Tag Archives: preowned pens

2018 DC Pen Show or Bust!

After last year’s chaotic but successful pen show, we are hitting the road for the 2018 DC Pen Super Show!

We’ve spent the past month cleaning, polishing and organizing more than 300 vintage and modern pre-owned luxury pens not yet online for this show. This photo shows only a tiny fraction of what we will have available.

This is just a tiny fraction of the more than 300 vintage and pre-owned modern pens not currently on our website that we shall carry on our table at the DC Pen Show this weekend.

Omas, Delta, S.T. Dupont, Namiki, Montegrappa and rare Pelikans will make a splash. Plus, we’ve loaded up on Montblanc from the 1970s and ’80s. In addition to that we’ve been adding a dozen ultra-rare Esterbrook pens, rare vintage Waterman pens and many great vintage Parker and Sheaffer fountain pens.

Naturally, we are returning with our Lamy nib testing station that was a huge hit last year. It will be loaded with this year’s limited edition Safari and Al-Star designs, as well as many great traditional colors. We’ve restocked Lamy ink, too!

We will have something for everyone. With a total of more than 600 pens in every price range on our table, if you can’t find a new treasure to love…you just don’t like pens.

One Crazy Summer!

Since last writing, I’ve been to the inaugural St. Louis Pen Show, moved secret underground workshop lairs and hosted visits by many members of my college fencing team!

The first St. Louis Pen Show was a monster success and a ton of fun.

First to the exciting and wonderful new St. Louis Pen Show. More organized than several already established pen shows, Anne and her crew have spent 2 years advertising and promoting this incredible show. Many of us vendors were worried no one would attend, aside from vendors. But no! A city’s worth of people who had never previously attended a pen show filled the venue for 3 days!

The trip down was uneventful…until we almost got run off the road by a tornado! About 2 miles from the venue, a huge cell of storm clouds began blowing across the interstate. Wind was howling debris across the highway, even bowing flag poles. A native-born Midwesterner, I didn’t worry until the clouds turned green and sirens started going off. Talk about bad times to be stuck in rush hour traffic.

Luckily, I only got rained on. No funnel cloud formed near me to whisk me away to Oz.

Many of the vendors were regulars on the show circuit, and we were all excited to catch up and discuss the past month or two since we’d last met. During the days of the show, nearly everyone who came to my table gushed about attending their first show. And most of the folks were 40 and younger! Heck. We even had a lot of kids collecting their first fountain pens. It was super encouraging to see.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games. After a very nice auction on Friday, one of our longtime friends passed away. John F. and his wife were among the first to welcome me into the pen show scene after a particularly bruising first or second Chicago Pen Show for me about a decade ago. John was a retired newspaper editor, and I was freshly out of newspaper work in an era that has seen the decimation of newspapers across the country. We commiserated and bonded over our journalistic past. We’ve talked at nearly every pen show since. This night was no different, as he recounted his recovery from a rather severe stroke a few months earlier. Little did either of us realize our conversation just before the auction would be our last. All of the vendors were upset to hear of his passing just as the show opened for Saturday.

Among the things this show got so right was the ceaseless promotion that included heavy media promotion to reach out to new showgoers. Plus, they had cell phone aps to help people navigate the show! AND, they had a break room for the vendors that was loaded with soda, sandwiches and snacks! Like other shows they had table watchers, a great bar scene for after-hours meetings and catching up, loads of free parking and a very nice hotel.

If you didn’t go this year, be sure to attend in 2019.

Here’s a quick peek at our new workshop as it comes together for many more great vintage pen repairs.

Soooo, in other news, we’ve moved! Well, we still have the same P.O. Box and Website, but the secret underground workshop is now much larger and better suited to fix all of your favorite vintage pens. We’re not 100% unpacked but close, as you can see from this top secret photo.

This will be a temporary home, hopefully, for only a year or two. Because after this, we want to buy our forever, permanent home.

Good Lord. I hate moving! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! It is stressful as all get out, moving a small business and home at once. Luckily, the new place is much nicer and all of the business items have been unpacked and accounted for. Sorry for the lack of updates for so long.

And while all that transpired, I had three lovely visits from Blue-Hair Cathy, Chewbacca and The Chihuahua. All teammates from my college fencing team…an unspecified number of years ago. All arrived separately on different days. Two from Montana and one from Antarctica! It was great to catch up on all of our current lives, while reminiscing about all of the people we impaled together.

And now we resume your regularly scheduled vintage pen and pre-owned luxury pen mania.

Oh my, Omas!

