels. The O-ring and sac replacement are basically the same as the thinner, earlier model Snorkels. However, the PFM requires a special tool to unscrew a part of the section to reveal an inner chamber to replace the point seal. Larger O-rings and Point Seals are required for PFMs compared with standard Sheaffer Snorkels. Replacing the point seal can be challenging and risk cracking the section through no fault of a restorer. Don’t be surprised to see restoration costs span $50 to $75 for a simple overhaul with a new sac, O-ring and point seal. Those 3 parts are cheap, but you are really paying for the extra-time and expertise that go into fixing these pens.

Fake Mont Blanc Pens Part IV

Some days you just never know what you will find. Someone reached out to me with a collection for sale, and they told me the original owner was an avid Montblanc collector. Naturally, I was curious to see it. It didn’t take long to assess that this person had a huge collection of fakes. Sadly, they probably didn’t even know they had fake pens. Then again, maybe that was a good thing, as they were very happy with their collection until the day they passed.

This first batch of fake Mont Blanc pens has some really convincing models.

The fascinating thing to me was how some pens were extremely convincing, others were pretty obvious and some invented designs looked better than actual Montblanc pens! It was quite an education that I hope to share here.

In this first photo is a recreation of the Mont Blanc Writers’ Series William Faulkner. It (the bottom pen) looks very convincing…even better than the real thing, as the real pen’s color is a Spanish moss green-grey, and this knock-off pen is a cinnamon brown. The white pen behind it looks just like a Montblanc Tribute to Montblanc ballpoint. Only the real one has the exact same trim in a platinum plate not gold plate. Otherwise the serial number, Pix, small details were all identical. The red pen behind it looks just like some of the special edition MB pens that looked like the original safety fillers. However, the modern MB tribute pens were never made in red. I actually kinda like the red more than the official versions. The golden one in the back will look convincing to a novice, but on really close inspection the black cap bands were poorly painted on, and the black tail isn’t something an actual MB would have.

This second selection of false Montblanc pens shows is a little less convincing.

This second photo of fakes is also interesting. One of the things Montblanc does is make special or limited runs of slight alterations to its primary “Classique” design. Clever scammers can play on that variety by making their own unique version. Yet, with any experience with Montblanc pens and a little help from a search engine online will quickly reveal designs such as these four to be fake.

I don’t know the technical way to say this but the cap wring on the bottom pen is just worn wrong. The gold plating doesn’t wear like that on heavily used Montblancs. Plus, all of these pens have black bands around the cap bands when the pens are not black. Real Montblancs would have the black lines above show as the same color as the rest of the cap and/or remain gold. The bottom two pens might not show it in the photo, but their color and finish is far too cheaply made to be a real Montblanc. Also, not visible in the photo, some of the 6-point mountain top logos/stars are either rubbing off or poorly painted or unevenly inset into the caps. The black tails on two of the pens are another indicator they are fake.

These final two pens are much more egregiously impersonating Mont Blanc.

These final pens stretch the boundaries of faking Montblanc. The closer pen looks like it could be a pen from the 1970s, but MB never had a model quite like that…and it didn’t fit Montblanc refills. The distant pen has the outline, shape and clip of a Montblanc, but it doesn’t have the logo. Maybe technically it isn’t a fake Montblanc, but in all other ways it tries to look like Mont Blanc.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest segment looking into the wonderful world of fake Montblanc pens. With any luck, it helps you avoid the pitfalls of the stunningly large market of counterfeit pens.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens: Why Are Some Pens More than Others?

A good friend recently asked me why some pens cost more than others. The cheeky, glib and true answer is supply and demand. But, it is more than that. Sometimes it is marketing. Sometimes its trends in the marketplace.

This is a “Big Red” senior Parker Duofold made of orange Permanite.

However, he was asking for something more specific. When looking at vintage pens, he saw wildly fluctuating prices for pens that looked almost the same to him. Why does the average super-famous senior Parker Duofold “Big Red” (orange) go for $100 or $200 and the average senior Parker Duofold in Mandarin Yellow go for $800 or $900?

