March 2008: The Top 10 Vintage Pens, As I See It

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • Doing the math, I recently figured out that it was exactly 10 years ago I launched my fountain pen collection. I lived in an apartment in Rowley, Mass., next to the fire station, right off the only intersection in town that had a stoplight.

Sunday entertainment, as such — at least when it wasn’t warm enough for the massive flea market up the street — was reading the Sunday Boston Globe. It was in that paper that I saw this story about this dude Rob Morrison, who put on this thing called a “pen show” in Somerville.

The Pen From Another Planet that you find in the flea market can probably be inked up and used after a good water flush — the design actually was as perfect as the hype in the ads said it was. Extra Fine Points

A pen show? Wait, a fountain pen show? That sounded too wackily retro-cool to be true. I clipped the article and decided I had to go check it out. One full decade and thousands of dollars spent later, I’m still a pup in this hobby compared to a lot of the guys (and gals) I’ve interviewed in this space.

I will say this, however: I’ve bought and sold a lot of pens, thanks to antique shops, flea markets, eBay and having this repair guy in the family (wink wink, nod nod). So without further ado, at my 10-year anniversary, I’ll give you my view of the 10 best vintage pens — a subjective list for sure, and some are in this list for different reasons I’ll elaborate in the individual descriptions:

  1. Eversharp Skyline (1941-1948): Let’s call it the Balance 2.0. This pen looked great, and that elegant derby and excellent nib has made it a well-deserved, all-time classic. Think you’re an alpha collector? Let’s see you run down un-dinged sets of both the gold fill and the solid gold pen/pencils — that’ll take a while.

    Fountain pen
  2. Sheaffer Balance (1929-c. 1942): Not only a great design that changed the world of pens forever from staid stuff to exciting streamlined shapes, but a well-built pen: Many Balances are still in service.

    Fountain pen
  3. Waterman Patrician (1929-c. 1939): A stunner in looks, rarity, size and desirability among collectors. Sadly, I’ll never own one because they’re too fragile and too much of a display pen — and not a user — for me. Plus, they cost way too much for a working dad to be collecting.

    Fountain pen
  4. Sheaffer Snorkel (1952-1959): David Nishimura put it perfectly in an interview I did once with him — vintage Sheaffers are inexpensive for collectors today because they were the best pens made at the time they were current. And they still are, today. That’s why they’re so plentiful, easy to get up and running again after years of dormancy, and usually remain in good condition. These are some of my favorite “road warrior” pens to take on business trips and vacations, from the cheapest non-White Dots to the PFMs. Lever filling TMs, Touchdowns, Triumphs and their cousins are all great pens (and nice lookers) too, but I had to narrow things down to wedge them into a top 10.

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  5. Wahl metal pens (1920s): Greek key, lines, silver, gold. Not only do these 1920s classics boast some of the nicest nibs in all of pendom, but they have phenomenal economies of size: Small in the pocket but long and lean when posted. For magpies like me, it’s where style, quality, and price meet in collector heaven.

    Fountain pen
  6. Parker Vacumatic (1933-1948): If you don’t like Vacs, you’re either scared of the funky filling system or, like me, scared to get too involved with them because there are a daunting number of styles and colors and sizes to collect and once you’re hooked it’s an all-consuming passion. Whatever. These are great pens, men amongst boys.

    Fountain pen
  7. Wahl-Eversharp Doric (1931-1938): Another great pen I can’t own because they’re just too valuable and beautiful for me. I’d use ‘em, abuse ‘em, and break ‘em. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them. These and the Coronets are simply the most elegant, high-class pens people can collect nowadays.

    Fountain pen
  8. Parker “51” (1941-1972?): The one, the only, the greatest pen you can carry in your pocket. The Pen From Another Planet that you find in the flea market tomorrow can probably be inked up and used after a good water flush — and that’s because the design actually was as perfect as the hype in the ads said it was. There’s a first time (and last time) for everything, even when we’re talking about Madison Avenue’s shuck and jive.

    Fountain pen
  9. Wearever Pacemaker (1940s): Yeah, you heard me. These great button fillers with the solid 14K nibs are the most underrated, under priced pens in the hobby. You can get them new in box, new old stock for $30. With papers. And they look every bit as good as the top-tier pens of the day, and are guaranteed to draw attention and compliments from collectors and non-collectors alike when you whip one out and start writing. I shouldn’t be saying this, exposing a hidden gem for the rest of the pen world to exploit.

    Fountain pen
  10. Parker Striped Duofold (1940-1948): Simply the best vintage pen, in my view. Solid construction, great looks (especially the blue ones), excellent nibs and for my hand, the ideal size. The Vacumatic mechanism holds a gallon of ink when filled, and the semi-transparent barrel let me know when we’re on the last lap, ink-wise.

    Fountain pen

Next month: You guessed it, my favorite modern pens. It will be even more subjective than this list, let me tell you.


cover Further Reading: Fountain Pens of the World, by Andreas Lambrou
 
FPOTW: Probably the best-known book in the hobby, and filled with enough pretty pictures that you might lose focus and forget that there are real pens out there. Don’t. Look ’em up, then go out and buy ’em — and use ’em. Isn’t that what pens are for?

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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