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July 2005: Thrill of the Chase

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m definitely not obsessive-compulsive. I’ll also be the first to admit, however, that I tend toward that end of the neurosis scale, and in my pen-hobby life I allow myself a few compulsions to, you know, let off some steam once in awhile.

This keeps my brain working well the rest of the time, (mostly) firing on all cylinders when it counts — for example, when I’m working to earn a paycheck to funnel back into my pen collection. Or bargaining with wife Kate to open up some free time to go pen-hunting at flea markets.

(If you’re reading this page at this web site, you know exactly of what I speak — don’t get all “I have no idea what he’s talking about” on me.)

The Taperite’s here now. It looks great, it writes great, and it’s got a great story behind it, like many of the pens in my collection. Extra Fine Points

So last year — May 2004 — I was cruising a favorite pen-trolling haunt, the Todd Farm Sunday morning flea market in Rowley, Mass. Todd Farm’s an outdoor flea, right on the marsh, within a mile or two of the ocean. The whole place reeks of salty air and at times, low tide, a scent I will forever associate with finding great pens, from Wearevers to Watermans to Wahls.

I spot a large Waterman Taperite Citation set, not quite mint in box but otherwise looking good: No brassing, the box was near perfect, pencil right there, papers as if they were never unfolded. The pen had a few nicks in the barrel, nothing a little buffing wouldn’t solve.

The seller wore a small, close-trimmed goatee, square wire rims, and some kind of beret or tam-o-shanter type thing. He stuck out like an aging beatnik in the sea of yuppie parents parading through the aisle, many of whom wore kids in Baby Bjorns. He wanted $80 for the set.

I wanted in on Taperites.

The more complex my pen tastes and writing habits get, the more I gravitate toward the 1940s and 1950s designs in general. Richard and I agree that collectors unfairly shun Taperites. These solid pens — which take the “51”/Triumph reliability and style sensibility and combine it with a more flexible, open-nib feel reminiscent of the Skylines and Watermans of yore — can be a good bargain out there in the pen collector market.

It also means that quote-unquote serious collectors leave these great pens behind when picking over antique shops and flea-market stalls, so they’re available. Further turning it into a buyer’s market, pen-ignorant dealers wonder what’s wrong with a Taperite when they get one because collectors turn their noses at them — so they’re typically willing to negotiate the price when someone comes along making an offer. Except this guy in Rowley.

I might have knocked him down five bucks that first time I saw it, but when I tried to bring it more in line with other Taperites I’d seen around, he just snorted obnoxiously. “I send it to the [Fountain Pen] Hospital,” he said a thick accent, possibly Russian but if not, from somewhere in the neighborhood. “Sell it on eBay for $200.” Yikes. No talking sense into this dreamer.

Three months later, he happened to have returned to Rowley on the Sunday I made it back. Same deal. I look at the pen, handle it, take it out of the box, he recognizes me from last time. Send it to Hospital, he’ll show me, don’t even ask.

I was about to crack. Maybe it was worth $75. In the meanwhile I’d spotted a couple others in “the wild,” and hipped Richard to their locations — and he’d scooped one up for his collection. Coming to dinner one Friday night, he’d brought his Taperite, fully functional and given the cosmetic tune-up he’s known for. He’d dangled that thing in my face. He’d paid $60 for his, which hadn’t come with pencil, box, and papers. And this was one of the ones I’d passed up, too.

I wanted this pen in Rowley. But a little voice in my head — some would call it my conscience, but to me it typically sounds a lot like Kate, who enforces the household budget — was telling me to pass it up.

That was late September or early October last year. The long winter passed — big snowstorms into March and wet, unseasonably cold weather dragged it out into early May. On May 15, I made my first trip to the Rowley market. The dealer and his Taperite were back, I noticed right away.

He’d marked the Taperite set down to $65. Hmmm, I thought. I remembered it from last year. He didn’t remember me, however. Guess he never got around to having the Hospital rehab it over the winter.

“Thirty bucks,” I opened, figuring I’d give five more. I had forty in my pocket; I travel light so as to keep out of trouble.

“Fifty,” he countered. “I guess I am in a selling mood today.”

“Thirty-five,” I said, figuring he was going to give me the “Hospital” spiel at any moment, or he’d want more than I was carrying.

“Forty,” he said, just about spitting the word at me.

“You lucked out, that’s all I got,” I said, showing him that I literally was emptying my wallet for his pen set. With an equal measure of drama, he took the money and scowled at me as if to say no one had ever bargained with him before. I scooped up the pen and went on my way.

The Taperite’s here now. It looks great, it writes great, and it’s got a great story behind it, like many of the pens in my collection. It’s not a rare Hundred Year Pen, it’s not an Empire State “51”, and it isn’t a Parker Snake. But it’s another one of those great, well-built fountain pens of the 1940s and ’50s with which I enjoy writing. And it was a bargain, thanks to a rare patient discipline that didn’t come easily to my inner compulsive buyer.

Fountain pen

cover Further Reading: Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things, by Donald Norman

Why do you like to write with some pens a lot more than you do others? Did you ever wonder, in hopes that learning what motivates you to gravitate toward one and not another will help you find more like it? Decode your feelings about pens with this volume.

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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