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History at Your Fingertips: Collectible Fountain Pens

Whether you want to enjoy a unique writing experience or honor the historical connection of a vintage pen, both utility and meaning can be found in collectible fountain pens. As simple as they seem, there are several important elements to consider before selecting one on eBay.

Essential elements of collectible fountain pens

Your collection's purpose influences whether you choose an antique fountain pen or an affordable writing instrument, but key features are important to all models.

  • The Nib – The writing tip is the engine of the pen. They are commonly made of gold, nickel or stainless steel. For information about a gold nib, look for an imprint of 14K or similar designation.
  • Tip Flexibility – Some nibs flex with pressure for different effects. Vintage fountain pens typically have more flexibility. If you're picking a personal writing instrument, check for a flexibility grading.
  • Filling Mechanism – The way a fountain pen is refilled is a key attribute that varies greatly between pens.
  • Furniture – The style is a personal choice, but pay special attention to its metal parts or “furniture.” Most gold furniture is gold-plated and subject to wear. Re-plating is available, but it doesn't affect performance; used fountain pens are expected to show some wear. The same goes for cosmetic dings and other damage.
How vintage fountain pens are described

The maker is usually given if known, but additional descriptors are commonly used to identify fountain pens:

  • Size – Length of the pen when closed. See the manufacturer site for details.
  • Shape – Common shapes include round, tapered, torpedo, cylindrical, cigar, and flat-ended
  • Filling System – There are many different filling mechanisms, from simple Eyedropper, Capillary, and Blow fillers to more complex ink sac systems such as Lever, Bulb and Piston fillers.
  • Color(s) – This also includes patterning
  • Metal trim – Usually gold or silver
What should you look for in a collectible fountain pen?

Keeping a few basic rules in mind will preserve your investment and maximize enjoyment of your collection.

  • Condition is important. Unless it is a true rarity, avoid pens with high wear or substantial defects.
  • Quality construction matters for longevity and how easily an antique fountain pen can be restored.
  • Historical merit is especially valuable for vintage fountain pens.
  • Design excellence is a major factor for basic desirability and future demand.
  • Special technical craftsmanship and developmental milestones add to a fountain pen's value and sustained interest.
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