How to Start a Pen Collection

Multicolored fountain pens for pen collection

How to Start a Pen Collection

“The pen is mightier than the sword” This famous line from British author Edward Bulwer-Lytton is meant to indicate that the written word is a more effective communication tool than violence. But he had a good point for collectors too– pens are pretty cool, and definitely easier to collect than swords.

Starting a Pen Collection

Pen collecting is a very popular hobby among writers and non writers alike– in fact, there is a Pen Collectors of America non-profit, founded in 1984. Pen collecting has seen a recent resurgence among the younger generation, who are perhaps looking for a more tactile way to communicate in the world of screens and emojis.

Whether you are interested in the world of modern luxury pens, or hunting vintage pens, read on to learn more about why you should consider pen collection as a fun hobby for yourself! 

What is a Pen Collecting Hobby?

Pen Collecting is not new. Before printers and email, handwriting instruments really made the difference between a top-quality letter and a bad one, so a good pen was valuable for more than just looks.

As time went on, people began to use pens as a sign of stature or wealth, similar to designer clothes or luxury cars. Many companies made their fortunes off of high-end pens, with specific designs made in limited quantities.

In October of 2019 the legendary art auction house Sothebys auctioned a lot of expensive designer pens and writing equipment, bet on by many eager collectors and sold for thousands of dollars.  

What is a Penophile? 

Pen Collectors are sometimes called Penophiles, though it is not a name one should shout across a crowded room. Famous pen collectors include writers such as Stephen King and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it is not just the literary crowd that collects pens.

Actors such as Kristen Stewart and Sylvester Stalone are both known pen collectors. In fact, Stalone likes designer pens so much that he is the brand ambassador for luxury pen brand Montegrappa, and even featured their pens in the movie “Expendables II.” 

Different Kinds of Pens 

Pens come in three basic categories: fountain, ballpoint and rollerball. The pen you use at the bank or on your grocery list is likely a ballpoint pen, and high-end collectable pens tend to be fountain pens. The difference between the three different types of pens is how ink is stored and delivered to the paper, as well as the type of ink used.

For example, fountain pens have refillable wells of ink that are dispersed through a metal nib, whereas rollerball and ballpoint pens contain a small metal ball that rolls, spreading the ink on the paper.

The difference between rollerball pens and ballpoint pens is the ink used– rollerball pens use water-based ink, which is darker and sharper. Ballpoint pens use oil-based ink, which is lighter.

Luxury brands tend to prefer fountain pens, because they are easily refillable and the nibs can be made of precious metals. However, designer brands do sometimes incorporate rollerball designs.

What makes a Pen Valuable?

Like fine art, jewelry, or luxury cars, high end pens are collector’s items and symbols of wealth. But what makes a pen valuable? For designer pens, their value is in the craftsmanship and materials, as well as the brand name.

The value of a pen encrusted in diamonds or gold is obvious, but sometimes the rarity of the pen can matter more. Scarce pens from big name designers, such as Waterman or Montblanc, tend to be more valuable.

Much like watches, pens are more valuable when they come with the complete packaging, certificates of authenticity, etc. 

The Most Expensive Pen in the World 

Everybody has written with pens, maybe even fountain pens. But it is unlikely that you have ever seen, let alone written with the most expensive fountain pen in the world: The Fulgor Nocturnus. Created by Florentine pen maker Tibaldi, there is only one Fulgor Nocturnus in existence.

The pen is designed by the Divine Proportion of Phi, and is set with black diamonds and rubies. The only Fulgor Nocturnus was sold at auction in Shanghai for eight million dollars. 

A close runner up for most expensive pen in the world is The Aurora Diamante, which retails for 1.4 million dollars. Created by Italian Company Aurora, the Aurora Diamante is made of platinum and encrusted with over a thousand diamonds, with a pure gold nib. They are customizable to the buyer, and only one Aurora Diamante is produced a year!

High-End Pens from All Over the World

Like designer clothing, there are many “brands” of luxury collectable pens. Pen collectors should check out pen brand Montblanc, which is often described as the “Rolex” of pens– combining rarity, quality and craftsmanship.

Another internationally renowned creator of collectable pens is Japanese based company Namiki. Their pens are a piece of art, hand painted by a single artist so each is unique. The lacquer designs feature nature inspired beauty such as cherry blossoms, flowers and dragons.

A single Namiki pen can sell for thousands of dollars, and collections resale for as high as thirty thousand! 

Other luxury pen brands include Montegrappa, who has a wide variety of high end fountain pens with designs inspired by everything from Hemingway to NASA. In addition to pen-only companies, many luxury watch and jewelry companies, such as Cartier, create pens designed to complement their other accessories.

A single Cartier gold plated pen can set you back hundreds of dollars– more if the item is vintage or rare. 

Collectable Fountain Pens

Fountain Pens are usually what people think about when they think of collectable or “fancy” pens. Fountain pens deliver ink to paper through something called a nib– a diamond-shaped bisected piece of metal.

This nib allows the writer to change the thickness of their lines with pressure, making fountain pens perfect for the ancient art of calligraphy. Even with all of today’s technological advancement and communication tools, the pen still reigns supreme.

Much the same as the invention of clocks and cellphones did not make watches obsolete, pens live on as personal symbols of style and continue to be a wonderful collector’s item.

How to Get Started Collecting Pens

If you want to start collecting pens, you are in good company– it’s a thriving and interesting community of vendors and collectors. Do your homework first, you can check out Pen Collectors of America’s website to learn more about what kind of pens you want to collect and where you should go to get them.

Pen shows are also a fun way to learn about collecting while perusing pens of all different prices and conditions. Obviously the biggest and easiest marketplace is the internet, but be warned– online sellers can pass knockoff versions of designer pens as the real thing.

Be sure to do your research and be wary of any offer that seems too good to be true. 

Rare and Vintage Pens 

If you are interested in history, consider collecting vintage pens such as early Waterman hard rubber pens, early Montblanc pens, or early multi-colored celluloid pens and snake motifs. There is no need to pay top dollar right away.

Do your research first to find out what you are looking for, and what kind of repairs these pens may need to make them usable. The best way to learn about vintage pens is to buy damaged ones and fix them yourself.

Another benefit of collecting vintage pens is the thrill of the hunt– looking through antique shops and garage sales to hopefully strike gold! 

Pen Collection Storage 

One would think that Pen Collections would be easy to store– just display them all in a glass case, or tuck them away like fine silver or jewelry. However, that is not the case– some vintage celluloid pens give off acetic acid, which can deteriorate the pen and even damage those around it.

Therefore, celluloid pens should never be kept in a closed space, and should be stored separately from other pens, away from damp and direct sunlight. Some people even store them with carbon cloths to absorb any vapors.

That being said, if you plan to use your pens then the best place to store them is within arms reach of your desk. 

How Can I Find Out What a Pen Is Worth?

Want to know if the vintage pen you found is worth anything? Head over to the online reference library of Pen Collectors of America, where you can find out more about the pen you have and what it is worth. The Writing Equipment society is another place to check– they hold webinars on pen collecting, storage and basic repair. 

Become a Pen Collector

As a hobby, Pen collecting isn’t dying out– it’s actually growing. Currently luxury pen makers cannot keep up with the demand. Whether you decide to collect modern or vintage pens, you will be in good company! 

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