Big Reds are pretty common, especially the later 1920s’ version made of “permanite.” Most vintage collections have several of these pens. Mandarin Yellow versions of the same pen are fairly rare. They didn’t make as many, and the material used to make the yellow turns very brittle with age. As such, a large percentage of the senior Mandarin Yellow Duofolds broke. Nevertheless, these are still beautiful pens, and their scarcity makes them all the more desirable. Senior-sized Duofolds cost the most back when they came out, so many people bought the smaller Junior and Lady Duofold models to save money. As such, collectors have chosen the rarer senior models to be the favorite, which is why junior and Lady Duofold versions of the pen in mandarin yellow sell for much less than the seniors.

Mandarin yellow was a much more fragile substance to make Parker Duofolds, and it didn’t age well. These Mandarin Duofolds are much more sought after because they are more scarce.

This also is a good place to demonstrate trends in the marketplace, too. I am writing this in October of 2022. Where as a reasonable price to pay for a senior Mandarin Parker Duofold is $800 to $900, five to seven years ago, these same pens were getting $1,200 to $1,500. These pens were in higher demand back then, and dealers couldn’t keep them in stock. The market has softened some since then. Why? 2 factors. 1.) Just about everybody who wanted one of these pens back then got one if they could afford it. 2.) Sadly, we are starting to see a passing of a generation of vintage pen collectors. There are more and more of these pens on the market, and younger generations of pen users and collectors are not as excited about vintage pens. ALSO, the younger generation is paying off insanely large sums of college debt and paying tons more for skyrocketing housing prices. In their hierarchy of stuff to pay for, a rare 100-year-old pen is not as pressing as next month’s rent or feeding a young family.

Staying in the Parker Duofold family, Senior Big Reds made of orange hard rubber are usually much more valuable than the more common and less fragile “permanite.” Streamlined Senior Parker Duofolds are rarer and tend to get more than the “traditional” flat-top designs. Pristine Lapis (blue) Senior Duofolds can command a lot more money due to the fact most Lapis Duofolds turned dark and nearly black in some cases. The same goes for the Pearl and Black Duofolds. They turned brown with discoloration. If you find a pristine one, those are going to get a lot more money. Another feature on a Parker Duofold that is highly regarded is the bandless senior Parker Duofold Big Red. These pens are also really hard to find. Most Duofolds had one, two or even three bands near the lip of the cap. The bands help to protect the cap when posting it on the tail of the pen. Bandless models weren’t common, and the caps often broke when people posted them. Soooo, many people will pay top dollar for a bandless senior Duofold.

We haven’t even left the Parker Duofold family, yet.

Flexible nibs, such as this Conklin #4 nib, are in high demand in 2022.

Flexible nibs are king right now. Everybody wants one, and so few pens came with flexible nibs over the years. All flex nib pens command top dollar. Basic Waterman 52s would sell for maybe $50 ten to fifteen years ago. Yet, many of their tiny #2 nibs have a little to a lot of flex, and these same pens now get between $100 and $150.

Conversely, one of the several Waterman pens that really draw big bucks are early 1920s Waterman #7 Pink pens. These were oversized…or close to it…. The distinguishing feature of these pens is a pink ring around the top of the cap AND the word “Pink” imprinted on the 14k gold nib. Waterman made these nibs specifically to be very flexible writers. All of the color-ring Waterman #7’s are fairly desirable, but Pink is the most sought. As such, these pens command much more money. You can probably find a Waterman 56 or 58 in black hard rubber from the same general time period for less…with the same basic flex nib…and save a bundle over the Pink.

Apparently, even cheap TWISBI fountain pens made in China are falling down this pricing rabbit hole. You can buy most TWISBI Eco fountain pens for around $15 to $20 brand new. However, just the other day I saw a “limited edition” transparent orange cap TWISBI Eco sell at an auction for more than $230! It was a discontinued color that people love enough to get into a bidding war over.

