Tag Archives: luxury pens

Roadtrip to Atlanta 2018

I love that fresh, brilliant light green of new leaves after a long winter. These are white oaks from northern Georgia in full bloom.

I got my motor running and headed out on the highway for another spectacular trip down to Atlanta for a great pen show. Maybe it was due to the fact Chicago had a couple of inches of snow on the Monday before the Atlanta show, Georgia just looked stunning to me when I made my way to the final destination.

It is a long drive, so I broke it up with a stay in Chattanooga, TN. In the morning I crossed the border into Georgia to check out the National Park for the battlefield at Chickamauga. During the Civil War, this was a staging battle setting up Sherman’s infamous march to the sea. Union General William Rosecrans was pushing into Georgia from the stronghold of Chattanooga. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had the job of sending them back north.

These cannon represent where the Union artillery was set up behind Gen. Thomas’ infantry, as the general prevented a complete rout of the Federal troops.

Bragg was successful for the first 2 days of the battle. A communications error by Rosecrans and his generals turned day three into a rout of the Union Army. As Bragg moved to completely decimate the Union threat to Georgia and the Deep South, a Union general named George Thomas stepped up and held back the onslaught. Buying time for the Union to flee the field, Thomas stoutly held off the Confederacy until the Union army successfully left the field. It was truly a victory for the Confederacy, but instead of wiping out the Union army in its entirety, as it had the chance, they were prevented from doing more damage. Gen. Thomas would be forever remembered as “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

This log cabin was a one-room home that was converted into a field hospital during the battle of Chickamauga. Check out the bullet holes still in its timbers.

It is impressive how well the battlefield is preserved. It is likewise impressive that the original road that separated the two sides during the battle remains in active service today! The road has been paved and widened to accommodate 2 lanes of traffic, but it is exactly where it was more than 150 years ago. I was duly impressed with a log cabin that was converted into a field hospital during the battle, as it has been fully restored and remains standing. You can still count the bullet holes in its aging timbers.

This granite statue of a Union infantryman was one of my favorites depicted in my favorite Civil War book as a child.

Battlefields have many memorials dedicated to the men and units that fought and died, and Chickamauga is no exception. When I was a little kid, only 7 years old, first reading about the Civil War, one of my favorite statues was of an infantryman from the Union laying prone and taking aim at the Rebs. It was in my dad’s big book blue cloth-covered book about the Civil War. I hadn’t thought about it for years and was pleasantly surprised to see it in real life, after I turned a bend in the driving tour. Unfortunately, my granite friend has suffered the loss of his nose, cap bill and rifle hammer over the years.

Okay. On to the Atlanta Pen Show. Jimmy, Suzanne and the gang have done a great job building this show. Plus, they have that show running like clock work. Three rooms and a hallway are packed with vendors, and the remaining room was packed with users and collectors.

With a steady stream of people visiting the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show, I barely had time to snap this shot my table and the room. The legendary Rick Horne was my neighbor for this show.

It also is one of the friendliest shows I attend every year. Everybody comes to learn, test, explore and have fun. Unlike most shows, it feels as if the generations blend seamlessly in the bar after the show shuts down for the day. You have at least 100 people talking, sharing pens, checking out one another’s inks and trading notes about what to buy or try. Younger collectors seek advice and expertise about vintage and luxury pens from veteran collectors and vendors, while those same veteran pen folks ask after the latest modern pens and inks the newer collectors are enjoying. It is really encouraging to see.

On Saturday night after the show, I ran to the Georgia Aquarium for an opportunity to bliss out with the monstrous indoor coral reefs! The main tank was my favorite as it was a 6,300,000-gallon salt water tank big enough to host 3 whale sharks, 5 manta, dozens of reef sharks and stingrays and thousands of fish. It was the next best thing to S.C.U.B.A diving. I loved being that close to the sharks and looking in their eyes and mouths. Be sure to visit if you ever get the chance.

Atlanta Bound w/ 100s of New Pens

We’ve been busy since our first pen show of 2018. We now have more than 100 pens not presently available online that we will be debuting at the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show.

Here is just one box of goodies that we’ll be bringing to the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show. It is full of fun items you can’t find on our site!

It will be an exciting trip, with many friends that we hope to meet, again, and side trips to the battle of Chickamauga and the Georgia Aquarium.

