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May 2006: Todd Farm, R.I.P.

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Usually, we talk about flea market finds in this space. Soon we’ll be talking about finding flea markets.

If I don’t go out to the flea market, I may never find the $5 Black Giant or Snake pen that I know is waiting for me. And if it isn’t waiting for me, oh well, I still had fun looking for it. Extra Fine Points

I’ve been a huge proponent of the online collecting life, advocating collector-to-collector sites like Pentrace, email lists like Tom Zoss’s, dealer Web storefronts and of course, auctions like eBay. My articles appear in a range of publications from baseball-card specific magazines to general antiquing publications.

For this, I get grief from the brick-and-mortar network of dealers, as well as from show organizers (outside the pen world, that is). They, for the most part, pay for the advertising in the print pubs I write for. Then my clients get twitchy, asking me to be less Web-exclusive and more brick-and-mortar inclusive.

No collector’s ever hassled me about it; in fact, they can’t get enough inside info on where to go online, how to spot a bargain, and of course, how to spot the ripoffs among the diamonds in the rough. And, at least in the pen hobby, chatting with gentlemen like Richard Binder, David Nishimura, and experienced collectors, when you ask them what can be found in the wild at flea markets and antique shops, they say, pretty much, zero. You’ll find pens here and there. but the return on your time investment’s marginal at best.

Despite all this, I’m here today to mourn the imminent demise of Todd Farm in Rowley, Mass., New England’s best weekly flea market — and possibly the best overall outside of the three-times-a-summer Brimfield flea, also in Mass.

It will be gone after this year, its home likely sold to developers willing to meet the 33-acre property’s $3.45 million asking price because it’s a cash cow. This sleepy commuter community’s homes are so expensive — indeed, this is the real reason my wife Kate and I moved to Nashua, N.H. from Rowley, contrary to the rumors going around about me needing to be closer to the family nibmeister — that the real-estate entrepreneur who buys Todd Farm gets to trump local zoning rules forbidding condominium development with state statutes mandating affordable housing.

It’s true that the online market is more robust than the brick-and-mortar one. The stuff I find at Todd Farm usually turns out to be high-priced good stuff, affordable but broken/faded/cracked pens, or the terminally low-quality pens upon which hobbyists optimistically bestow the euphemism “third-tier.” Most of the good stuff’s on eBay or on its way there.

But every once in a while Todd Farm has given my collection something like a Waterman Taperite Citation pen and pencil set, nearly uncirculated, in box, with papers. Just waiting for the taking.

Fountain pen
This is Richard’s Citation, but Don’s is a virtual duplicate of it.

Todd Farm acquainted me with the Esterbrook nib that is my favorite, the 9788. Chances are, I wouldn’t have figured that out on my own or at a pen show, because among the many different nibs Estie made, that’s a pretty uncommon nib. Todd Farm dropped one in my lap for $5 (pen included). Nice-enough Skylines, Snorkels, and Touchdowns have occasionally come up for grabs as well.

You can find nice Moores floating around at flea markets up here, too. Many were sold in New England, and collectors snubbed them until the supply of Parkers, Sheaffer’s, and Waterman’s dried up. Many people still haven’t heard of the brand, and when they see them, dealers often put them out at Wearever prices.

Speaking of which, it goes without saying — and I should leave it unsaid, because I’m sure more email abuse will come of saying it — that the Wearever Deluxe 100s and Pacemakers yielded by Todd Farm tables make a nice group in my collection.

No, I never did find the Snake Pen or the Black Giant that some dope of a dealer let go for $5. I didn’t find anything legendary enough that I can brag about it on Saturday night at a pen show over cocktails with a group of dealer-collectors.


A Black Giant that Don did not find at a flea market — or anywhere else

But most of those same dealer-collectors have given up on flea markets, even those who have come across great finds in the past.

As for me, I will still be combing flea markets for pens. Maybe I’ll find that LeBoeuf that isn’t faded, discolored, or cracked, for $20. Maybe some Sheaffer’s Masterpiece lies in wait for a fraction of its value. Maybe there’s a can of excruciatingly hard-to-find Wearever pencils that will mate to my Binder-restored Deluxe 100s and Pacemakers.

All I know is that if I don’t go out to the flea market, I may never find these wonders. And now that Todd Farm is shutting down, I’m going to have to drive farther on Sunday mornings.

Richard adds: After I read this article, I decided to go to Todd Farm with Don on April 30. I spent $13.00 and — despite having arrived too late to pick a cherry red Esterbrook J — brought home this Teal “51” Special and gray Esterbrook J, both in working order. They need work, but at these prices I think I can handle it.
Pens found at Todd Farm

cover Further Reading: Flea Market Trader: Thousands of Items with Current Values

So you go to Todd Farm — or any flea market — looking for pens, and you spot something else and say to yourself, “I could resell that on eBay for five times what the dealer is asking — and buy more pens!” Slow down a little there, Killer, and double-check your find’s value here.

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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