BY DON FLUCKINGER • There comes a point, in all pen collectors’ lives, when The Storage Issue must be dealt with.
I’m not talking about the first pen chest we all run out and get when, giddy at getting the third or fourth pen — and perhaps having $500 or more invested in pens — it’s obvious the desk lap drawer ain’t gonna cut it.
All of us buy that first pen chest. I took the plunge, twice, with Reed & Barton products. Other brands put out equally fine chests; browse them at Fountain Pen Hospital, Pendemonium, or Wood 'N Dreams. Sometimes, taking a trip to a Reed & Barton outlet (we have a couple up here, in North Conway, NH, and Kittery, ME) yields some nicely discounted chests or even cheaper scratch-and-dent pieces.
|Then the pen collection grows. And grows. Some cherished pens deserve slots in these expensive chests. Others don’t.|
But then, for a lot of us, the pen collection grows. And grows. Some cherished pens deserve slots in these expensive chests. Others don’t. Furthermore, who doesn’t have a “dry dock” where fixer-uppers reside to be eventually restored or parted out? It can make a serious dent on one’s pen budget if one is spending so much on pen chests. Plus, so many of them open on top, which limits the places they can be stored. If you’re like me, you don’t have the acreage in your den or office for too many of these.
Lately, in seeking alternative storage, I’ve found an interesting route: repurposing cigar boxes. I started fabricating pen storage on my own, using flocked-plastic pen trays sold by Gary Lehrer, which work pretty well.
“That’s exactly how I got into it,” says Bryan Stone, a collector from Keene, NH, who also rolls his own storage from cigar boxes. “When I got into collecting pens, I bought a $250 thing that held about 24 pens. That’s over 10 bucks a pen.”
It used to be most cigars came packaged in paper-covered cardboard boxes — ho-hum — but in the last 15 or so years, a resurgence of fine cigar smoking has meant that fiercely competing brands have pushed their stoges in increasingly better-quality wood boxes, some of them elaborately finished with felt linings and solid hinges and latches.
Don’t smoke? Don’t worry. Cigar smokers put thousands of boxes up for bids on eBay, and local cigar shops often sell them for a buck or three each. Stone, a doctor, doesn’t smoke, and he does all of the above — and networks on top of that. All his pals know he’s looking for cigar boxes. He’s run into some great boxes, including a CAO branded box with drawers.
I myself had success buying some LFD Mysterio boxes on eBay, mahogany felt-lined boxes that hold 11 pens each (pictured above). These boxes contained five cigars, not 20 to 30 like many boxes — most of which are so deep you need to build interior trays to make the “double decker,” as Stone puts it. These were barely an inch tall.
It worked pretty well after I cut a Lehrer tray to size and fastened it with my hot glue gun. I was going for utilitarian, not necessarily aesthetic perfection; these will end up in my closet or stacked on a bookshelf. If you’re going to show off your creations, try some of the following ideas:
Embellish the corners with brass screw-down plates from Universal Mercantile Exchange (UMX)
Upgrade hinges and latches with more sturdy hardware from that site, hardware stores, the Home Depot, or craft retailers
Craft stores and UMX also offer plain boxes you can varnish or decoupage pen pictures clipped from advertisements or books
Pick up some wallpaper remnants from your local paint and wallpaper store to line the inside of your boxes
Stone offers additional tips from his own travels:
Adhesive felt also makes great liner material for box sides, and can also make up for little mistakes in cutting the tray material
Hold out for unique boxes: The ones with drawers or sliding glass tops make for classy storage
Use styrofoam slabs to raise the pen tray on boxes that are a bit too deep for one level but too shallow to make into a double-decker
For pen protection, staple or otherwise attach a felt flap that will lie on top of the tray
In the end, if you go the cigar box route, it won’t be the final answer, but rather a pleasant diversion that helps you create some fine things for yourself and take pride in your work. At some point, you’ll need even more storage space. Check out eBay for jeweler’s chests, which have long, narrow drawers perfect for lining with pen trays. And give away your cigar box storage to new collectors you’re trying to get sucked into collecting fountain pens. Because everyone starts out by filling their first pen chest — er, box.
Further Reading: Cigar Box Labels: Portraits of Life, Mirrors of History, by Gerard S. Petrone
Once you get into cigar boxes you’ll start to notice they’re pretty interesting little snapshots of culture with their artwork. Check out this dandy tome for an overview of the best from the last century.
|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 Biddersedge.com 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.|