Yet, in the meantime we’ll tease you with just some of the brands on our table you will only be able to see at the show: S.T. Dupont, Conklin, Faber Castell, Elysee, Jaguar, Delta and Conway Stewart!

We also will have the new Lamy AL-Star vibrant pink pens and ink!

Meanwhile, you can keep ordering pens from our site. Orders will ship out as soon we return from the show. Hope to see you there, though!

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.

Holiday Shipping Update

These are the United States Postal Service’s recommended ship dates for merchandise to arrive in time for Christmas.

Time quickly runs out at this time of year where shipping is concerned. Make sure to put in your orders in time to have by Christmas.

This year the United States Post Office recommends that you ship your final holiday orders by December 19th, if you use regular first-class mail.

You can push it a day to December 20th, if you choose Priority Mail.

If you are really rushed, December 22 is the last day the USPS recommends for sending domestic Priority Mail Express.

If you aren’t sure which mail option you should use, please call or e-mail, and we’ll be glad to help you sort it out.

Dad Made Me a Small-Time Coke Runner: A Confession

BOGOTA, DuPAGE COUNTY, ILLINOIS—-Every time I tell myself, “This is the last time.”

It has to be. I can’t keep it up any more. I’m losing my grip. The cash transactions. The legal scrutiny. The surveillance. And all of that Coke! I don’t know how my old man can do all of that coke in a single week! That is a lot of stimulant for a man of a certain age. And, yet, if I don’t bring him his next fix, there will be hell to pay. Hell worse than any law can bring down.

“Hey, Man. Soda-Tax-Free Diet Coke.” For four months, my very own father turned me into a Coke runner. The shame, the adventure, the lack of shaving.

You know, I didn’t start this way. I was a clean-cut all-American kid. I got good grades. I only dated nice girls. I was a star college athlete. I earned a master’s degree. I had a 401k. Life was good. Then the economy turned. I stopped working for The Man. My side hustle got real…real fast. And I liked it.

Still, I never looked at running coke as a viable option until the government stepped in and started attacking the little guy, the everyday Joe, who just enjoyed a bit of sugar and caffeine. That’s when my dad made me go underground and become his drug mule.

You see, on August 2, 2017, in an act of extreme irony, the county that almost single-handedly defeated Prohibition in the 1930s, enacted a sin tax or “Sweetened Beverage Tax.” Cook County, Ill., began charging a penny-per-ounce tax on all soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and a lot of other drinks. That is about 68 cents extra per 2-liter bottle of Coca Cola. And Cook County was already collecting around 10% sales tax on that same bottle. So this is 68 cents on top of that. You were paying almost as much in taxes as you were for the actual bottle.

Al Capone was rolling in his grave.

When the tax first passed, the Cook County board president became the Mento to my father’s Diet Coke. (Seriously, look up that combination on YouTube, if you are unfamiliar with the chemistry. Even if you are, this is an awesome video.) My father was a raging Mento bomb. You see, he is more Diet Coke than man at this point. If emergency room staff needs to stick an IV in him, his blood just fizzes out, spraying the whole staff and making a terrible mess.

Cook County needed to plug a $200 Million budget hole, and the sweetened beverage tax was how they were going to get it. At the rate my old man consumes Diet Coke, they were basically asking him to pay them $180 Million of that hole in a single year.

And so, as the dutiful son who lives one county over, it fell on to me to bring in the goods, sans sweetened beverage tax. I began carting 16 illicit liters nearly every week! Woe be unto me for not bringing sufficient tribute. There is no wrath like a caffeine fix scorned.

I am sure DuPage County made out like a bandit on its sales taxes. Every time I filled a cart with Diet Coke, the clerks at the grocery store laughed and said, “Ah, visiting someone in Cook County, I see.” Cook County residents, equally full of classic Boston Tea Party firebrand, raided our grocery stores for soda. It has been a huge boon for our community…even without a soda tax.

On Dec. 1, 2017, the tyranny of soda taxes will come to an end. A lot of vocal Cook County residents forced the county board to kill the tax. And thus my time as a drug mule will end.

Still, I’ll miss my wild, underground life: the greasy pony tail, shaving once every 4 or 5 days, packing heat and pushing stimulants. Yet, I’ll be able to tell the grandkids that I was a rebel once. A renegade flouting the law and sticking it to The Man. Oh, to run Diet Coke across county lines once again.

