There was an interesting discussion in Fountain Pen Geeks on the subject of collection. One respondent suggested that there are less collectors now than there were a few years ago. Knowing him, I assume he meant collectors of vintage pens rather than modern ones.

There may well be something in what he says. One pen discussion board which dealt exclusively and knowledgeably with old pens closed some years ago. The Fountain Pen Board, also covering vintage pens, has become very quiet in recent months, though the reason for that is not entirely clear. Pentrace and Fountain Pen Geeks both do discuss old pens but on balance they seem more concerned with current pens. I don’t know about Fountain Pen Network. I haven’t been there since it became Mordor.

Against that, old pens continue to sell and prices continue to rise. Some of these pens undoubtedly do go to collectors but, in my experience, most sell to people who appreciate writing qualities they cannot find in modern pens.

There is another branch of collection, though, and that is collection of modern pens. It’s rather different, in that it doesn’t involve the search for that one elusive pen from a century ago that is needed to complete the set. In fact, I have no idea how collection of modern pens works. I know that people pursue limited editions at huge cost. To be frank, limited editions seem like a scam to me. The pretence of exclusivity is a fiction. A limited edition of 500 pens is probably as many or more than many ordinary, everyday models will sell these days. Also, it seems to me in my ever so humble opinion, that any pen selling over £300 has a huge margin of profit unless it is made of precious metal.

It’s not that I don’t like modern pens – I do. I’m writing this with an excellent Chinese piston filler with a superb fine nib. I can’t remember exactly what it cost but I’m sure it was less than £20. I have more expensive ones too, Platinums and Sailors. They too are splendid pens. They don’t have my heart, though, in the way that Swans and Onotos do. Pens like those bring out what little creativity there is in me, and with one of them in my hand I’ll write for the sake of writing.

I’m not a collector. I was for a while and I amassed a small collection of Conway Stewarts. In the end, I realised that I would never be able to afford the kind of complete, comprehensive collection that I was aiming for. I could do a better thing. I could buy and restore pens and sell them on. My collection now is the thousands of photos of the hundreds of pens that have passed through my hands.

I don’t have a collection of pens now. I have 30 or 40 pens that I have retained for various reasons, either because they are in some way unique, or because they were given to me by friends or because I love the way they write.

I’m afraid I’ve rambled on here without coming to any conclusion but that’s because I don’t know what conclusion to come to. Is vintage pen collection dying? I don’t think so but I don’t have much evidence either way. Perhaps you do.

14 thoughts on “Collecting

  1. There must be something amiss: my posts are never published. I don’t think they were ever offensive to anyone…

    Piero Mattirolo sent from my iPad


    1. Hi Piero,

      I’m sorry to hear that your previous comments didn’t get through. I don’t know why that would be, but as this one has arrived I hope your future comments will as well.

  2. Modern pen collecting is very simple: desireability, and therefore price, is directly proportional to the mass of the pen.

    On a more serious note, I suspect older “collectors” no longer have the space to amass. And younger folks don’t have the money, so they choose carefully, and pick a few excellent writers.

    We recently had word that the sales divisions of a couple (at least) of major manufacturers are in upheaval, re-configuring themselves and in some cases possibly eliminating entire lines of pens. I suspect that those of us who sell rebuilt vintage pens in dribs-and-drabs are going to appreciate how nimble we can be…

  3. Deb, I’m not sure when FPN became Mordor, but your contributions would be welcome there. I have found it to be a welcoming and thoughtful community, with many discussions of the philosophy, motivations for, and strategies of collecting.

    1. I suspect that it was before your time or you would be aware of it. I think you are mistaken in the assumption that my contribution would be welcome there. It’s likely that I am barred forever, for having the temerity to speak out about the appalling behaviour and outright injustice that went on there some years ago. I was an active contributor in Fountain Pen Network before that and I left in disgust along with many others. I will never go back so long as Wim is there. As I said before, I am probably blocked from contributing, but honestly I have never missed it.

