An Introduction To Vintage Fountain Pens

For those of us who mostly swim in the modern end of the pen-pool, vintage pens can be daunting. There are SO MANY. And they come in so many varieties. And the prices are all over the place. And how does one even know where to start out?

I’m with you. I’m mostly an accumulator of modern pens, and my vintage pen collection remains small in comparison. If you’re interested in learning about vintage fountain pens, which vintage pens to look at first, why people are into antique pens, and what some of the best vintage fountain pens might be, then this is the article for you.

Why Vintage Fountain Pens?

If you think that modern pens have a variety of nibs, colors, patterns, shapes, and filling systems, then you will love the variety available in the realm of best vintage fountain pens. With more than a hundred years of pens out there, the variety is staggering.ering.

As you can imagine, the nibs that come with classic fountain pens can be much different from the nibs that we find on our modern pens, and there are some nibs (like vintage flex nibs) that just cannot be manufactured any longer. Not all the many filling systems that were developed caught on well enough to stay in production, but they are fun to find and collect.

While modern pens usually use a cartridge or a converter to hold ink, vintage pens have a wide variety. Many of them use bottled ink and some sort of rubber sac to contain the ink in the pen. The mechanisms are often named after the way that you get ink into that sac. The most common are probably the lever fillers, which you fill by moving a lever that is connected to a bar and that squeezes the sac and then sucks ink out of the bottle. Button fillers, bulb fillers, and twist fillers work in predictable ways. Coin fillers and match fillers use an appropriately sized slot or hole in the barrel to compress the bar inside with a match stick or coin. Sheaffer’s Snorkel pen uses a unique and complicated mechanism to suck ink into an extendable snorkel like a mosquito. This variety is fascinating, and there is always a bit more to learn.

Some collectors will focus on a particular variety of pens, a particular era, sterling silver Art Nouveau overlays, rare fountain pens, or even a very narrow band like quill pens from the American Revolution or lever-fill fountain pens from Japan. Really, if you have any interest in collectible pens, historic engineering, or just having an old ink pen on your shelf as a decoration you should check out best vintage fountain pens.

What You Need to Know Before Collecting Antique Fountain Pens

I mentioned above that vintage pens use a wide variety of filling mechanisms. That’s one of the fun things about these pens, but there are a couple of things to know about them before you get started. First is that sometimes the filling systems on old fountain pens will need to be repaired. Age, use, and disuse can cause the seals to degrade, the ink sack to break down, or even some metal parts to rust. Most of the time, this isn’t a big deal. There are people out there who specialize in repairing and restoring these vintage pen models to their original writing condition, similar to how enthusiasts seek the top Pelikan piston filler fountain pen for its reliability and craftsmanship. There will be a list of some great repair people at the end of the page. Don’t let that deter you from picking up a vintage pen, but do look for the word “restored” in the description or just consider that it may cost a bit more time and money to get the pen worked on.

Sometimes you’ll also find a pen with a broken nib or even a missing nib. That’s okay! Those pens might not be the ideal place to start out your vintage journey, but if you find a pen that you must have and the nib is broken or missing, then you can usually find a nib out there somewhere to fit it. Just as that nib didn’t survive, there will be pens of that type whose bodies didn’t survive and those nibs are just waiting for a new home. It may sound like a problem, but sometimes it’s the hunt for just the right part that excites some folks.

Lastly, you’ll want to use vintage-friendly ink for your new writing instrument. You could find vintage ink on the market, as properly stored ink can last for ages, but there are lots of modern inks that are safe for use in vintage pens. Most pen restorers recommend using something from the Waterman line of inks because they’re very safe for vintage pen parts. Similarly, inks from Aurora and other pen brands are generally regarded as safe. Since vintage pens are a bit more complicated, it’s best to stay away from inks with shimmers or other boutique features as they might be difficult to clean out or, in extreme cases, they could damage your vintage pen.

Best Vintage Fountain Pen Brands to Start Hunting For


My first vintage pen was a Parker 51 that belonged to my grandfather. Once it was serviced it was perfect and has been working perfectly for the last decade or so. There are many different varieties of these to look for, but they’re all sturdy, reliable, and excellent writers with gold nibs and an interesting look. The 51 was a celebration of Parker’s 51st year in business, and their earlier work endures as well.

An excellent pen to look for is the Duofold. These were first released in 1921, and their big, red hard rubber bodies are iconic. So iconic, in fact, that they’re often called The Big Red. You can also find them in yellow, green, and more exotic materials, but the Big Red is unmistakable.