Most TWISBI Eco fountain pens are pretty inexpensive but this rare color model goes for more than $200 on some auctions sites.

There are probably hundreds of vintage pens (and modern) such as these to ask these questions of, and so I shall revisit this topic and question from time to time to help sort out why some pens are so much more valuable than others.

How Do I Buy a Used Car?

Crocuses. Our first flowers of spring.

Spring is here, and, traditionally, this is a time many people start looking for a car. The Covid pandemic has limited the number of new cars on the market, and many people are turning to used cars to replace their set of wheels.

Buying a used car can be a stressful experience, especially now when used cars are selling at extremely high prices. As such, I thought I’d try to help you navigate these challenges.

I can already hear you. “Wait, Nathaniel. This is a pen blog. What do you know about used cars?”

As fate would have it, my first job out of college was as a salesman for a national chain of used car dealerships. Part of our training was to prove how our cars were better than other dealerships’ cars. And so, we were trained to spot damage in a used car and the possible ways other dealers might fleece people on financing. The following information has saved me and my friends a lot of money and heartache over the years. Hopefully, it will help you, too.

Knowledge is power, and it is best to power-up before you start shopping in earnest. If you know it is time to replace your old ride, start taking a closer look at the cars you see on your daily commute and in the parking lots you frequent to get an idea of what you like. Also keep in mind what you need the vehicle for. You might want a two-door Porsche, but if you have a family of five, you’re gonna need something bigger with trunk space. As we go into a new cycle of high gas prices, seriously consider what type of mileage this vehicle can get. As gas toys with $5-a-gallon, that bad-ass SUV you love that gets 12 miles per gallon might give way to a Toyota Prius that gets 40mpg. As you narrow in on a couple models that you like, research their common problems and pricing. Every car has a weak spot. For example: Subarus frequently have problems with their head gaskets. Chevy Cruze sedans are notorious for blowing out their original factory turbo-chargers. Check to see if these problems have been fixed in the car you ultimately buy. Most models of cars have a fan website where you can ask other owners about mechanical issues. Plus, Kelly Blue Book ( has up-to-date pricing for every year, make and model of car at different mileage and trim levels. Don’t let old stereotypes hold you back. It used to be everyone thought American cars were untrustworthy and Japanese cars were built to last forever. Well, American quality control has gone up and Japanese quality control has seen a dip. It really is best to research the year, make, model and trim line you are interested in to make sure you are getting what you want.

Searching the internet makes it so much easier to locate a car you want. Google “used Honda Accords near (your zip code)” and you’ll likely get every Accord available in a 20 or 30-mile radius. This makes it easy to do some simple comparison shopping. Prices, mileage, colors, etc. Yet, there are many other variables to consider. A certified Ford F-150 from a Ford dealership might be a little more expensive, but it might also come with guarantees that “Crazy Bob’s Used Truck Emporium” might not have. Some dealerships guarantee that all of the maintenance is up to date and even give you a limited warranty to make sure all is as they promised. Others don’t. Get every dealer’s guarantee in writing before you take the plunge. Some smaller dealerships don’t offer any guarantees, but this does not automatically mean they are bad or untrustworthy. If you know what to look for, often you can save hundreds on a vehicle from a mom-and-pop dealership. BUUUUT, if the deal looks too good to be true, definitely take a closer look. Also check to see which dealers negotiate a price. Some certified places don’t negotiate and some do. Most smaller dealerships are all about negotiating.

Vehicle Identification Number. Every car has one, and they are always located on the driverside front dash under the windshield.

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to two or three vehicles, it is time to go see them in person. Bring any and all the notes you want with you, and bring something to take notes with. Used car salesmen certainly have a stereotypical reputation, but not everyone is like that. As a former car salesman, I humbly request you be respectful and courteous until they give you a reason not to be.

