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August 2004: The Big Ripoff

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

(Read an opposing viewpoint.)

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Twice in the last month, it’s happened. I bought new-old stock (NOS) pens on eBay, destickered those babies, and put them to work.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
NOS Graphomatic Colonel De Luxe, c. 1944

One needed a nib, which I scavenged from another pen. The other’s wicked dry flow needed some attention from Richard. Both needed sacs. But for the most part, they were drugstore-fresh, clean, with deep imprints and gleaming clips.

Some collectors might think I’m insane, devaluing mint pens. Others, who buy only modern pens, will say “no big deal, I do that every day.” Touché. I’m talking about vintage and antique pens.

Note: After I told Richard the topic of this month’s “Extra Fine,” a customer sold him some new-old stock, stickered Sheaffer’s pens. It’s a coincidence — but a happy one if the eventual buyers rip off the stickers and put them to use based on the opinions expressed here. Extra Fine Points

Still other, more inquisitive collectors might ask me just what pens I’d destickered, and when I answered “a Wearever Pacemaker and a Zenith pen and pencil set” would let loose with a cynical “A-ha!” and suggest that if I’d bought an oversize Vacumatic, the pen would remain uninked, stickered, and in its presentation case.

Not so, I say.

I won’t apologize for the Wearevers — they have solid 14K nibs, they write fantastically, they’re made to be used every day. But even if I had forked over $600 for an oversize Vac in any condition, I wouldn’t put it away in a drawer or a case and pull it out occasionally to admire it. It’d be up and writing as soon as I could bribe Richard to give it the works.

Think I’m joking? I inked up and wrote with the one limited-edition pen I ever owned, a Montblanc Proust, literally a minute after the postal carrier brought it. That’s how I quickly figured out that a pretty platinum inlaid nib, plastic (ugh) feed, and tasteful, gorgeous packaging don’t always add up to a pen that writes better than a 1952 Sheaffer Saratoga, let alone one worthy of its — at the time — $700 price tag. I soon set it free on eBay, from whence it came, pleased that the lesson cost me only about $40.

And that’s the crux of my argument for destickering and inking up everything in sight: We’re collectors, hobbyists. We love fountain pens and the rich experience of writing with them. If storing artifacts were our love, we’d be museum curators. If investing were our game, certainly we’d find that stocks and bonds perform more consistently — if not better — over the long haul (apologies to Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen stockholders).

Most pen collectors fantasize a little about time travel. Specifically, if they had one shot, they’d go to a particular year and head over to the nearest drugstore counter and try a particular pen. A pen outfitted with several different nibs, perhaps some exotic grinds that can only be best-guess replicated today, because all the originals are long gone — or squirreled away in someone’s collection. Then they’d buy one in every color, style, size, and variation.

While time travel probably won’t ever be a part of our lives, the chance to write with mint pens that are in the same condition as they were the day they rolled out of the factory comes up fairly often. In fact, you can control whether or not it happens.

The old platitude “You can’t take it with you” applies here: What good is a stickered antique fountain pen when you’re dead and gone? None — to you at least. I give you permission. Go ahead and do it. Destickering NOS pens can be one of the most rewarding experiences our hobby has to offer. Let the investors invest, the curators curate, and other, more delusional collectors keep their stickered pens stickered.

cover Further Reading: The U.S. Flea Market Directory, by Albert Lafarge

The best place to find stickered pens on the cheap (apologies to Richard) is at a flea market — my best deal was a Parker “51” set bought for $15 one day and sold on eBay for $135 the next. While as a collector you’ve probably got a bead on the good ones in your region, this handy tome will help you spot flea markets worth checking out while on the road.

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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