And lastly for this brand, everyone should look at the Parker Vacumatic. Referred to as “the vac” in the community, these pens are another iconic model from Parker. The filling system for these pens is very much like the system used in modern vacuum fillers, and you can fill them with one stroke of the piston. It’s an impressive bit of engineering that has stood the test of time. They are often made of a stacked celluloid material that gives chatoyance and a unique character to every pen. Many of them allow you to see how much ink is in the pen by looking through the clear bits of the material.

Esterbrook Pen Company

Founded in 1858, Esterbrook made a series of pens that is one of the most common entry points for vintage pen collectors and users. The J and SJ models are easy to find today because they were extremely common during the era they were produced and they’re tough enough to have survived for over 80 years. First appearing in the late 1940s, they came in great colors and patterns and a wide variety of easily swappable nibs.

These nibs are one of my favorite Esterbrook features because they offer so much variety. A pen can never get stale if you can just unscrew the nib, screw in a totally different nib style, and keep writing. It’s not uncommon for collectors to have more nibs than they have pens. An authoritative source for information on the brand, Brian Anderson’s lists 69 different nibs for the pens, and many of them are still easy to obtain even now. The combination of low price, good looks, and the vast array of nibs makes this an appealing pen.

The modern Esterbrook brand continues to make use of these nibs through their MV Adaptor which allows you to screw most of those vintage nibs into the modern Esterbrook Estie pen models.

Sheaffer Pens

Sheaffer also has a long history of great pens ranging from the early 1900s pens with hard rubber bodies and beautiful chevron engravings, to elegant gold filled Triumph pens, to modern pens still in production. You’ll find a white dot on many Sheaffers. This is a throwback to when Walter A. Sheaffer would personally check the pens and give them a white dot to signify that they met his quality standards. Now, that white dot signifies Sheaffer’s Lifetime Warranty. There are too many Sheaffers to talk about here in any depth at all, but here are a few models to check out early on.

The Sheaffer Balance is pen that was made in many sizes and styles over many years. Ring-top models were meant to be worn on a chain so that they were always available and tended to be a bit smaller, but there are also some models that are as large as modern pens and in patterns that appeal to the modern preference for swirly or striped patterns in the material. These aerodynamic pens have a distinctive pointy shape, and the clipped models have the immediately recognizable ball-tipped clip.

The Valiant and Imperial models have a retro-future vibe to them with squared off clips and sometimes a bold cap band that makes the pen stand out. Their touchdown filler is easy to use and should absolutely be on your radar.

Lastly, the PFM (Pen For Men) is a stocky pen that won’t be mistaken for any other pen. The name is dated, but the PFM (and the later Legacy model) is an excellent writer with a beautiful inlaid nib. The nibs of these pens are part of the pen’s grip section and they can’t be removed, but they look amazing and function well.

Adding to the search for Sheaffer pens, there are a few known sub-brands. WASP (Walter A. Sheaffer Pen Co.) pens are fairly common to find, and it seems like Sheaffer made the pens under the University and Craig brands. There is some mystery around the Craig brand, but it may have been named for Walter’s son. In researching this article, I found discussions (some heated) about whether this brand was Sheaffer or not, and they included citations for old court cases and the like. Like every other niche hobby, there is drama to be found in the history of pen brands!


Montblanc is a pen brand that everyone will know whether they are into fountain pen collecting or not. Vintage Montblanc pens share many of the same aesthetic features of modern pens, like the snowy mountain top on the cap finial, but they also differ in many ways. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and some of these rare fountain pens command a very high price.

Not all vintage Montblanc are priced sky-high, however. Take the Montblanc 220 for example. These pens were made in the 1970s, and they fill with a cartridge or converter. I love the “wing” nib, they are often available below $100. For those interested in pens like Montblanc without the steep price, the Montblanc 220 presents an attractive option with its unique features and affordability..

Sailor Pens

Sailor’s 1911 and ProGear models are ubiquitous on the modern pen market, but they have been making pens since, well, 1911, and there is a great deal of history there for someone interested in collecting the brand.

The pen that comes to mind when I think of vintage Sailor is the mini pocket pen that was introduced in 1963. Often called “long-short” pens, they are recognizable, usable, and collectible pens. These pens are short when they’re capped, but they are meant to be posted, and when you put the cap on the back of the pen they are the same as a full-sized fountain pen.

Many of the Japanese brands (including Platinum and Pilot) made pens of this sort in the same time frame, and they come in an array of colors and patterns. Most of these will have gold nibs and can range in price from $50-150+ depending on condition and pattern.


Another brand that is familiar to modern fountain pen folk is Platinum. Like Sailor, they made some very nice long-short pens in the 1960s, but a less commonly seen pen is the “Honest 60” which was their first pen to use a cartridge, and it famously worked atop Mt. Everest. My favorite vintage Platinum pen is a silver pen called “The Platinum” and it is notoriously difficult to find information about them online due to the company’s penchant for using the same name for different pens over the years.