A visual inspection of the vehicle is critical. One of the ways to make a ton of money on a used car is to take a wreck for scrap metal pricing and make it look close to new for $2,000 to $5,000. As many used cars these days are selling for $15,000 to $20,000, it is easy to see the incentive to do this. Unfortunately, the safety features and structural integrity of the car are ruined, and another crash could easily kill its occupants.

Take notes on all of the chips in the paint (road rash), especially on the front bumper, grill and hood. Look for door dings, etc. It is illegal in many states to sell a car with a cracked windshield, so keep an eye open for that, too. That’s the easy stuff, and although you might be able to save a little money on the cosmetic damage, it might also be a good indicator that the car has never been in a serious wreck.

Run your finger over the seams between panels of your car’s exterior. Are they evenly spaced between panels? Is the paint smooth or bumpy?

Does the paint look uniform around the vehicle? In the right light (more often on a cloudy day), you can see where a couple doors on one side or the back bumper and trunk look a little lighter or darker than the rest of the car. If you can see three or more connected discolored panels, odds are good the car was in a serious wreck. Run your fingers along the seams between all of the exterior panels of the car. Does the seam get wide then narrow or vice versa? Seams from a factory-fresh car are uniform and don’t get narrow or wide at points. Non-uniform seams are an indicator that the panels have been removed and/or replaced and put back together. ALSO, as you run your finger over every seam, does the paint start to feel bumpy or lumpy. This is another great indicator that the panel was repainted. A factory paint job is universally smooth and perfect—no bumps or lumps.

Open all of the doors, hood and trunk at once. On every compartment of the vehicle there should be factory installed stickers with the V.I.N. (Vehicle Identification Number). Technically, a body shop should order and replace those stickers after a repair job, but virtually none of them do. If vehicle stickers are missing, then the odds are good that panel was replaced…an indicator of a car crash.

Regarding VIN numbers, many dealerships now give VIN reports to let you know if the car was ever listed as stolen, in an accident, in a flood or otherwise seriously damaged. Unfortunately, a clean VIN report does not guarantee the vehicle has never been in an accident. Although most states legally mandate body shops report serious damage on a VIN, many shops never report the damage to the state. You also can use the VIN to check the maintenance records. Say you are at Murphy van Mufflerson’s Used Car Lot and are looking at a Jeep. You can write down the Jeep’s VIN and then call a local Jeep dealer for the maintenance records. If Jeep/Chrysler serviced the vehicle, it will have all of the records of the service and recalls it performed on the vehicle anywhere in the country.

You can see the paint on all sides of the hood and along the panels matches. Plus, you can see the stickers are present and the welds are small and smooth. Plus, there are no leaks visible in the engine.

Also look to see if the paint on the outside of the panel matches the inside. If it doesn’t match, the panel was repainted at the very least. For example, a replacement hood might look like your car’s color on top but black or a different color underneath. A factory-original hood is painted the same color uniformly on top and bottom.

Another important thing to look for are the welds. Factory welds are very small, clean and precise. Sometimes a body shop will leave huge messy welds to fill holes or reattach badly mangled and straightened parts.

One last thing to look for are the bolts that hold the vehicle together. There is no reason the bolts should ever be undone for routine maintenance. If you can see where the bolt has stripped the paint from two panel pieces it is holding together and is maybe wearing through the metal, that is a clear sign of a problem and a likely indicator that those panels had to be removed to fix something from an accident. Even if a car is 40 or 50 years old, those bolts should be still be in place from when it was first built.

How are the tires? You should have enough tread that if you stick a penny head-first in the tread lines. Lincoln’s head should start to be covered by the remaining rubber of the tire. If his head is completely visible while in the tread, the tire is bald and needs to be replaced. Also look to see if one side of the tire is more worn on one side or in the middle. At the least, heavy wear on one side of a tire means the car is out of alignment. Yet, it could be an indicator that frame is bent or there is some other problem. Usually, the car just needs an alignment, but it is important to know for the future health and wellbeing of the vehicle.

