Interested in vintage pens, but don't know where to begin? It can seem overwhelming: so many different brands and models and variations, no standardized price guide or grading scale, and what about restoration and repair?
Parker 62, c. 1905
Waterman 0502, c. 1902
Don't be afraid. Fountain pens are not nearly as complex as cars or watches, and most of what you need to look out for is on the outside in plain sight. Although pen collecting is a relatively young field, it is also mature enough that resources for collectors -- from reference books to clubs to restoration services -- are quite plentiful. Nonetheless, much pen knowledge remains to be discovered, publicized, and published, leaving abundant opportunities for collectors willing to do a bit of homework.
Most pen collectors like to write with some if not all of their pens, and even those who don't, generally prefer to have their pens in working order. For fountain pen technology has been highly developed for a long, long time: hundred-year old pens can still give excellent writing performance, and the pen still commonly singled out as the best of all time -- the Parker 51 -- was introduced back in 1941!
1946 Parker 51 -- classic modernism
Eversharp Skyline, c. 1945 -- extreme streamline, a Dreyfuss design
Not that the 51 is everyone's favorite, however. Many collectors prefer an exposed, flexible nib, or the rich and colorful patterning of 1920s and '30s celluloid, or the classic restraint of pens from the hard rubber era. It's not for nothing that the prewar decades have come to be known as the Golden Age of the fountain pen.
Waterman 55, c. 1925, black hard rubber, gold filled trim
Parker Duofold Senior, c. 1929 -- the original "Big Red"
Wahl-Eversharp Gold Seal Signature set, c. 1929 -- a pinnacle of pre-streamline Deco
Sheaffer Balance 5-30, c. 1930 -- the pen that made the cylinder square
Waterman 94 in "Moss Agate" celluloid, c. 1935 -- conservative design, rich faux-mineral material
It isn't just a matter of materials and styling, however: this period also was characterized by constant technical innovation. One could assemble a fine collection just gathering together examples of different filling mechanisms, and even in the mainstream of pen development the range of pen types was much broader than it is today. The pictures below show only a fraction of what is out there.
Eagle glass-cartridge pen, patented 1890
Laughlin doctor's pen, c. 1905, with internal thermometer compartment
De La Rue Onoto, 9K gold overlay single-stroke plunger-filler, c. 1912
Conklin crescent-filler, gold filled overlay, c. 1920
Moore retracting-nib safety, cutaway demonstrator, c. 1920
Chilton pneumatic-filler, c. 1930 (shown without cap, with plunger tube extended)
Montblanc stylographic pen, c. 1937
To be continued . . .
Answers to many basic questions about vintage pen use and collecting can be found in our Pens FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section. For illustrations and descriptions of a broad range of classic pens, see our Pen Profiles ; many other items can be seen in the illustrated pages of our Pen Catalog , while specialized terminology is explained in the Glossary . For further study, see the Collecting Resources section, which lists books, magazines, shows, clubs, and more. If you have further questions, do not hesitate to contact us. We have offered guidance to many collectors over the years, helping to build collections that are a continuing source of pride and enjoyment to their owners.