Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some thoughts on original boxes

In many fields of collecting, an item in its original box is worth far more than one without -- so much so, that it is not uncommon for the box to be worth several times what it originally contained (a similar situation applies with modern first editions and their dust jackets). This has not been the case with pens and pencils, however, and though better boxes have come up in price a bit in recent years, even the best come nowhere near the value of their contents.

The box shown above is a rare one, only the second example I've seen. The pen that came inside is also rare: one of the earliest retracting-nib safety pens made, produced for only a few years in the mid-1890s. Since the box came up at auction, I had to give some thought to how much I would be willing to bid, which in turn got me thinking about the valuation of pen boxes in general. Why don't pen collectors value boxes so highly? Is it because so many collectors think of pens more as items to be used, than as historical artifacts to be preserved and studied? Is it because there are so many boxes available?

Certainly in comparison to many other collected items, the supply of original boxes is high. Perhaps because they were small and easily repurposed, many survive. And since cheaper pens and pencils were often sold in the same boxes as more desirable models, collectors who care about boxes usually have little trouble finding them. This has kept prices down both directly and indirectly, as general availability has shaped collectors' attitude towards what boxes should be worth. Even in those instances where the original box for a desirable pen is much rarer than the pen itself, few collectors are willing to pay more than a small fraction of the pen's value for its box.
It's hard to buck the tide. I was able to buy the Horton box for well under my maximum, yet that maximum was still a fraction of my maximum bid for the last Horton pen that came my way. I knew I was being cheap; at the same time, I was pretty certain no other collectors would be any less so. And though the box is unquestionably rare, so is the pen. No premium for rarity when the loss rate for each is comparable, I suppose.

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