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October 2007: Crystal Ball Gazing: The Future of Modern Pens, Part 1

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Had you asked someone in the late 1950s whether or not Parker “51”s would someday be collectible pens, you’d have been laughed off the Web message board. Or chalk board. Or whatever way fountain pen collectors conversed back then, if there even were fountain pen collectors.

Come to think of it, there weren’t many, although Chicago Pen Show organizer and hobby legend Mike Fultz tells me that in his research travels he’s found evidence of pen collecting way back to the dip pen era. So in Fultz’s mind, the hobby existed in one form or another as early as the 1800s. Of course, the latest pen-collecting renaissance occurred about 30 years ago, evolving into today’s incarnation of the hobby.

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, few people appreciated Parker “51”s. They were everywhere, cast aside while everyone fished the Dorics and Big Reds and even Waterman overlay pens from antique-store stocks. But look at them now. Extra Fine Points

I recently interviewed Fultz, dealer and price-guide author Paul Erano, and Bexley Pen Company founder Howard Levy for a general-interest Antiques Roadshow Insider article on fountain pens. That piece, mostly, gives non-collectors the Cliff’s Notes on what they might find at their local flea markets and estate auctions.

Of course, knowing that readers of this column love deep fountain-pen collecting knowledge and opinion, I tossed in a couple of questions for you all, too, while I had these guys on the line.

One thing led to another, and we ended up on this topic: Will today’s Lamys, Montblancs, Parkers, and Sheaffers be chased as voraciously in the future as we now pursue Dorics, Patricians, and Big Reds?

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Is the Parker 100 destined to be tomorrow’s “51”?

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Or will the Sheaffer Intrigue be the next PFM?

Howard Levy thinks it’s possible. Keep in mind, before he launched Bexley in the early 1990s, he started out as a collector-dealer and pen restorer. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, he says, few people appreciated Parker “51”s. They were everywhere, cast aside while everyone fished the Dorics and Big Reds and even Waterman overlay pens from antique-store stocks. But look at them now.

“As long as there’s interest in collecting writing instruments, there should be a continued interest in collecting pens manufactured today,” Levy says. “Twenty years ago when I was trying to collect Parker ‘51’s, everyone thought I was crazy, they were just too new. Now they’re huge collectibles.”

Fultz isn’t as sanguine about the prospects of today’s pens in the eyes of future collectors. He quotes the late Harry Bouras, whom he fondly remembers as an “artist, writer, philosopher, and pen collector — a guy a lot smarter than me.”

“He pointed out to me one day, ‘There’s only so many ways to decorate a stick,’” says Fultz, who — keep in mind — has created his own limited-edition pens. “The decorated sticks that you’re looking for are the first ones, the ones different than anything else that was around.”

So, in Fultz’s mind, pens made in the last three or four decades might ascend to some position in the pen-collecting world, but they’ll never be the equal of Dorics, Patricians, or Big Reds.

One wildcard to Fultz is limited edition pens. It’s difficult to predict if future collectors will see them as interesting or not. Of course, to hear him talk derisively about the collector plate market, one can imply that he isn’t making many bets on their being the top-shelf pens of 2050 — but the possibility’s there.

Paul Erano is of mixed emotions. He says it’s quite possible that today’s pens could appeal to tomorrow’s hobbyist, but he isn’t completely convinced.

Anyone who’s read Erano’s EQPR newsletter (full disclosure: I write for it, too) will note that he’s going through a period as a collector where he’s beginning to respect some modern-styled pens as potentially collectible, after a lifetime of being a hardcore vintage guy. And he’s experiencing this transformation before our eyes, issue by issue, as shown by this breakdown of why he likes Lamy pens in the Summer 2006 issue:

I am seduced by the vagaries of color, the flash of extravagant trim, the flourish of meticulous artwork found on Art Deco and Art Nouveau styled pens. [Yet] there is much unnecessary beauty in the many fountain pens I own… . I often return to my Lamy 2000. I find something comforting and contemplative in the starkness at the extreme end of the emotional-rational scale.

That’s not even close to saying that pens such as the Sheaffer Intrigue will ever be collectible. But one never knows, really.

Next month: Could Bexley pens be future collector favorites of this era?

cover Further Reading: Art Deco: 1910-1939, by Tim and Charlotte Benton, Ghislaine Wood, and Oriana Baddeley

Want to delve more into the gestalt of Art Deco to determine just what elements of your favorite vintage or modern pens echo its style? Check out this definitive reference book.

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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