This is a new tire with deep tread, but you should always check to see if there is enough tread and even wear on the tire on your own car, as well as one you are looking to buy.

If you don’t mind getting dirty, get on the ground and look at the frame of the vehicle. If a frame was badly bent and then straightened, you will see big clamp or teeth marks in the frame rails near the tires. They won’t look natural to the construction of the vehicle. If you see these, stop what you are doing and do not buy the car. Every manufacturer designs a frame to have various tolerances for safety in a collision. If a frame is bent and then straightened, the metal fatigue in the frame guarantees the car will not be safe if you get in an accident. The metal fatigue also can create other problems in the wear and operation of the vehicle.

If you like what you see so far, it is time to take a closer look at the interior. Start with the trunk and pull up all of the carpeting in the trunk until you can see bare metal. Look for bad welds, but also look for mud, leaves and water damage. Smell for mold. It is illegal to sell a flood damaged vehicle in most states, but every hurricane season and flood season still finds flooded out cars heading to markets in other states. Most people who sell flood-damaged cars are good about cleaning all of the upholstery and engine compartment, but they frequently overlook the trunk compartment under the carpeting. If flood water gets into a vehicle’s engine, the engine will be shot within short order.

While you are in the trunk, check the spare tire, assuming this car still comes with a spare tire and jack, or for the tire repair kit.

Sit in all of the seats to see how the car feels for every passenger and play with all of the features in every seat position. It is better to find out before you buy the car that everything is working as it should. Sometimes things get overlooked at even the certified used car dealers and they’ll fix the problem before you buy the vehicle. Broken features also help you reduce the price for dealers that don’t fix the broken things.

Close up the vehicle, sit in the driver seat and make sure everything works. Even if it is a 100-degree day, turn on the heater to make sure it is working. Do the same in winter for the air conditioning. You can hear the condenser motor turn on, even if you can’t feel the difference between the cold air outside and inside. Check the radio and speakers, but don’t leave them on.

When you take a test drive, make sure the radio is off, so you can listen for any and all problems. Roll the windows up, at least for a little while, to just listen as you drive. You can even politely ask the salesperson with you to be quiet for a minute. Have any rattles or not-normal sounds checked out.

Even check the inner door jamb for stickers and matching paint.

Even if a car sits unused for as little as a week, the brakes start rusting. This is okay. At the start of the drive, braking might sound pretty awful. Don’t worry about that. However, if the sound doesn’t go away in 5 or 10 minutes worth of driving, the car might need new brakes. It would be worth having them checked by a technician before buying the car.

As I am not a mechanic, I don’t know what to tell you to look for on the engine and transmission. When the hood was up, if you see an obvious leak, that is a bad sign. Otherwise, it is always wise to have your trusted mechanic give the car an inspection just to make sure all of the systems are in good shape. Most mechanics will offer this type of service for $50 to $100. Yet, a long-time family mechanic will often do this for free if he or she knows you well and knows you’ll be bringing them the car for maintenance over the years.

Are you ready to buy?

Your pricing research from earlier will help immensely. If you can point to a website with accurate pricing for exactly what you’re looking for, it is hard for the dealership to argue with that price. Use your notes about the cosmetic flaws or defects you want repaired to help you. There’s a little grey area depending on what extra features their car might have or their service might account for in terms of maintenance and warranty, but you should be able to hold them to a competitive price or walk away from the deal. When you start to walk away, count in your head how long it takes for the salesperson or their manager to come running after you. If your idea for a price is in the ballpark, they won’t let you get far.

Yet, even after you’ve agreed to a price, you aren’t free and clear, yet.

If you have a trade-in, be ready to negotiate that price as well. You can get the most out of your old car by selling it yourself, but most of us don’t want to deal with the hassle. Kelly Blue Book has a helpful tool to let you know the reasonable trade-in values for your old vehicle compared to the retail values.

