November 2010: Combo Values

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • The economy’s been in the dumpster for a few years, and if you’re like me, the wallet’s not as stuffed full as it was earlier in the ’naughts. Thankfully, I am first and foremost a fountain pen lover. I can appreciate the value of any fountain pen, as long as it has a nib that isn’t scratchy and the ink flows right. It doesn’t have to be a Patrician with a nib big as my thumb, or a mint-stickered “51” with an Empire State cap.

I am first and foremost a fountain pen lover. I can appreciate the value of any fountain pen, as long as it has a nib that isn’t scratchy and the ink flows right. It doesn’t have to be a Patrician with a nib big as my thumb. Extra Fine Points

Which brings us to this month’s topic: Combo pen/pencils. This was a peculiar genre of pen design, and many manufacturers made them in quantity back in the early ’30s, after the economy had tanked even worse than it has this time. Flash forward to 2010: Few collectors fancy combos, which means they can be found in the wild in eminently restorable condition — for cheap, like this $10 oversize Wearever.

Combo
Combo

I like these writing instruments, and while it’ll never win any of those informal “whose pen is worth more” spitting contests at pen shows, a good combo will never let you down. Since I collect Wearevers, the pictures here represent the combos I own — plus a couple of Richard’s, like this Conklin “Ensemble” in Leaf Green.

Combo
Combo

But any combo will do. Try carrying one for a week. Why? Here’s a list of 10 reasons you’ll probably end up a fan:

  1. These combos come in all sizes; for instance, the Wearevers I own (see below) range from smallish ladies’ (read: comfortable for my small hands) Supremes up to the black monstrosity pictured above — so I have two of them restored, one with a Pelikan nib and one with a cherry two-tone Wearever steelie.

  2. Most are lever fillers; while the ink capacity tends to be startlingly short compared to other lever-fillers of similar size, chances are your combo will rival the typical modern cartridge-converter pen for capacity.

  3. With less capacity than the typical lever filler, you’ll get to entertain your filling-from-the-ink-bottle fetish — which all true pen collectors possess — more often.

  4. When you run out of ink out there in the world of work — or play — relax. Flip that baby over and keep writing with the pencil until you get back to the bottle and gas it up again.

  5. It’s a conversation piece, a head turner. You’ll get more attention with a combo from collectors and noncollectors alike.

  6. If you drop it and break it, it probably cost you a fraction of what your favorite fountain pen cost.

  7. Related to the previous point, the cost of acquisition of a combo — especially an off-brand like my Wearevers — probably runs about $10 plus restoration.

  8. Don’t like the junky steel nib that comes in most of the combos out there? Drop in a modern Pelikan or, if you’re really picky, a vintage gold Sheaffer nib that fits. Go ahead, it’s not like you’re Frankenpenning a classic.

  9. After putting your combo to rest after a week’s workout — if you can indeed let it go that soon — getting back to your old favorite you’d been carrying before will give you that joy of rediscovery and appreciation.

  10. If you don’t like your combo, you can give it away to someone who remarks that it looks cool. Maybe you’ll convert a noncollector to the hobby. Nothing makes a pen collector’s day better than turning on a newbie to the hobby. Except getting a newbie started with a cheap pen that cost you next to nil.

If you really like your combo experience, go ahead, shell out the bucks for a well-restored jade green Sheaffer Balance combo like Richard’s. They are worth every penny. And they look really cool.

Combo
Combo

cover Further Reading: Fountain Pens and Pencils : The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, by George Fischler and Stuart Schneider
 
This is the “Blue Book.” If you have to choose just one fountain-pen reference book, this is the one. Like the auto industry’s Blue Book, it’s huge and all-encompassing. And there are more pictures than you’ll know what to do with, and lots of great information for collectors new and old.

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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