Tag Archives: #vintagepens

Baltimore Pen Show, Here We Come!

For the last several years, we have heard about the splendor of the Baltimore Pen Show. This is what we’ve heard: It is well organized by our buddy Bert Oser. It is a premier place to buy and sell premier luxury pens. It is well advertised to the public, and it is becoming the premier pen show in the country.

This year, we are going to experience it for ourselves to see if it is all true. We have spent the past month restoring dozens of vintage pens and prepping never-before-seen-on-our-site luxury pens.

PLUS, for showgoers, we have dropped some of our prices to clear out some of our luxury inventory.

On a personal level, this is my first trip to Baltimore. I bemoan the fact the Orioles aren’t yet playing, as I’d love to see a game at Camden Yards, but I hope to have some fun exploring the waterfront and old Fort McHenry, home of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” if there’s time.

And, of course, the very best part will be getting to hang out with old friends at a new location, while also making new friends at a show I’ve never seen before. Please be sure to come check it out and say, “Hi.”

Search by Nib Size

You can now search for our pens by nib size. Although this box is just an illustration, the one near the top left column of the vintage pens or pre-owned pens pages is live and will show you the way.

Size matters…at least when you’re writing and want to use a specific nib point.

Following the advice of my brilliant and beautiful fiancée, we’ve added a new way to search for pens on our site by virtue of the nib size and writing qualities.

Clicking on a blue letter is all you need to do to pull up all of our pens with the nib you want. You’ll still need to read the description to find out how wet, dry, smooth or scratchy a nib might be, but this new nib-search box will help you winnow down your options much more quickly. The only other detail to look for is whether the pen is a tweener pen—a fine-medium or a medium-broad, that sort of thing.

All of our vintage pens and preowned pens will get pulled up by nib together! Who knows what treasures you might find that you weren’t initially looking for! You can find the nib search box on the top of the left column on our home page, vintage pens pages and preowned pens pages.

In case you need help translating the letters into nib sizes, here’s our guide:

XF = Extra Fine
F = Fine
M = Medium
B = Broad
BB = Double Broad
Stub = Awesomeness
O = Oblique
SF = Semi-Flex
FLEXI = Flexible, somewhere in the vicinity of wet noodle

How Do I Re-Sac a Vintage Pen

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, the old saying goes, and it is true for learning how to fix vintage pens. Today, we are going to learn how to restore a lever-filling fountain pen…or re-sac it, as they say. But first, you are going to have to get used to the concept that you’re going to destroy a few pens along the way—even if you’re careful.

Find a few good, cheap vintage pens to practice restoring before experimenting with more expensive models. This deformed Sheaffer Balance 350 is a great starter pen.

When you are starting out, don’t begin with an unrestored version of your grail pen. Find some broken-down cheap pens such as Wearevers, Esterbrooks or even this banana’d Sheaffer 350 Balance. The longer you are on the hunt, the more you will find vintage pens that turn into the shape of bananas. The deformation happens when the pen is left in the sun or near a heater for too long, which warps the plastic/celluloid.

In addition to a good practice pen, you will need some ink sacs, a pair of spark-plug/section pliers, a long dental pick, sac shellac or rubber cement, scissors that can cut through rubber ink sacs, a jar or cup, clean water, polish, a cloth rag, paper towels, a hairdryer, a razor blade and, if at all possible, an ultra-sonic cleaner. You can get most of these items pretty cheaply. One trick of the professionals is to buy a pair of rubber coated spark-plug pliers, instead of formal “section pliers” that you can find on many pen restoration sites. Why? Spark-plug pliers can be had for less than $10 at most auto parts stores. Section pliers are almost always the same, exact pliers but marked up to $20 or $30. In the early days of pen restoration as a hobby in the 1970s and ’80s, a lot of guys used regular pliers and cut off two one-inch sections of hose to cover the teeth of their normal pliers. That’s how I was first taught.

Attempting to keep this simple, I’m going to break this down into what I hope are very simple steps to make this as fun and easy an experience as possible.

