Category Archives: How Do I Start Collecting 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 (kbb.com) 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 fiancĂ©e 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 Ă  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 Ă  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.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Investing

“How do I collect pens for investment?” is probably one of the most difficult questions I have to answer. Like all the investment prospectuses out there state, “Investing requires a degree of risk with no guarantee of success.”

There are several strategies that can help an investor looking to profit on pens, but it is important to understand several key facts before investing.

• The market for pens is constantly changing.
• Cashing out for a profit can be difficult.
• Even the most reputable retailers on earth don’t pay full retail for pens they are going to resell.
• Like every good drug dealer knows: “Don’t get addicted to your own product.”

RULE #1: Buy low, sell high. Sounds easy enough, but it doesn’t always work that way.

MINIMIZE SELLING COSTS: Most people love the collecting side of this wonderful hobby. They love the hunt, or they love using the pens. Yet, the first thing any investor-collector should think about is how they are going to offload their pens while getting their money out of them.

All of the major retailers online, such as myself, are looking for deals like any investor. If you have a rare pen that sells for $2,000, retailers like me aren’t going to pay you $2,000 for it, just so we can turn around and sell it for $2,000. Clearly, that is all risk and no reward for the retailer. And unless you found this pen for $50, you might be really upset if the retailer only offers you $1,500 or less for a $2,000 pen.

Auction sites and payment-receiving companies such as PayPal and Square charge any number of fees and commissions. These can quickly add up and dig into a substantial part of your profits.

Your best bet might be to sell your pens one-on-one at pen shows, in free social media listing pages or some place such as our Trading Post. We charge a one-time $5 fee for a single posting. You keep your pen and handle the transaction as you see fit. There are no other fees or commissions when you sell the pen. Just tell us it is sold, and we’ll delist it.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH: If you are serious about investing in pens, knowledge is power. There are huge differences between why one pen might get an astronomical amount of money and why another pen that looks nearly identical wouldn’t. There are so many nuances that affect values. Plus, if you like modern pens…and even some vintage ones…you need to learn how to spot the fakes. Furthermore, it is critical to also research the trends in what is selling and at what prices it is selling.

Flexible vintage Waterman nibs such as these from the 1920s are in exceptionally high demand in 2018.

DAY TRADING: Okay. The market for pens doesn’t move nearly as fast as it does for “day traders” on Wall Street. However, if you know what is really hot on the market right now and know you can quickly find a customer who will pay full price for it, you can make a lot of money. The trick is to know the market really well and not hold on to the pen for too long.

For example: As of this writing in November 2018, really flexible Waterman nibs from the 1920s are in peak demand. Everybody wants a flexi nib! So if you can find a Waterman 52 with a “wet noodle nib” in an antique store or flea market for $25, fix it up and sell it in a few days for $150 to $200, you’ll have made a great investment.

The trouble is that what is popular can seemingly shift overnight. About 10 years ago, everybody had to have an impossibly extra-fine nib on their vintage pens. If the line was so fine that you couldn’t even see it, that was perfect. Modern Japanese nibs can get that fine, but most vintage nibs were made for fine to medium writing. Thus those vintage extra-fine nibs were hard to find. Then one day I showed up at a pen show loaded with extra fines and nobody wanted them. The fad was over.

THE LONG GAME: Most people want a blue-chip stock they can buy at age 30, hold for 30 years and cash out at 60 for a tidy profit. They exist, of course, but they are less obvious than most people might assume. Take a Montblanc 149 fountain pen. They retail brand new for around $1,000. People who aren’t into pens might assume it will only hold that price and appreciate with time…but it won’t. Gently used 149s from the 1970s through ’90s are retailing for around $400 to $450. However, if you bought it in 1979 for $150…you’re doing okay. Yet, given how little has changed about them during the past 40 years, it isn’t likely you’ll make a profit on a new one sold from an MB boutique today. Nevertheless, an early 1950s’ 149 is resurgent on the market and attracting serious money that isn’t likely to subside for some time.

Hand-painted Montblanc Mythical Creatures series pens are genuinely rare pens that might appreciate in value, as they only made 1,500 of each…unlike the Writers’ Series pens which are made by the 10s of thousands.

