Vintage Sheaffer, Parker, Wahl, and Waterman Fountain Pens

November 25th, 2008

Jim Mamoulides talks about collecting vintage fountain pens, and the various models and styles produced by manufacturers including Sheaffer, Parker, Montblanc, Waterman, and others over the years. Jim can be reached via his website, PenHero.com, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.

When I got my first job out of college, I did what a lot of people do: I ran out and bought myself a Montblanc pen and fountain pen set. I kept that pen for years, but in the mid-’90s, I lost the ballpoint at a business meeting. I gave it to somebody to use, and they didn’t give it back, which is the common way people lose pens. It wasn’t like the Montblancs you see today, with the twist cap that everybody has in their pocket. It was actually a special one made out of metal, a push button-type ballpoint that they only made for a few years in the ’70s.

Waterman Safety Pen with gold filigree overlay c1920s

Waterman Safety Pen with gold filigree overlay c1920s

I started calling around to pen stores, trying to find a replacement for it, and I got all these crazy stories about, nobody makes those anymore; you can’t find them; we don’t have them, so I looked on the Internet and I started to notice other pens that were available. Pens from the ’70s started to interest me, and I noticed that there were people that collect pens. I wound up in a pen store in Dallas, Texas looking for this pen, and one of the guys from the store said, “Have you looked at any vintage pens?”

He took me to the back of his store and they had cabinets full of older pens from the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. I was immediately captured by that. I remember as a kid that I tried calligraphy and used a pen my grandfather had. I started buying a couple of these pens and using them, and that’s how I got started. I got interested in pens because I lost a ballpoint.

I’ve been a serious collector now for about 12 years and I focus principally on Sheaffer. That has a lot to do with the history of Sheaffer as an American pen manufacturer and the fact that they were innovative. That appealed to the nerd in me.

The majority of my collection is Sheaffer, but I’m the kind of person that appreciates interesting things. I have a little bit of a magpie in me. For example, Wahl-Eversharp created a lot of interesting pen designs, and there are a number of Parker pens that appeal to me and some Waterman designs. It has to be something that would be considered a landmark or watershed of design in terms of either the pen itself, the nib unit, or the filling system. That’s why Sheaffer became my number one interest because their pens have a bunch of different filling systems and a bunch of different nibs.

Collectors Weekly: What’s a nib?

Mamoulides: In terms of fountain pens, a nib is a piece of metal. It can be made of stainless steel, gold or gold alloy, anything from 9 karat to 18 karat gold. There are even 22 karat gold nibs. Generally speaking, a nib has a diamond shape with a point on one end. It spreads to a wide point, and then it narrows as it goes into the barrel.

Underneath the nib will be a piece of rubber or plastic that will usually have cuts in it like fins. That’s called the feed, and the feed actually provides two purposes: it presses up against the nib and guides the ink through capillary action to the point of the nib, and it also allows air to go back inside the pen so that the air replaces the ink as it comes out and regulates the flow onto the paper.

The most unusual nib available is called the music nib. Music nibs were designed specifically for people who write on music paper, like a composer. It is very wide with a flat end on it and two cuts. Music nibs are very rare, and there are collectors that actually seek them out. If a pen has a music nib on it, it could double its price.

Sheaffer TM Sovereign

Parker 61 Flighter C/T With Parker 61 Flighter G/T Cap Actuated Ballpoint and Twist Pencil

Fountain pens are my specific interest, because up until the turn of the 20th century, there were just a couple of different ways you could write. You could write with a pencil or a pencil-like device or you could write with some form of an ink pen where you either dipped it, or it had some reservoir where it held the ink. All the major designs in writing happened after 1900, and there was tons of innovation in the first half of the 20th century. Every conceivable crazy way to write was tried. What we have today is mostly innovations around a ballpoint, but nobody really had a successful ballpoint design until the 1940s, so much of the early writing instruments were either pencils or fountain pens.

There were fountain pens before 1900, but they had a barrel with the ink and then you would screw the nib unit on. They’re probably the easiest and simplest pens, but nobody had a way to self-fill them. After 1900, a lot of companies like the Conklin Pen Co. came up with a design with a sac inside the pen, and you press a knob on the side that compressed the sac and filled the pen with ink.