  1. I like small mustard or baby food jars to use for filling with just enough water to get the pen wet from the tip of the nib to just over the threads of the barrel.

    Fill a cup with just enough room-temperature water that you can stick your pen in and go just a little bit over the section and past the cap threads. (Sections are the writing grip into which the nib and feed are inserted in one end.) Let it soak for at least an hour. (Never use hot water.) This leaches out a lot of the dried old ink in the nib and inkfeed, while also potentially softening any glue or shellac used to hold the section tightly into the barrel. Many of the old factory repair manuals encouraged repairmen to use a dab of sac shellac to hold the sometimes loose pressure-fit sections into the barrel. WARNING: Water is necessary, but it also isn’t your friend. Black hard rubbers turn chocolatey brown in water fairly quickly. (An hour might be too long for some rubbers.) Some celluloids get more brittle or discolored when in water too long. Be sure to dry off the pen as soon as you remove it from the water.

2. Use the hairdryer to warm up the space where the section and barrel meet. DO NOT melt the plastic or set the celluloid on fire. All you need is a little warm to the touch. Until you get comfortable, keep the heat to barely noticeable to the touch. Grip the section, and only the section, with your rubber coated pliers. Very gently and slowly begin to twist counter clockwise as you hold the barrel in your other hand. It is common to hear some very scary cracking sounds. Usually, that sound is the petrified rubber ink sac in the pen breaking apart as you open. Sometimes it is the pen barrel breaking. Experience will teach you the difference. If you feel the section coming loose,

Grip only the section with rubber coated pliers, such as these spark-plug pliers. Don’t grip too tightly, just enough not to let go.

keep twisting slowly and gently. If you do not feel it turning or you feel it actively resisting, stop twisting. Some sections—especially Parker Duofolds and Vacumatics—were threaded into the pen barrels, which is why we usually start with a twist. Most pens of all brands were straight pressure-fit sections. HOWEVER, some brands—especially Wahl-Eversharp, although they were extremely inconsistent—used little pins in the barrel or section to hold the section firmly in place. You CANNOT twist those sections without destroying the barrel or section. If a section resists twisting, hit it with a little more heat and very gently start trying to wiggle it in teeny, tiny side-to-side motions while pulling straight out.

This is the most dangerous part of the entire restoration job. This is where probably 80% of all pens break, if they are going to break. ALSO, celluloid is insanely flammable. DO NOT get it hot. If it catches fire, it burns like a magnesium flare. It is an extremely hot burning flame that burns extremely quickly. Early on, I accidentally set a Vacumatic on fire. It scared the hell out of me, and it was a miracle I didn’t burn down my house. Even after getting it under running water it didn’t go out right away. I had to drop it in the steel sink and flood it to put the fire out. In about 10 seconds, it burned away the majority of the barrel. Be careful with the heat.

Use a razor to scrape the old sac pieces off the section nipple.

3. Once the section is free, scoop out the old sac guts from inside the barrel with the dental pick. Sometimes those guts stick pretty good to the inside of the barrel. A flashlight or gun light can help you see in to make sure you got it all. Do not put water in the barrel to clean out the sac or old ink. This will likely ruin and rust-out the pressure-bar assembly.

4. Use the razor to scrape the remnants of the old ink sac from the nipple of the section. Be careful not to cut yourself or split open the nipple.

5. Fill your ultra-sonic cleaner with clean, room-temperature water. Sometimes a drop or two of ammonia will help badly clogged pens. Put enough water in to completely submerge the cap and section assembly. Before you turn it on, let the cap soak for a minute or so. This allows the water to penetrate the inner cap, where a lot of old ink is usually trapped. After the cap and section have had a minute to soak, turn on the ultra-sonic cleaner for no more than 2 minutes.

If feasible, an ultra-sonic cleaner is the easiest way to remove old ink.

You might not see a lot of “action” with your eyes, but the vibrations are practically violent to the parts that are submerged. It can shake free most of the old ink in two minutes or less. If a cap lip is cracked, I’ve seen some caps crumble in the ultra sonic cleaner. That’s how powerful it is.

