Tag Archives: #vintagepens

Apologies to a Parker 51

Time and again, I’ve mentioned the fountain pen that got me hooked into this crazy lifestyle. It was my mother’s father’s Sheaffer Balance Lifetime. Yet, I have another grandparental pen that never gets much publicity. It is a Parker 51 from my father’s side of the family.

This Parker 51 once belonged to either my father’s mother or father. I suspect it was Granddad’s, but either way it is a treasured keepsake.

The Parker 51 showed up in my life about 15 years after the Sheaffer. It was right around the year 2000. My father’s mother was getting sick and had to live with my parents. As they packed up her house, they discovered a Parker 51 in a desk drawer. They knew I liked old pens and sent it to me in Montana. At the time my collection was meager. My only other pens were a Sheaffer Imperial, a Rotring, a Waterman Phileas, Lamy Safari and Cross Townsend.

I recently pulled out the aforementioned 51 to write a letter and was struck by how little I knew about pens in 2000, when it showed up in my life. It would be several more years before I learned how to restore pens. I had never heard of a Parker 51. I had heard of Parker Duofolds because I had seen a modern Parker Duofold MacArthur Special Edition at Marshall Fields in Chicago. It was well out of my price range, and although its literature mentioned the original Duofolds, I assumed that none were left in existence! Honestly, I assumed that my Sheaffer was such a rare treasure that no other old-fashioned fountain pens could possibly exist. Good Lord, when I saw that modern Duofold in 1994, I was 18, and my 60-year-old pen might well have been what the dinosaurs wrote with.

That’s how little I knew. The internet only barely existed. I didn’t know a single soul who liked fountain pens. My parents thought they were archaic and messy. My friends parents thought the same. My relatives thought the same. I had not stumbled into any of the early pen catalogs and mailing lists. Only bank presidents wrote with Montblanc 149s to show off. In my tiny world, I was the last hold out.

Enter the 51, and my ignorance was on full display. It still worked and had an Aerometric filler with a silicon (sorry, pli-glass) ink sac. I assumed it was some deranged promotional pen my grandmother must have gotten in the 1980s for one of her many charitable donations. It didn’t look like a vintage pen to me. I didn’t know how to look for and understand a date code then. I didn’t know that the 51 was originally released in 1941 with the advertising stating that it was 10 years ahead of its time! The design certainly fooled me, as I thought it was from the 1980s. The date code that I now understand said it was made in 1950.

My paternal grandparents were both very formal people. The black barrel and lustraloy cap could have belonged to either of them, but as my grandmother was far more into flowery and feminine design, this pen, I now understand, was likely my grandfather’s.

My granddad, as he was called, died when I was only 8 or 9 years old. I never got to know him very well. He was always nice, but he was of a generation and upbringing that children were meant to be seen and not heard. He wasn’t the type of guy to romp around on the floor with me, but I don’t have any bad memories. As I grew up, I learned he had a business in professional sales in New York City. He was into electronics, fast cars, Broadway, a little bit of baseball and cocktail parties with witty conversation. As an adult, I’m surprised at how much we have in common, and I wish I could have known him as an adult. Our similarities baffle my own father, who wonder’s how his father’s tastes could have so completely skipped a generation.

My own father and I share the love of writing. My dad prefers ballpoints and typewriters to fountain pens and computers, but, hey, nobody’s perfect. All the same, I don’t think my grandfather likely wrote much besides orders, quite possibly on carbon copy paper. This might explain why the Parker 51 has such a firm extra-fine nib. The pen barely looked used when I got it. I suspect Granddad put it away as soon as he could get his hands on reliable ballpoint pens. I wonder if in the things left behind were a first or second-year Parker Jotter. I can see him zipping down the road in his much-beloved candy-apple red 1955 Ford Thunderbird and a Parker Jotter in his shirt pocket.

Of course, it would be nice to have that Thunderbird or any one of the myriad Lincoln Continentals that he drove over the years. I am very happy with his pen, but he sure had great taste in cars, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen Books: Waterman Past & Present

Staring at a shelf full of pen books, it struck me that I ought to share with you some of what these great tomes have to offer. As such, I would like to start with a pen-collecting classic.

Here is the cover to “Waterman Past & Present,” a definitive guide to Waterman pens spanning 1883 to 1958. It is a great resource for identifying each model of Waterman pens.