A lot of people invest heavily in “limited edition” pens, but I am beginning to question how long those prices will last. With the exception of the Montblanc Writers’ Series Hemingway, Poe and Agatha Christie, most of those pens aren’t holding their original retail value. The trouble is that they aren’t really limited. MB makes tens of thousands of them every year. Everybody who wants one gets one. Most people treat them gently or don’t use them at all. There will come a time in the next 10 to 20 years when everybody either starts selling them off to cash in or passing them down to their children who don’t want them and sell them. When that happens, there will be a glut on the market. Frankly, I’m already seeing signs of that now.

Yet, maybe genuinely limited pens of say 1,500 or fewer, like the hand-painted Montblanc Mythical Creatures series, will appreciate more because so few were made…and they were more handmade than the more common pens. (Although even these pens are a little down in price at the moment.)

LeBoeuf #8 fountain pens are among the rarest grail pens for vintage pen collectors. These were among the first celluloid pens ever made…and are stunningly beautiful.

Vintage pens are a different matter. Blue chips might include an oversized #8 LeBoeuf, senior-sized mandarin yellow Parker Duofolds, Nassau green Parker 51s with double jewels and vermillion Sheaffer Snorkels. Each is a rare color variant on a popular pen. Prices might fluctuate over time, but their values ought to hold.

Playing Devil’s advocate to myself, nearly impossible to find grail pens spanning 1900 to 1925ish are once again becoming much more available as the original collectors are beginning to pass on. Younger, newer collectors are not as familiar with those pens and likely haven’t the money at this stage in their careers to purchase them…and so those prices are actually crashing a bit. It is unclear at the moment if new generation collectors will ever have much interest in the earliest fountain pens. Speculators might be wise to let the prices keep coming down and snatch a few up at “bargain” prices to hold for another 20 years or so. BUT, there’s no guarantee it will pay off.

Younger collectors were laughing at me the 2018 Ohio Pen Show when I said they should hold on to their TWSBI Ecos. These are $15 pens that are a scorching hot fad in affordable fountain pens. But who is to say that these new pen users and collectors in their early 20s and early 30s won’t get nostalgic for them in another 30 years, when they start looking back on how they got into pen collecting. Who knew those 1970s and ’80s Star Wars action figures and spaceships I played with all the time would now be worth a fortune? If only I hadn’t sold them all in a garage sale at age 12.

In closing, you can make a lot of money by investing in pens if you carefully research what it is you are investing in, know well the market and trends in collecting, buy low and sell high and have an inexpensive way to sell your investments. Good luck!

Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Mont Blanc Pens

When you are the #1 selling maker of luxury pens, everyone will be chasing your brand, trying to emulate it. That is why the market is flooded with myriad knock-off Mont Blanc pens.

At a quick glance this looks like an authentic sterling silver Mont Blanc Classique, but MB never paints its logo on the pen like this fake has.

We’ve seen our share of them. They range in quality from obviously fake to nearly identical to the real thing. In fact, some fakes are so good, only Mont Blanc can tell the difference, which is why the company has an authentication service.

However, with a little research and careful observation, you can suss out the bulk of the fakes while saving a fortune on authentication fees.

The most common models in the Mont Blanc line up are known as Classiques and LeGrands (146 fountain pen), as well as the oversized fountain pen known as the 149. Mont Blanc makes the bulk of these pens from what they call a “precious resin,” sterling silver and plated and solid gold. The precious resin pens are trimmed in gold plate or platinum plate.

 

Look closely at the gold-plated clip band of the cap to see a finely machine engraved serial number.

There are 3 obvious details to search for when you look at a Mont Blanc pen made of precious resin. Since 1991, Mont Blanc has included a tiny serial number on the clip band of its pens. Only the very best fakes include a serial number, and that only started in more recent years. The vast majority of fakes leave out the serial number. It doesn’t help, that Mont Blanc actually reuses some of its serial numbers and didn’t keep the best records of who got which serial number and where the serial numbers were sent.

Another detail to look for on authentic Mont Blanc writing instruments is the word “Pix” written under the clip. It is nearly impossible to get a good photo of that with our lighting rig. However, starting around 1997, Mont Blanc began including that detail to help customers authenticate its pens. Of course, in recent years, the very best of the Mont Blanc replica makers have started including that feature. Yet, the vast majority of the fakes leave it out.

Black “precious resin” on a Mont Blanc is really a wine-red plastic when you hold it up against a really bright light source, as we did with this glass of wine.

