There are many areas of collection where the price of an object is by no means always easy to establish. Often, those with little expertise in an area of, say, collectables, immediately assume that the old item that has come their way must be precious. Rarity is regarded in the same way.
For example, a charity shop that I include in my regular local sweep had a selection of fountain pens, each on offer for £50. Sadly, not one of them was worth so much. I offered to value the pens for them. Initially they were a little suspicious but I assured them that I wouldn’t buy any of them myself. They were greatly disappointed by the prices I put on their collection of Osmiroids, Platignums and Sheaffer school pens. Even then, at my greatly reduced prices the pens didn’t sell. The trouble was that there weren’t many fountain pen collectors or users in that district. For all I know they may still have the pens in their stock. Something has no value if nobody wants it. If those pens had had gold nibs, doubtless one of those critters who tour around looking for gold, silver and “antiques” might have bought them. Stainless steel isn’t so attractive.
I rarely sell by auction these days but when I did I always hoped for a bidding war to break out over one of my pens. It occasionally happened. A pen that was maybe worth £40 sold for twice that. That was about the best I did but I have seen some auctions exceeding their value by very much more.
Then there is the seller who doesn’t know how valuable his pen is. I remember buying a Waterman 52 from a seller who also had a Conway Stewart Floral 22 up for auction that day. He started both pens at £10. I paid £28 for the Waterman. Someone paid £300 for the Floral. I congratulated him on a good price. He was astounded by the “value” of the Conway Stewart. He had inherited both pens from a relative and had no idea of their actual price. The 52, a larger and more solid pen was the most valuable, in his estimation. The bidding and final price on the Conway Stewart absolutely floored him!
Personally, I would agree with his original valuation. The Waterman 52 is one of the best pens ever made whereas the Conway Stewart Floral is a trashy little thing with a paper pattern behind clear plastic. The market thinks differently, however, and the market rules.
In modern pens, the inclusion of a gold nib rather than a stainless steel one elevates the price by a multiple of the value of the very small amount of gold. People buy those pens at the asking price so it seems once more that the market determines the price, not the value of the components plus a normal level of profit.
One might say, I suppose, that value in something as straightforward as fountain pens – unlike fine art or footballers – is capable of calculation, taking into account such variables as rarity and desirability. Price, on the other hand, is incalculable, rather like the winning number in the National Lottery.
In general, of course, price doesn’t vary greatly from some reasonable calculation of value. EBay, and auctions generally, are the great levellers of expectations and establishers of that place where price and value meet. If you don’t believe that, have a look at how prices for unrestored fountain pens have changed over the last decade. They have consistently risen. Occasionally there would be a leap but mostly the rise has been gradual. Is that because demand has increased? I see no evidence for that. For vintage pens it may even be falling. It’s supply that is in decline. Old pens are a finite resource. They’re not making any more of them!