Tag Archives: #pencollecting

Pen Collecting Time Capsule

Here are two 5″ X 7″ pen catalogs from 1994! I was intrigued by the Menash catalog as I don’t know what became of that company.

Leaving the pen-collecting life behind, a friend of mine has given me his stash of catalogs and advertising from 1992 through 1994. Its contents blew my mind.

Most of the material was from 1994, the spring I graduated high school. While it is difficult for me to comprehend that was 27 years ago, what is harder to comprehend was how big pen collecting was becoming that long ago!

I found my first fountain pen in 1985 when I was 9 and adored it. It belonged to my late grandfather, and it still worked: a 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime Balance. I used it until it finally broke down, and I became obsessed with finding other fountain pens. They just didn’t exist. Not in my 10-year-old world or the various circles I moved in. I asked adults for them, and all the adults laughed and said they threw their fountain pens out years ago because ballpoints were “so much better.” Even then, I knew that was heresy.

Sheaffer sent me an Imperial to replace my grandfather’s pen, which they could no longer fix. I snatched up those terrible Sheaffer Student Pens at the grocery store. Yet, I was the only person of any age I knew who loved fountain pens. Studying German while in a San Diego high school, my teacher told us that most German kids and adults still preferred using fountain pens. San Diego had no pen stores that I knew of, and the internet did not exist. I worked a part-time job and saved most of my money to pay for my trip as an exchange student to Germany. Most of my fellow American exchange students saved up their money so they could drink heavily in a nation where the drinking age was 16. I begged my German family to be taken to a proper stationary shop. I gleefully purchased a stub-nibbed elegant black Rotring and a bottle of Pelikan royal blue ink. I wrote with that poor beast until its threads wore off. It wasn’t until the internet got more advanced that I could search for fountain pens and finally start finding them in about 2005.

A 1992 edition of “Pen Finder” by Glen Bowen.

And sooo, it surprises me now to see that while I was searching the world over for fountain pens, there was a ground swell of people who did still love fountain pens…and vintage pens, at that! Plus, many of the people I know on the pen show circuit were innovators of the vintage pen revival.

For example, when I first met Glen Bowen, I did not know he founded “Pen World” magazine. He had already sold his stake in it, but his wife Susan was still the circulation director at Pen World. She and I bonded over the fact she went to journalism school at Northwestern with my father. When she later introduced me to Glen, I thought he was just a pen newbie helping his wife at the Pen World table. Ooops!

In this stack of publications is a protean “Pen World” magazine catalog he published in 1992 called the “Pen Finder.” It was printed at the same time as the early “Pen Worlds” but was a catalog of vintage pens he restored that collectors could buy. You had to subscribe to it. There were simply several glossy photos of capped fountain pens and some inner pages that served as an index of what the pens were and how much they cost. No nib photos. As people didn’t yet know the history of the pens as well then as they do now, I think I even spotted a few pens with mismatched caps and barrels.

The catalog index of pens for sale in “Pen Finder.” Back then it was too expensive to print color on every page of a magazine. As such there would be color pages and B&W pages.

Without the internet, vintage pen research was a slow and ongoing process. So many of those early collectors had to do their own research into the histories of pens. And much of that was very hit and miss. The internet really made it easier for everyone to get together and compare notes and research.

I love the low-tech feel of these publications. The world-famous Fountain Pen Hospital vintage pen catalog was just a photo-copier copy of pens and prices. Bexley Pens advertised new models with a beautiful glossy photo paired with a home-printer list of features and benefits.

The more professional catalogs for new merchandise were more sophisticated, but I sure as hell wish I could get my hands on some of this Montblanc and Omas at their original pricing. Brand-new, factory-fresh Montblanc 164 Classique models for $99. Omas fountain pens for $325 to $100! FPH was selling a stash of 14k gold #5 Waterman MUSIC NIBS for $50 a piece!

Vintage pen prices were all over the map. There were rare pens for $100 or $200. Really common pens for up to $800. And, yet, other pen prices haven’t changed. Standard Parker Vacumatics went for around $125.

Ads for the Bexley Giant. Note the glossy one-page sheet paired with a home-printer fact sheet. That was not unusual advertising back then. It was fairly slick and affordable.

When I finally got some guidance from my buddy Hans who taught me about vintage pens and how to repair them in 2005, I felt like we were the last two people on earth who loved old fountain pens. With his instructions, I felt as if I was somehow reinventing the wheel or reviving a long dead religion. Yet, this is evidence I was never truly alone back then. I was just searching in all the wrong ways and places.

It is easy to be glib and say, “Oh, gee, I wish I knew in 1994 what I know now.” While that wouldn’t be untrue, I really wish I knew my pen tribe then and could take the journey with them to where we are today. Fountain pens have always brought me joy, and they clearly bring many other people joy. And while I am very happy we have found each other in this grand and glorious age of the internet, it would have been nice to have learned and shared at an even earlier age.

 

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!