Lastly, among the black pens, the precious resin has several special give aways to its authenticity. First, the black pens are not metal with a black paint job or lacquer. The precious resin is actually a very brittle plastic. Although it looks black, it is really a very deep wine red. If you hold it up to a very bright light source that won’t do any eye damage, you can see a deep red glow around the edge of the pen, much like this more easily seen red edge of this glass of wine. (My favorite blog homework assignment. I mean, I couldn’t let that glass go to waste.) This is generally the most difficult authentication test to perform, as you really need to catch the light just right…and not go blind in the process. Most fakes just use a normal black plastic or a metal barrel painted black.

 

This Mont Blanc Starwalker rollerball pen fake nearly had us convinced until we couldn’t fit an authentic MB refill in it.

Rollerball pens have an additional feature that helps you authenticate them: refills. Mont Blanc rollerball refills are specially threaded and screw into the barrel. Even some of the best fakes that we’ve seen, fail on the refill. The fakes might take a standard plug-in Schmidt-style 888 refill. The Mont Blanc Starwalker rollerball pen in the photo was one of the best fakes we had ever seen. It even came with a screw-in refill that said Mont Blanc, BUT it would not take a genuine MB rollerball refill. The guy who gave it to me after we couldn’t find a refill to fit it confessed he got it in China for only $25 and thought it was too good to be true. At least he wasn’t out a full retail price! That was about 11 years ago when we got it. Back then the crystal topper was clear, but now it also is discoloring, which the real ones won’t do.

Although boxes are easily found on eBay and other places, as a rule of thumb, if you see a pen being sold in its original box, then you are more likely to be dealing with the real thing. So many of the fakes don’t come with any boxes. Also be sure to check with the dealer. The well known pen vendors out there can be trusted to stock the authentic secondhand pens. However, you really might want to check the pen closely if you’re buying from someone at a flea market who knows nothing about pens or from a seller on an auction site that has lots of bad reviews or no reviews.

For pre-1990s Mont Blanc pens, there are myriad other ways to date and authenticate them. However, we shall save that for a future post.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Vintage vs. Modern

You can’t go wrong with vintage or modern pens. In either case, it is best to do a little research to know what to look for to get the best deal. It also helps to know if you intend to use or display them.

MODERN PENS

Most people who are new to collecting pens start with more modern pens, and this is a great place to start. When you buy new, you aren’t buying into any problems not covered by a warranty. Plus, you can frequently find less expensive pens that help you get acclimated to the hobby while satisfying your jones for awesome writing instruments. If you’re enjoying your TWSBIs, Kawecos, Heros and Lamys, just revel in the joy they bring and don’t let any pen snobs get you down.

Lamy calligraphy nibs range in size from 1.1mm to 1.9mm. Each provides a distinctive nuance to you handwriting. The Lamy Joy fountain pen set is a great way to try all three sizes for fewer than $70.

The aforementioned brands are all great places to build up a daily-use collection on a budget, and you typically get great steel nibs with the Lamy pens and TWSBIs. Experiment with nib sizes and inks. The more you write with them, the better you will understand characteristics of fountain pens such as smoothness, feedback, flex, flow and the size grips (In more technical fountain pen parlance, the part you grip is usually called the section.)  that feel best.

Once the collecting bug has bitten, you might be tempted to branch out into vintage users, luxury users or vintage or luxury collectible pens. We will get to vintage in a minute, but for now we’re sticking to modern.

Like any car you buy brand new, the second you buy a brand new luxury pen, its price drops the when you bring it home. If you buy new, you get all of the joy of being the first to use the pen and are guaranteed it will be displayed without any damage. Yet, there is a great deal of money to be saved by purchasing luxury pens from Cross to Montblanc on the second-hand market.

To safely buy second-hand, it is best to have two checklists of things to investigate before spending your hard-earned money: the dealer and the pen.

As far as dealers go, check to see if they are established and reputable. Ask around on social media forums. Investigate the website. Check out their social media accounts and reviews. Is there a return policy? Do the descriptions honestly address damage and wear on the pens? Some pens might be perfect and listed as new old stock. But if a pen was clearly a daily user and is still described as absolutely flawless, get suspicious. Ask questions of the dealer. Most should get back to you within a day, unless they are traveling to a pen show. Feel free to ask for more photos. If you are buying from an auction site, never pay “buy it now” prices, as they are usually hyperinflated. Check the seller’s rating. If they have a few hundred or more sales with a 98% or higher approval rating, you’re probably pretty safe. Some bad vendors just keep creating countless new accounts to shed their old bad ratings. Don’t be afraid to buy from a brand new auction vendor, but don’t go crazy-high bidding. Also, especially on auction sites, set a budget for a pen. Even some fairly rare pens come up pretty often. Don’t be afraid to let them go until the right one comes along for your budget.

