That old saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is literally the golden rule here at Judy’s Antiques. It’s why, owner Sal of Judy’s Jewelry Antique and Estate Jewelry loves to say, “don’t throw cash in the trash.” We can’t tell you the number of times a week people bring in a box of what they think is junk and walk out our store with some money in hand, but suffice to say, it’s almost every day. So, over time, we will tell you about some items that you may not think are worth anything, but that are really treasured collectibles. This month, we’ll talk about fountain pens, because they are a primary example of something people just toss out without thinking. In fact, the idea for this blog post came about after a woman brought in a box of stuff, including some fountain pens, that she thought was just old junk her father had left behind when he passed away. Sal was excited to see the fountain pens and she was excited to make some money on them, but was saddened because she had already thrown away a bunch of them a week earlier. So let’s look at some of the reasons fountain pens are worth collecting and trading in.
When it comes to collectibles, in a similar way to antiques, a lot of the value is in the beauty of the item and the history of it.
In terms of history, use of the fountain pen was preceded by people writing with a quill dipped in ink. Fountain pens with internal ink reservoirs were invented in the early 1800s, but until Lewis Waterman solved the problem of the flow of ink, they were leaky and left blobs of ink on the paper. Waterman’s patented metal nib (at the writing tip of the pen) with hair-line grooves ensured a steady flow of ink that allowed for beautiful smooth writing. They quickly became popular. Waterman added to their popularity over the years by including pens with side clips for carrying in a pocket and even introducing a safety pen that could be carried in any position without spilling ink. To this day, Waterman is still one of the most well-known names in fountain pen design. One of the most widely collected Waterman pens is the Waterman’s Ideal No. 52, a lever-filled pen made with a hard rubber barrel.
A few years after Waterman’s popular pens came to market, Parker made a name for themselves with their Lucky Curve pens. The Lucky Curve allowed the ink to return to the sac when the pen was stored, which kept the ink from staying in the feed and causing an ink blot the next time it was used. They quickly became one of biggest names in pen manufacturing in the early 20th century. Their Jack Knife Safety pen had a cap that could be screwed onto the pen’s body, which made it ink tight. It evolved into the Big Red Duofold, which was considered to be a truly beautiful pen. Advertisements for it in 1921 claimed it rivaled the beauty of the Scarlet Tanager bird. Bold color became one of Parker’s trademarks.
After World War II Parker’s biggest hit became one of the most collectible pens known, the Parker 51 (which was actually introduced in 1941). It had a sleek Lucite body with a cap that resembled a fighter plane’s nosecone. It is not really an ornate pen, but still became one of Parker’s most successful designs. It was a Parker 51 that was used to sign the peace treaty between the U.S. and Japan at the end of WWII.
In the early 1900s Conklin Pen Company created one of the first self-filling fountain pens. The Conklin Crescent Filler was even endorsed by one of America’s most famous writers, Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain). Two of the most collectible Conklin fountain pens is the Durograph Crescent and the Durograph level model, which were only made for a year in 1923. Conklin’s pens had a filler system they said could be refilled with one hand, and they were so successful in terms of sales that Conklin did not update or innovate the way the other pen manufacturer’s did over time and as such they ended up going out of business.
Another major player in this industry in the 1920s was Sheaffer, whose pens were three times more expensive than most pens of the 1920s because they had gold nibs that were guaranteed for life. These status symbol pens came in a jade green color and were prized by affluent businessmen of the time. The famous white dot, which Sheaffer pens became known for showed up on their pen caps in 1924.
But they weren’t even considered to be one of the Big Four pen companies, because in 1927 Wahl-Eversharp replaced both Conklin and Sheaffer in sales. Wahl-Eversharp, as their name suggests, actually started out as a pencil manufacturing company, first manufacturing a mechanical pencil called the Eversharp, and then buying a fountain pen company. In 1931 the company created a fountain pen called the Doric because its twelve-sided design looked like ancient Greek architectural Doric columns. These are still considered to be some of the most beautiful pens ever made. They also introduced the adjustable nib which allowed a user to adjust its flexibility.
That’s just a little bit of history of the fountain pen in this country. Many people will also recognize some of the big names in global fountain pen manufacturing such as Montblanc, Dunhill-Namiki, Artus, Pelikan, Pilot, Lamy, Sailor, and Visconti. So next time you go to simply throw out that box of old “stuff” left in the attic by your grandfather, take a moment to go through it and if there are fountain pens in there, consider bringing them into show Sal and see if they are worth anything. And similarly, if this article has peaked your interested in starting to collect fountain pens, come on in to Judy’s Jewelry Antique and Estate Jewelry and see our collection. There might be something simply beautiful that catches your eye and urges you to own a piece of history.