If you have to finance the vehicle, it is important to know your credit rating going into the deal. Dealerships don’t just make money on the vehicle. They also make money on the financing. When the salesperson hands you off to the finance person, the finance guy gets paid bonuses by how high a percentage rate he (or she) thinks he can get out of you. Used cars have loan rates that are higher than new cars no matter who you go to. The best rates typically go to people who are in credit unions. Check your credit union or bank’s rates for a used car loan before you get a rate from the dealer. If you have good credit, and the bank thinks it can get you a 5.9% interest rate, take that information with you to the dealership.

Once you have the trade-in figured out, the finance person will put your info in the system and come back to you within seconds with a loan offer. Often they don’t share their screen with all of the loan offers with you. Usually they have a screen/computer in a separate back office they must consult. If you have good credit, maybe you’ll hear this: “Great news! You’re approved! We can get you in a 7.9% loan with a payment of $250 a month for 60 months.”

This is where the slope gets especially slippery. Loan rates go down depending on how much you borrow over a shorter amount of time. Finance people try to rope you into a payment amount more than an interest rate. If you want a $75 a month car payment, they’ll gladly sell you a loan with a 25% interest rate spread over 1,200 months. You think you’re getting a great deal because the monthly payment is so low, but you’re paying 25% interest over the next 100 years.

As used cars likely won’t live forever, you want to keep your repayment plan as short as you can afford. Plus, the shorter you go, the lower the interest will be. If you can afford a monthly payment that pays off the vehicle in 24 months or 36 months, that’s ideal.

If you know your credit rating, you can laugh at the higher interest rate and show the finance person your offer from your own bank. Sometimes you can play the two off each other. “If you can beat a 5.9% interest rate on a 36-month loan, you’ve got a deal.” Then they go back to their back room and see what they can work out. Maybe they had a 4.9% interest rate all along they could sell you. Maybe they can’t beat your bank’s rate. It’s often a 50/50 split whether a dealer can beat your financial institution. However, the finance person doesn’t make his or her bonus if he or she can’t get you into one of their loans, and they’ll move mountains to try to get you as good a deal if not better…BUT, you have to know your credit rating and bank’s rates first. Otherwise, you’re at their mercy.

There’s one last thing to keep in mind with buying a used car: an extended warranty. It is really worth reading the fine print of a dealership’s extended warranty offer. Cars that are only a year or two old sometimes still come with their original factory warranty. And most manufacturers now offer more than the old standard 3 years/36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Most manufacturers are offering up to 10 years/100,000 on the powertrain (engine/transmission). The trick is you only still get 3 years/36k miles for all the other systems. If a dealership’s used car extended warranty offers comprehensive coverage of parts and labor anywhere in the country, it might be worth it if the car is near the end of its factory warranty and you plan to keep it for a while. Yet, if the list of parts and systems not covered is longer than the list of things covered, or you only plan to keep the car for a year or two, it is likely a waste of money.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens: Fake Montblanc Serial Numbers

This is one of the most convincing fake Montblanc fountain pens we have ever seen.

After 14 years in the pen business, I have just encountered one the very best fake Montblanc pens I’ve ever seen. It came with a collection of vintage pens for appraisal. I had been told it was a Montblanc rollerball, and it looks very much like a Montblanc Classique. The appraisal customer told me it was a LeGrand.

A quick inspection showed it had a serial number in the clip band, Pix written under the clip, perfect cap band nomenclature. It came with a convincing box and set of papers!

My first clue something was wrong came when I tried taking off the cap. A true Classique has a slip cap. This cap was threaded…and LeGrands are supposed to be threaded…though this pen was too skinny to be a LeGrand. Open the pen, and it took an authentic Montblanc rollerball refill. But, inside the barrel was a metal threaded space when there are no metal threads in an authentic MB Classique. There was so much right and wrong with the pen.

That’s when my brilliant fiancée recommended searching the number on the clip band.

EN1340798 is one of the most frequently used serial numbers on fake Mont Blanc pens.

Lo and behold, this pen turned out to have one of the most faked numbers for faux Montblanc pens: EN1340798. Research quickly showed it on fountain pens, rollerballs and ballpoints.