Debra Messing Writes with Montegrappa

Debra Messing, the TV star best known for her roles on “Will & Grace,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and “The Starter Wife,” turns out to be a fan of fountain pens. She once posted on her Instagram account about one of her favorites being a white and rose gold Montegrappa Fortuna.

She clearly has incredibly good tastes.

Montegrappa pens are Italian works of art. Most of their pens use intricate celluloids that take a full year to cure. Plus, they are decked out with gold and sterling silver trim. Completing each fountain pen is a hand-tuned 18k gold nib.

Now that her hit series “Will & Grace” is slated for a comeback, we thought you might be interested in her favorite pen.

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?!

DC Pen Show Was Din-O-Mite!

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

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

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

So many pens, supplies, ephemera…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Dumas: The Man & The Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controversy in Chicago Part III: Let’s Help the Rookies

Now that veteran vendors and rookie pen collectors are breaking the ice, let’s lend some veteran assistance to the rookies navigating their first pen shows.

1421 Waterman PhileasYour first pen show is bound to be an overwhelming affair. There will be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of vintage and modern pens. You will find rarities you never dreamed of seeing in the flesh, and you will probably want to spend 10 times the amount of money you intended to spend. Plus, there are all of the custom services, which might take months to get performed through the U.S. mail but you can have satisfactorily completed in a single morning or afternoon at a pen show. And then there are the spare parts, inkwells, papers and cases!

To help you safely navigate your first pen shows, here is some advice that ought to help you breakdown the experience and keep it positive.

PRE-GAME STRATEGY
Set a budget and a goal for the show. Need some repairs done? Want a nib ground to perfection? Looking for certain pens? Organize all that you hope to achieve.

1324 Waterman 100 Year PenYour best bet is to put together a list of all the things you’re looking for and hope to do. This way you can take some time to marvel at the splendor of the distractions before you check in on your list to focus on your goals.

Loyal reader Justin P. recommends contacting your favorite eBay and other online vendors to see if they will be at the show. If they are, let them know you can’t wait to see them there and give them a heads up to your list of pens or merchandise that you want. Many will gladly set it aside for you so that you can have first dibs. Plus, it always helps to put names to faces by meeting in person.

Many shows are offering more and more seminars about repairs and the histories of the brands. Check out the show schedule online or in your show pamphlet to see what special events you don’t want to miss. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to help you remember it is time to head over to the seminar. Time passes remarkably quickly, and it is easy to get sidetracked.

If the show offers a weekend pass, you might want to get it. To make the most of the show, it helps to attend all of the days it is open. Day one is your best opportunity to pick up a really rare pen before somebody else snatches it. If it is a 4-day show, days 2 and 4 are quieter days, which are better for meeting new people and asking more questions about the pens and the hobby. Day 3/Saturday will be the busiest day. During trading hours, few vendors will likely want to talk for long because this is their best opportunity to sell the most and pay for their expenses.

Glass Topped CaseYet, some of the best times are after the formal trading closes for the day. You’ll often find clusters of vendors and collectors hanging out, talking or getting a drink. Strike up a conversation with them and get to know who they are, what their pen passions are and let them get to know you. Pen People, regardless of their experience with the hobby, are usually very friendly and chatty. People can usually be found talking pens in the lobby of the venue well into the wee hours of the morning.

SERVICES:
As I don’t do any nib grinding or Mont Blanc piston repair work, I love coming to the shows to take advantage of these services. The trick to navigating these services is to be there the minute the doors to the show open in the morning. If you are one of the first on the repair-person’s list, you can guarantee your pens get done that day.

Be sure to clearly explain to the repair folks what you want done and ask for an estimate first, so you know their prices and aren’t hit with sticker shock. Most repairs are fairly affordable, but it is always best to know what to expect. Vendors won’t mind fixing 2 or 3 pens for you at the show, but don’t expect for them to fix an entire shoebox full of pens at the show. They might ask to take that many pens home with them to work on later.

L15S Lamy Calligraphy NibsAt most shows you can expect to find full-time repair specialists such as Mike and Linda Kennedy of Indy-Pen-Dance, Ron Zorn, Richard Binder and “Mike It Work.” All four of these vendors are nationally known for their excellence. You can’t go wrong with any of them. If you do have 15 to 20 pens you want restored at the show, it might be best to spread 3 or 4 amongst each of them to see who’s work you like best. Expect also a minimum repair bill to be $20 to $25 per pen. It could be up around $40 to $50 if you want your nib ground to a new size and shape.