      I did discuss the events of that outburst years ago in this blog. It may be that the search facility will find it if you are at all interested.

  4. are we perhaps in danger of ‘over-analysing’ our hobby? – we are supposed to be enjoying it, not worrying about it:):)

    there are writers – there are collectors – and then there are the most important people of all……those who collect and research the history and give us the books without which I for one would be a lot less knowledgeable – so let’s hear it for the collectors and those who do more than simply write the occasional letter:):):)
    Oh, and of course Deb, who gives a platform to our thoughts – so thanks Deb. ……… and no emoticons I see, so can’t blow a kiss:)

    David’s comment about older folk not having the space to amass is, I think, very flawed …… I’ve presently c. 625, and they sit within a footprint of 100 cms. x 50 cms. x 40 cms. – and this quantity can increase to 1125 pens, without increasing that footprint. You should try collecting glass, old books, ceramics – then you’d know what not having space really means.
    Collecting pens must be one of the least intrusive when it comes to space – stamps would be even better:):)
    What limits me acquiring pens at a greater rate of knots is money – nothing else.

    As for the value of f.p. forums – there is probably something to suit most of us – if there’s a problem it’s that sometimes you wonder at the questions asked – and as someone said recently “perhaps some members shouldn’t be allowed out on their own”.;) Most sites are States driven, which tends to give a bias away from British pens, which may deter some U.K. folk from joining in.

    I don’t think there is a conclusion to come to – just enjoy the passion of collecting and/or writing without being too serious …………………… sorry, must go now, need to find another charity shop pen quickly, don’t like the No. 625;);)

    1. I do get serious about our hobby from time to time but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it. You’re right about the concentration on the United States. Being a USanian myself, it does annoy me that we don’t have sufficient discussion on British pens, which is where my own interest lies.

  5. there’s seems no doubt that FPN is the most active of the pen related forums – even I contribute occasionally. Whether it’s the British reserve that holds us back from openly contributing to the banter, or simply that Brits. don’t collect pens in the way States folk do, I’m not sure – but don’t let us worry – and instead just enjoy collecting, writing and cleaning our pens.
    Wish I did have the patience to write – but if I want to communicate then the email is so much quicker, and the machine corrects my spelling – but, I hear you say, that’s to miss the whole point of the experience of writing – the scratch of nib on paper, and that wonderful cursive script from a flexible nib, and perhaps, the scented envelope that drops onto the front door mat.
    thanks for the links Robert.
    Anyway, see you all on FPN soon.:)

    1. Though I couldn’t imagine not writing with my pens, I don’t suppose you’re alone among collectors in not doing so.

      I find the pace of writing is just about right for my head to come up with ideas and sentences, so all my posts are composed with pen and paper. I get a great deal of enjoyment from the act of writing.

  6. Hi Deb, (this was going to be a short note)
    I love your piece on collecting and leaving us room for your conclusion. I’m one of those vintage pen enthusiasts. I guess you can call me a collector but they certainly don’t sit on display and never used. I focus on vintage because they’re the ones I can afford and preferably the broken/damaged ones. All my pens have been restored, cleaned and I waiting their turn for me to write with them. My original intention was to restore and resell but when I get them writing so nicely I find it difficult to let them go. Although it takes awhile to work through my collection, I’ve learnt to find new opportunities to use them. That’s a story in itself. 🙂

    My interest has always been the engineering design inside and the different challenges faced to restore them. I can’t wait for the time we can use 3D printers to replicate those hard to find parts. Modern pens may look nice on the outside, but with the introduction of cartridge/convertor there is little difference on the inside.

    I just love getting together at meetings and talking pens to both newbies and oldies. I learn so much every time, particularly history and different methods of repair. Overall, I get the most enjoyment from passing on my knowledge and experience so other people don’t make the same mistakes . . especially not parting with them. 😉

    1. I think we are very similar in our approach to pens, Danny. Unfortunately I can’t attend meetings because of where I live but this blog goes some way to making up for that.

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