Sheaffer came out with the lever fill in 1913, and then other people came up with other designs. Parker came out with a design where you pushed a button on the bottom of the pen to fill it – that’s called a button filler. In the 1930s, there were different kinds of plunger fillers. Filling systems kept developing all the way up to the 1950s when cartridges were invented. Cartridge pens eventually took over because they were the simplest design of all.

Cartridges were actually first tried in the late 1800s. A company called the Eagle Pencil Company came out with a fountain pen that had glass cartridges where you took the wax off a little glass bottle, stuck the bottle onto the end of the nib, then screwed the barrel on. It was sold in packets full of little glass cartridges, but glass is not real reliable, so the pen failed in the market because they broke easily.

Collectors Weekly: How many different types of collectible vintage pens are there?

Mamoulides: There are three main kinds. There’s dip pens, basically a nib on the end of a stick, fountain pens, which have a self-contained ink reservoir, and ballpoint pens. Even though you hear about gel pens and roller balls and all that, every ballpoint pen works the same way. It has a little ball down at the bottom of a tube, and that ball rolls around and it either pulls ink off of a wax container, which is how a typical ballpoint works, or when you press it, ink flows out, and that’s what a roller ball or a gel pen does.

The earliest ballpoint pen designs actually didn’t use a ball at all – they used a rod, and they were called stylographic pens. Those were first invented in the middle of the 1800s, and one of the first manufacturers was a company called A.T. Cross, which is the Cross Pen Company today.

In 1949 or ’50, a guy named Marcel Bich pioneered a very inexpensive ballpoint, which became known as the Bic Crystal. It was a self-contained ballpoint pen that you could throw it away once you used it up. That pen became the genesis of the Bic pen company, which is now one of the largest pen manufacturers in the world. All those zillions and zillions of bags full of Bic pens you see, that design really hasn’t changed much in terms of its basic design since the 1950s.

Bic bought Sheaffer about 10 years ago. Most fountain pen companies are not independent companies anymore – they’re owned by other companies. Parker is part of Newell Rubbermaid, as well as Waterman and a bunch of other brands. Montblanc is part of the Richemont group, a huge company that deals principally in jewelry and high-end products.

Collectors Weekly: Who were some of the leading pen manufacturers?

Sheaffer Pens c1922 Filling Instructions

Sheaffer Pens c1922 Filling Instructions

Mamoulides: There were four companies that pen collectors in the U.S. call the big four: Sheaffer, Parker, Conklin and Waterman. Conklin is famous because they created the first successful self-filling pens. Even Mark Twain was used in their advertising. He says in one of his ads, “It’s a pen that prevents cussing because it won’t roll off the table.” That was because the filling system used a crescent filler. It had a flat metal curved piece that looked like a button on the side of the pen that you press to fill it with ink, and then if you set it down, because it has this flat thing sticking out of the side, it won’t roll away.

Parker was started by George Parker. He was a salesman selling John Holland pens and decided to make his own. Parker’s big claim to fame was a feed that would not leak. The Parker Lucky Curve came out just after the turn of century, and it had a special design that looked like a little hook inside the pen. It pressed the tail end of the feed up into the side of the barrel to prevent the pen from spitting ink on the paper when you turned it down, which was a common problem in early pens.

Waterman started off selling a lot of overlay pens. Their heyday was in the early part of the 20th century, and they gradually fell apart as a company in the U.S. The Waterman distributor in France actually bought out the remains of the company in the 1950s, and that’s why Waterman today is based out of France.

The Moore Pen Company out of Boston had several innovative pens. One was called a safety pen. You filled it using a syringe, and it had a system whereby if you unscrew and screw on the barrel, the nib actually goes up inside the barrel instead of being screwed off the pin. Then you fill the pin up with ink and screw it the other way and the nib comes back out. Basically the whole idea of the safety pen is it doesn’t leak, and people were concerned about pens leaking at the seam where you unscrewed the nib.

The 1920s was a very prosperous time. There were a lot of pens manufactured, and that’s when plastic pens started out, a lot of colorful hard-rubber pens – before the 1920s, most pens were just black. In the late 1920s, the main innovation was pens that were streamlined shape, led by the Sheaffer Balance.

A lot of the 1920s pens had plunger-type fillers or pneumatic-type fillers. The two big innovative pens in the U.S. were the Sheaffer Vacuum Filler, which has a long plunger that you push it down to fill the pen with ink, and the Parker Vacumatic pen, which has a diaphragm inside where you unscrew the cap and push a button repeatedly to fill the pen. In Europe, a company called Pelikan came out with a piston-filling pen. It had a knob on the end and if you continuously turned it, it would suck ink into the pen. In the U.S., a much less successful piston-filling pen was made by Conklin.

