February 2003: Will Goodman’s “California Earthquake” shake the pen world?

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • At the Philly show I was sitting with Roger “Penopoly” Cromwell, killing time as the room cleared out on Sunday afternoon. We were all ready to take off a little early, and the crowd was going from thin to non-existent as kickoff time for the Eagles-Bucs NFC Championship game drew closer.

Cromwell told me about a septuagenarian (we think) collector auctioning off his collection, something “huge” that would take place in Los Angeles. Extra Fine Points

At the Philly show I was sitting with Roger “Penopoly” Cromwell, killing time as the room cleared out on Sunday afternoon. We were all ready to take off a little early, and the crowd was going from thin to non-existent as kickoff time for the Eagles-Bucs NFC Championship game drew closer.

I’d heard from several sources over the last couple pen shows about this notion of the changing of generations in the pen world and how it’s going to affect the market. The theory goes something like this: The original collectors from the original Chicago shows, some of them, are getting on in years and are letting go of their collections. Soon, the market will be glutted with pent-up inventory. For a time, things will cost the same as now or even cheaper, until all this stuff is gone. Then, prices now will be tales of the good old days, and everything will cost twice as much as it does now.

Could this really happen? Nah, Cromwell says. Well maybe. But probably not. The market’s big enough to absorb these collections. “You want a good story, though?” he said. I’m always looking for a good story, true or not, I thought, as I nodded.

Cromwell told me about a septuagenarian (we think) collector auctioning off his collection, something “huge” that would take place in Los Angeles, curiously timed for two weeks after the Los Angeles Pen Show. Curious, that is, because a) all the pen collectors would have skipped town by then and b) the ones who were left might already have spent all their money at the show.

At any event, Cromwell thought the auction would have some effect on the pen world — positive or negative, he wasn’t sure — but it was certainly big enough. “Go talk to Cliff about it,” Cromwell said, pointing across the aisle to Cliff Harrington, a Kensington, Md., dealer. “He’s seen some of the collection.”

A pen collector’s collector

Harrington confirmed the collection’s big-ness. Irving Goodman is the collector, and his collection is being handled by Beverly Hills auction house Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles. The auction is March 8, and it features 4,500 pens. No reserve prices. And if it’s anything like Goodman’s coin collection, millions of dollars will change hands.

Harrington and Gary “Gopens.com” Lehrer both also pointed out that the collection has been cherry-picked by major dealers and collectors. There are probably about 1,000 fewer pens now than when Goodman first decided to sell off his collection.

“I’ve seen his collection, at his house,” Harrington said, adding that he picked up some Wahls, Eversharps, and Chiltons — which he collects. “I spent about $15,000 in an hour.”

But there’s still a lot left — rare snake pens, early overlay pens, Watermans, and the biggest collection of Eisenstadts on the planet: “His collection is very broad, with lots of different kinds of pens,” Harrington said. “They’re all good, I wouldn’t guess there’s any junk in there.”

“California earthquake” on pen market?

The big question, after all the “oohs” and “ahhs,” paddle-waving, and gavel-pounding surrounding the Goodman collection is over, is this: Can this one collection affect the prices we pay for pens? Might this be the watershed moment that makes it suddenly a buyer’s market? Will it be the slippery slope that drives other older collectors to get out while the getting’s still good, and thus glut the market with rare beauties at affordable prices? The legendary stuff we hear of that was practically stolen from flea-marketeers for ten bucks here, twenty bucks there back when pens were everywhere to be had for a song?

“People are nervous,” Harrington said. “If a lot of people show up and bid, it could suck money out of the market for vintage pens for a while.”

Just as quick, though, he adds: “It could also get people interested, because it’s being held in L.A. and it’s being advertised to people who aren’t necessarily vintage pen collectors … but it’s difficult at this point to see exactly where they’re going with it.”

Overall, though, Harrington finds that the curious timing of the auction, the fact that the agent isn’t a typical pen-selling auction house, and the fact that the collection is unusually large all add up to a possible train wreck. The prices realized at this auction may be artificially low, and they may make buyers think that pen prices are depressed for the moment.

Harrington isn’t going to the auction to purchase a pile of pens. “What, am I going to spend $15,000 to put a snake pen in inventory?” He’s picked out a few for his collection, and he’s done, he thinks.

Lehrer hasn’t decided whether or not he’s going. He plans to make his plans contingent upon seeing something he wants when he surveys the Goodman pens scheduled to be on display at the L.A. pen show later this month. No matter what, though, Lehrer is skeptical about the impact the sale will have on the overall pen market.

“It’s not that many pens,” Lehrer said. “There are 25 people in this room who have gone through his collection, and 90% of the good stuff is gone already, sold at market prices. We could talk about hypotheticals, [like] if the 4,500 lots sell at 20% of their market value, sure it would have an impact. But that’s not going to happen… . By [the] Chicago [pen show] the auction will be over, and at that point we’ll know more.”

So who is this guy?

“I don’t know why he’s selling [his collection],” Harrington said of the well-heeled Goodman. “He hasn’t told me.” It turns out that Goodman is an elderly collector, but not an old face who has been around since the early days of the hobby. In fact, Goodwin was most active in the 1990s.

After making his fortune in the furniture business and then retiring, he just swooped into the pen world, scooped up a ton of very fine pens, and swooped out, adding his acquisitions to his other investments in jade, and coins.

“He used to show up at a show and buy, buy, buy,” Harrington says, “but I haven’t seen him for about two years.”

This guy was well-known, at least in comparison to some other collectors, shadowy figures who send their agents to auctions and to shows. No one knows who they are, although murmurs abound of rich sheiks or Asian royals who are buying the creme de la creme of pendom. Might these mysterious uber-collectors send their people to bid on Goodman’s pens?

Harrington wouldn’t speculate, but he did offer that “you could spend hundreds of thousands on pens at that auction. He’s got millions tied up in his pens. Millions.”


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Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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