High quality new pens were – and are – always expensive. So much so, I suppose, that many people in times gone by didn’t own a fountain pen. Pencils served the purpose more cheaply and schoolchildren used slates and slate pencils. Someone whose occupation or leisure made a fountain pen a necessity would generally own just one. When that pen wore out or broke it would be replaced but most people didn’t own several pens at a time, as most of us today do not own several computers or cell phones at a time.
Though prices varied, high quality pens, then, were valuable and remained so until they were replaced by the ballpoint. They went quite quickly from valuable to valueless and were forgotten in drawers. In the 60s, 70s and 80s when old pens fell into the hands of house clearers or otherwise came on the market, they were stripped of gold nibs and scrapped because there was no other way to obtain value from them. Yes, even then there were some people who wanted old fountain pens as writing instruments or collectables but that only accounted for a few of the masses of no longer appreciated old pens.
Gradually the view that old fountain pens had value began to save more of them, though there are still some cretins who scrap pens for their 14 carat nibs. Even quite ordinary old pens are now re-used. One might say that they have now gone from valueless to valued again, though probably not yet at their full, real value. Prices have risen in the last 20 years and continue to rise but they may have some way to go.
I’m writing this with a 1930s Swan. It has a springy, fine nib and it writes very much like my Platinum 3776. Looking at it, it would be hard to decide which pen had written a paragraph. I paid less than £40 for the Swan and £140 for the 3776. Which is the more truly valuable pen? That’s an opinion, of course, a matter of subjectivity. It’s precisely that subjectivity which has been driving up the prices paid for old pens. I can certainly envisage a time when high quality, good condition ordinary old pens will cost as much or more than modern equivalents.
This didn’t happen on its own of course. eBay, more than any other factor, gave value to old, rejected items. It isn’t too wide of the mark to say that most old pens would have gone into landfill without eBay. In the early days of collection and acquisition of old pens it was the very rare and exquisitely overlaid items that collectors wanted. The saving of the mass of ordinary old pens came with eBay.
Through years of using them, I, of course, would say that good old Swan pens merit a higher value than most modern pens.