NEVER stick your fingers in the ultra-sonic cleaner when it is turned on. It can damage your fingers and their joints. Also, don’t leave your parts in for much longer than two minutes because the cleaner will get hot and potentially damage or discolor your parts.

Turn off the ultra-sonic cleaner, collect your parts and drain the old dirty water. Then rinse the parts under the faucet with room temperature water for a few seconds. Shake the parts dry, and then dry them with a paper towel on the outside. Q-tips are perfect for drying and removing the remaining ink from inside the cap.

6. I like to polish the pen next, especially the nib. It allows me to see any major flaws I might need to work on, such as replacing the nib while the section is exposed. I use a pin-head dollop of MAAS metal polish on a Q-tip to get the nib shining like new. I use the clean side of the Q-tip to wipe off the remaining polish. Then I dip the nib in water and dry it with a clean rag to get off the remaining, invisible polish remnants. I repeat the process with a pea-size drop of MAAS metal polish on the rag and polish up the rest of the pen, rubbing it down several times with the clean parts of the rag…avoiding water.

Every repairman I know seems to have a different process for polishing a pen. The method above is adequate for most pens. Yet, if you’re a detail-oriented person, there are myriad methods of multiple polishes or wet sanding that do a much more factory-fresh looking job. Yet, those methods take up to an hour and are worthy of their own article.

This photo illustrates how to eyeball the spot you need to trim the ink sac.

7. Sizing an ink sac. How detail oriented are you? You can easily research what size sacs went into what pens. You can measure the nipple with a fine ruler using increments of 1/64th of an inch, the way old pen repair manuals did to find the right aperture width of the ink sac. Or, you can eyeball it.

The real trick to eyeballing it isn’t fitting the sac to the nipple but finding the right sac to fit inside the barrel. You do not want the edges of the sac to snug against the inside of the barrel. It is best if the sac can easily slide in and out of the barrel, preferably with a little space all around the sac. If one is to carry a pen in their shirt pocket, the goal is not to transfer body heat through the barrel to the sac and ink, which might effect the interior pressure of the ink in the pen and have it leak a bit on you with a full pen.

Regardless of how you choose the sac size, you will likely need to trim the ink sac before installing it. Most ink sacs are longer than the pen barrels. My rule of thumb is quite literally a rule of thumb. I stick the sac in the barrel as far as it will go. I then pinch the end of the barrel at the threads, with my thumb having just enough reach to go past the threads. Pinching awkwardly down on the sac, right where it exits the barrel, I remove the sac. Gaging where my thumb tip is, I trim the sac at the tip of my thumb. Usually, this allows just enough room for the section and nipple inside the pen so that the sac can be as long as it needs to be. You can double check the length by putting the section and sac next to the empty barrel, as they would fit inside it.

Use Talc to powder and preserve your new ink sac before final re-assembly.

8. Most modern pen restorers use orange shellac to affix the sac to the nipple. Before most of us learned how to make or knew where to find orange shellac for sale, rubber cement was the go-to adhesive. Orange shellac is nearly perfect, as it can harden and still be water soluble. Rubber cement forms a good seal at first but can be more easily effected by heat and aging. Yet, it better fills-in tiny hairline cracks in the nipple, hopefully extending the functional life of the pen. (NEVER use super glues of any kind. The rubber ink sacs will give out long before the super glue ever does and you can ruin the pen by forever getting the section stuck in the barrel…or sticking other wrong parts together.)

On this pen, we painted only the nipple with a thin layer of shellac. Then we slipped the sac over it. After that, we dusted the sac with pure talcum powder, which helps to extend the life of the sac.

9. Fitting the section back into the barrel is the second most dangerous part of the restoration process. Sometimes the barrel opening shrinks while the section is out and cracks open if you put the section back in too quickly or roughly. If the section feels like it is having difficulty going back in, maybe warm up the barrel end a little and gently wiggle the section back into place. Although it doesn’t really matter, I like twist the section into place where the top of the nib is even with the lever on the pen.

