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February 2007: Revisiting Destickering; Message Board Manners

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • I read with great interest when Richard posted an opposing viewpoint to my piece on destickering pens, penned by David Isaacson. Interestingly, I read the piece and mostly agree with his points. Except the part where he says that people like me are living “on the wrong side of the hobby tracks.” But we’ll address that later.

If you’re more of a curator type snapping up blue-chip pens en route to stocking a private pen museum, be a responsible hobbyist and consider the preservation significance of a pen before inking it up and writing with it. Extra Fine Points

The real issue when it comes to collectors destickering or not is, “what exactly is it you’re collecting?” It’s a difficult issue.

“Huh?” you’re muttering to yourself. This is what I mean: Most of us are hybrid user-collectors who must write with fountain pens, but occasionally can appreciate their beauty and elegance without inking them up.

If you’re one of those well-heeled collectors living on the side of the hobby tracks where the luxury high-rise condos are running $5,000 a square foot, yeah, you have a responsibility to the hobby to not desticker those stickered hard-rubber Big Reds you’re buying left and right.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
The startling barrel clarity and perfect nib plating of this Parker Vacumatic
Deb illustrate why even lesser pens like this are worth preserving uninked.

If you run into a truly fine, rare pen, sticker intact, and have the means to buy it for your collection, you also have the means to buy one almost as good, in used condition, to actually write with.

Even if you’re not a high-roller, and you run into a classic new-old stock (NOS) pen that happens to be underpriced at an auction or flea, it’s probably good to leave it with stickers intact. Those with me in the “most-of-the-rest-of-us” crowd will likely eBay such a find as fast as possible and plow the profits into more pens with which you can actually write.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
The Moore Finger tip might not be on a par with a bandless Big Red, but it
is a historically significant pen in its own right, and it deserves preservation.

I’ve actually got a lot of email on this issue since Richard posted my destickering essay a couple years ago. Most people, I find, are in the everyday-collector crowd with me. I’m not exactly sure where in Pen City the tracks divide us and the Vacumaniac, but I have this feeling that the grand majority of collectors live on my street.

When to Desticker

Yet, I feel Isaacson’s absolutely right in his main point. If you’re more of a curator type snapping up blue-chip pens en route to stocking a private pen museum, be a responsible hobbyist and consider the preservation significance of a pen before inking it up and writing with it.

A friend of mine working at eBay in the sports-memorabilia section likes to call blue-chip cards — such as the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan — the “Krugerrands” of the hobby. Same deal here: If you have a Krugerrand pen still stickered, don’t be stupid with it, just like you wouldn’t let your kid put a Jordan rookie in his bicycle spokes.

If you’re like me, trafficking in Sheaffer TMs and Targas, Wearever Pacemakers, and whatnot — great writers all, but not really cherished among the Isaacsons of the world or anyone else — destickering is less of a concern. When I rip the stickers off a Wearever, I’m devaluing something that’s worth not much to begin with, and I’m not sending other hobbyists into grief over it, either.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
This Sheaffer Lady Skripsert VII and Parker 15 Flighter are relatively
unimportant pens, but they write very well. They’re good candidates
for destickering — or, in these instances, de-chalking.

It’s also sad for me to hear stories of collectors who love their limited edition or new-modern pens but can’t bear to use them despite wanting to with every fiber of their being. For gosh sakes, ink those babies up. Sure, leave them stickered if you are considering them an investment and you have the willpower to just buy them and salt them away in a vault. Really, though, life’s too short to invest in pens — as I say to all the baseball-card collectors who look to me for advice in my other life as a columnist for several hobby publications, mutual funds are more intelligent for people looking to make money.

Mind Your Manners

In a separate-but-related issue, I think the pen hobby is filled with smart people. Of course. We’re all writers like me, right? We’re collecting communication devices, as opposed to, say, billy clubs — which by the way might be considered “communication devices” in a different sense.

We are, for the most part, thoughtful and considerate. I find debates on matters such as destickering etiquette quite stimulating. There’s plenty of room for opposing views, politely stated.

I would hope that the people (I won’t name names) who mount ad hominem — or maybe just plain gruff and rude — attacks on other collectors at various Internet forums might think about how they can better represent the hobby by using a little more social grace in arguing their points of view.

The Internet’s available to everyone. When non-collectors Google their way onto one of these sites looking for more information, and see name-calling or worse going on, I’m sure their first thought isn’t “Why, isn’t this a pleasant bunch of blokes to hang out with during my ever-decreasing leisure time!”

Before you — and the people I’m addressing here know exactly who they are — go blasting some old enemy on a message board, think about the audience reading your post before you hit the “post” button, and how you’re representing all of us…not just you and your petty beef of the day.

Next time you go to a pen show, you might look around and wonder why it’s so lightly attended, why so few dealers came, and why no one has the pens you’re looking for. If you’ve been spreading such nastiness that I’ve witnessed between collectors on the web, well, wonder no more: You’ve helped scare them away.

It’s just pens we’re talking about here. It’s not life or death. As John Lennon once put it, it’s nothing to get hung about.

cover Further Reading: Fountain Pens of the World, by Andreas Lambrou

It’s an oldie but a goodie, and I’ve been really enjoying Andy Lambrou’s magnum opus lately.

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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