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November 2007: Crystal Ball Gazing: The Future of Modern Pens, Part 2

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

Last month: Prologomena

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Last month, I posed the question, “Will today’s pens be desired collectibles to future generations?” to Chicago Pen Show organizer and hobby legend Mike Fultz, dealer and price-guide author Paul Erano, and Bexley Pen Company owner Howard Levy. Opinion was divided, but my three sources agreed on one thing: It’s impossible to tell, and Bexley pens could theoretically have a shot.

This question spurs lively discussion, but it can never be definitively answered because few of us will be around in 2050 to see how things play out. Extra Fine Points

As far as modern pens go, Bexleys to my eye seem a completely different animal from today’s cookie-cutter Montblanc and Cross pens. Their design favors Art Deco details evident in the classic pens of 80 years ago, the Wahls, the Parkers, Sheaffers and Watermans of the Depression years. Will that make Bexleys more desirable by future collectors than other pens from our era?

Fountain pen
Eversharp Oversize Doric, first model, in Burma
Fountain pen
Bexley Americana, in Rio Grande Red

This question spurs lively discussion, but it can never be definitively answered because few of us will be around in 2050 to see how things play out. It’s really only a parlor game, kind of like Yankees fans debating who would win a theoretical round-robin tourney between the great squads of 1927, 1949, 1961, and 2000. Fun mental exercise in which collectors can invest joyous hours debating the issue, and no one’s really right or wrong.

Of course, Howard Levy would never say that his pens will be future collectibles. He’s too focused on running his pen company to worry about what the secondary market will think of his pens decades down the road.

Mike Fultz, the veteran collector and ever the vintage pen stalwart, doesn’t necessarily agree that Bexleys will be coveted by the pen collectors of tomorrow. But he tips his hat to Levy in his own way, supporting the company as a shareholder and attending the company’s annual meetings.

In my opinion, however, Bexley pens — very low-run in comparison to the fountain pens on display at your local Staples — will be quite appealing to collectors in 2050. They’ll end up in the pantheon of all-time great — or at least the pantheon of all-time very interesting — collector pens. To me, their colorfully varied plastics evoke Conway Stewart, Wearever, and Wahl patterns of the 1930s–1950s.

And Paul Erano agrees with me that it’s possible, pointing out that since some Bexleys have hand-cut hard rubber feeds — and whole pens such as the Fifth Anniversary are even made from vintage-style materials like ebonite — they share more characteristics with the classics than the mass-produced fountain pens of today.

Fountain pen
Bexley Fifth Anniversary, in “Carved Obsidian” (black laser-chased hard rubber)

Another part of the Bexley intrigue, to me, is Levy’s prototypes. Imagine the David “Vacumaniac” Isaacson types of the mid-21st century chasing down all the one-offs Levy has released into the hobby pool.

I can see this happening, mainly because these are actual prototypes created with a purpose as Levy mixes and matches different pen designs with many colorful variations to see which combinations of colors and designs work — as opposed to manufactured collectibles with the word “prototype” stamped on them.

Levy and his colleagues create from a few up to 15 different prototypes of each new model and evaluate which ones are best. From the field of prototypes, they winnow down the color selection for the production run.

“When you’ve got 30 to 40 to 50 different materials or colors of material in stock,” Levy says, “it’s easier to go and make a small quantity of a variety of different colors and see what that particular design is going to look like than to just make one in plain, basic black and hold the materials next to it — it’s just not the same.”

Now that’s pretty cool. Most of us collectors will never be able to get that close to the room where clan Parker looked over their choices and decided to make the Moderne Duofold, the “True Blue,” or the quirky “Toothbrush pattern.” But as for Bexley pens, you can. They’re out there for the grabbing.

Future generations might not find them so readily available.

Just think about it: So many of us would give our non-writing arm to travel back in time with a couple grand in our pockets and get a couple minutes at a drug-store pen counter in the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s and buy up some mint-in-box favorites. Could it be that some future collectors might pine to be dropping into 2007 so they could have a whack at Bexleys? I’m betting so. While you don’t have to agree with me completely, it might be wise to salt away a couple of Howard Levy’s pens. I myself already have, and there will be more on the way.

cover Further Reading: Fountain Pens and Pencils : The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, by George Fischler and Stuart Schneider

Yo, what’s this “classic pen design stuff” y’all’s talking about? If you’re a little murky on what pens Bexley’s designs evoke, check out this monster tome, known in hobby parlance as “Fischler & Schneider” after its authors.

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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