Congrats! Your pen is fully restored, looking beautiful and ready to write.

If the section is too loose, you can tighten it up with a tiny cut out of a piece of onion-skin paper. Or, like the old repair manuals, you can use a small drop or two of shellac on the section. Just wipe off the excess shellac and keep it out of the threads.

10. Let the shellac dry. As the shellac is water soluble, I wait about 24 hours before I test the pen with water or ink. Once the shellac is dry and the pen tests well, you’re all done. Congrats!

It took longer to read this article than it likely will take you to restore a pen—at least once you get used to the process. Fixing and writing with vintage pens is my favorite part of the hobby. If you like seeing how things work and getting your hands dirty, you’ll love pen repair. The only thing that improves it for me might be repairing pens while listening to a Cubs game on the radio and nursing a cold beer.

Always feel free to write in with questions. And always remember to go slowly and take your time. It isn’t a race. Enjoy the zen of pen repair, and best of luck to your future projects!

Another Crazy Summer

Dawn and I take a coffee break during our busy summer of 2019.

I’m engaged! Certain friends have accused me of “burying the lead” in my news of late, so I’m just gonna put this out there at the top.

Pen shows lead to true love, it turns out. Dawn and I met at the Ohio Pen Show, and it has been the most amazing relationship I’ve ever had. (She seems to agree on her side, too.) This past June, I had a custom ring made from the gold of old fountain pen nibs too destroyed to be of future service to the pen community, and I gave it to Dawn (who also loves pens) in July. She said, yes, and all we have left to do is decide on where we’ll live, tie the knot and live happily ever after. Piece of cake, right?

Of course, the world of pens has been exciting with lots of travel this summer, too! The only downside was that Dawn was unable to join me for these shows.

The St. Louis Pen Show was bigger than last year, and a huge draw for crowds. Anne and her husband continue organizing and advertising the daylights out of that show. We were fortunate this year not to have the blistering heat nor any tornadoes.

Here’s the gateway to the west, the St. Louis Arch, as seen from a roof top.

The camaraderie of this show is something else. All the first-year vendors and attendees seemed to have this bond over having been firsts to attend. It was almost like we had a secret club handshake. It was a blast to catch up, and there were some “sick,” as the kids say today to mean “awesome,” pens at that show. Vintage pen collectors found scads of old treasures, and modern pen fans were dazzled by the tons of high and low-end writing instruments.

Always popular is the free-to-the-vendors lunch, and we had a dessert party this year before the auction. AMAZING deals were to be had at the auction. If you ever want to get into vintage on the cheap, try their auction. Many of the pens were fully restored going into the auction and sold well below what they would normally get at a show or online.

Outside of the pen show circuit, I’ve continued my training on clock repair. I can fix most standard cuckoo clocks in my sleep, and I’m getting much better at sequencing spring-wound clocks.

Before you know it, I was off to the D.C. Pen Show! The traffic and customers are always amazing at DC, but my favorite parts are outside of the show.

This is the Confederate’s view of the battle of Fredricksburg at the top of Marye’s Heights. This is all that is left of the original stone wall that shielded the Confederates. The ground now comes up to the top of the wall on the Yankee side of the wall, but during the battle no Union soldier made it past where you see that line of trees in this photo. Yet, nearly 10,000 dead and wounded would lay along the hillside heading down into town from this position.

I consider this to be my vacation show. Every year I try to see new sights and sounds. This year I went to the Battle of Fredricksburg National Park before arriving at the show. This has to be the smallest national park. Only a couple acres of the devastating battlefield have been preserved. What most people remember from their Civil War history is the assault on Marye’s Heights. Union troops cross the Rappahannock River and sack the town of Fredricksburg. Confederate General Robert E. Lee beat the slow-moving Union General Ambrose Burnside to the battle site and claimed the high ground. Burnside would throw battalion after battalion up against the Confederate forces atop Marye’s Heights. Hiding behind a stone wall, a mere 7,000 rebels held off at least triple their number, killing or wounding about a quarter of the Union Army.

