Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pen shows: a buyer's perspective

I got back from the Columbus, Ohio show weekend before last. It was a good show for me, with a few keepers for my own collection, quite a bit purchased for resale, and much schmoozing time with collector and dealer friends. But, as usual, the orders and the correspondence piled up in my absence, not to mention stuff on the home front -- so, also as usual, I've only really been able to start going over the new purchases and preparing them for the catalog this week.

A pen show is a great place to buy vintage pens. Yet whenever I go over my purchases afterwards, there are always disappointments. Earlier this year, for example, I bought what appeared to be a very clean pair of Mandarin Yellow Duofold Juniors; the seller was firm on his prices, and represented them as excellent specimens. When I got them on the bench, though, one turned out to have had its ends dye-reblackened, with the cap end's inner cap shortened to unusability. That wasn't the bad one, though -- the other then turned out to have had a name removed from the barrel. Not so crudely as to leave an obvious flat spot, but the barrel was now definitely out of round. Luckily, I had a spare barrel, though that also meant I had to come up with another section to match, plus feed and nib. Add in all the time and parts, and those became an expensive pair of pens indeed.

The Columbus show had its share of the same. A Nozac with an undisclosed cap lip crack. A couple of Conklin crescent-fillers with sac nipples broken away inside and shellacked shut. And a custom pen, bought for myself, based on a Parker 51 but assembled so poorly that I had to remake it entirely: resetting the cap clutch and rerolling the cap lip; reforming the barrel mouth and reattaching the threaded bushing; and completely replacing all the innards -- Aerometric filler unit, hood, nib, feed.

While in some of these cases the seller is to blame, in many others, it is just a matter of the risk assumed in buying stuff in as-found condition -- much as it is when buying on eBay. So next time you see someone at a show with a handful of pens bought cheap, keep in mind that at least some of them are likely to require some serious work to put them completely right.

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