I’ve discussed the mystery of price in here before, but I’m going to ramble on about it again today. The reason that it’s a problem – and therefore interesting – is that there is nothing that even remotely resembles a market price for the kinds of pens I deal in. If I were to be in that part of the market that buys and sells the highest of high-cachet pens, I would have something approaching a market price to refer to for my solid gold Balances and Parker Red Giants. It would be fluid and changeable, to be sure, but provided I kept myself well informed, I’d have a ball-park figure for my sales items. For average-to-excellent run-of-the-mill Swans, Parkers, Conway Stewarts and the like, no such thing exists.
If you’re a classical economist (i.e. someone with graphs for everything and knowledge of nothing) you’ll say that the market will dictate the price. The nearest we have to a market for old pens is eBay. I’ve bought and sold in eBay for years and it doesn’t help much. The variation in price between two items as identical as seventy-year-old pens can be is enormous. Is a standard Waterman 52 with some fading and a semi-flexible nib worth £35.00 or £78.00? I don’t know, but I’ve sold those pens at both those prices in eBay this year.
This concern over prices arises from something that happened a few days ago. I’d been on the look-out for a Mentmore Supreme for a customer and I found one in eBay. Reading through the listing, I discovered that the pen, along with many others, was being sold by an online retailer of old pens. Someone like me, in fact. A little worrying, that! This retailer was selling off all his stock as he was taking down his sales website. So I went and had a look at the site, which was still up, and it didn’t take a lot of puzzling to work out why he’d gone out of business. His prices were almost beyond belief! What calculation makes a green marbled Dinkie 550 worth £100.00? Together with a pencil in a presentation box these things often fail to make £30.00 in eBay! A black Parker Moderne is worth £160.00? Fact is surely stranger than fiction, and this guy had actually been selling pens at these elevated prices. Not many, of course, probably not enough to justify his expenditure, but some.
Now I can’t tell you what a black Parker Moderne is worth (see above) but I could tell you what I’ve bought and sold them for and it’s a fraction of £160.00. In a way, it’s a worrying thing. It suggests that the commercial end of our hobby slides ever nearer to the practices of the antiques trade where dealers think of a number, double it, double it again for luck and write a price ticket. Most of the pens we deal in aren’t intrinsically valuable and you can’t make them so by wishing, hence this particular trader’s exit from the old pen marketplace. With the odd exception, they’re at the useful end of the pen spectrum, or at least that’s how many of my customers express their appreciation for pens they’ve bought.
So what’s fair? How do I determine a price? Essentially, it’s buying price plus a moderate profit to cover time, parts and fixed costs. Works for me and seems to work for my customers – long may it do so! All I’m saying, I suppose, is look around. Despite the great number of helpful and generous people there are in our hobby, these waters are not without the occasional triangular fin cutting the surface. Don’t buy the first example of the pen you want that you see. There might be a better deal around the corner.