Though I did man (or woman) the tills of a supermarket as a schoolgirl, it never occurred to me that retail was a career option. A secretarial course and a fast and accurate typing skill determined where I would go and what I would do. I became a legal admin, mixing with those shady characters, lawyers, for most of my employed life.
It was purely as a hobby that I became a habitué of junk shops in search of old pens, British ones if I was lucky, though I loved my Wahl-Eversharps, Conklin Crescents, Parkers and Watermans too. That was how it would have stayed forever if I had not married another pen enthusiast from the other side of the Atlantic.
We both wanted to see all the vintage pens we could, to handle, use, repair and write about them but we are not collectors and in any case, we couldn’t afford to amass the quantity of pens that we wished to see. The answer, though it didn’t occur immediately, was to buy, repair and sell pens. Obvious!
Of course it wasn’t quite so simple as that. Nothing ever is. There were years of gradually acquiring the essential tools, gradually learning repair before Marshall and Oldfield’s essential repair books came out. Of course there was Frank Dubiel’s repair guide but that was mostly limited to American pens and some of his advice was not of the best. That’s not to condemn Frank. Someone has to be the pioneer.
Also we had to find the best way to sell pens for a price that at least allowed us to break even. For a time we did well in eBay, selling lots of pens to the USA. Then eBay changed the rules and we were no longer making money or breaking even.
We decided to set up an online shop and went looking for programmers to build it for us. We were unfortunate in the company we chose; once we were committed to working with them they were better at telling us what couldn’t be done than what could be done. It took a tense and wearing few months to bludgeon them into building a working site. With the help of a second company and a talented programmer and friend, we’ve been amending it ever since and now it almost works as well as it should have done ten years ago.
As soon as we were able to put that behind us it became all about the pens and it has been a great pleasure. Buying and restoring are most enjoyable as is writing about the pens and our thoughts about them. We have learned an immense amount and written with some wonderful pens – not just the expensive ones but everyday users like the nameless old Pilot I’m drafting this with. It’s an EF with perfect flow – never a skip or a hard start. It’s pens like these that make the fountain pen the supreme writing instrument.
I hope we can continue for many more years. Doing what you love as an occupation is a dream.