We’ve discussed the attraction of fountain pens in practical terms before: why they’re better than other ink-laying writing instruments, that is. But there’s more to our affection for fountain pens than that. Why have they become collector’s pieces? They’re small and, comparatively speaking, inexpensive. Of course there are two kinds of fountain pen collecting: vintage and modern, especially limited editions. More of that later.
Why do vintage pens have such appeal? Part of it, at least, is the appeal of a superseded technology. This applies to other things too such as cigarette lighters, open razors, pen knives and so on. Size and affordability play a major part. Perhaps we might like to collect printing presses, another former technology, but where would we store such large items? We might like to collect vintage cars and motorcycles (I know I would) but the same restriction applies, together with the high cost. It would be nice to have a collection of every Alvis ever made but unless the money supply is endless and there’s a temperature and humidity-controlled museum to keep them in, such an ambition must remain in the realm of day-dreams. Over time, with an acceptable outlay, it is possible to accumulate every Wyvern ever made.
As well as being (often) beautiful and accessible, old pens have historical significance. Not every collector will care but pens have been used by ordinary people during major events. Fountain pens will have been the means of communication during the exodus of many British people to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA during the twenties and thirties. Letters were anxiously awaited at home and abroad. During the two great wars of the twentieth century fountain pens helped to keep families in touch with servicemen in theatres of war. What could be more important to anxious and fearful relatives?
If you buy, say, a silver cigarette case you are unlikely to be able to use it for its original purpose unless you are one of the stubborn band of remaining smokers. Regardless of who you are, you can use your restored Swan Leverless every day. It’s just as practical as it always was.
Old pens have magic. So many associations attach to them about their manufacture, their ownership and their use. What about modern pens? Are they collected in the same way? Perhaps they are but for different reasons. People will undoubtedly accumulate the Lamys and Pilots, but mostly for use. Tell me if you think this is wrong. Limited editions are another matter. They are generally quite a lot more expensive though they don’t write any better than their everyday counterparts. Of course few are ever inked; they are collector’s items pure and simple. They don’t increase in value. When a collector feels the pinch and offers some of his limited edition pens for sale he has to take a cut to move them on. Fountain pen people believe themselves to be intelligent. The existence and success of the limited editions with their spurious attachments to famous people, suggests that it is not always the case.