In a security fail for the actual Montblanc company, they don’t track their serial numbers. As such, many, if not most, MB serial numbers are not assigned to a pen owner or provenance of any kind. Montblanc has even acknowledged that sometimes it reuses serial numbers! Ironically, this makes the very security measures the company uses to authenticate its pens that much less secure.

In an effort to help separate the real pens from the fakes, please write in the comments section any other serial numbers you know to be fake. Thanks!

Identifying More Fake Montblancs

We recently received two more great examples of fake Montblanc pens from a collector to share with you. As you might recall, we wrote a much more extensive piece about identifying fake Montblancs in a piece we called: Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Mont Blanc Pens.

This time we are just going to showcase the features of these two specific fraudulent pens.

A close inspection of this pen reveals that it is a reproduction of the rubberized Montblanc Starwalker fineliner pen.

Up first is meant to be a rubberized Montblanc Starwalker fineliner. At a glance, it looks like it could be the real thing. BUT! A closer inspection proves it isn’t. The first thing you can notice in real life, and not online, is that the rubber material is very sticky as it decomposes. We haven’t experienced that in the originals, but this is common in cheaper rubbers and plastics. Those cheap, 1990s Sensa office pens with the huge “ergonomical” rubber grips decomposed to a sticky mess all the time, just like this pen.

The biggest visual error you can spot is that the tail is black and not platinum or rhodium plated like the original.

We can’t get a good enough photo of it, but the floating star inside the clear cap topper is scratched.

Plus, there is no “Pix” written under the pocket clip. While that pocket clip does have a serial number, it is a two-part number with a gap between numbers, which Montblanc doesn’t do. Lastly, the pocket clip has a more obvious weld to the cap.

Pictured is a fake Montblanc Hommage à Nicolaus Copernicus ballpoint pen. Yet, to hold in real life, will easily prove it is not the real thing.

The other pen on today’s showcase is meant to be a copy of the Patron of the Arts Montblanc Hommage à Nicolaus Copernicus. At a glance to the untrained eye, it passes. It has what looks like the anthracite-colored lacquer on the ribbed body with potentially sterling silver rings. There’s what appears to be a diamond in the clip.

Yet, the real pens had a yellow diamond or green-yellow jewel, depending on which edition you had.

Again, in real life, this pen is extremely light weight. Sometimes experience helps, and, having held real samples of the Copernicus, this feels 2 or 3 times lighter.

Another big give away is that there are no markings on this pen. No serial number, “Pix” under the clip,” no limited edition number and no “Germany.”

It is difficult to see in the photo, but you can see the edges where the white part was glued into the black part of the logo. On Montblanc’s high-end pens, there are no seams that are detectable, and we think the original pen had a mother-of-pearl star instead of a white plastic star.

One sneaky thing the pen forgers got right is that it uses real Montblanc ballpoint refills.

The last big thing they got wrong is the company brand logo of the 6-point star or snow cap representing the mountain. This one is a soft plastic that looks odd in real life, and you can see the edges of the hole they glued it into on the tail. True Copernicus pens have a seamless logo that is lacquered over to look like one piece regardless as to whether it really is.

Last but not least is the box. We received two pens in one box that is made to look like a true Montblanc box. The differences are pretty obvious. Most simple MB boxes similar to this have a leather or faux-leather outer casing in black. This is a black paper case. On the inside the company name is poorly silk screened on with some black ink bleeding into other parts of the name/logo. Annnd, the pad that holds the pen is a cheap cardboard with a paper tray beneath it. The black leather Mont Blanc cases have a padded beige or tan cloth lining, which you aren’t intended to get underneath. Papers for the legit pens are stored between leather box and the outer cardboard box. Please see the picture of the fake below.

As always, we hope this helps you spot fake Montblanc pens in your quest for inky glory as a writer or collector.

Paper outside, poor silk screening inside and the wrong pad and under-tray make this Montblanc box an obvious fake.