March 01, 2019

You tried out using a fountain pen, loved how it writes, surprised at how large the pen enthusiast network is and now, you’re thinking of starting your very own collection.

Starting a pen collection isn’t always easy. There are so many great pens out there in need of a good home. So, where do you begin?

Starting Your Collection – Planning and Choosing

There is no right or wrong way to begin, but sometimes it helps to narrow your options.

You can’t go wrong with vintage or modern fountain pens. In either case, it is best to do a little research to know what to look for to get the best deal. It also helps to know if you intend to use or display them.

Modern Fountain Pens

Most people who are new to collecting pens start with more modern pens, and this is a great place to start.

When you buy new, you aren’t buying into any problems not covered by a warranty. Plus, you can frequently find less expensive pens that help you get acclimated to the hobby while satisfying your jones for awesome writing instruments.

Dryden Designs is one of the reputable brands that market affordable luxury pens. You can find something nice at $27 and you can buy more elegant pens at over $30.

Vintage Pens

Do not be daunted by the world of vintage pens. This won’t only let you find a pen that has been around for over 100 years but finding an antique can be a lot of fun too.

Start slow. Get a feel for what you are doing. Do lots of research, and grow as you feel more and more comfortable. You don’t have to jump right away to the $1,000 pens. You can start safely with the restored pens that you can buy at $50.

From these two options, you can start making a plan. Ask yourself what kind of collection do you want to have. This will reduce the likelihood that you’ll buy on a whim and overpay. It will also give you direction instead of leaving you to aimlessly wade through a vast ocean of vintage pens.

Consult online resources or see if your local public library has books on fountain pens. If you know the ins and outs of the pens you want to buy and start to get a feel for the market, it will help keep you from overpaying.

Where to Buy?

The Internet

The internet has broadened the horizons of every new pen collector. Now collectors have access to an abundance of vintage pens through websites like Amazon and vintage pen resellers. Obviously, this prevents a buyer from examining the pen up close and in person, but with the right photos and a willingness to ask questions, a buyer can get almost as good an idea of a pen’s condition as he would in person.

Pen Shows

Here, you’ll find a ballroom filled with vendors selling pens new and old, in every style and condition imaginable. These take place all over the United States and come in all sizes. This is where you can get hands-on experience looking at different models. A new collector will also be able to benefit from the expertise of dealers and other attendees alike. A simple web search will turn up pen shows and pen show directories.

Antique Stores and Garage Sales

Buying a pen from these places takes more risk than buying one from a dealer at a pen show or online, but the reward can be significant if you know what you’re looking for and are willing to do some extra work. These pens can sometimes be in bad shape and require some work, like a good cleaning or replacing the ink sac; with a little elbow grease, some vintage pens can be made as good as new.

How to Evaluate a Pen

When buying from physical stores, it should be a practice to check on these parts before finally buying:

The Nib

Not only does a bent nib destroys the aesthetics of your pen, but it also destroys your chance of experiencing smooth writing. This is why you should always start your examination with the nib.

  •         Is the nib flexible? Do you even want a flexible nib? The majority of fountain pens don’t have flexible nibs, and some collectors may not even want their pen to be flexible.
  •         If the nib is flexible, does the seller grade the flexibility? Sellers sometimes grade or mark a pen’s flexibility. Just remember, the wider the tines, the broader the line.
  •         Is the nib bent? Look at the nib from the side. The nib should be in a straight line and should not deviate up or down.
  •         Is the nib sprung? Nibs can be sprung when a writer applies too much pressure to the nib while writing. This could look like one of the tines being higher than the other. Other times, the tines spring away from each other.
  •         Is the nib cracked? The nib bears all the weight of writing and over time can develop cracks around the breather hole, near the slit, or on the sides.

If you’re buying a pen online, look for photos that show you different angles of the nib. If the seller is experienced in selling pens, the listing will usually include all the photos a collector would want. Don’t take a lack of nib photos as someone trying to pull a fast one, though.

The Filling Mechanism

While collectors can certainly learn to replace an ink sac or other simple restoration processes, you may not want to venture into repairs while just starting your collection.

If it has one, what does the seller say about the sac? Sacs break down over time and must be replaced. Do your research on the type of filling systems that the pen you want has and become familiar with how a properly functioning filling system should operate.

The Cap, Barrel, and Case

If your pen-to-be has passed the first two examinations, now it is time to look at everything else.

Is the body discolored?

Is the case brassing? When a pen has gold furniture, it usually means that a pen has gold-plated or gold-filled furniture, rather than being made of solid gold. Brassing occurs when the gold plating wears away over time due to use. Unlike corrosion, this isn’t a chemical reaction and doesn’t affect the integrity of the pen. Brassed items can be re-plated if you’re willing to spend the money on it.

Does it have scratches, dents, and dings? If you had been kept in shirt pockets and desk drawers for 80 years, you’d show some wear and tear, too. Cosmetic issues like this don’t affect the functionality of the pen, only the aesthetic beauty and, therefore, the price. If a metallic pen has dings, sometimes they can be removed, but sometimes they cannot.

Conclusion

These are just some criteria you should strictly look at when buying fountain pens for your collection. Start with one piece and then get your second next month and your third the month after. And when you feel like you have finally mastered the art of buying a good fountain pen, then you can try in bulks.

Don’t skip the chances of winning giveaways too. You will score great pens from them and you can find a lot of these contests on Instagram and Facebook. And  Dryden Designs regularly runs giveaway contests, with our high-end pens as prices.

And don’t forget to buy a reliable fountain pen case to protect your collection, most especially when you choose to collect vintage. Your modern pens should be maintained too. These pens may be decently-priced today but when they also reach their vintage years, they will also wear a price tag that’s worth thousands of dollars.


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