The 1930s became an innovative time, despite the Depression. Pen companies tried to introduce pen brands that were less expensive, so almost every major pen company had a secondary or tertiary line that people could buy in dime stores. Sheaffer had WASP, which is Walter A. Sheaffer Pen Company. Conklin had a line called All American.

In the 1940s, pen designs became more modernized. The pens that ushered in what’s now called the “modern look” were the Parker 50 and the Parker 51 in 1950. Most collectors would say the Parker 51 is the most innovative pen ever made. What’s most interesting about it is you can’t see the nib. The nib is actually inside a sheaf and completely hidden from view, except for the tip – it’s actually a little tubular piece of gold that sits inside of a large feed that is basically a ring of fins. The 51 Vacumatic fillers were made out of a new type of plastic called Lucite.

The other big 1940s innovation was made by two brothers, I believe they were Hungarian. They invented a ballpoint pen that the British used in World War II, and sold their design to the Eversharp Company, which came out with one of the first commercial ballpoint pens. They called it the Eversharp CA for capillary action. Another company, Reynolds, basically ripped off that design without paying any royalty and introduced a pen called the Reynolds Rocket. These two pens were introduced right at the end of the war, and became the first commercial ballpoint pens. They were sold for the same price as a high-end fountain pen and both of them had problems with leaking, so they were both horrible failures.

The Eversharp pen just about broke the company with all the returns. The Reynolds Company went out of business because their pen was so bad. A lot of people felt like ballpoint pens were going to be a failure, but as I said earlier, Marcel Bich came up with the first commercially successful ballpoint late in the ’40s, and in the 1950s every major pen company that wanted to survive had to come out with a ballpoint pen. Sheaffer, Parker, all of them produced ballpoint pens by the mid 1950s.

The big transition in the 1950s was from traditional fountain pens to ballpoints and cartridge pens. By 1960, every pen company that wanted to survive had cartridge pens, and cartridge pens actually became the most popular type of fountain pen. Just about every pen made today is a cartridge pen.

Collectors Weekly: Why were there so many different pen models made?

Sheaffer Triumph Sentinel / Parker Golden Web / Sheaffer Balance Caps

Sheaffer Triumph Sentinel / Parker Golden Web / Sheaffer Balance Caps

Mamoulides: In the first half of the 1900s, pens were sold based on two things: they had to write well, and they had to hold more ink and be easier to fill than another pen. The other important thing was style; my pen is cooler than your pen.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, there was a lot of transition. It was, my pen is cleaner filling than your pen, rather than it holds more ink. By the 1960s pens really diverged. Fountain pens and ballpoint pens were either inexpensive writing instruments at a low cost or they became fashion/jewelry items. Parker really led the way on this. In the early 1960s, Parker introduced one of their most collected pens, the Parker 75. From the beginning, it was a solid sterling silver pen with a cross-etched pattern that they designed from a cigarette lighter they saw. The design is called Cisele in French, and it was so popular and powerful that the 75 actually gave birth to many different types of models, including super expensive solid gold models.

Parker changed their whole business model towards manufacturing good quality ballpoints or very nice high-end pens that were in the middle- to high-end price range for the gift market. Pens became more of a gift item than an everyday writing item, so pen companies actually went on the wane in the ’60s and a lot went out of business. The brands that survive today principally exist as gift pens, like the Cross pens.

As time went on, companies got fancier with materials and designs to make their pens more interesting to more people. In the early days, it was like Ford’s Model T – you could have any kind of pen you want as long as it’s black. Nowadays, at minimum they’ll do the same pen in four different colors or get fancy and give it to you plain or engraved or with a special lacquer or finish on it. The Sheaffer Legacy has six different finishes. That’s how pen companies appeal to a broader audience, and also to collectors. Your collector wants every single one. So you have people that collect every single version of the Parker 75, of which there are probably 50 or 60.

The Sheaffer Snorkel has about a dozen different versions, and people who liked that pen are interested in the history and the different variations. They’ll typically try to get all 12 different styles, and each one of those styles might have four or five different colors of plastic on them. I know a collector in Richmond, Virginia who has every single color and every single style that the Snorkel was made in. Collectors like him try to find the best quality, least used, and best-looking versions of each one of those pens.