If you are having nib work done, be patient and remember it is very precise and time-consuming work. Don’t rush your grinder. However, as you are asking for a very specific and personalized repair, don’t be afraid to say the nib still doesn’t feel right when they ask you to test it. They want you to be happy with their services, and they will work hard to get the precise feel you want in your nib. If they spend an inordinately long amount of time getting your pen just right, they might charge you an extra $5 or $10, which is okay. Time is money, and you will get to enjoy that pen and nib for the rest of your life.

DEALING WITH VENDORS
It came as a great shock to me that not all vendors are there to sell. Some table holders are just there to meet with old friends, show off an impressive collection or to do any number of other things. For most of us, it is a business.

To avoid getting overwhelmed or making rash purchases of the first things you see, spend some time walking around and keeping an eye out for the merchandise on the tables. I like to make a complete sweep of the show before making any purchases…unless I spot something rare that I must buy quickly or not see again.

Don’t be shy. Say hi to the vendors and don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for. It is really easy to overlook the pens you’re looking for on tables that seem lightly populated with pens.

Keep a running tally of prices in your head or on a notepad. It is safe to assume you will find dozens of similar pens at the show. Prices and quality could range all over. Plus, it will help you keep from going over your budget…or show you there is room from an extra new treasure.

1262CWhen you are ready to get serious about buying a pen, there is a whole checklist of things to do:

  • ASK the vendor if you can pick up and examine his or her pen (You’d be surprised at how many people break pens or inadvertently mess up an organizational system.)
  • Look over the pen carefully for cracks, dents, imprint quality and brassing
  • ALWAYS try first to UNSCREW the cap. NEVER YANK on a cap.
  • Search for cracks on the lip of the cap with your thumbnail. If you spin the lip of a cap over your thumbnail, it will gently pick up any crack that might not be visible to the eye.
  • Use a loupe to examine the nib. Are there cracks? Is the tipping good? Are the tines aligned? Are one of the tine tips cracked just below the tipping and about to pop free?
  • If the nib looks okay, then test it for flex with your thumbnail. Put the underside of the nib’s tip on the top of your thumbnail and gently add pressure.
  • ASK if you can test the filling system. If you feel any pressure or resistance in the filling system, don’t force it. Ask the vendor if it needs restoration? (Lots of vendors complain about people breaking levers and other pen parts while checking out the filling system.)
  • Finally, ask if the vendor has ink and if you can dip the pen to try it out.

CLOSING THE DEAL
Cash is king. All pen dealers accept cash. However, many are now accepting credit cards due to the simplicity of smart phones and apps by Square and PayPal.

Before you start negotiating the final price, ask if they accept credit cards…if that is all you have with which to pay. This might save everybody some time and trouble. Don’t be upset if they say yes but also tack on an extra 2% or 3% to cover the fee charged by the credit card company. Some deals run the profit margin pretty thin, and it is fair to pay the processing fee.

1265 Pelikan 400NNTo negotiate a deal well, it helps to be well informed about the pen you are buying and its current prices. Be sure to highlight any flaws in the pen and make an offer that is fair and realistic. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that is still too high for you. Yet, don’t be afraid to accept a counter offer that is reasonable, especially if you received good customer service.

Many vendors don’t put prices on their pens. Some of them like to game you a bit to see how much you are willing to pay. Let’s say you’re looking at an aerometric Parker 51 in black with a lustraloy cap. You ask how much, and the vendor replies $100. It’s okay to smile, say thanks and put it back down. Unless it has something rare like a stub nib or some other uncommon feature, he or she will likely counter, “Well how much were you hoping it would be?” You can honestly say–because you know there are 3 bajillion black 51s in the world–that you were hoping for around $50. The vendor will likely acquiesce with something like, “Well, I can do $55.”

Feel free to ask vendors lots of questions, BUT understand that they might expect you to buy something if you take up too much of their time. If you have tons of questions, but aren’t ready to buy, save them until you are with a vendor whose pens you will be buying or until the show slows down and the vendor has more free time to talk.

And, of course, if you do get a cranky vendor who doesn’t treat you as you feel you should be treated, just move on to the next. There are often well over 100 vendors at most shows, and somebody nice will likely have just what you’re looking for.

Have fun!