Collectable Pens

As we are living in the age of the disposable pen not many people bother to buy attractive fountain pens for day to day use. The market for collectable pens, however, is growing steadily. In May 2000 Bonhams in their Knightsbridge showroom achieved a world record price for a pen. It was Japanese and from around 1928-1930 and realised a price of £56,500, including the buyers premium.

Quill pens, made from the outer wing feathers of various birds, have been around since the 6th century. They were originally produced for writing on parchment or vellum and they were used into the 19th century. Bronze and brass pens were also around centuries earlier. As paper was beginning to be used there was a desperate search for something harder than those quill tips, with their need for frequent recutting and steel was found to be the answer.

Those steel pens had to be dipped frequently in ink wells, but in 1884 Lewis Edson Waterman succeeded in patenting the first fountain pen, complete with its own ink reservoir – capable of providing an even flow of ink to the nib.  By the late 1880s Waterman was marketing more than fifty different pens.

According to the information in Bonham’s sale catalogue, his company was the first to produce pens in snake design and one of these achieved the second highest price, £31,050 at Bonhams.  This pens was said to be one of only ten of this early snake type known to collectors.

Another snake pen made by Parker sold for £15,000.  It was from around 1905-1910 and has a gold-plated overlay of two entwined snakes.  It was in excellent condition, except for the rubber being slightly oxidised and it had one or two small scratches.

Another Parker pen, a gold-plated Number 43 ‘Eyedropper’ from 1906 was, at 10 dollars, one of the more expensive pens in the Parker Pen catalogue.  You could also have had the Sterling silver version for a couple of dollars less.  It achieved a hammer price of £14,200.  Another Parker, the ‘Aztec’ design pen would have cost 20 dollars in 1911 – it sold for £54,000.

Another Waterman pen to do well was produced in Germany during the 1920s.  The Number 45 Toledo overlaid safety pen is finely decorated and hand engraved.  Dragons and mythical beasts are depicted in contrasting yellow and red gold on an oxidised silver ground.  This is described as ‘unusual’ and ‘ultra-rare’.  The pen was sold for £4,300.

There were good prices achieved for pens made in the 1920s and 1930s.  There was a record breaking hammer price of £50,000 for the Dunhill Namiki pen.  Its decorations are in a form known as Makie and is by Ritsuzan Yamazaki, otherwise known as ‘Ritsuzan’.  Another Dunhill-Namiki pen from the early 1930s was sold at auction for £44,000.  It is decorated with pictures of two swooping sparrows flying above a field or rice.  The work is described as in gold and silver ‘hira makie’ and the artist was Yokata Senkichi, who used ‘Kasui’ as his art name.  He was one of the first artists of the Namiki company, joining in 1926. 

A 1938 German pen sold for £8,000 at Bonhams.  With alternating engine-turned and decorated panels, this was a Montblanc octagonal yellow metal pen and is said to be very rare.  Not many of us could afford the pens listed above, but Bonhams frequently have much cheaper pens for auction.

Four American 1930s Waterman pens, including a red pearl and green striped one, described as ‘a fine example of the variety of colours Waterman’s produced during the depression’.  This lot went for only £70 and would make a lovely start for a collection.  Five gold-plated American 1960s Parkers sold for only £105. 

Pens are becoming popular collectables and while the top end is estremely expensive, there are bargains to be had and you could soon build an interesting collection.

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