What usually happens is people will find something that nobody knew about because it wasn’t very successful, it didn’t show up in their catalog, or it didn’t show up in their advertising. Sometimes pen companies would make a special pen that only one store or chain would sell. A good example is the recent Sheaffer Legacy, that has come out in certain colors that nobody knew existed because they only made them for one or two resellers. Levenger, which is a very large office supply store in Delray Beach, Florida, had certain models of Sheaffers manufactured for them that only they sold.

To identify variations, since pens typically don’t have a mark, engraving or a model name written on them, most collectors get their hands on catalogs and sales sheets and advertisements and company memos, and actually gather this type of information. The largest pen collecting society in the U.S. is the Pen Collectors of America, and they warehouse this type of stuff. You can get copies of pen manufacturer paraphernalia from them to help identify at least the standard models of that manufacturer.

And a lot of pen collecting is really the Sherlock Holmes stuff, trying to figure out what it is. You get a hold of a pen and you know by its design or the materials it’s made out of, it has to be manufactured in a certain period of time. Or you look at similar items and make deductions based on those.

Collectors Weekly: Do you collect certain Sheaffer models?

Sheaffer TM Sovereign

Sheaffer TM Sovereign

Mamoulides: Yes. The big pen from the 1920s that Sheaffer made was commonly called the Sheaffer Jade. It’s a green marble pen made of plastic, and it was the first plastic pen ever mass-produced. People seek them out because they’re just about indestructible and they’re very high-quality. The next highly collectible pen is the Balance, a torpedo-shaped pen that Sheaffer made for almost 20 years. They made them in a whole array of colors – every color of the rainbow except yellow. They made them in striped colors, in marble colors, and in plain colors. They are gorgeous pens in all different sizes.

In the ’40s Sheaffer made pens that were more formal-looking, by name of either Triumph or Touchdown. In the ’50s, one of their most famous pens was called the Snorkel, a slender pen that’s filled by the Snorkel-filling system. In the late ’50s, they introduced what many collectors think is one of their finest pens, but not one of their most successful. It was called the PFM, which stood for Pen For Men. It was an unusual blocky design that had a more masculine look to it and set the tone for Sheaffer’s look all the way up to today. The current shape, or Legacy model, is designed after the Pen For Men and is one of Sheaffer’s most popular pens. What was most unique about the Pen For Men is that it introduced the inlaid nib, which lays on top of the nib section and looks almost like a gold fingernail. It’s like nothing that anybody has designed since, and many of the Sheaffer designs of the 1960s followed the Pen For Men design in smaller sizes.

The last of the famous Sheaffer pen products was introduced in the 1970s, a pen called the Targa. It goes back to the cylindrical look of the 1920s. It was named after the Targa Florio race and the Porsche car called the Targa. It has been made in almost a hundred different variations, and it’s become very collectible since Sheaffer discontinued it in the 1990s.

Sheaffer’s probably done more different filling systems and more different nib designs than any other pen manufacturer. They did the first commercial lever-fill pen back in the 1910s, that was one of their first patents. They were the first company to mass-produce pens made out of plastic, and the first to produce a pen with a tubular-type nib, one of their more famous designs. They also mass-produced pens with an inlaid nib. This was a company that was built around the question, how do we make a pen better, and that appeals to me in a big way.

Collectors Weekly: How did Sheaffer get started?

Mamoulides: That’s a pretty cool story. Walter Sheaffer sold pens in his jewelry store in Fort Madison, Iowa. He was sick and tired of pens that didn’t work right, these syringe-filling pens that didn’t have any sort of mechanism in them. He tinkered around, since he was a jeweler by trade, and cooked up a method to fill a pen by putting a sac in it. You pull the lever on a little bar which presses the sac, and the pen sucks up the ink. He patented that design and sold his first pen, the Sheaffer lever fill pen, in 1913.

From then on, Sheaffer made pens in the back of his jewelry store. He was a great marketer. He had great salespeople working for him and just kept growing every year, and finally had to build a separate factory to make pens. They went from a backroom shop to a company with hundreds of employees in less than 10 years, and were the largest pen manufacturer in the U.S. in the 1950s. They were still in Fort Madison, Iowa up to the early 2000s when they finally closed their plant.

