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Fountain Pen 201: Secondhand and Vintage

Posted in Fountain Pens

Welcome back to Fountain Pen 201, and happy Fountain Pen Friday! In this issue, I’ll be discussing secondhand and vintage pens.

Secondhand and vintage pens are kind of like rectangles and squares. Almost without exception, vintage pens are secondhand, but certainly not all secondhand pens are vintage.

Because of this relationship, virtually everything you should know about buying secondhand pens applies to buying vintage pens. There are also some extra things to consider when buying vintage.


Ideally, before you purchase vintage or secondhand, you should do a decent amount of research.

First, make sure you’re buying your pen from a reputable source. Check ratings and reviews of sellers, if possible. If that’s not possible, then perhaps avoid spending significant amounts of money. And always beware those “too good to be true” deals.

Next, do a bit of research on the pen you want and what it’s selling for. A look at recently sold items on eBay can give you a rough ballpark value. If you know someone who’s familiar with the pen(s) you’re interested in, talk to them about pricing.

You’ll also want to know what, if anything, can be easily replaced or repaired. This is important, because if you find a good deal on a pen that has some issues, you’ll want to know a) if it can be fixed/restored, and b) if it’s worth the time, effort, and money to fix/restore it.

Caveat Emptor

OK, you’ve done your research and now you’re looking at your pen. Make sure to really inspect the pen. Check for imperfections, look at the nib through a loupe, activate the filling mechanism. You don’t want any surprises when you get home if you can help it. You should be as certain as possible of the pen’s quality/condition.

Test write with the pen. Get an idea of how it feels on paper. Dip testing in ink is the best test, but dip testing in water, or even writing dry will give you some idea of how the pen feels on paper.

Also, test the ink filling mechanism. Draw some water into the pen to make sure it’s functioning properly.

Now, depending on how you’re buying the pen and from whom, you may not be able to do some, or any, of these, so find out if you can return the pen if there are problems. If you can’t, you’ll have to determine if the potential payoff/benefit outweighs the risk.

If you’re buying online, make sure that there is some purchase protection. For example, when I buy through Virtual Pen Show, I pay the extra few dollars to send money via “Goods and Services” on PayPal so I have a way to recoup my money if I never get the pen.

A Couple More Things

There are a couple other things to keep in mind, especially with vintage pens.

Research what inks and cleaners you can use. Not all modern inks and cleaners, like pen flush, are suitable for all vintage pens. Find out what you should avoid.

Look into heat and cold sensitivity of your pen. You don’t want it to melt or crack on you.

And find an expert you can talk to if you have questions. You’re sure to find lots of good information on pen forums, for example.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind, I’m trying to give you an overview of all the things you may want to consider. It’s up to you what you actually want to concern yourself with, and at what price point you want to be more cautions.

So are you a fan of vintage pens? Have you bought any secondhand pens? Let me know in the comments. And come back next week for the final Fountain Pen 201 issue. I’ll be discussing selling your pens.

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