This statue pays tribute to Confederate soldier Richard Kirkland for his bravery in delivering water to the dying Union soldiers.

Yet, what really amazes me is the story of this battle that is less well know. After the battle, thousands of dead and dying men lay below this wall. The wounded made terrible groans and calls for help as they lay dying. The fighting had only barely ceased for the day. No one was rushing forward, yet, to collect the wounded for fear of being shot from above. However, the cries of the wounded were far too much for one Confederate soldier named Richard Kirkland to bear. So he scrambled out of his safe place behind the wall with a full canteen of water to offer comfort to the men he had potentially just shot…and who might still try shooting him out of resentment. As he’d go back to his wall for more water, more of his fellow soldiers handed him canteens filled with water to ease the suffering of the dying. Nobody on either side stopped his act of extreme bravery and kindness. Kirkland would eventually be immortalized as The Angel of Marye’s Heights.

The dramatic sky behind the Washington Monument is almost as stunning as the tribute to our first president.

Having visited dozens of Civil War battlefields, it is really strange to see the entire town having grown up the side of a hill that was once drenched in blood. I wondered how many of the people knew their homes were on the site of human slaughter. I wondered if any of the homes were haunted. I kinda hoped they were–not out of malice, just because I like haunted houses.

The D.C. Pen Show was fairly well organized this year, which was surprising given the show’s owner had suffered a heart attack only 2 and a half weeks before the show! Yet, Bob was up and running around much the same as in previous years. It was good to see him up and about. His sister really stepped in to keep the show happening this year.

Traffic at the show seemed a little down but not much. What surprised me were all of the new vendors! Many of the regulars of the circuit were not in attendance, and a new generation of vendors took their places. I never knew there were that many young people eager to get into the circuit with a host of new wares meant for pen collectors but not frequently seen at these events. There was a huge emphasis on paper, pen and paper carrying devices and a several new repairpeople I’ve never met or heard of before.

Here’s the U.S. Capitol Building on a very humid day.

However, some things never change, and nights down in the bar discussing pens until closing time, along with the joy of smoking cigars and drinking with the Black Pen Society never go out of style.

After the show, my vacation resumed with another trip to the National Mall. This year I walked the park space between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. It was warm and very humid, but not uncomfortable. I’ve seen so many photos of each of these landmarks, but it is quite something special to see them in real life…no matter dysfunctional the Capitol Building might be.

Gene Krupa’s bass drum while he was with the Benny Goodman big band making a huge hit out of the anthem “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

As a decidedly unusual child, one of the first things to go on my bucket list at age 10 was the Smithsonian Museum of American history. It took me 33 years to get there, but get there I did this summer. Some people refer to it as America’s attic, and I LOVED it. Only the gift shop sucked. I was hoping to pick up photos of the many incredible objects by way of postcards, but, those weren’t in either of the on-site gift shops I visited. So, I don’t have photos of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” or the battle flag that gave us “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

It was amazing to see the first steam engine train ever used in America, the first Colt revolver, a cotton gin, the first electric lights, the first record players, Ted Williams’ jersey and cap, George Washington’s uniform and sword, the table and chairs used to sign the surrender documents of the Civil War, tons of relics from all of our wars and a 1948 Tucker automobile in silver.

The 1948 Tucker has been one of my favorite cars for my entire life. Only 51 were made, and this is the 5th I’ve seen.

You can blame the Jeff Bridges’ movie “Tucker: A Man and His Dream” for getting me addicted to the story of the Tucker automobile, sometimes called the Tucker Torpedo. The real life Preston Tucker was an innovator and automotive junkie who worked in the auto industry and decided to buck the odds and start his own car company after WWII. His first car would use all the latest innovations of the era and put them in a 4-door sedan. Seatbelts, disc brakes, pop-out safety glass, fuel-injection, a high-power 6-cylinder rear engine and a signature third headlight that turned with the wheels that lit the way to where you were going in a turn. These were among the many other innovations in his car. He pushed his luck for as long as he could, but he ultimately couldn’t get enough financing to keep the company afloat. Only 51 of these cars were made. This silver one is the fifth I’ve seen. I’ve also seen a copper one in San Diego, a red one in Las Vegas, a black one in Dearborn, Mich., and Tucker’s wife’s personal vehicle in waltz blue in Murdo, South Dakota. It was an absolute thrill to see this silver one.