Sheaffer’s was constantly improving every aspect of the pen – even the ink that went in the pen. They were one of the first companies to make their own ink, which they started doing in the 1920s. That’s important to note, because fountain pen ink has to be water-soluble or it won’t work. Back in those days, a pen would cost $5 to $10, and people couldn’t afford to throw them away, so it had to work and it had to use a kind of ink that wouldn’t clog it. Dip pens used India ink, which includes compounds that dry to a solid, and would clog up a fountain pen.

The fountain pen has a nib, and underneath the nib is what’s called a feed, and the feed actually is like a channel, a piece of rubber or plastic, that the nib goes through. It provides air to the nib inside the pen so that the ink can flow, and if that gets clogged up, the pen won’t write. So Sheaffer actually came up with their own ink.

In the ’20s, Sheaffer came up with the cigar-shaped design for the Balance, which was a big deal because nobody had ever thought to make a pen that looked like a torpedo or a cigar. Everybody wanted this new-looking pen. Then in the 1940s, they invented a new kind of nib called the Triumph nib. It was a wraparound tubular or conical-shaped nib that was like nothing anybody else had, and it enhanced the end of the pen with that torpedo shape. They also introduced a type of filling system which was called a touchdown system. You actually pushed a plunger and it caused the pen to suck up the ink into an ink sac.

In the ‘50s, with all the changeover to ballpoints, people were saying, I don’t want to mess my fingers up with my fountain pen. Why do I have to do that? One of the solutions they came up with was actually the most mechanically complex pen ever made. It was called the Snorkel, and actually extended the tube from the tip of the nib into the ink well, and when you pushed the plunger, it filled the pen without ever getting the nib inky. So you could cleanly fill your pen and never have to wipe it. Sheaffer was constantly introducing stuff like that.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the rarest vintage pens you’ve come across?

Parker 75 Perle

Parker 75 Perle

Mamoulides: Parker made a famous, unusual pen called the Aztec. It was an eyedropper pen – a pen that you filled up by using a syringe to fill the barrel – and it had Aztec designs impressed on to a metal case around the hard-rubber barrel, including images of faces. It also had a swastika-type design, not like the Nazi swastika, but a three-armed design. They sell them for $50,000 and up, because they’re so unusual. They didn’t make a lot of them and they were super expensive when they were originally sold.

A lot of the really rare pens are early pens that were not made in large quantities. Parker made a pen that was a failure in the 1920s. It was based on one of their most famous designs called the Duofold, which was a traditional tube-shaped pen, but it was made out of a very bright yellow plastic, because George Parker went to the Far East and saw that that kind of yellow was popular. But Americans just didn’t get it, so it was a flop. The plastic was so brittle that they broke easily, so finding one in good condition is hard. So the Mandarin yellow pen became a very highly sought-out pen.

Waterman made a wonderful series of pens in the 1930s called the Patricia, which was their top-of-the-line pen. They were very expensive pens that didn’t sell very well at the time, but they were so beautiful that collectors really love them.

Rarity is not always the main driver of a pen’s value. Sometimes it’s the story behind it. The Moore Fingertip was an unusual pen failure. It was a response to the Parker 51, and it had almost a stainless steel bullet-shaped tip. Moore stuck a long gold-plated nib on top of that stainless steel end. Moore was in their last days when they came out with this pen, and it wasn’t a success, but they’re so unusual and cool-looking that a lot of collectors really like them and they command a pretty high dollar.

I go to antique stores in unusual places to look for pens. Older people die and their family doesn’t know what to do with all their junk, so the antique people go to the auctions and buy all their stuff, and a lot of these people have a lot of pens. Collectors scour antique malls, antique stores, and auctions. You won’t find a lot of pens by putting an ad in a paper saying, “Do you want to sell me your pen?” You might find them from relatives, but the place to really hunt for them is these little nook-and-cranny antique stores. I develop a relationship with the store people so they know what you’re looking for.

Most collectors these days buy on the Internet or at pen shows. Pen shows really started about 20-25 years ago and they’re in all the major cities. Chicago has one. Washington has the biggest in the world. There’s one in Miami, in Raleigh, and in Los Angeles. People get together and swap pens, buy pens, get their stuff repaired, and get help valuing stuff. You see all sorts of stuff at pen shows that you might never see ever again in your life.

