I know many of you on FPC have been collecting for years, but I often have new collectors contact me about buying a pen.
So here are a few tips for those newer buyers to consider when shopping for a writing instrument. And although I reference fountain pen, this advice applies to any writing instrument.
If a seller doesn't provide the information you need to make a decision, don't hesitate to ask questions before committing to buy. Be respectful, but don't be afraid to ask about condition, size, nib width, etc. After all, it's your money being spent.
And while some sellers will gladly provide writing samples, others (myself included) see little value in such samples (especially when we have lousy handwriting that doesn't begin to demonstrate what a pen can do in the right hands).
Do Your Homework
If you want to learn more about a pen's history, poke around the web. A number of websites contain great information, including Fountain Pen Network (FPN), Richard Binder's website, and many others. Consult more than one website to develop a consensus.
Handle lots of pens at shops, pen shows, and at club meetings. Nothing beats hands-on experience, especially if you have an expert right there to guide you.
You should also research prices before buying. Search past auctions and sales on eBay, here, FPN, Pentrace, and other pen sale boards for prices of pens that have sold. Always keep in mind that model, condition, color, and other variables will have an effect on prices.
Keep in mind that the lowest price isn't always your best price.
Restored pens from well-known and respected dealers will usually sell for more money than an unrestored pen on eBay. You often get what you pay for. If you want a restored pen from a name you can trust, with a solid return policy and even a guarantee, you will usually pay extra. There are exceptions to this rule, but always check the reputation of the seller before buying -- especially if you consider the pen to be an expensive purchase.
If you are interested in a new, modern pen, but are scared by the list price, consider buying a used one in good condition. It's a lot like buying a recent model used car. Let someone else pay the premium on the new car smell, so you don't have to :-) That way, if it turns out you're not thrilled with the pen, you can often sell it for what you paid.
Be A Little Brave
No pen will perform the same for every person. How you hold the pen, the ink and paper you use, all will affect how a pen performs. Sometimes (especially when you buy online), you have to take a chance. I'm not talking about undisclosed problems (like damage or flaws), but how the pen works for you.
Some dealers (often dealers of new pens) have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, no questions asked. I'll admit right now that many of us who sell the occasional vintage pen can't give such a guarantee. I'll back any promise I make about a pen, including its condition and that it will write well when used by someone who knows how to write with a fountain pen (if I sell it as restored). But I can't guarantee that you will like the pen's weight, balance, tactile feel or other more intangible qualities that are personal preferences.
That's where it's up to you to do your homework and visit a pen shop, show or club and handle pens in person to learn what aspects of a pen you might like. And, quite simply, take a chance and try the pen. If you don't like it, come here and sell it to someone who might like it better than you.
Make Sure The Pen Gets To You Safely
This is a pet peeve I have, especially for eBay. Many sellers who don't know pens (and a quite a few who do), will ship a pen loose in a bubble envelope. Don't let them do it!!!!
Always insist that a seller packs the pen carefully in a box to protect it from damage during shipping.
Some sellers wrap their pens in tissue or other cushioning material and slide the pen into a length of plastic PVC pipe. They then pack that into a box or padded envelope. It's almost impossible for a pen packed this way to be crushed or bent. However, I've had pens packed in PVC piping and padded envelopes arrive falling out of the envelope because the sharp edge of the piping tore the envelope. I still prefer boxes.
Also insist on shipping insurance, especially if the pen is being shipped within your country. International shipping poses different problems and solutions which I'll get into in a future post.
Be Flexible (you, not necessarily the nib)
In the end, be prepared to learn and make mistakes. Your tastes will change and evolve, so don't approach pen buying like an exacting science.
Buy some pens, try them out, get rid of those you don't like (or learn how to fix and adjust them), and buy some more.
Most of all, have fun.
This post has been promoted to an article
EDIT: This post doesn't begin to cover the issues of buying pens as a collector. That's a much bigger subject we'll tackle later.
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Pen Buying Tips for Newbies
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