What is This Pen Worth? Part 1 - Identifying

You could be sitting on a gold mine.

What is This Pen Worth Part 1 - Identifying
eBay listings for vintage pens
Well, that might be exaggerating a bit, but you may have some gold on a pen that could be quite valuable.
Every day, collections of pens are either rediscovered by the current owner or inherited by someone who may not be knowledgeable about the writing instruments they now possess.
The pens are old. You know that much for sure. But, how old and, more importantly, how valuable are these writing instruments of yesteryear?
Vintage pens, from the layperson point-of-view, can be overlooked as a defunct device in the current era of mobile phones and touchscreen tablets. Unless you're a pen aficionado, it is not easy to identify and place a value on a writing instrument.

That's where this article aims to help. Although we're a retailer of modern pens, we have over 10 years of experience and have seen both sides of the market - customers who are hunting for discontinued, out-of-production pens and folks who are looking to liquidate their collection of pens. There is a healthy demand on the web for vintage and discontinued pens. One resource to consider for both identifying and valuing your pens is the fountain pen network forum, where enthusiasts and experts gather to share knowledge and advice.

If you list the pens as an estate sale or lot without doing your proper research, you could be leaving major dollars on the table that could have been easily in your pocket.

Relying on the collector's market or a reseller to pay a fair value for your writing instruments is a folly that will leave you with a fraction of the value for your collection.

The best way to figure out the value of your older pen is a 3-step process :

  1. Identify the make, model and the year of manufacture (estimated).
  2. Determine the condition
  3. Gauge the current market value of the item.

We're going to talk about step one, which is a question we get often - What is this pen that I have?

Before we get started, here is a simple diagram to get you familiar with the parts of a pen.

What is This Pen Worth Part 1 - Identifying
Parker Vacumatic Fountain Pen Basic Diagram of Named Parts

Step 1. Figure out the Brand

What is This Pen Worth Part 1 - Identifying
Parker Duofold Lucky Curve barrel imprint from Vintage Fountain Pens (UK)

Yes, even with pens, brand name is everything. Demand for Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, and Esterbrook pens are high in the vintage market, making them some of the best vintage fountain pens. Best case scenario is that you have the box and original paperwork and can easily find out what the brand, model, and approximate year of manufacture is. However, if you don't have that information handy, check the clip, nib, or cap band for the brand name. Most vintage pens will also have an imprint on the barrel with the brand name and perhaps a date code or other signifying marks that will make it easier to identify the pen.

Step 2. What's the Model?

Simply saying that I have a vintage Parker pen for sale doesn't cut it for most collectors. There's a large variety of different models that vary in value. Knowing your Vacumatics versus your Duofolds and 51's will help in getting a ballpark idea of the value.

Now that you know the brand, take to Google Image search. Enter a search "BRAND NAME pens". Alternatively, you may want to try the following searches :
BRAND NAME vintage pens
BRAND NAME MODE (where mode is ballpoint, rollerball or fountain pen)
BRAND NAME + other imprint text that is found on pen

The idea of this google search is to find images that match the pen you are researching. Then, once you find the image that matches, click on it, then click on "visit page" to see the webpage that is hosting the image. Most likely, that site will have more information, including the make and model of the pen you are looking for.

Step 3. Devil in the Details

Now that you have a make and model, it's time to bone up on your pen history. That's where it will be helpful to have a resource like Richard Binder's website or a brand-specific website like Parker Penography to find more details about the history of the particular pen. The key is to find more information about the materials of the pen, the year manufactured and the filling system.

Some sellers on eBay or vintage resellers might also have a solid amount of information, including dimensions of the pen, idiosyncrasies with rare variants and common problems that may be encountered when restoring the writing instrument.

If you're stuck on any of the steps, don't worry, there's help to be had.

Take a nice photo of the pens you are looking to identify. Sign up as a user (it's free) to Fountain Pen Network, Reddit /r/fountainpens or FP Geeks. Post the pic on one of those discussion board style sites with a sincere plea for help to find the identity of your pens. The kind and knowledgable folks that frequent those sites are usually very quick and helpful to lend you their expertise.

At this point, you should have the brand name, model and should have an approximate idea of when the pen was made, what type of filling system it has and some other tidbits that will help you in the next step, which is Part 2 : determining the condition of the pen.

Do you have any comments or tips on how you go about identifying an unknown pen? Please share them below in the comments.


Disclaimer : Although I'd love to help every one of you that are trying to do your own detective work, there's not enough time in the day and we're not official appraisers of pens, nor do we purchase our inventory from private sellers.
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