Collectors Weekly: Are there a lot of vintage pen collectors?

Mamoulides: Yes. The Pen Collectors of America’s membership is a couple of thousand, and I know the Writing Equipment Society has a couple of thousand members also. The Fountain Pen Network, which is a chat-type website, has about 15,000 members. It’s a smaller group of people than watch collectors, but very interested in all aspects of pen collecting. They all have different interests – technical, design, brands, history – and yet they’re all interested in writing with fountain pens.  They want to write with something that puts ink on paper as opposed to typing on a screen.

Just about every country and every part of the U.S. has pen collectors. They tend to be older white guys, but I have noticed that there are more people now collecting from other ethnic groups in this country. There are a lot of pen collectors in the U.K., because the U.K. had a lot of pen manufacturing. There’s a good number in Paris and in France, and a lot in Japan and China, especially Hong Kong.

Classic Pens LB2 Kimono Daichi

Classic Pens LB2 Kimono Daichi

There are collectors who look for pens because of their design, their filling system, the kind of nib, the materials it’s made out of. People that collect only gold pens, pens made of 9 or 14 or 18 karat gold. People who collect pens that are only hard rubber. The earliest pens were all made up of hard rubber, and they have overlays of gold or sterling silver or aluminum. At the turn of the century, aluminum was actually an expensive rare metal, so some very rare pens have had aluminum overlays on them.

Collectors buy pens for a variety of reasons. There’s what I call the Franklin Mint market, which is people who buy pens that have some unique quality. There’s a company called Krone which makes pens with DNA of famous people in them or little slivers of stuff or other things that make that pen somehow unique, aimed specifically at collectors. Almost every pen company makes limited-edition pens where they pull out all the stops in terms of the special engraving on the barrel, or special painting. There are pens that are literally encrusted with diamonds.

Probably the most expensive pens not made of precious metals are pens that are hand-painted in Japan with a gold and lacquer process known as Maki-e pens. A Maki-e pen is an urushi lacquer object with really exotic extraordinary designs. Pilot Namiki is one of the most famous companies to produce these pens. They’re incredibly exotic, and they can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 or $50,000.

Collectors Weekly: Where do you do most of your research?

Mamoulides: I have books, but mostly it’s people swapping information amongst themselves, plus pen-focused magazines. The Pen Collectors of America has magazine called the Pennant – and the Writing Equipment Society of the U.K. has an excellent magazine.

The Internet has good stuff and a lot of dubious stuff.  There are some excellent Internet resources like The Fountain Pen Network and Pen Trace. A lot of very knowledgeable collectors hold court in these places and help the newbies understand more about what they bought and draw them in. Also, a lot of places have pen clubs that meet regularly. Here in Raleigh we have a pen club that meets every six weeks or so, the Triangle Pen Club.

Collectors Weekly: Any advice for someone who is new to collecting pens?

Mamoulides: The first thing is, do you want to write with a pen? One of the aspects of a fountain pen that’s so different than a ballpoint is that you don’t press when you write with a fountain pen. Ballpoints have taught people that you have to press down in order to get it to put ink on paper. The main difference between a fountain pen and a ballpoint is when you touch the nib to the paper, ink goes on immediately, so your writing does not involve pressure in your hand. You can write just by gliding your hand across the paper, with the pen just touching the paper.

So first decide how you like to write and then find a pen that will write that way. The second thing is, do you like to write with a lot of different colors? Some people like to change colors or even mix colors to get new colors when they write. Some may want to try calligraphy and write with a very fancy writing style, and a fountain pen could be a way to get started on that.

I would actually put different kinds of pens in your hand and write with them. Don’t look at the pen. Don’t worry about what it looks like. Write with it and tell me what it’s like to write with it. Is it too heavy? Too light? Then we can talk about looks. Do you want something more modern looking? More classic looking? Something really gaudy and expensive? Or cheap so you don’t worry about breaking it? But do you like writing with it, that’s the key.

Collectors Weekly: Have you noticed any big changes in pen collecting since you’ve started?

Aurora 85th Anniversary Limited Edition fountain pen

Aurora 85th Anniversary Limited Edition fountain pen

Mamoulides: The Internet has done more to introduce people to vintage pens than any other thing. Twenty years ago, pen collectors knew each other from pen shows and magazines and newsletters. In the mid ’90s, some collectors got on the original Usenet in a newsgroup called Collecting Pencils, and started chatting with each other. Then when eBay got started, they realized, there’s a lot more stuff out there than I even knew existed. So a whole wave of new people have come into pen collecting, who didn’t even know it existed before the Internet.

