July 21, 2011 Leave a comment
The history of the fountain pen is one of the transfer of ideas, whether as homage, copy or fake. For example, the Parker Duofold is probably the most-copied pen ever. Within a year or two of its appearance, almost every American pen maker, and many elsewhere, had produced a very Duofold-like pen. Homage? Hardly. That’s the excuse the copiers might give, and Parker might have felt mildly complimented by the fact that their flagship pen was so appreciated, but in reality those Duofold-alikes were made to invade the Duofold market. The fountain pen world was a dog-eat-dog one, and the ethics of the industry were always a little shaky. Actual theft of original technical ideas was intended to be prevented by patents, but such was the ingenuity of the industry that ways were quickly found to adapt new ideas sufficiently to avoid the provisions of patents. The industry was hair-trigger litigious, but even aggressive use of the courts couldn’t stop the spread of good ideas. Most of what was done – or had to be allowed to continue to be done, at least – was legal.
So it is that you find lesser (and sometimes not so much lesser!) pens that look like Patricians or Skylines or Parker 51s. If you were a pen manufacturer who believed that the Parker 51 was the way that pens were going to go in the future, you would be foolish not to emulate that style, while keeping clear of the specific patents that related to that pen. That’s not so different from what’s happening today in China, where they make all those pens that look suspiciously like Parker 45s, Sheaffer Triumphs or various Montblancs, but carry the Chinese manufacturer’s name and are therefore copies or homages, and not fakes. There’s nothing new in pendom. The Chinese are only doing today what American, British and Italian manufacturers did long ago.
True fakes are another matter, and are a modern phenomenon, only possible because some highly-regarded pens sell for many multiples of the cost of production. It is that huge margin that opens the door to the fake, or at least to the fake that will convince beyond the first glance. Tooling up to produce a fake costs little or no less than it would cost to make an original pen. Certainly, savings are made in using cheaper materials throughout, but the more convincing fakes have to be at least adequate pens in their own right. Selling those pens in huge numbers with a more slender margin is where the profit lies. The absence of any real warranty or after-sales service also keeps costs down, and as with fakes of other labelled goods, the amount of money that can be made ensures that they will always be with us.
I concentrate on pens made before 1960, for the most part, and fakes aren’t really a concern for me. Some older pens are faked, of course. Very ordinary older pens are covered with fake overlays, for instance, but these are a bit outside what I usually handle, and the collectors of these items are pretty perceptive. Those fakes are quickly identified whenever they appear. Among more ordinary pens, you won’t find fakes. In recent weeks, I’ve seen buyers of a Stephens Leverfill and a Swan Calligraph expressing concern that their purchases were not as they expected and might be fakes. They weren’t, of course. No-one’s going to tool up to fake £35.00, sixty or seventy-year-old everyday pens. There’s no money in it.
What can happen, though, is that inappropriate parts will be mated together to make a pen look like something other than what it is. Be on your guard against that, especially with 1920s Swans. Ask questions and if the answers don’t satisfy you, don’t buy. A clearly genuine example will be along soon!