“Waterman Past & Present: The First Six Decades” by authors Max Davis and Gary Lehrer.

If you are just getting into vintage pens and/or Waterman pens, this book is an absolute must. Most professional collectors and dealers I know still use this book as one of their favorite references to identify classic Waterman pens.

The book’s authors are among the most trusted dealers in vintage pens. Max Davis once owned a pen shop in New York City, before moving to Europe to start several very successful websites. According to the book, he contributes most of the European advertising for Waterman and most of the ink displayed in one chapter. The rest of the book was completed by renowned pen expert Gary Lehrer, whose personal Waterman collection was possibly second-to-none. He also created with his wife Myrna one of the most successful vintage pen catalogs online and in print. I had the good fortune to know Gary and Myrna on the pen show circuit, and I was very sorry to learn of Gary’s passing earlier this year. He was an honest, kind and hard working pen man who helped to build pen collecting into the hobby it is today. He also was an excellent pen repairman.

Published in 2008, “Waterman Past & Present” is a 236 page book. Hardbound and coffee-table book size, it sports full-color on almost all of its thick, quality paper pages. After a very brief history about Louis Edson Waterman and his pens from 1883 to 1958, there is very little writing in this book.

Instead, it is a feast of images from common Waterman pens to some of the only known remaining rare models. Most of the pen photos are printed at their actual size, with specific details called out to help differentiate between models that might look similar. Along with the photos of pens are clear, easy to read images of original Waterman catalog pages AND magazine advertisements. Additionally, many of the original bottles of Waterman ink are present.

The only thing missing from this book appears to be Waterman pencils. Some appear in the ads and catalog pages shown, but few are photographed or given much thought.

Nevertheless, this remains a phenomenal resource for identifying Waterman pens, and it is wonderful to be able to see real samples of some rare pens that you and I might never seen in real life.

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 2

The sequel to my story in Pen World Magazine is now on news stands. Click each photo to read each page of the story. We have permission to reprint it here from Pen World editor Nicky Pessaroff. Be sure to subscribe to Pen World to read this and many other great stories about pens.

Click the image to better read the story.

Click the image to better read the story.

Click the image to better read the story.

Front Page News

News about ThePenMarket.com is spreading. I was lucky enough to be honored by a front-page feature in The Norwich Times! We’ve been featured before in “Pen World” magazine. However, I think this is our first time in a newspaper. Check it out: https://www.theday.com/local-news/20220406/norwich-resident-specializes-in-modern-vintage-pens

ThePenMarket.com makes good front page news in The Norwich Times. It is such an honor to get a nice write-up in the local paper.

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 1

Just what is it that makes a pen vintage? Many people are asking that question these days. As time advances, are the old definitions of “vintage” and “modern” really holding up? My article in Pen World Magazine is the first of a two part series. In Part 1, I put the question to 4 legendary experts who helped to build the pen collecting hobby into what it is today. In part 2, I will put the same questions to a new generation of collectors and users. Yet, for now, here is Part 1, reprinted here with permission from Nicky Pessaroff, editor of Pen World Magazine.

To better read each page, click the individual images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Bic Cristal Inks Get Testing

We tested these 8 Bic Cristal pens to see how ballpoint ink holds up to 6 months of sunlight. Blue, Pink, Green, Black, Grass-Stain Green, Purple, Turquoise and Red.

During my last visit with Ink-Fast Donn at the D.C. Pen Show in 2019, he said he was starting to test ballpoint inks to see how well they hold up to UV light.

Last summer, I discovered a collection of the famous and commonly used Bic Cristal ballpoints in my fencing gear. I taught a wonderful group of teens and tweens advanced competition maneuvers and strategy, and to help them remember their lessons and opponents, I insisted they keep “Diaries of Doom” and “Tomes of Terror.” To help personalize it more, I handed out colorful notebooks and pens.

Armed with 8 colors (blue, pink, green, grass-stain green, black, turquoise, purple and red), I created a sample on Rhodia paper and taped it to a sunny window of my home at the end of August. I took it down at the end of February and was surprised by the results.

This photo doesn’t really do full justice to the sample set and proof set. The blue doesn’t look as blue as it does in real life.

Surprise #1 to me was that the black ink faded. With fountain pen inks, you can generally count on black to be the most stable and fade-proof. While it didn’t fade away entirely, it had issues.

