BY DON FLUCKINGER • The Christmas gift-buying season was a throbbing retail hangover following a whole decade of overspending. As a pocket watch and wristwatch aficionado (I know, for a lot of us pen collectors, there’s a watch co-compulsion) I discovered The Watchery.
|In times like these, the fountain pen hobby’s conviviality is a precious asset, too. While market forces can take away our investment income, they can’t take away our dignity and class.|
From that site, I acquired the Citizen Eco-Drive solar watch I had craved for years but couldn’t afford. The darn thing’s pretty inexpensive today at the site, compared to anywhere else I could buy it here in town — but the site had an even deeper discount during its version of the web-wide “Cyber Monday” sales that traditionally follow “Black Friday” brick-and-mortar Christmas blowouts. Free shipping, too.
Purchasing the watch at such a low price felt almost like stealing. Buying luxuries like fountain pens and watches right now is a bittersweet experience: While you can look around and find the some of the sickest bargains in memory, it’s also kind of distasteful knowing that that someone, somewhere’s going to eat those markdowns — and that many people have paid for them with their jobs.
That being said, now the excitement begins if you’re a pen collector and have a little disposable income earmarked for a modern or vintage pen splurge. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who indeed got a holiday bonus. Maybe you’re one of the smart people who put their investment cash into gold like all the AM radio late-night hucksters have been barking on about for years. Maybe you’ve just been randomly socking twenties away under your mattress for a few years, waiting for a good pen bargain.
However you got your spending cash, it’s time to act. It’s January, and if the sales were incredible during the holidays, just you wait: The winter is going to be a difficult one for many of our friends and acquaintances in the pen business. For buyers, the time has arrived to smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and burn your pen fund.
Spend smart; don’t just click “OK” on the first e-tailer site in a mad rush of excitement. Stretch that hard-earned cash as far as you can. Here are some strategies for seeking pen bargains, some of them old favorites with new spins for the down economy:
eBay: Right now, eBay is sporting some of the best bargains since the “Wild West” era of the 1990s, when Google didn’t exist, knowledge was in short supply, and the hobby was busting out of local and regional collector cliques and morphing into an international community. Like, not all sellers and buyers knew what a mint “51” Flighter was…
…and fewer sophisticated bidders lurked to snipe bargains. Now it’s a similar market, because the sophisticated bidders have less cash to spend — and the supply on many vintage and especially modern fountain pens exceeds demand. Just mind your P’s and Q’s when dealing with a seller from whom you’ve never bought; scammers lurk, as always.
Message boards: Collectors are consolidating and liquidating their collections at the moment. The idea being, if you’ve got no new outside money coming in to fund new acquisitions, a great way to raise capital for pen purchases is to get rid of those pens you didn’t really want but bought speculatively — or in package deals that netted a different pen you actually wanted. Post your wants, and make reasonable (given the economy) offers.
E-tailers: While RichardsPens.com features good sales from time to time, keep tabs on the web sites of brick-and-mortar retailers who have considerably larger inventory investments — and rent to make on their store properties. Bookmark them…and wait for the sales to come along.
Antique stores: Renew acquaintances with your favorite local dealers, and let them know you’re seeking pens. They, in turn, will put the word out among their customers who have pens and might be liquidating. If you’re at a multi-dealer shop and see some pens behind the glass, make an offer the stall’s renter can’t refuse.
Alternately, the ancient (1970s-era) pen-collector trick of putting a classified ad in the local paper explaining how you’re seeking pens might net some great writing instruments in this economic climate — because the “eBay method” isn’t necessarily working right now for the average person wanting to unload Uncle Joe’s unwanted vintage pen.
And of course, the 2009 season for pen shows will be amazing for buyers. If you’ve got cash in hand, work the floor, get a grasp of what treats the entire room holds for you, and then get to making offers.
If you’re in a position to buy at a pen show, never forget: Be respectful and of good cheer to your fellow collector-dealers on the other side of the table. The economy’s rough on a lot of people in one way or another, whether the 401K’s been devalued or they’ve lost a job — or both. In times like these, the fountain pen hobby’s conviviality is a precious asset, too. While market forces can take away our investment income, they can’t take away our dignity and class.
Further Reading: Living Well in a Down Economy For Dummies, by Tracy Barr
The “Dummies” book series is long in the tooth, and those yellow covers have grown beyond trite, almost 20 years after they debuted at booksellers. But every once in a while, a new title features germane topic tackled by a down-to-earth author, especially those in the personal-finance arena. Last fall, they came out with this book boasting an unexciting title but packed with 125 tips the average person might not consider when trying to figure out how to make it through the latest financial setback the world throws at him.
|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.|