I constantly search for pens to buy and restore. I source them wherever I can but nowadays they mostly come from eBay. In truth, without eBay, far fewer old pens would be available to us. Before that market existed, most old pens were stripped of their gold nibs and scrapped. Though that still goes on, sadly, it happens much less as people have become aware that pens are worth more complete.
Buying pens in eBay is easy enough but buying well requires a little more thought. There’s a general body of knowledge that you bring to it, and then there are some differences between buying restored and unrestored pens.
Starting with restored pens, the first requirement is to know about the pen you want to buy. Research it in books and online. Consult other pen fanciers if you’re in a position to do so. It’s going to help you immensely if you know the pen’s strengths and weaknesses, any changes in the model during its period of production and what sort of price range the pen falls into for a given condition.
Check out the seller. The eBay feedback system is imperfect, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing at all. Have a look at the actual feedback comments: are they just routine or is there a genuine enthusiasm for this seller? Does he or she mainly sell pens? Pen descriptions are important: are they clear and comprehensive and do they show a knowledge of fountain pens? Are the photographs good enough to let you see what you’re considering buying? The informed and dedicated pen seller is much less likely to try to sell you a pup, I suggest. Their reputation as a seller is as much their stock-in-trade as the pens themselves. It may well be that in time you will develop a list of trustworthy sellers who present pens that interest you.
Buying unrestored pens is similar but there’s a shift in emphasis. You need to know your pens at least as well as you do buying restored pens. Descriptions are unlikely to be anywhere near as good but they should at least cover any faults the pen may have. The quality of photographs is often poor. Sellers vary a lot. Many are house clearance people for whom pens are only one of the many items they deal with. Some – though sadly they’re a vanishing breed – are pen pickers who obtain pens from a variety of sources and are generally quite knowledgeable. I find that the list I develop for buying unrestored is rather different. It’s a list of sellers I will avoid buying from again, usually because they have been less than honest in describing the pens they sell. You undoubtedly have to take more of a gamble buying unrestored, but all sellers have a basic level of responsibility to their buyers. More of that anon.
Some rather more general hints: don’t impulse buy! That’s sure to lead to tears. There’s no magic trick to “winning” on eBay. Without exception, whether you bid early or late, use sniper software or sit with your finger poised on the mouse until the last second, the highest bid wins and that’s all there is to it. In reality, you don’t “win” in eBay. You buy. It isn’t a game, it’s a purchase like any other. Determine before you begin what the pen is worth to you and stick to that. Bid only once. Bidding wars are a mug’s game. Bid late. If you bid early, you indicate to others that there’s interest in the pen, and they may jump on the bandwagon.
If the pen you buy is not as described, you don’t have to accept it. Sellers may say that they won’t accept returns, but that counts for nothing if they have failed to notify buyers of a clear deficiency. Use the channels that eBay provides to return the pen and, in my experience, eBay will back you. I’ve returned many pens that had undisclosed cap-lip cracks or cracked nibs. The vast majority of sellers are honest and the faults were not disclosed because they weren’t pen people and didn’t know what to look for. They accept the return and refund the price with good grace. I always ask for – and almost invariably get – repayment of my postage in both directions. There’s no reason why the buyer should be out of pocket because a pen was not as described. It’s worth adding that these comments apply to eBay UK. The law isn’t the same everywhere and I’m aware that getting your money back doesn’t work the same in some other countries.
A good eBay seller puts the customer first. That sounds like an unlikely ideal, but in reality it’s what every pen seller who makes eBay their business or part of their business must do. Otherwise the bad feedback will accumulate and they can’t sell their pens. Speaking for myself, as a seller of restored pens, good customer service including after-sales service is part of what I do. Not only do I have to, to protect my business, but as a pen enthusiast myself, I want my customers to be happy with the pens they buy from me. Most of the pen sellers who last the pace in eBay are the same, I would suggest.
Compared with the online retailers, eBay appears a little wild and woolly. Prices are generally considerably lower than retail prices, though, and there are often tremendous bargains to be had for the discerning buyer. The variety is immense, too. Often criticised in the online pen discussion groups, I find that most criticism arises from those who blunder into eBay without preparation. Be prepared, as the Boy Scout motto has it, and you’ll have a lot of fun in eBay.