Montblanc pens are often authenticated by their serial number, “Pix” written under the clip and by coming complete with their box and papers.

If you are buying a pen as a user, make certain that the pen is in good working order. Get a good description for how the nib writes. If you are buying for display, make sure the pen is complete with minimal or acceptable wear. If you are at a store or pen show, ask to dip the nib and give the pen a scribble. Research ways to authenticate that the pen is not a fake. Most modern Montblanc pens since the mid-1990s have a serial number on the clip band, the word “Pix” in high relief under the clip and various models have other telltale signs of authenticity. For example: The black “precious resin” of the caps and barrels is really a translucent merlot red when held to sunlight or another strong light source. Most fakes of any brand also don’t have the original box and papers. Pens with boxes and papers typically carry a premium compared to ones that don’t.

VINTAGE PENS

Do not be daunted by the world of vintage pens. It is a ton of fun. Start slow. Get a feel for what you are doing. Do lots of research, and grow as you feel more and more comfortable. Unless you are independently wealthy, don’t start by spending $1,200 on a mandarin yellow Parker Duofold Senior that needs a complete overhaul. Start safely with a few fully restored $50 Parkers, Sheaffers or even Esterbrooks.

Sheaffer’s early nibs of the 1920s featured heart-shaped breather holes. Who says fountain pens aren’t romantic.

There are tons of great books and websites dedicated to vintage pens that can help point you in the right direction. Whether you want to restore, write or display, it won’t take long to get into the swing of vintage. Plus, most of these pens were designed specifically for daily use. Hardcore vintage pen lovers are convinced their nibs are better than most modern nibs. Plus the pens are more lightweight and designed not to let you cramp up during the writing of a long letter or journal entry.

Unless you are collecting for display, it is vital to know if the pen has been restored before you purchase it. Restored pens will cost more than unrestored, but there is no worse surprise than thinking you’re buying something that works only to discover it doesn’t. Even vintage new-old-stock pens might have some wear from rattling around a desk or drawer, so be sure to know what type of damage it has. Also find out about the pen’s nib? Is it original and/or in great working order? What size line does it write? When buying online this can be tough to gauge. The dealer might honestly find it is perfectly smooth because of the angle she or he writes, and you might write from a different angle that has feedback with the same nib.

If buying a vintage pen in person, always ask to see the pen before you pick it up. It is a very nice courtesy that saves dealers many broken or misplaced pens. When examining it, look it over closely for wear, discoloration and stains. Gently place the cap on your thumbnail and pretend to screw the pen on to your thumb. If there is a crack, your thumbnail will likely snag on it long before you can see it. Run your thumbnail over the threads of the barrel, too. Some cracks hide there, too. Ask to gently work the filler without ink to make sure it works. Again, ask to dip the nib to see how it writes. Try to get as close to your usual writing position as possible. Also check to see the strength of the barrel and/or cap imprints. Is there brass shining through the gold plate on the clip, cap band or lever?

PRICING

Comparison shopping is easier than ever in the age of the internet. Every site has its own pricing strategy, some offer better deals on certain pens than others. Follow pens on auctions sites to see what they are going for, too. You can even look up pens and check their “sold price.”

Mandarin Parker Duofolds are very fragile and rare. They are among the most expensive vintage Parker Duofolds.

If you see what look like two similar pens of drastically different prices, feel free to contact the vendor to ask why. Sometimes, subtle differences between pens can have huge effects on the price. One orange hard rubber senior Parker Duofold with two cap bands might look almost identical to the same pen in an early orange hard plastic, but their prices are going to be vastly different. (The old orange hard rubber is a lot rarer and more expensive.)

 

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Dealers are not usually hard, cruel keepers of pens. We like getting to know our customers. Don’t be afraid to e-mail or call with questions. If you build a good relationship with a dealer, they are likely to keep a lookout for pens you want at better bargains…giving you the first option to buy. Who doesn’t love dibs on great pens before the rest of the public can see them?!

How Do I Start Collecting Pens? Know Thy Obsession

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

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

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

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

TYPES OF PENS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What type of pen is your favorite?

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

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

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