In the various pen groups, you’ll often see someone asking for a valuation of their old pen. Faced with what must appear to them to be evasive answers, they often end the thread on a fairly disgruntled note. In reality, though, they’re asking a question that is impossible to answer with any reasonable degree of accuracy. How do you put a value on an old pen?
Looking at some of the British retail sites, there’s a huge variation in the price set for common pens. Some seem unrealistically high to me and one wonders whether they ever make any sales. At least one is clearly going for a high turnover, with prices set below what might be made for the same pen in eBay on a good sales day. Not all days are good sales days, though… In any case, checking the retail sites is unlikely to give you better than a fairly wide range of prices for a particular pen.
I suppose, if you were rather better at it than I am, there might be ways of querying recent sales in eBay that would give you enough occurrences of the sale of a particular pen to enable you to come up with a ball-park price. In my experience, though, eBay makes these completed listings available for too short a period to give you enough for a representative sample.
The one larger sample I do have access to is my own set of sales records. I’m not a retailer; all my pens are auctioned in eBay. For this exercise, I chose black Conway Stewart 286s. They’re quite common pens and popular with both users and collectors, and because they’re black, and therefore a little less interesting, they’re not prone to the bidding wars that can produce unrealistic prices. I sold seventeen in the last twelve months. There were some that were either in perfect condition or quite poor, so removing them from the sample I have eleven average-to-good black 286s which sold for £42, £28.50, £38, £31.99, £36, £26.99, £26, £36, £38.21, £46 and £36. Taking a simple average gives £35.06. Is that the current price for a black Conway Stewart 286?
No. Not really. It might be a working estimate for one that I sell, restored to the conservative standard I abide to, using my descriptions and photographs, but that’s about all that can be said. There are some eBay sellers I know who restore pens to a new appearance. Their work is aimed at a slightly different subset of eBay buyers than mine, but their work is excellent of its kind and well-appreciated. Their sale prices will be at least double mine.
My own prices vary because the market is full of variables, too many to calculate accurately but including such things as how many similar pens were available in the same period, which buyers were in the market, differing national holidays, and many other incalculables.
So what’s my average-to-good restored 286 worth? The truthful – if intensely annoying – answer is “whatever someone will pay for it”. If you like it better, going on my experience, you might say that it’s likely to fetch at least £30 and unlikely to reach more than £50. That may well be wrong, though…