Turning it around for the Chicago Pen Show, immediately after Atlanta, is tricky, but we do it in style. In addition to cranking through a ton of vintage pen restorations, I’ve picked up a collection of Omas fountain pens which will make their appearance at our tables for the very first time.

Visit us at the Chicago Pen Show this weekend for a chance to buy up 14 different Omas fountain pens not yet available on our website! We’ll have at least 100 different pens you can’t find online!

Yes. That’s a limited edition Omas made from the oak barrels of the Krup Champagne vintners in France. Good eye, you also spotted an oversized Omas 360 among the 360 demonstrators. Wait, wait. Yes. There are two Omas Milord Arco Verde fountain pens…and two Bronze Arcos…and a Grey Pearl Arco…a scarlet red and a few others!

Also on our table this year will be the newest Vibrant Pink Lamy AL-Star pens and ink! You can customize your’s with an extra-fine to 1.5mm stub nib! Show bargain only!

With a little bit of luck, I’ll even learn how to restore modern and vintage Mont Blanc and Pelikan fountain pens. We know that is an in-demand need for our customers.

Best of all, we get to hang out and talk with you in person! Please stop by and say hi. It is always great to see you and catch up a bit.

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!

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.

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?!

Ink Fast Test #3

Attracted by the many colors and properties of Noodler’s Inks, I just had to start exploring.

Finding the right orange ink for me became an obsession last winter. Loving the color samples online for Apache Sunset and Habanero, they were the first in my cart.

The top portion of this photo showcases fresh writing with Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Habanero, Polar Blue and Anti-Feather Black inks. The bottom of this photo shows how much or little they faded after being exposed to 6 months of summer sunlight.

Noodler’s Apache Sunset looked much darker in the online sample. In real life it was more of a running Pumpkin-Gut yellow-orange. It doesn’t offer much by way of shadowing effects unless you use a really wet nib or more preferably a wet, wide stub nib. In the six months it was posted in my sunniest window, it faded the most heavily, which really wasn’t surprising.

Friends know me quite well for my obsession with fiery hot tacos (My buddy Adam and I invented the notorious Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell while in college.), and I could not pass up a Noodler’s Habanero ink. This one looks spectacular and is the darkness that I thought Apache Sunset would be. It became my favorite of my 4 new Noodler’s inks. Unfortunately, its blazing color doesn’t hold up well to the blazing fury of the summer sun. As much as I love the color, I have noticed it is rather viscous. Generally, I have to thoroughly flush my pen every time between fillings of the Habanero ink. If I don’t, the pen gets too clogged up to write by the time I am half way through the second fill.

Since beginning these ink fast tests, I’ve been desperately looking for inks that won’t fade heavily with time or light. Noodler’s Bullet Proof inks are perfect for archival writing. Six months in the summer sun did little to diminish the strength of Noodler’s “Polar Blue” and “Anti-Feather Black.” These inks are promised to be UV resistant, water resistant, chemical uneraseable and many other incredible features. Our tests proved that out. When we soaked one sample in water, the paper disintegrated more than the ink.

Noodler’s Anti-Feather Black ink only gets a smidge fuzzy after being soaked in water. It holds its properties incredibly well in sunlight and under water…once it has been let dry, that is.

Yet, there is a cost to these inks as well. They clogged the living daylights out of two juicy writing pens. It was a matter of time more than of use. If I were to fill a pen with Anti-Feather Black and write it to empty in one day, there’d have been little problem. If I wrote out half of the ink in one day and then waited a week to use it again, then problems developed. Ink would dry out on the ink feed and start gumming up the works fairly quickly.

As much as I love the deep, rich black of the Anti-Feather, along with its archival qualities, I only reserve it for special occasions, using only a glass dip nib. The Polar Blue was so frustrating, I gave it away to a friend who wanted to try it.

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 IV: Let’s Help the Veteran Vendors!

One of the things that surprised me most at the Chicago Pen Show discussion, in which some veteran vendors and rookie collectors had some difficulties seeing eye to eye on matters of collecting and navigating a pen show, was that several veteran vendors who are extremely well versed in the history and details about fountain pens seemed to know very little about the art of 0442 Sheaffer Admiralselling.

Several of their complaints about rookie collectors were misdirected. “Rookie pen collectors will ask a million questions and never buy anything.” “Rookie collectors only like modern pens/wet noodle nibs/etc.” “Rookie collectors take up too much space in front of my table during peak sales times.”

It isn’t the Rookie Collector’s fault for not buying or for asking questions. Clearly, the Rookie is interested in buying. It is the vendor’s fault for not “selling.” With a little sales training, these vendors can easily avoid these sales pitfalls, deliver excellent customer service and have rookie collectors coming back for more and better pens year after year!