Side by side comparisons showcase the effect of 6 months of sunlight on Bic Cristal inks.

Surprise #2: Blue! Blue fountain pen inks fade something fierce under the withering sun. Bic Cristal blue got stronger! It lost some of its blueness and turned blacker, but it held on defiantly under the sun’s gaze.

Surprise #3: Grass-Stain Green didn’t fade as much as I thought it would. It faded a little.

Red and purple faded the most. Green, turquoise and pink faded a little, but survived okay.

Reflecting on this experiment, for some reason, I always assumed oil-based ballpoint inks would be far more permanent than water-based fountain pen inks. Yet, their chemical compositions all have their frailties. Some ballpoint colors react differently than fountain pen inks, but that shouldn’t surprise me as much as it did.

Our Latest Story in ‘Pen World’

I wrote a story featured in the February 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine. We have been given permission to reprint it here.

Check out the February 2021 issue of ‘Pen World’ Magazine! They loved our blog post about Parker’s Vice President of Foreign Sales Frank Matthay and asked us to write a more pen-centric story about Frank and Parker! Editor in Chief Nicky Pessaroff has given me permission to reprint and post the magazine cover and story here for your entertainment. It is different than the original blog post, and I hope you enjoy this new story. Also be sure to run out and subscribe “Pen World.”

 

Pen World Magazine has given us permission to reprint this story I wrote for the February 2021 issue. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 2 of the story. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 3. Click the image for a larger, more readable, version.

 

Decameron 2020: The Price of Guilt

The Price of Guilt
By Art Cerf

Here’s the first snowfall of the year in Connecticut. It has nothing to do with the story. We just think it is beautiful and as good a way to illustrate this story as any.

Mike and Jill had been married for almost two years and still behaved like newlyweds. They treasured each other.

One morning Jill woke up with a headache and a slight fever. She said it’s just a cold and went on with her day. But the headache got worse and her fever climbed so Mike rushed her to the hospital. It was the last time he would see her for four weeks.

He checked about every four hours with the hospital staff but she was showing no improvement. In fact, three days in the doctors said they had to put a tube down her throat because her oxygen levels had dipped so.

Mike was worried sick. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t read or watch TV. About all he could do was go outside and walk…and walk…and walk.

One day, he ran into Maggie, one of Jill’s acquaintances and she asked for Jill and he told her how she was now hospitalized with Covid. She looked at him…gaunt in appearance, he hadn’t shaved in days nor eaten much.

She said let’s go back to your place and I’d cook you up something. He followed her and she rummaged through the fridge and came up with bacon and eggs.

She told him to go upstairs, shower, shave and change his clothes. When he returned, he suddenly realized he was ravenous and quickly ate every bite.

After the meal, he asked her if she’d like a beer.

“No, but if you have any gin, I’d take a martini.”

So they both had martinis and talked. And then a second martini and then a third.

The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed to pee while nursing a terrible hangover.

As he returned, he saw a sleeping Maggie, one bare breast peeking out from beneath the sheets.

He tried to dress quietly but she awoke smiling, saying, “Good morning, lover.”

Mike turned scarlet and stammered, “We shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have…”

She stopped him, saying not to worry, it was a one-time thing and she had no desire to break up his marriage, adding, “As for me, I really enjoyed myself and apparently, you did too…twice!”

Maggie then said she’d take a quick shower and be on her way.

Those were the longest 25 minutes in Mike’s life until she went out the door.

Then he worried, “What if the neighbors saw? What if she had a social disease or, God forbid, Aids?”

And then he realized he had used no protection…what if she’s pregnant?

Just then the phone rang and it was the hospital. A doctor told him Jill had been taken off the ventilator and was doing much better and though still very weak, could go home in two or three days.

Mike ran upstairs, stripped the bed and washed the sheets…twice. He then scrubbed out the tub to make sure none of Maggie’s long, chestnut hair was stuck in the drain or anywhere else.  Then he cleaned up the kitchen, washing pots and dishes, again trying to erase any sign of Maggie’s presence.

Three days later, Jill came home and went straight up to the bedroom to lie down.

Then the phone rang and it was Maggie.

“Mike,” she said, “I had a Covid test at work after our night, and I’ve tested positive but asymptotic. However, they warn that I may have past the virus to anyone I’d seen or spent time with.”