Pen basics for antique dealers

It is never easy trying to get a foothold in a new field. Although much information about old pens can be gleaned online, you will also want to take a look at some of the books listed in the Resources section. Keep in mind that most books that cite values do so for pens in excellent condition. Values drop dramatically if there is significant plating loss, dents or gouges, or cracks or other damage. When looking at dealer catalogs, don't forget that collectors who like to write with their vintage pens will pay a substantial premium for professionally reconditioned pieces which are fully guaranteed -- a premium that is proportionately larger for less expensive items.

In general, you are better off selling pens as-is rather than attempting to fix them up. Most collectors either like to fix pens themselves, or prefer to have the work done by a known expert. The risk of damage if you try to do it yourself is considerable, and even well-intentioned attempts to spiff up pens can easily backfire. This includes buffing, and soaking pens in plain water! See Pen Repair Don’ts for more information.

Pens are easily damaged by heat, and bright light can cause them to fade or discolor. Many good pens have been rendered valueless by being kept in glass cases at outdoor markets.

Although gold prices are high, the melt value of gold nibs is not as high as you might think. Before you send any out to be melted, check with a pen dealer: those who are actively buying parts will generally pay well above bullion value for all but the most common and the most damaged of nibs (see our listing of some high-value nibs).

Many sellers have been thrilled at the prices their pens fetched at auction on eBay. Note, however, that a bit of homework will pay dividends here, too: using the proper nomenclature will insure that bidders will find your items, while accurate and thorough descriptions will increase bidder confidence -- not to mention reducing the risk of returns. For more advice, see our notes on eBay selling. Be aware that some items will do better sold privately or at a pen show than at an online auction. This is especially true with higher-end pieces, where interested buyers with deep pockets are few, and may not be following online auctions very closely, if at all. In one such case recently, a local antiques dealer who should have known better told us proudly of having sold a very rare pen for a bit over $3000 on eBay. An esoteric piece, it was missed by us and apparently by everyone else in a position to appreciate its value. The seller was not pleased when we told her it could have been sold for over $10,000 to the right collector.