Value and Price

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!


16 thoughts on “Value and Price

  1. nothing so fickle as fashion I suppose – in fact looking at ebay where I buy occasionally, I’d had the impression that prices remained high in general – perhaps it’s just the Parker 51s that are holding firm 🙂
    I get a strong impression that still sell just as well, if not better, than a year or so back.
    But it’s also true that anything vintage or remotely antique quickens the pulse of even the philistines of this world, and they see £££ writ large.
    I notice a dropping off of availability of pre 1960 pens in charity shops – I was in the habit of definitely seeing more than I do now, and you’re right, there isn’t a bottomless pit of these things – there is a finite quantity, and perhaps the bottom of the pit is beginning to show.

    Oddly I had a good tickle today from a collectors type shop – I might have understood the result from a charity shop, but nope, it was from an unexpected source ……………. 2x 51 aerometric plus C.S. No. 15 and a Sheaffer model I’ve yet to check – it’s a spot job on a clip that is made to flex and accommodate being placed over very thick material of a sports jacket ……….. all for £40 !

    P.S. glad we helped with the Vac. Major etc., – no one else wanted to put their words on show?

    1. If you look down the list you’ll see that David Armstrong was the first to reply about the Vac.

      I think there is less interest in old pens than there was ten years ago. Look at the discussion boards – nearly all modern pens, ink and paper.

      Well done on your purchase!

      1. my apologies Deb – on my screen there are only four replies showing on the Vac. discussion, – two from yourself and my two. So, apologies if I jumped in when someone else had already replied:-)

  2. The argument that supply is finite may need some nuance. Those that acquire vintage pens may want to sell them again at some point… or will leave them to their heirs who may not be interested in keeping them. My (sad) impression is that most vintage FP enthusiasts are vintage themselves, which suggests that many of those collections will come back to the market in due course (well, perhaps not during my lifetime). In terms of price level, my impression is that vintage pens of prestigious brands such as Parker, Montblanc, Mabie Todd etc. have significantly increased in price. People that are interested in such items often have money to spare. And eBay auctions of “new old stock” pens sometimes result in genuine bidding wars.

    1. You are right, of course, Hans. Most of those pens collected today will come back on the market at some time. However, I am inclined to think of the kind of pens that I, as a restorer, like to find – those that have never been previously worked on by another repairer.

      I think, over the decade, almost all pens have increased in price, though English Parkers, for the most part, less than the other quality brands. It is still possible to get a good 1950s English Duofold for very little.

  3. You are whirling up a very old discussion in economics. Adam Smith mentions the difference in price between water and diamonds, noting that water has a far greater value in use than diamonds, while diamonds command a far higher price.

    The problem was essentially solved about a hundred years later, when economists noted that it was the last unit sold and purchased that set the price and thereby the market value of an item. The basic point is that water, at least in the UK and most of mainland Europe is abundant, so people can have basically all they want at a low price. The same goes for Waterman’s 52. They are very good user pens, but there are also many around, at least of the more basic versions. Diamonds on the other hand, just as Conway Stewart Floral 22’s, are rare. It only takes a few dedicated collectors to drive up the price of these pens.

    So in a way, both sides are right. The value of all Waterman’s 52 pens combined is far higher than that of all Conway Stewart Floral 22 pens. But the market price of a single Conway Stewart Floral 22, and thereby the value attached to it by a few collectors, can match that of most Waterman’s 52.

    I guess your siding with the Waterman’s 52 shows you’re more a user than a collector of fountain pens. The same basically holds for me too, so I’d rather take buy several good user pens than one Floral 22.

    1. I am, of course, neither a user nor a collector. I’m a restorer.

      I did the course on elementary economics thirty years ago. I’m not in need of a refresher course.

      The floral isn’t very rare. There were around 2400 made and in pen terms that’s not very rare. They were *said* to be rare which gives us an interesting distortion of the market.

      1. Surprisingly, and perhaps unfortunately, it was Andreas Lambrou who went into print with comments to the effect that “It is therefore safe, at this stage, to assume that only 200 Floral pens were ever produced”. A comment that appears to have been the trigger to drive the collectible status of this C.S. pen into the stratosphere.
        I think Lambrou was misled, genuinely – having earlier commented that the normal production batch size was around 2,000 pens, he seems later to have dismissed that information on the basis of communication he received directly from a C.S. employee which suggested the much lower figure.

        Well, I did suggest as my opening gambit that ‘there’s nothing so fickle as fashion’, and this seems to be borne out by the activities of all collectors. But then again look at the fun we have in chasing pens that are perceived as rare – it means, perhaps that whilst I wouldn’t buy a C.S. Floral at market levels, to keep, hold and cherish – knowledge of said pen is a must just in case one day I find on in the market for £5, which I can buy and then re-sell:-)

        Jan’s argument regarding water and diamonds is interesting and of value, but the statement is perhaps over simplistic and doesn’t hold true always – imagine if you were shipwrecked and had the opportunity to take – apart from the Bible and Shakespeare – either water or diamonds but no both ………………

      2. I have never believed that Andreas Lambrou started the belief that the Floral was made in only a small number. I remember this being bandied about in the USENET pen group long before Lambrou published his book. I really don’t know where it came from. It seems unlikely that it would be a former Conway Stewart employee. After all it was former Conway Stewart employees who scotched the story. I suppose it might have been a Conway Stewart worker who had nothing to do with the production or accounting process.

        I think that at some point it was a simple misunderstanding. Who could stand to gain from it?

        I hae my doots, as my Scottish husband would say!

  4. 🙂 – you may well be correct about Lambrou Deb – your knowledge of is vastly greater than mine.
    Whatever the truth, he obviously didn’t suppress the perceived rarity idea of the Floral, and let it go forth and multiply when it came to publishing his books – it occurs in at least two of his volumes, even to the extent that in one of them the reference to normal batch runs is omitted entirely. We’re told the Floral is very rare and sought after and only 200 were made.

    Having read some of his books, which are mostly v.g. and worth having – my personal opinion is that Andreas Lambrou is not immune from the sentiments of many collectors — often that of revelling in rarities. Nothing like finding a rare pen to give me a high for a week.

      1. The CS floral is a really strange example in the world of pen collecting. There is little doubt that the number manufactured was misunderstood – if the number 200 was mentioned during the course of Bertie Woodin’s visit to the WES in 1981 (believed to be the start of the story), it actually referred to 200 dozen pens, or 2400 in total as Deb originally mentioned. However, CS florals in mint condition are still rare, I’m guessing around 20 or 25 mint examples still exist from the batch. While they may not be everybody’s cup of tea, they will regularly fetch high hundreds of pounds. There are no half-way house examples of floral 22s – they are either mint and valuable, or discoloured and virtually worthless. The mention of ‘only 200 produced’ in the Lambrou books did undoubtedly distort the market for some time, but only in inflating the prices paid for the discoloured examples. Present day prices more accurately reflect the two extremes of condition.

  5. actually, vintage pens are being continually made, today’s modern is only fifty years from being vintage – ten years seems a long time when we are only five, ten, or fifteen years old ourselves, n’est pas mon ami?

    1. Hi Hercules,

      There is a sense in which you’re correct but it’s rather simplistic as I’m sure you’re aware. Those pens that were made before, roughly, 1960, have greater interest than those made subsequently. The reason for that is that there has been a considerable reduction in the kinds of filling systems generally available. Also the pens made in that period before 1960 can be associated with those generations that most interest us, and with the cataclysmic events of the 20th century.

      Most important of all, the pens made before 1960 were the primary writing instrument whereas those made subsequently are hobbyist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.