A lot of collectors sell pens partly to make money, but partly because they love what they sell. They want more people to enjoy pens. A lot of Internet pen sellers actually started off as collectors.

You don’t need 50,000 pens to enjoy pen collecting. You can have five or 10 really landmark pens that represent just about all the most interesting pens that have ever come out. A really interesting 10-pen collection might include a Conklin crescent filler, a Parker Duofold from the 1920s, a Sheaffer Balance from the 1930s, a Parker 51, a Wahl-Eversharp engraved pen from the 1920s, a Sheaffer Snorkel, a Parker 75, a Parker Vacumatic from the 1930s and a Waterman from the 1920s. There are a lot of different choices there.

You could have those 10 representative pens and not spend mega bucks. That’s something that appeals to pen collectors: you don’t have to get into major house mortgage-type money in order to collect things and enjoy it. Also, you can use the pens every day. Probably the only thing similar would be collecting watches.

Finally, fountain pens have a vintage aspect to them, that really helps slow you down from the kind of world we have today. You have to think more when you’re writing with a fountain pen. You’re a lot more involved with the paper and with your thoughts with a fountain pen. By taking a step back in time, it helps you collect where your thoughts are and where your focus is better than the super-fast typing, clicking kind of world. That’s the appeal.

Collectors Weekly: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today Jim.

(All images in this article courtesy Jim Mamoulides of PenHero.com.)

19 comments so far

  1. Pelikan Pens Says:

    Great interview! The pen is surely mightier than the sword :) I came across a good article which speaks of vintage fountain pens which is discussed here by Jim.

    http://pelikanpens.net/vintage-pelikan-pens/

    Enjoy!

  2. carolyn Says:

    I am looking for a ballpoint pen that was used in elementary schools in 1962/63 that is shaped like a calligraphy pen but is ballpoint. You fill it by unscrewing the end. the shaft of the pen is shaped like a woman. it’s got an indented place for your fingers and then widens at the writing end part. the other end is very long like a rat tail, it tapers. The pen was black.

    I saw a remake of this pen in the 90′s that was given to teachers from a textbook company. It was made in different colors.

    I do not know the maker. I have been searching for this pen for 35 years. Can you help identify it? The shape is classic calligraphy like the ones that were sold in sets at walmart about ten years ago but used nibs instead of ballpoint.

  3. jose rodriguez Says:

    Dear sirs
    I purchased 2 pens at the miami antique show held at the miami beach convention center, after buying these pens I noticed the head of an eagle as a hallmark, I did some homework and to my surprise they were 18 kt. solid gold, I also noticed another hallmark showing a ( star P L star) in other words a letter P a letter L with a star symbol to the left and right of the letters I think the pens were made in france, because the head of the eagle, but the other hallmark I can not identify.
    Is there any way you can help me ?
    Waiting on your answer.
    Best regards.
    Jose Rodriguez A.C.

  4. Jim Williams Says:

    Carolyn-
    The funny shaped pen might be a Zaner Bloser- look on the Pendemonium web page under miscellaneous pens, and on eBay.

  5. Christian Says:

    I just bought a Shaeffer jade in prestine condition.I opened the bad boy up to find that the glass container is broken within the pen that holds the ink. I was devastated. Does anyone know if this can be repaired or what i can do about it. When i read that theses pens were well made and almost indestructable i wonder hw this model got broken. How much would it be worth?

  6. Bob Says:

    I have a pen that was passed down by my grand father. I estimate it to be at least 80+ yrs. The nib says USA 048 EFABER. I don’t know if it’s the original. The stick is hand carved ivory with 8 tiny crystals, 2 of which are missing (total would be 10) The top resembles a snake head. The middle has an opening, looks like a cage with a tiny ivory ball that moves. Has anyone heard of anything like this? We are looking for any information, value, anything. My grand father came over on the boat from Italy, so he may have brought it with him. My mother passed away a few years ago and unfortunately did not have any iformation. Thank you to anyone who may have any information.

