Value of Collectible Pens Rise, Even as Handwriting Fades
Tips for buying and selling collectible pens, with prices ranging from under $1,000 to over $300,000
Although many of us are writing less by hand, as we rely more on electronic communications, high quality collectible writing instruments are still in demand. Consider the most expensive lot sold at the June 16, 2015, fine writing instruments auction held by British auctioneer Bonhams in San Francisco. A pair of Dunhill-Namiki fountain pens with a pre-auction estimate of $100,000 to $200,000 sold for $305,000.
Most collectible pens sell for much lower amounts, which makes the market more accessible. At the same Bonhams auction, the majority of pens sold for less than $10,000, with some going for under $1,000. But if you’re unfamiliar with collectible writing instruments, it’s natural to ask why someone would pay six or seven figures for a fountain pen.
Several factors drive prices of these writing instruments, including their scarcity. Limiting a pen’s production to a small number of units helps collectibility, according to Terry Wiederlight, co-owner of the Fountain Pen Hospital in New York City.
The company has been selling and repairing writing instruments since 1946, with approximately 20-25% of sales coming from in-store traffic; the remaining sales come from a global customer base ordering online or through catalogs. Wiederlight says company sales of fountain pens top sales of ballpoint and roller pens combined, but the market for high-end pens still lags the pre-recession era.
Fountain Pen Hospital is one of the largest Montblanc pen distributors in the U.S. and Wiederlight points to the Montblanc writers’ series of pens as an example of using limited production to ensure collectibility. The pens — primarily fountain pens — are named for the writers that inspired them, such as Jonathan Swift, Virgina Wolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In another, more modern example of limited edition pens, French luxury goods producer S.T. Dupont recently introduced a series of Rolling Stones commemorative pens. Production is limited to 1,962 pens — 1962 being the rock band’s first year — and prices were set at $2,200 initially.
At the market’s high end are Namiki-Pilot limited edition pens, which are among the most coveted by collectors. The company restricts some of its models to fewer than 100 pens, which are sold worldwide, essentially guaranteeing high prices and market demand among collectors. Similarly, pen maker Artus in Russia may produce less than a dozen of a limited edition model.
Condition and Provenance
Good condition and provenance can also add boost the value of a collectible pen. The Dunhill-Namiki pens that Bonhams sold had been “commissioned by composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji and used by him to score a number of his greatest orchestral works,” according to the auction catalog.
The pen’s backstory is fascinating: “Mr. Sorabji was a meticulous man with a strong sense of beauty. Understanding that inspiration often springs from the objects with which we surround ourselves, he commissioned a unique pair of pens from Dunhill-Namiki, the world’s pre-eminent pen maker. Time and expense were irrelevant; the thing was to create a pair of genuine masterworks. The result was this set of A-grade Emperors. With unmatched aesthetics and impeccable provenance, these are the finest Namikis to be publicly offered in a generation.”
There are ample resources available to guide aspiring pen collectors. Numerous books cover both the general aspects of pen collecting while others focus on specific manufacturers and countries of origin, such as Japan. Pen World magazine tracks market developments and profiles pen makers and models.
As with other collectibles, auction results available online and online forums can improve a collector’s knowledge. Wiederlight advises caution before jumping into online auctions and transactions, however. Pens can be counterfeited so it’s vital to do business with reputable dealers and auctioneers. Ultimately, though, it’s a matter of pursuing one’s passion, he notes. “Buy what you like, what you’re attracted to,” he says. “Don’t look at the value all the time, buy what you like. And, always go by your first instincts.”