Antique and collectable pens can command eye-watering prices at auction. Discover which factors bolster their vaue.
“With a single Wirt pen I have earned the family's living for many years,” said the great American author Mark Twain at the turn of the 20th Century. “With two, I could have grown rich.”
Twain knew a thing or two about fountain pens, and also the power of marketing. He would later switch loyalty to the manufacturer Conklin, fronting their advertisement campaign for a pen with a self-filling clip on the side. “I prefer it to ten other fountain pens because it carries its filler in its own stomach. It is a profanity-saver: it cannot roll off the desk.”
For Twain, the appeal of a pen lay in its usability. To collectors of antique pens today, there is much more at play. Many are drawn to the heyday manufacturers such as Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, Conklin and Montblanc. Others collect gold, silver or hard rubber pens. The style and material of nibs offer an additional opportunity for collectors to celebrate and compete, with the wide music nibs – made for composers – being especially sought after.
Of course, the ballpoint collectors have tribes of their own, with some drawn to luxury items, and others intrigued by the early mass-market models by Bic, Biro, Eversharp and Paper Mate.
Above: The Fulgor Nocturnus, made by Tibaldi, a one-off fountain pen that sold for US$8 million.
Few products have such a wide price range, from a handful of pennies in a newsagent to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a diamond-encrusted Montblanc, Caran d’Ache or Aurora at auction. The most expensive on record is the Fulgor Nocturnus, made by Tibaldi, a one-off fountain pen that sold for US$8 million at a Shanghai charity auction.
As with stamps, coins, watches and even cars, it’s the limited editions that create the most buzz when they are found at the back of Granddad’s writing desk or a dusty display cabinet in a curiosity shop. In 2019, two of the world’s rarest pens were discovered in a desk drawer in the British Midlands town of Lichfield during a routine contents valuation.