Fountain pen collecting is a fun hobby and can teach you a lot about history, the economy throughout history, manufacturing, and much more. Pens are one of the few collectibles that do not devalue with normal use so you can actually use that 1920s crescent filler for years without hurting the value of the pen. In fact, vintage pens usually increase in value over the years! This does not mean that collecting pens is a good investment, although it can be, typically it is not. One note, when I talk about fountain pen collecting that is because most pen collectors I know collect primarily fountain pens. You can of course collect ballpoints, rollerballs and pencils too (which most of us do too), but that is usually not the primary focus of our collection.
There are many things to remember for newcomers to the fountain pen collecting hobby. The best tip I can give you to start with is to buy what you like. Too many people start by buying everything they can get their hands on and just wind up selling them off later, usually at a loss, to fund purchases of pens they really like.
Do not let anyone tell you what you should or should not like. I see on the boards people badmouthing Montblanc, Krone, and others all the time. I have never figured out why these people are so bent on attacking these particular brands. Some of these people will go so far as to tell you blatant lies about the quality, construction or marketing of these brands. Personally I love my Montblancs and the one Krone I have. Just remember, this is your hobby, so pick pens you like, just ignore the naysayers. The best pen collection is the one you enjoy, and the best fountain pen is the one you enjoy writing with.
What can you expect to pay for a fountain pen? Tool pens (functional, clean, cheap) can be found in fantastic condition for as little as $35 (nice Esterbrook J, resaced, ready to write). Like many other collectibles that range can get extremely high, easily over $1000 for a nice pen. What range you play in depends on two things, your budget and your taste. Many people have outstanding collections with no pen costing over a couple hundred dollars, others have no pens that cheap. It is up to the individual collector to decide what they want to collect.
One question that seems to plague new collectors is vintage or modern? I answer that by asking them what they like. There are good vintage and bad vintage, good modern and bad modern, all depending on your taste. You can spend thousands on a rare vintage pen, or thousands on a new limited edition. One basic rule is a rare pen does not tend to drop in value whereas a modern limited edition will. If you took my earlier advise and only bought what you liked then the drop in value is meaningless, but some people have to have stability in their collection’s value so vintage might be a better choice for them.
A great place to look for pens in the wild is at flea markets and some antique stores. Be aware that some of the dealers want to charge a premium for these items even if they are severely damaged simply because they are old and they see what they can go for on eBay. Make sure you have an idea of the value before purchasing to make sure you are getting a fair deal.
If you are a bit more reserved and do not like the hunt for the pens in the wild, try online sources such as the fountain pen collectors forum Fountain Pen Network, or Pentrace green board. These are both excellent places to buy items with a very low chance of getting ripped off, and a great chance of paying a fair price for the item. Of course there is eBay if you are feeling lucky but remember you are very likely to get something in poor condition if you get what you thought you were bidding on at all. One trick to eBay is to only deal with certain well known sellers such as operadoc, posarro, world-lux, mvpens, kamakura-pens, and oldtat. There are many more reputable dealers but these are ones that I have had excellent dealings with and have not once heard anyone talk bad about.
If you are looking more towards new pens you can try Fountain Pen Hospital and Internet Pens, both are excellent sources with fantastic service and prices. You may have a Paradise Pens in your local mall and this is a great place to browse through a huge selection of pens up close and personal. Paradise Pens is a little expensive compared to some online services but you do get to play with the pens in your hand before purchase and that can be nice. If you are in a big enough town you may even have a Montblanc Boutique around you. If you love their pens like I do, or hate them, you owe it to yourself to visit a boutique at least once, it is quite the experience. Lastly check online and in the yellow pages to see if there is a small local store in your area. These can be little gems and sometimes offer meetings of collectors in the area, repair services, and great advise. Just be aware that you may pay a little more from these small dealers but it is often well worth it.
Once you start fountain pen collecting you probably will want to share your experiences, ask questions, and generally chat with other collectors. The best place online to do that is Fountain Pen Network forums. Generally speaking the forums there are excellently moderated, the interface is fast and clean, posts are available for many years, and most people there are very friendly. It is by far the largest online community for pen collectors.
Now you may decide you are really serious and it is time to go to a pen show! Yes, they have entire shows devoted to these little guys and they can be wonderful places to meet other collectors who you may have emailed for years and never actually met. Here you can find some great deals on pens and related collectables, get your pens repaired on site, sell/trade your pens for others, get more ink, and generally have a great time. Some cities that have shows include Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Columbus.
Now that you have pens, what do you do with them besides sit around and look at them? Use them! Both the forums I mentioned above have what are called snail lists. These are lists of people who want to write with their pens and mail the letter to you. Not only does this give you a great use for your pens but it can make you some great friends in the process.
For more information you could pick up a book such as Fountain Pens of the World by Andreas Lambrou, it is the gold standard of fountain pen collecting books but a little pricey. For something a little less expensive to start with, try Fountain Pens Past & Present: Identification and Value Guide, 2nd Edition by Paul Erano which is one of my favorites. If you are into Montblancs like I am, try Collectible Stars: Montblanc Writing Instruments From 1946 to 1979 by Stefan Wallrafen Jens Rosler or The Montblanc Diary & Collector’s Guide Hardcover by Jens Rosler.
Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions about fountain pen collecting.
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