Pilot Namiki Writing Instruments

Another Japanese pen maker that we all know, Pilot (or Namiki) has been making pens since 1918, and they have a tremendous breadth of pens to learn about. Pilot introduced the Capless in 1963. There were many iterations of this pen, and some of them are fascinating. Some are click pens like the pen we know as the Vanishing Point, while others require a shake, twist, or press to deploy the nib. All of them are capless, though, and that’s such an interesting innovation.


Pelikan began making fountain pens in 1929 with the Pelikan Model 100. It used a piston-filling system that is, as I understand it, largely the same as the system they use today. These early Pelikan pens look just like you’d expect a Pelikan to look today. Why change the formula when it’s clearly working? These vintage pens are so like the modern equivalents that they might be the most modern vintage pens around.

The Pelikan M101N is an example of Pelikan "going back to the well," producing new pens based on historical models.

Waterman Pens

According to the company history, Waterman was founded by a salesman who was so irritated by a leaking pen that he started the Ideal Pen Company in 1883 to solve the problem. Innovations in the manufacturing of the feed mechanism helped Waterman cement their place in pen-history, as well as their Safety Pen (which featured a retractable nib that is submerged in ink when retracted to keep it wet) and the lever-filler that would become an industry-standard mechanism. Look for vintage pens from Waterman pen or Ideal with black hard rubber bodies and beautiful metal overlays as well as elegant Patrician pens and the very modern looking 100 Year Pen with a “gathered” barrel (that means it has ridges on it like a potato chip) and a translucent finial.

Conway Stewart & Mabie Todd

A pair of venerable English companies to have on your radar, Conway Stewart was founded in 1905 and Mabie Todd in the 1840s. Both of these companies have a presence in the vintage market. Conway Stewart’s special editions and their Churchill models are worth taking a look at, though their prices can be quite high. Mabie Todd is a brand that was active until the 1950s, and one can’t attend any vintage pen auction without seeing some of their sterling silver eyedroppers or hard rubber pens. Keep an eye out for the name “Swan” when it comes to Mabie Todd for some old-English elegance.

What Makes Vintage Pens Valuable?

You’re going to see a wide range of prices when you start looking at classic pens. Some of them are available at very reasonable prices. An old Parker fountain pen, for example, can be had for under $30 and still be a very nice pen to write with today. On the other hand, a best vintage fountain pen could be very expensive. Some vintage pen models will look very similar to each other, but command very different prices.

One reason could be that some pens were more widely made, and so there are more of them in the market and this keeps the price low even when the pen is in excellent condition and has a gold nib. Another could be that some colors and styles of pen age differently in ways that matter to collectors. Parker Vacumatic pens, for example, are made of a made from an Art Deco-style stacked celluloid that sometimes became discolored by inks or other things in the history of that pen. They’re beautiful in any case, but a pen whose barrel can be seen clearly through will command a higher price than a pen whose barrel is darkened and harder to see through. It’s the little things that can make a big difference in vintage pen prices and collectability, and those little difference are what will keep people in the hunt for years to come.

Where Can I Find Reliable Vintage Pens?

Whether you’re shopping for vintage pens or you would like to know your fountain pen’s vintage, it is a great idea to consult with the experts. There are many sellers out there for vintage pens, but here are some reputable sources that I can vouch for. Do note that some vintage pen sellers aren’t in the habit of keeping web pages up to date. Most of them would rather be fixing, studying, and selling pens than fiddling with web sites. It’s always a good idea to send them an email when you’re looking for something specific or if you have a question.

Paulspens: Paul Erano is a staple member of the pen show scene, and a font of knowledge and cool pens. He also edits The Fountain Pen Journal magazine and runs the Black Pen Society.

Anderson Pens: The Andersons have a variety of stationery on their site including restored vintage pens of all kinds.

Fountain Pen Hospital: An NYC institution, they sell pens of all sorts including vintage.

Antique Fountain Pen Not Working?

First, that’s not unusual, and it isn’t something to panic about. These pens have seen lots of use and some of them have been through the wringer. Remember, these are tools that people used all the time before they were collectibles. I wouldn’t suggest taking them apart and tinkering with them yourself unless you’re okay with possibly breaking something. Far better to send them off to a repair person who can restore it to function. I’ll link to some good restoration people below. Most of them also sell vintage pens, so check their stock and don’t be afraid to email them with questions or pens you’re looking for.

Martin’s Pens 51

Ron Zorn


The Pen Market

The Write Pen

About the Author

Mike Matteson is an educator, gardener, and video game player when he isn’t creating stationery content on YouTube, Twitch, or his blog.

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