Getting started: Pen collectors can begin with modest prices CURIOUS COLLECTOR


July 11, 1993|By Sally Solis-Cohen and Lita Solis-Cohen

Q: What should I know about old fountain pens? I'd like to start a collection.

A: Vintage fountain pen collectors get straight to the point, paying big bucks for pens made between 1900 and 1941 and concentrating on the finest models by top makers: Montblanc; Waterman; Parker; Conklin; Mabie, Todd; and Sheaffer. Minor, secondary brands won't write as well and have lower resale values, advised collector Donald Lavin, of Chicago. Insist on pens in the best condition affordable, and test them before buying. Broken caps or nibs and discoloration deflate value. Pens with ink plungers are nearly impossible to repair, so look for levers. Many cost well under $250 each; others soar into the thousands. Be wary of pens sold as investments.

Prices start as low as $5 to $20 each for plentiful 1940s and '50s stainless-steel-tipped Esterbrooks, at Alvin Kahn's Penman Antiques, Black Angus Antiques Market, Adamstown, Pa., (215) 434-2817. Many gold-nibbed pre-World War II pens are $50 to $125 each. At a recent New England pen show and auction, a 1932, green, marbleized-plastic Wahl-Eversharp Doric brought $82, and a 1902, black, hard-rubber Parker 26 fetched $242.

As more people recognize the value of old pens, many long-lost examples are coming onto the market, deflating some prices. Circa-1906 sterling-silver Parker "Snakes," costing up to $25,000 three years ago, now fetch closer to $12,000, says Glen Bowen, publisher of Pen World Magazine ($42 annually from World Publications, 2240 N. Park Drive, Kingwood, Texas 77339). New York collector Charles Yassky has earned a reputation for paying some record prices; he buys by phone, at (800) 969-2345.

Documenting and trading vintage pens has been easier since publication of "Fountain Pens and Pencils, The Golden Age of Writing Implements" and "The Book of Fountain Pens and Pencils," works by George Fischler and Stuart Schneider (Schiffer, $75 each). Serious collectors often buy pens sight-unseen by referring to the color illustrations.

The next big national pen show and sale is August 20-22 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, Arlington, Va. For details call Bob Johnson at (513) 777-5621.

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