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May 2002: Pen Show Report: Boston 2002

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Collectors who comb the Northeast’s flea markets, antique “shoppes,” and estate auctions for vintage pens quickly learn that, like the rocky old New England soil, it’s a barren land. Every once in a while a beat-up old Duofold with a rusted clip and cracked barrel crops up. Or one of those ubiquitous 1950s Sheaffer steel-nibbed cartridge fillers. Or a new-old-stock 1940s Waterman Commando, in box, priced about three times what it’s worth.

Collectors who comb the Northeast for vintage pens quickly learn that it’s a barren land. Every April at the New England Pen Show, we get a respite. Extra Fine Points

For us, finding good old pens usually involves three choices: 1) Buy from our favorite restorer-sellers; 2) Log on to the Web and fish in the Bay, taking our chance on that PFM-looking pen in the fuzzy scan that an ignorant seller says “he’s told” is a PFM; or 3) Cross the Hudson and head west into other states to plunder their antique malls and return with the spoils.

Every April at the New England Pen Show, however, we get a respite: the world of vintage pens pays us a visit, alighting at the Somerville Holiday Inn. This year, all of pendom from Maine to Vermont to Connecticut waited to see what would happen there, since show organizer Rob Morrison has relocated to Asheville, N.C.

Despite his address change, Morrison took the initiative and decided to throw the party himself again this year, making the arrangements from his remote southern enclave, emailing the brochures, and whipping up enthusiasm on email lists.

On April 13, his efforts paid off. It’s not as big as D.C., Chicago, or Vegas — in fact, compared to those shows it’s downright intimate. Yet any collector who shows up at the New England Pen Show with a yen for modern pens, vintage pens, or cool pen ephemera will definitely come away satisfied.

I sure did.

For me, this year’s collecting theme was “metal.” A secondary objective was to walk out with more than one writing instrument instead of blowing my entire war chest on a “super pen,” which I’ve done the past three years.

I dickered and bargained my way into three Vac “51”s, a couple with sterling silver caps and one with a gold-filled cap; a sweet Sheaffer Snorkel with gold-filled cap and barrel, miraculously dent-free; a 1934 burgundy standard Vac; and a later double-jeweled golden pearl Junior that, although I already have three in my collection, was so cheap for its condition that I just couldn’t pass it up.

Needless to say, these treasures will keep me occupied for quite a while.

But it’s not just the pure retail exchange that makes a pen show worth attending. First, there’s just seeing all those pens. It might sound strange to longtime collectors, but for me, after hunting and gathering the few scary pens to be had at our antiques shops, having the opportunity to pick among hundreds of Duofolds or thousands of Sheaffers is the closest thing to Christmas morning I’ve experienced since I got my first bicycle (a little red-white-and-blue single-speed number with a banana seat and a sissy bar) back in ’76.

Then there’s the catching-up-with-old-friends part, saying “Hi, how you been?” to people you haven’t seen since the last show. That’s pretty fulfilling. Another fun thing is attaching faces to email addresses from places like Pentrace and the Zoss list.

So what if the Somerville Holiday Inn isn’t quite the Ritz downtown or the Westin Copley with its dazzling atrium? I’ll gladly make the hike down I-93 each April. It’s the best part of living in New England, besides maybe fresh lobsters and fall foliage. Thanks again, Rob Morrison. Hope you do it again next year.

cover Further Reading: Access Boston (6th Edition), by Richard Saul Wurman

When traveling, Don prefers “Access” guides. They provide not only a concise description of a city’s tourist staples, but also suggestions for great out-of-the-way restaurants, interesting music clubs, and funky shopping venues (including junk shops where pens turn up) that more well-known guidebooks miss.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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