Certain presidential candidates love to brag about the art of the deal, but I found I stumbled into the best sales training early in life. After college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be…and I was already grown up. When a new car dealership opened near me, I applied just so I would have work and time to figure out my next move. I always loved cars, and I’m perfectly comfortable talking up total strangers. It was a great fit for a year, and I probably learned more practical skills at that job than I have at most of my other careers since.

0385 Mont Blanc SolitaireThe neat part about this dealership was that it was one of the first in the country to offer a return policy, a 6-month warranty on its vehicles and a no-pressure, no-haggle sales experience. Deprived of the tactics associated with used-care salesmen, we were given extensive training about no-pressure salesmanship. As we were still commission-based, we had to learn to quickly weed out the tire kickers from the buyers. Everything I learned at the dealership translates directly to pen sales.

Rule 1: Nobody comes to a pen show without the intent to buy pens. As you might only see 100 customers in a day, you must make the most of every opportunity you can to maximize your sales.

Rule 2: Ask questions. You know your merchandise way better than any of your customers. Don’t rely on them to just walk past, spot that one magical pen they want and buy it. Slow them down. Say hello and pepper them with questions.

If you know what to ask, you can sell a $500 pen in as few as two or three minutes and move on to the next customer, without skipping a beat. As I carry a mix of pens on my table, I usually ask this question first of anybody I don’t remember from a previous encounter: “So. What are you into today? Vintage or modern?”

0144 Parker 21I follow that up with, “Do you have a favorite brand or feature you like about vintage/modern pens?”

Or if they said modern, I ask, “Ballpoint, rollerball or fountain pen?”  If they say vintage, I’ll narrow it down to brands, nibs or filling systems.

Maybe that gets followed up with “What price point are you looking for?”

In less than a minute, I’m pointing out all of the pens that I have that they might be interested in. If I don’t have what they want, they’re moving on and I’m free to sell to the next person walking past. Otherwise, I’m maybe getting them interested in a pen they want or didn’t know that they wanted.

Rule 3: Explain why your pens are better. As I show them the pens in which they are interested, I quickly point out that I do and stand by all of my own restoration work. If I know I am particularly competitive on a certain price, I point it out.

Rule 4: Get the merchandise in their hands. I gently demonstrate the pen and how it works. I hand it over to the customer, while holding on to the cap. (People are way less likely to inadvertently wander off with a pen if they don’t have the cap or the barrel.) If I know of a flaw, I point it out. I let them dip the pen and write with it. I ask about the way it feels and maybe explain how to find the sweet spot on the nib. This builds trust, rapport and confidence in me as a seller.

0831NRule 5: Ask for the sale. If they’ve spent a few minutes touching the pen, loving it, writing with it and it seems like a potential winner, I ask for the sale. The price tags are on my pens, and I often just say something like, “So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”

If I did my job correctly, the answer is yes. If not, I keep trying to fine-tune the search until they have a pen they do like.

Rule 6: If you don’t have the pen or type of pens they’re looking for, and you are in a peak sales period…politely say you don’t have it and move on to the next customer. However, always be closing, even when turning people away. “Listen, Mister, I’m only looking for Mont Blanc pens that are under $50. Do you have any?” “Sorry, Man. My Mont Blancs start at $150.” If the unrealistic buyer is dead set on $50, let them keep walking. But, if they’re really just looking for good prices on Mont Blanc, your answer might help direct them to your Mont Blanc pens. Either way, you are making room for the next person or lining up this person to buy something. It is a win-win situation.

If it is a slow day, you can maximize your sales opportunities by acting as an ambassador to whatever it is you have on your table.

I often get rookies who have never tried vintage pens or fountain pens in general. I take the opportunity to show them different filling systems, nibs or other features to familiarize them with vintage pens. I get them dipping and writing with several to see how they feel. I try to keep the pens I show off under $50. This way, they might be more inclined to try vintage if the price tag isn’t too steep and the experience was fun and enlightening. I also try to teach them what to look for regarding damage and other issues with vintage pens. Maybe only 30% to 40% of the people buy something after the lecture, but that is still great considering that these same people were about to walk by without saying a word to me.

0968 Good Service PenHopefully, this advice helps you while hosting your next table at a pen show. This is the final article in my “Controversy in Chicago” series, and I really hope that the whole series has helped rookie collectors and veteran vendors get to know each other and make the pen show experience a far more pleasurable and useful experience.

Best of luck at your next show! Have fun buying and selling!

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!