Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian

Fountain Pens

I was always led to believe that you could learn a lot about a person by their shoes and the type of pen they might use. I can only assume that whoever was responsible for paying £183,000 for a Dunhill lacquer pen in 2001 must have been incredibly well heeled. The expensive scribbler was made between 1928 and 1930 and was known as a Namiki No 50 Giant, measuring 10ins in length.

So why on earth would anyone pay that sort of money? Well according to pen specialist Alexander Crum Ewing of Bloomsbury Auctions of London it was the ultimate pen. The pens case,or barrel,and its cover were exquisitely decorated in raised gold lacquer against a polished black ground with a pair of dragons. The stunning designs were overseen by Genroku Matsuda a famous Japanese artist employed by Namiki to create designs for thirty pupils to execute on their hard rubber or 'ebonite' cases.

The 10 ins 'Double Dragon' Giant was exceptional and Namiki pens of the more regular size can still be found nearer the £1,000 mark. Having looked at the top end of the market place its good to learn that new collectors can still amass a sizable collection for relatively little outlay. According to Alexander Crum Ewing collectors can be divided into two categories i.e. those who place importance on pristine condition and those who go for quantity.

The absolute essential for any collection has to be probably the most successful pen of the entire 20th century - The Parker 51 (I actually own one). The records show that in excess of 41 million Parker 51s have found their way into pockets and desk trays of the world between 1939 and 1973. Early examples made between 1939-46 feature a coloured button or pearl stud at both the end of the barrel and the cover. Prices start at £30 and can go as high as £100 plus.

Another Parker pen that always manages to set the collectors pulses racing is one of the company's earliest creations dating from 1910. The Parker 'Snake' incorporated a silver plated or rolled gold serpent encircling the barrel and cover. Be prepared to part with £10,000 if you cannot face the rest of your life without one. Such is the 'Snake's' popularity that Parker decided to reissue it in recent years upgrading the plated serpent to solid silver

Other pen makers that collectors search out today include Waterman, Mont Blanc, Sheaffer, Dupont, Mabie Todd, Conway Stewart and AT Cross. Vintage pens benefit from having a wide variety of knibs that let the ink flow onto the page without the need to press hard. Don't be too offput by corroded or vulcanised (hardened) rubber sacs as these can be replaced by various repair shops or hospitals.

So what are the other 'must haves' as far as todays collectors are concerned and what sort of prices are involved. Looking at Mont Blanc their 'Meisterstuck' or Masterpiece introduced in 1924 was the work of Ernst Rosler a former Submarine designer and engineer. A good clean example might set you back somewhere in the region of £150 which is actually less than the retail price of a present day equivalent.

Diane Marsh from Cumbria has been in touch to ask about her red Parker fountain pen which was purchased by her late father sometime in the 1920s. Although it has the appearance of plastic both the barrel and the cover are actually composed of a hard and polished rubber. Made in America in about 1925 your pen is a Lucky Curve Duofold Senior nicknamed the 'Big Red'. It also happens to be a must for any collector, most are prepared to pay £100 to own an example.

Further Information can be found by contacting The Writing Equipment Society at www.wesonline.org.uk

Or Alexander Crum Ewing at Bloomsbury auctions at www.bloomsburyauctions.com

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