Hooked on Classics: The rewards of using vintage fountain pens…

The Grandfeather of them all

Is today better than yesterday?Philosophical evolutionary thinking as presented within most modern cultures posits that we and indeed everything else around us all get better as time goes on, entropy notwithstanding. Things evolve so they say, whether on a macro or a micro level, whether it be societies as a whole or people as individuals, or cars, or cameras ,or even dare I say it… fountain pens?

IMGP1195But hold on, is this truly the case? For example, everyone I know is nostalgic about something, whether it be bygone films, cars, or merely an ambience of times past we all treasure that which we would call a ‘classic’. Unsurprisingly fountain pens are no exception, and rather than being merely a case of romanticism over leaky old pens that weren’t really much good there are actually some really good, hard-nosed reasons for succumbing to the lure of a vintage pen these days.

IMGP1196Along with a few pictures of a couple of pens that I have picked up over the years, I would like to point out at least a couple of these reasons, hopefully beginning a useful conversation about the rationale you have for your favourite classic purchases. I will start the conversation by mentioning value for money, Gold nibs and style…

IMGP1197Value for money: Good pens cost money, you may have noticed this in your journey thus far. A vintage pen, be a value for money option where you want a specific feature, for example see my next point on gold nibs in particular. Yes there are very expensive, rare vintage fountain pens which you may or may not want to avoid but there are a whole host of affordable classic, even iconic, pens that can render years of good service to the discerning pen enthusiast. I picked up an early 1960’s Parker 45 a couple of years ago for peanuts and it has served me very well ever since. The hooded nib is smooth and silky in use to this day…

IMGP1192Gold nibs: I have one overwhelming point here, and that is the soaring price of gold. Buy a reasonably priced vintage pen and you can have yourself at least a 14K gold nibbed beauty at a fraction of the price of some modern gold nibbed pens. As an example I regularly use a vintage Mentmore ‘auto-flow’ fountain pen as one of my review pens. I picked this up some time ago at around the £30 mark. It is a perfectly functional button filler with the sweetest soft 14K gold nib you could find. It is a special pen for me as it literally sings as I write with it. The nib feeds back ever so slightly and emits an audible tone rather like running your finger around a crystal wineglass.

IMGP1190Style: Admittedly a somewhat less quantifiable advantage is the sense of style that a vintage fountain pen brings. Nebulous this may be, but the impact a vintage pen can have is real enough particularly in the face of many a nondescript product of the office stationery cupboard.

By the by, and before we finish. The question often arises, where to buy these classic writing instruments? For me, though there are many great online sellers, a brick and mortar shop is still my preference where you can try before you buy. Don’t misunderstand me, I have bought a vintage fountain pen online, and at some point will again I’m sure (in fact I’m considering a rather nice Esterbrook J series pen from an online seller, even as we speak!) But my preference is to discuss the provenance, condition, reliability and servicing of a pen face to face.

Finally a tip from an experienced pen retailer. When buying a vintage pen that is labelled and being sold as un-inked (not something that bothers me but I know is important to some) check this by wetting your finger and running the underside of the nib and feed over it, if there’s any ink been there you’ll soon know…

Happy vintage pen buying!




3 thoughts on “Hooked on Classics: The rewards of using vintage fountain pens…

  1. I only just started to buy vintage pens a couple months back. If you feel intimidated when buying a modern fountain pen then the vintage market is that squared. There are THOUSANDS of different models of pens to choose from, and manufacturers generally made different variations on the same model (different colours, trims, caps); not even mentioning nibs. Add onto that the condition of the pen, and that many pens are misidentified, and it’s a minefield.

    Buying a vintage anything is 1/3 research, and 2/3 luck. I agree that you need to find a good quality retailer with a proven track record, but sometimes there are gems off the beaten path.

    I bought my current favourite pen, a blue 1950’s Sheaffer Snorkel, on an eBay auction, and the seller was really good. He included a hand written note explaining how to use and take care of it along with a scan of the original instruction sheet that would have come with it back in the day (yet another thing to consider when buying vintage). Also when I had a minor problem with it he took it back and fixed it (along with photos of how to disassemble it). So there are good retailers on eBay, but some people are just selling on something they found in their grandparent’s attic. So be careful.


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