Here’s what appears to be the fifth Colt revolver ever made and the one sent to the U.S. Patent Office by Samuel Colt. Notice there is no trigger guard. The trigger flips down when the hammer was cocked.

This is a uniform and cap that was game-worn by the legendary baseball player Ted Williams, who was the last person to bat over .400 in a complete season.

Given the lack of hand protection and the beautiful jade green handle, I suspect George Washington’s sword was more ceremonial than battle tested. Nevertheless, it is a stout weapon good for attack.

Arkansas, Atlanta and Chicago, Oh My!

It has been far too long since last writing in November. To say I’ve been a little busy is a bit of an understatement. In addition to running this business, I’ve taken a job learning…and hopefully mastering…the art of clock repair! It has been a passion for some time, and an opportunity arose in December that I just couldn’t say no to.

The trick is remembering not to stick nibs in clocks and gears in fountain pens.

I’ve also met a special someone you’ll meet in just a moment.

A rare quiet moment at the Arkansas Pen Show in Little Rock.

Annnd, there are the pen shows. Dawn and I met at the Ohio Pen Show in November, and we just had to escape the cold of March in the upper Midwest with a trip down to Little Rock for the Arkansas Pen Show. Springtime in the South never fails to impress. And the hospitality in the South is second to none.

The Arkansas Pen Show was a stunner, again, this year. Soooo many friendly faces. Plus, this year added free lunches for the vendors! The Vaness family hosted another great party at their shop…of course with crispy bacon coated in chocolate. Our hottest item at the show was “Frau Tinte’s Medieval Inks: Toxic Walnut.” I know an ink historian who recreates ancient ink recipes, and we thought we’d try a few samples out on the public to see what the reaction was. The sepia-colored walnut ink is far too harsh (and unfiltered) for regular pens; it can only be used in glass and gold dip pens. Hence the name Toxic Walnut.

Clock repair has become a new interest of mine. Here is a Junghans movement I recently repaired.

Afterward we spent a day in Memphis exploring Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. It is a somber but breath-taking museum experience.

Just a couple short weeks later, and I was off to the Atlanta Pen Show. Jimmy and Suzanne keep doing a great job with that show, and it remains a real highlight of my year. The afterhours pen parties have really taken on a whole new life of their own in Atlanta. Tons of fun with people geeking out over their pen and ink treasures.

I also caught my first baseball game of the year in Atlanta. The Cubs took on the Braves on a rainy Thursday night. The highlight for me was getting to join a parade of fans walking around the warning track before the game! I have always wanted to set foot on the field at a pro park. Sadly, the Braves romped the Cubs, but I was still pretty high from walking on the field.

Ebenezer Baptist Church is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a great deal of the civil rights movement.

Completing my trip to Atlanta was a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was where MLK was pastor. (Sensing a theme this year?) It was impressive to see in all of its humble glory. Hard to believe a large segment of the civil rights movement was led from such an unassuming church.

And now, I’m bracing for the Chicago Pen Show. Lots of great new pens to fix for the show. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to start settling back into the normal blog posting routine again.

An ink historian recreated a medieval walnut ink recipe for glass and gold-only dip pens. It is far too corrosive for modern fountain pens, but it is cool to write like a king or queen of the 14th century.

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!

Ohio Pen Show Bound!

Wow! What a whirlwind year! I can’t believe it is already time to go to Columbus for what will likely be our last pen show for the year. The Ohio Pen Show is always a great one.