  7. Chris Says:

    I enjoyed reading this interview. It was informative and you have a good knowledge and appreciation of a good pen. Where I prefer Parker (75) pens myself I enjoyed reading about all the others as well. Thanks for a great insight into other pens, it deepens my appreciation of these great instruments.
    Chris

  8. Francisco SAENZ DE TEJADA Says:

    I inherited from my Mother an old Waterman’s pen almost exactly as the one you show (Waterman Safety Pen with gold filigree overlay c1920s) that was a present from my Father to Mother when they engaged (around 1920) The nid shows : WATERMAN’S IDEAL – NEW YORK. It doies not show any serial number or the like. I have NO INTENTION to sale it, whatever be the value, for the sentimental value in it. I would like to know WHAT I HAVE, because if valuable perhaps be advisable to include it in my Insurance Policy, just in case…

    Thanks > Francisco SAENZ DE TEJADA (Barcelona – Spain)

  9. Katherine Harper Says:

    Dear Sir, I have lost the converter to a Cross fountain pen. The Cross website offers 2 styles of converters-push or screw-in- but I can’t remember which my pen is. How can I determine which converter I need? I didn’t see my pen on the website and there is nothing on it as regards a model number. It was a special edition, I guess. It has a gold nib with art deco inspired engraving rather like the Chrysler building or maybe the Empire State building. Any help would be welcome.
    Thank you,
    Katherine Harper

  10. Barbara Says:

    I have a pen by John Holland, pat 1925. It has inlay. How can I find out any information about this pen.

  11. Vintage Pens Says:

    Great Article. My main collecting interest is definitely the Parker 51 and its many variations, from pre-production varieties all the way to the last U.S. models produced somewhere around 1972. I also really like the Aurora 85th Anniversary Limited Edition fountain pen that you have pictured above. The search begins……….. Any leads?

  12. diddi sathish Says:

    nice and great pens.

  13. frank Says:

    i have 3 sheaffers and a orange watermans where is the best place to have them filled with ink? frank

  14. Carol Says:

    I have a vintage Watermans bookkeepers sterling silver filigree Ideal fountain pen. It is numbered and used. I know it is quite valuable and I would be interested in selling it, but at the right price. What and who do you recommend?

  15. Barbaara Nguyen Says:

    I have a Sheaffer Snorkel Pen and Pencil set given to me, with my name engraved on it, in 1958. It is Blue with the white dot at the top. From the picture, I see it is a TM Sovereign. Where can I sell it or because it is engraved, maybe it will not sell.
    Thank you.

  16. Nadine E. Richards Says:

    This is in reference to an article written by Jim Mamoulides written on January 22, 2010 about a Duo-Fast Pocket Stapler. I have one and was wondering if he knew where one could get staples for it. I also have an Esterbrook Fountain Pen and would welcome any info on it that he might have. Thanks, Nadine

  17. Terry Young Says:

    I believe Jim Williams correctly identified the pen Carolyn asked about on 03 Mar 2009 as a Zaner Bloser. As I recall, we first moved from pencils to the Zaner Bloser non-retractable ball point pen in the 2nd or 3rd grade (1960 -1963). Zaner Bloser now sells a somewhat similar item, but it is not exactly the same. The cross section is now hexagonal, where the old models were circular. The new model has a knob on the non-writing end, where the original models tapered to about a 3/32 inch rounded tip. I think the knob is to prevent you from sticking it in your ear, which is what about half of us did. The other half chewed on the end, which made for some pretty weird-looking tips! They came in assorted colors back then. I remember orange, yellow, lime green, red, blue, white and black. There were probably other colors. The most unique feature of this pen is the molded grip that places your fingers on the pen at the ideal distance from the writing tip for good penmanship. I may not be able to identify a person who developed their penmanship with a Zaner Bloser, but it is often obvious to me those who have not. Those who grip too close to the writing tip or use some strange finger-knuckle grip did not learn with the Zaner Bloser. I wish I could find one of each color! Hope this helps.

  18. Janelle wheelwe Says:

    I have my grandmother’s Shaeffer Lifetime Lady #74SR in it’s original box with instructions. She purchased it 5/27/25. I can’t seem to find another one like it. Does anyone have this pen including the box and instructions so I can figure out a value on it? Also does BIC keep a collection of all the vintage pens that were manufactured?

  19. Liz morrow Says:

    I recently was given my great grandfather’s pen and pencil set. Can you suggest a local Richmond shop where I can take it to get it in working order? Thanks, Liz


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