BY DON FLUCKINGER • As far as pen collectors go, I’m relatively new. But I have in my 10 years of collecting seen the Parker “51” — except for the rarest of those gold-capped beauties, which always commanded top dollar — go from a $20 commoner to a $200 classic.
Several reasons played into this phenomenon:
Values skyrocketed on older, more popular pens like the Big Red-era Duofolds, Vacumatics, Balances, and Dorics, making them less affordable.
The supply of said Golden Age pens has dried up considerably.
“51”s were so well built that many could be picked up and used after decades of dormancy; others need only a cleaning and/or a diaphragm and they’re ready to rock.
Parker produced the “51” for so many years in such huge quantities that, a half century later, they’re available for everyone to collect, not just the wiliest hobby veterans with the biggest war chests.
|The Sheaffer Targa is the next Parker “51”. Underappreciated today, it will be enshrined in the pen pantheon tomorrow.
The Sheaffer Targa is the next Parker “51”. Underappreciated today, it will be enshrined in the pen pantheon tomorrow. Few people out-and-out dislike the Targa. But it’s too modern for some collectors to really appreciate, and too plentiful to pose much of a challenge for other collectors who love pen collecting’s thrill of the chase.
Among stodgy vintage collectors (I’m one of them) there’s a faction who will go to their graves claiming that if a pen takes ink cartridges, it’s not worthy of collecting (I’m not one of those).
“I like most pens and cannot see why some people really dislike the Targa,” says Sheffield, England, pen dealer Gary Ellison, who maintains the brilliant SheafferTarga.com web site. “I wonder if it could be its straight up and down design or, like you say, it’s just too recent a pen for them.”
He’s caught Targa Mania, a syndrome that can be loosely described as the compulsive need to acquire many more Targas after writing with one. It’s a weird thing; the pens don’t necessarily look like anything special, but the Inlaid Nib and the exactly-right size, shape and balance of these metal pens create a sublime writing experience that few modern pens can match.
Even the narrower Slim Targa — thought of as a ladies’ pen, and less desirable unless you’re a completist obsessive like some of us — offers the smooth ride, although Ellison feels (and I agree) that the writing performance doesn’t quite translate to the narrower Slim format from the original size.
But for the diehards, the Slim models offer that insane collector chase after some of the more obscure/low-production models, some of which were only released in one country. Like Australia, where Slims seemed to have been appreciated better than in the U.S. or U.K. Sort of like American music fans shamefully turned their backs on great blues artists like Albert Collins and Buddy Guy during the 1970s and 1980s, but European fans flocked to their shows and kept them in business until they were rediscovered stateside.
Ellison’s affinity for Targas drove him to catalog the entire decades-long run of the pens on his Web site, an excellent reference that most Targamanics know — and appreciate because is shows images of most of the Targas, even the rare ones we’ll never own.
He’s pegged several reasons for the Targa’s long retail success in the past, the same characteristics that will eventually make it a collector classic:
The great cap fit: How smoothly it pushes on then clicks into place.
The Targa’s long production run, nearly a quarter century (1976-99).
The number of amazing finishes it was made in (“In my opinion,” Ellison says, “not a bad one within them.”).
Its many price points, from the stainless steel workhorse to the solid gold Masterpiece; at its peak, any customer could find a pen within the Targa range to suit his or her needs and budget.
The Sheaffer name and where the Targa was made: The U.S.A., England, France and Australia.
Most of all the Inlaid Nib; without it, the Targa would not have been a classic.
Reading between the lines of a lengthy email interview we did in June, it seems as if the idea for Ellison’s site came before the actual Targa collecting on his part. He’d appreciated Targas, for sure, but wasn’t instantly a compulsive collector. Taking on the curator duties of SheafferTarga.com — a pen seller’s labor of love — did it.
“The site’s main aim, originally, was just to [help you] identify your Targa pen,” says Ellison, who ended up selling off everything in his fountain pen collection that wasn’t a Targa to fund acquisitions he could photograph for his site. “It all fell into place very nicely. Finding and buying the pens has been the fun part, but parting with the other pens from my collection was quite hard to do.”
Further Reading: Fountain Pens : Past and Present (revised edition), by Paul Erano
Let Paul take you on a tour of vintage and modern Sheaffers as well as the rest of collectible pendom in his top-selling coffee-table book that’s actually well worth reading after you’ve ogled the pictures.
|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.