Pens paying off as collectibles

Andrew Leckey

March 31, 1992|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

The collectible pen isn't just mightier than the sword. It's likely more valuable as well.

There's a healthy market for vintage writing instruments, with some astounding prices being paid internationally. Recession merely provided a momentary lull in prices, which remain five times higher than they were five years ago.

Consider the Parker Snake fountain pen, which has a metal overlay in the shape of a snake that twists around the barrel. Manufactured from 1904 to 1914 in gold-filled and sterling models for $10, it now commands $15,000, up from $4,500 five years ago. Another sought-after pen, the 1923 Waterman Patrician fountain pen, goes for $1,000, up from $300 five years ago.

Someone seeking to start a collection could first opt for a Parker No. 51 fountain pen from the 1940s for about $80, some experts suggest.

There is a growing number of collectors and they know exactly what they want. Among the most valuable pens are older Montblanc, Parker, Waterman, Le Boeuf, Schaeffer and Wahl/Eversharp models. Rarity, beauty, quality, condition and popularity trends all play a role.

The 1920s through 1939 were the golden age for these fountain pens, all of which feature the basic reservoir and black rubber feed that lets the ink flow.

The ballpoint pen in the late 1940s and early 1950s supplanted these beauties as the nation's favorite writing instrument.

If you've got any of those pens stuck in a drawer, congratulations. You'll be paid handsomely for the fact your family doesn't clean out its desk drawers.

"When I started my pen collection in the mid-1970s, I was totally disorganized and didn't really know what a pen was worth," recalled Ed Fingerman, a 44-year-old attorney who has collected pens for years and is president of the New York chapter of the Pen Collectors of America. "I bought some for $5 that turned out to be worth thousands of dollars."

Collecting has become international in scope. "Pens are one of the hottest collectible markets, with prices at an all-time high and going higher," said Terry Wiederlinght, co-owner of the New York-based Fountain Pen Hospital, which sells and services pens.

As with any collectible, it's buyer beware.

"You can tell by the quality of workmanship as to whether a pen is a fake rather than an original, but that's difficult for the untrained eye and makes it important to read all you can about pens in the first place," said Glen Bowen, publisher of Pen World and Pen Finder magazines in Kingwood, Texas.

"When you do buy, an important consideration is the cleaning of the pen, which must be done carefully with a mild cleaner, without ever putting the pen in warm water."

It's expected that pen collecting will continue to gain steam and, collectors hope, value.

Annual subscriptions are $42 for Pen World and $70 for Pen Finder. The publication "Collectible Fountain Pens of 1992" costs $25.95. Contact World Publications, P.O. Box 6007, Kingwood, Texas 77325.

A free catalog and newsletter are available from Fountain Pen Hospital, 10 Warren St., New York, N.Y. 10007.

Membership in the Pen Collectors of America costs $25 annually. Local chapters are being formed around the country in this recently expanded organization.

Contact its headquarters at P.O. Box 8935, Universal City, Calif. 91608.

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