October 2004: Finding Pens at Flea Markets

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • Here’s my lucky seven tips for cruising flea markets. I’ve had a great year; even the “ones that got away” stories are better than the typical flea-market season’s keepers.

Talk with the dealers. Don’t just walk by, strike up a conversation. You’ll be surprised at what happens next. Extra Fine Points

How did I do it? The short story is, by yapping with the dealers more than ever. The long story follows:

  1. Gravitate to the smalls. You know this, I know this, but it bears repeating. It covers visiting the ladies’ tables that have the perfume bottles and frou-frou junk that men don’t normally want to touch. It was at a table like this that I found a mint stickered “51” set in box for $15 — about which I brag at least twice a year in this space.

  2. Check out the trunks. There’s nothing like finding a nice pen that the dealer was unaware of in a trunk. It’s a score for you, and for the dealer. “Five bucks for something that I didn’t even know I had for sale? It’s all yours, pal. Thanks for the business.”

  3. Ditto for the desks. Flip through the drawers, and then pull them out and look behind them in the shell of the desk. Sometimes, little treasures are waiting for your collection. Other times, all you get is mouse dirt. But hey, it’s a flea market, not the Peabody & Essex Museum, and you’re not wearing your Sunday best out here, right?

  4. Ask about pens when a dealer with smalls doesn’t have them on display. OK, I wish I had a dollar for every time some dealer told me, “I have pens back at home, come back next week,” and next week the guy had no pens. But you know what? This practice has actually led to the acquisition of several great, cheap pens that, even after paying for restoration, cost half of what they would have cost at a pen show. It’s worth it.

  5. Point out flaws and dicker like crazy. I used to be humble and shy (stop laughing, Richard) and could not bring myself to do this, instead just passing on some pens I wanted or ending up buying busted pens for $25 from which I needed a single part to make another one in my collection whole. Now, I say firmly “You know this is a parts pen because of X, right?” and without hesitation offer $5-$10 for a parts pen. Heck, even if they look good, a lot of the time they need work by a guy like Richard to get writing again, which brings me to —

  6. Factor the cost of restoration into your offer. Yup. Even when they appear to have a good sac, most of these pens skip or have clogged feeds or whatnot, because you never know whether or not the previous owner used 10W-40 ink that left sediment or other miscellaneous gunk in the works, which typically are not user-serviceable.

  7. Park your prejudices at the door. Flea market dealers come from all walks of life. You might not want to hang out with some of them in your everyday life, but if you just set aside your normal biases and talk to everyone behind the tables, you will find pens. It’s hard for me, sometimes. Flea markets can be an exercise in tolerance, especially when the dealer’s an arrogant loudmouth. But in the end, it teaches me patience, too.


cover Further Reading: Garage Sale & Flea Market Annual: Cashing in on Today's Lucrative Collectibles Market, by Bob Huxford

On the off chance that you spy what you think is an Antiques Roadshow-worthy artifact en route to locating the Fountain Pen Guy at your local flea market, make sure you’re toting a copy of this little gem so you can look up your potential treasure and find out what it’s really worth.

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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