These are just the repairs we’re delivering to customers at this year’s Ohio Pen Show. Just imagine the goodies you haven’t yet seen on this site that will be coming!

Look how busy we’ve been. These pens are just the repairs we’ve done to deliver to customers at the show!

Terry and his sons always put on a helluva good show, and I cannot wait to see them and all of my many other friends in Columbus. If you are going this year, please keep a look out for me. My table is in the main hallway, just outside the main entrance to the big room at the show. Be sure to stop by and say “Howdy.”

Well, I best get to fixin’ some more pens for you at this year’s show. See ya in a week!

Meet the Ink Test Guru

Several years ago I met Donn D. at the Chicago Pen Show. We got to talking outside of the main room afterhours, and he was the one who introduced me to Ink-Fast Tests. He had a binder of very organized ink swatches that showed what an ink looked like when protected from the light, what it looked like after it had been left in the sun for 3 months and after it had been left in the sun for 6 months.

As I was on a quest for the perfect replacement blue for my beloved Waterman Florida Blue, I began making ink tests for this site. I figured you would be as curious as I am about how ink holds up to UV light.

Donn and I got together at this year’s Washington DC Pen Show and resumed our inky discussions. I asked if he would be so kind as to share some of his tests on the blog, and he said, “Yes.”

Included in this post are 4 pages of his tests of Pilot ink, Diamine ink, Noodler’s ink, Waterman ink, Parker ink and Pelikan ink…among others.

Donn described his methodology as such: “I exposed fountain pen ink samples to ultraviolet light from the sun for 3 months and 6 months.  The exposure method involved simply taping them to the inside of a patio door, which does not block UV very well.  I exposed all samples in the same manner, but not at the same time, and have no record of the number of cloudy vs. sunny days for each test.  The paper was standard office copy bond.

The inks in this test happen to be colors I like, rather than a general test of a manufacturer’s entire product line.

What surprised me most was how well green inks held up, and a chemist friend speculates a copper compound may be involved.

Note: Test sheet #1 shows 6-month results only.”

Thank you, Donn, for sharing so many of these ink tests. Everybody else, I hope these help you in your quest for the perfect inks.

Click on any of the images to see a larger, clearer representation of the inks tested. Please also note that these are not performance tests of the ink inside a fountain pen. Some of these inks are not as well suited to vintage pens as others. This is strictly to showcase how an ink will hold up to time and light. (For example, Noodler’s Ink often clogs the hell out of vintage pens. Beautiful inks but a pain to deal with unless you love spending hours cleaning pens.)

Dallas Pen Show Here We Come…I Hope

We’ve got four boxes and a whole lot more filled with vintage and preowned modern luxury pens to tempt you with at this weekend’s Dallas Pen Show!

Do you think I have enough pens for the Dallas Pen Show? We’ve got a tower of swag to bring to our southernmost pen show. A new cache of Omas, Parker, Namiki/Pilot, vintage pens and factory-fresh Lamy pens.

There’s only one snag. The car won’t start! We are headed to the shop the first thing in the A.M. to hopefully get this show on the road. The hotels and the tables are already paid for. We just gotta get the ol’ jalopy firing on all 4 cylinders. Last week she required $1,200 in repairs. We hope this week is easier going.

In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Dallas, be sure to check out this huge show on Friday and Saturday. There will be two rooms filled to the rafters with pens and some of the friendliest folks you’ve ever met.

We’re keeping our shoelaces crossed (it’s too difficult to type with crossed fingers) that we’ll see you in a couple days!

2018 DC Pen Show Proves a Success

To be honest, a lot of us had our doubts about the 2018 DC Pen Show. Last year’s show was a near train wreck at the start. So, we waited with baited breath to see if it was a harbinger for a disaster for this year’s show. It was NOT.

Here’s ThePenMarket.com table in action at the 2018 DC Pen Show. Check out our killer location on the wall by the side doors to the ballroom!

The 2018 DC Pen Show was a fun, well-oiled machine! Well organized and well advertised, this year’s show dazzled. Members of the pen community, old and new, hobnobbed and shared in 4 full days of inky geek love.

