My customers and correspondents include both writers and collectors and, so far as I can, I try to provide for both pen interests. I tend to favour writers a little because that’s the interest I came from myself. I’m not a collector but I have a big box of pens I like to write with. Of course my real interest is older pens and obviously that’s true of most of my customers as well. I try to ensure that my customers’ needs are well served by providing writing samples so that they have at least some indication of how the pen they wish to buy will write
Collectors, of course, don’t care how the pen writes. Though that may seem strange to those of us who buy pens to write with, it isn’t really. Fountain pens are one among many small, well made objects which attract those with the collecting bug. Coins, stamps, snuff boxes, Vesta holders, inkwells and desk-sets – all these things can make a splendid and interesting collection. Fountain pen collectors are knowledgeable about the minutiae of model changes and dates of their chosen manufacturer or area, and the wonderful books about the various brands could not be produced without them.
Some years ago, particularly on the Lion and Pen discussion board, there was a degree of friction between writers and collectors. Some – very few – of the collectors looked down on “users” as being in some way inferior. There were heated arguments about whether one should ink a “new old stock” pen or not. There were those in the collector fraternity who felt such a pen was spoiled in some way if it was loaded with ink.
I think those arguments are much less common now. Clearly collectors want the most pristine example of their desired pen, whereas those who want to write with the pen will mostly aim for one that is a little less expensive, and they are less concerned by a little evidence of previous use. That’s a generalisation, of course – there are all shades of collectors and writers!
Most – or even all – of what I have said so far applies to vintage pens. Many of those who buy older pens have no interest in current ones, but there is a whole other area of both writing and collecting in new pens.
The division between collectors and writers seems less clear in new pens. There are those who will make a collection of every colour of the inexpensive Lamy Safari and there are thousands who buy those pens only to write with. Some are collectors of the more expensive British, Italian, German and Japanese pens while others, again, lay out quite large sums of money on those pens to use them.
Then there is a modern phenomenon of the limited edition pen – surely aimed purely at the collector. For myself, it’s not an area I have any interest in but it should be said that it doesn’t only happen with fountain pens. Other collector areas, like ceramics, pocket knives and crystal have their limited editions too. A thing I find amusing about some limited edition pens is that their numbers are as great as a total sales of many non-limited pens.
I buy some modern pens, mostly just to try and write about though I’ve occasionally found one so good that I’ve kept it, like my Vanishing Point or my Platinum #3776. There are some good things happening in the modern fountain pen world though in my opinion they have yet to match the wonderful nibs that were made pre-1970. There are strange things, too, like the huge pens that are made nowadays which have no equivalent in the pens made during the time when fountain pens were the primary means of writing. There were people with big hands then too, but they managed perfectly well with, for instance, their Pelikan 100 whereas now an 800 or 1000 is required. Few very large pens were made until recently and those that did appear, like the huge hard rubber Jewel of the 1930s, do not seem to have sold well if the numbers surviving today are a means of judging. The Swans that bore Number Six or Number Eight nibs were not exceptionally large pens – larger than those with smaller nibs, but not proportionally. So it was about prestige then and I feel that very large pens are the same today.