Bad apples are relatively rare in the world of vintage fountain pen collecting, which makes it all the more disturbing running across someone like Derek O'Connor.
In fact, Derek J. O'Connor, to our knowledge last doing business from 116 Winsley, Bradford On Avon, Wiltshire BA15 2LE (UK), seems to be in a class by himself. Over a period of more than ten years, he has repeatedly taken pens from well-known dealers with promises of forthcoming payment, leaving most of them hanging. His modus operandi is simple enough, and is a classic example of how vulnerable trusting antiques dealers can be to even moderately skilled con men. The dealer to be duped will usually be contacted by fax (O'Connor does not seem to be online yet) and asked to supply a few hundred dollars worth of pens. The fax, whose text is written by hand, will make Derek O'Connor seem a serious dealer with free-spending clients who are often in a hurry. The first order will be paid for promptly, perhaps even by wire. O'Connor will send more faxes, asking for more items, emphasizing that he must have them soon. He will then ask that the next order be sent right away, and may even send a faxed copy of a bank draft or cheque -- but then the original doesn't arrive, and further inquiries then go unanswered.
In some cases pens or payment have been recovered. In Bath, where O'Connor had a display of not-paid-for pens in a group shop, the pens' owner had to have a friend go in and raise a huge stink in order to repossess them. Another trader was paid only after making dire threats to O'Connor. Several years ago, a prominent Connecticut dealer was taken in for a large quantity of pens; the dealer was fortunately able to find paralegal assistance in the UK, and thanks to this pressure (and the threat of denouncing him publicly at the December 2000 Annual General Meeting of the Writing Equipment Society), O'Connor promised to make payment -- though very slowly, in small installments. O'Connor also stated that he would be resigning from the WES rather than be exposed; this, however, now appears to be yet more lies and bluster. It is unfortunate that his membership in the eminently respectable Writing Equipment Society gives him an undeserved cloak of respectability.
I, too, have been defrauded by Derek O'Connor, and under circumstances that were particularly odious. This occurred over ten years ago, when I was a graduate student dealing in vintage pens part-time while trying to finish a dissertation. At the time, O'Connor seemed like a customer with potential, and in spring of 1995 I sent him a package of pens worth nearly $1000 on the strength of his first order and his seeming professionalism. Payment never arrived. The worst thing about this, however, was that he knew that I had an infant daughter who was desperately ill, and who died at the beginning of that same April. Amid professions of sympathy, O'Connor sent several faxes in April and May of 1995 promising payment, asking for more pens, and claiming confusion over why the money was not getting sent out through his supposed San Francisco corporate office. When it became clear to him that I would not be sending more pens, all communication stopped.
Whether that debt will ever be collected, I do not know. In the wake of my daughter's death, the last thing I had energy for was an attempt to make an international collection -- and on a miscreant who had in the meantime left his address of record. When in recent years I heard that Derek O'Connor was still active, and still engaged in the same sort of fraud, it became clear that something had to be done. This notification page is an important first step. What is to be feared is that the defrauded dealers are but the tip of the iceberg, as I have heard that individual collectors have been cheated as well.
Beware -- O'Connor talks a good game. Before you send him anything, however, whether money or pens, think twice -- and if you need more convincing, we would be happy to put you in touch with some fellow WES members who can tell you more.
David Nishimura -- www.vintagepens.com
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