But, I’m getting head of myself.

The drive was actually uneventful for a change. No blowouts, thunderstorms or tornados. It was really challenging driving in dry, sunny conditions.

As no show would be complete without a battlefield visit, I returned to Manassas/Bull Run for the first time in more than 30 years. It seemed much bigger when I was a kid. While the first land battle of the Civil War did range over several miles, the park focused on the epicenter of the battle. The gently hilly terrain really played a significant part of the battle…as did inconsistently colored uniforms. I remember marveling up at the big bronze statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson as a kid. It really commands the view of the battlefield, but as an adult the statue looked comical, as Jackson’s biceps are seemingly 3 times larger than his head. Not even Superman is that out of proportion.

Overlooked is the battle of 2nd Manassas, which took place a little more than a year after the first. Just down the road from the original battle site, the second battle was another victory for Jackson and the South, setting up the battle of Antietam a short while later. A little more isolated that first Manassas, the battlefield seems better preserved and very soothing to visit on a sunny afternoon with all of the cicadas and grasshoppers warming up for the evening, as tall grasses and wildflowers sway in the breeze. Hallowed ground for certain.

I love these chandeliers hanging in the ballrooms of the hotel at the DC Pen Show. It has a certain jellyfish quality to it.

The pen show was great. My friends and I arrived to be among the first to set up Thursday morning on the free-for-all no table assignments day. As the day sped by, more vendors set up temporary shop and weekend pass holders got first crack at some phenomenal pens. This is the day to be there for vintage pen fans. About 2 hours before tear down, it was like a huge family reunion, as I met with and talked to friends from all over the U.S., Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic and Russia. It is quite possible I left out a few countries, but it is unintentional.

Friday got an early jump. My fellow vendors started arriving around 8:30 in the morning, AND we already had table assignments waiting for us. It was great to set up before the crowds rushed us. But, rush us, they did. I got so busy setting up and helping early customers that I totally forgot to move my car from under the portico to a real parking space! Thank goodness the hotel didn’t have my car towed! My roommates and friends gave me well-deserved hell for it for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday was a blur, but, at one point, I got to host my first repair seminar with pen tool genius Dale Bebe. We had an hour to explain the fundamentals of restoring a lever-filler pen and what tools to achieve our goals.

How busy does the DC show get? This is how full it was before it officially opened for the day!

As I did that my friend Neal S. watched my table with stunning success, really helping me while I was away. That night, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Black Pen Society meeting. Yay, scotch and cigars.

Sunday was a busy morning, and then–just like that–it was all over. It was time to say farewell and pack up all my troubles in my old kit bag.

Monday, I finally got to play tourist in our nation’s capitol. I took my first Metro ride downtown to the National Mall. (The Metro is way cleaner than the El in Chicago…smoother riding, too.) My destination was a 30-year bucket-list museum: The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

Howard Hughes broke both speed and distance records with this graceful, slick art deco wonder with wings.

FIRST, it looks nothing like “A Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller and Amy Adams. I was very disappointed about that…and no Amy Adams-portrayed Amelia Earhart flirting with me. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the surprisingly small museum. Impressive were the original Wright Flyer, Glamorous Glennis (the first plane to break the sound barrier), authentic V-1 and V-2 rockets and missiles from WWII and myriad other aircraft. Yet, what really spun my prop was Howard Hughes’ HB-1 plane circa 1935 that broke all of the then-known speed records. A precursor of the Bee-Gee, this plane was as fast and sleek looking as any plane on display! I loved it and a 1930s plane that was the first to fly across all of Antarctica.

To my greater surprise, my favorite exhibit looked at the history of navigation! I actually learned how to use a sextant and a chronometer to find my global position using stars at night! Now I kinda wanna roam around the country with a sextant and calculating my position on earth. The display moved through the years, also discussing how early pilots had to use the sun and a modernized sextant to navigate before radio beams could be used and then, ultimately, satellites.

Another great trip in the books.