Collecting Vintage Fountain Pens

Fountain pens as we know them were first introduced in 1884 by the L. E. Waterman Pen Company in New York. These first fountain pens were designed to continuously feed the ink via a channel to the nib – rather than the antiquated way of dipping the nib into an ink well. These first pens were a huge success and were produced in not only hard rubber but also silver and gold.

Today, collecting fountain pens is one of the top collectibles. However, rather than trying to collect every pen made, most collectors have chosen to focus on one manufacturer or one style of pen. And with the major fountain pen manufacturers having produced more than one million pens a year between 1910 to the 1940’s, there are a lot of pens to choose from.

L.E. Waterman (1884 – Present)

With Waterman being the premier fountain pen manufacturer (in our opinion), it’s not hard to understand why that in the very early 1900’s they were selling over one thousand pens a day. They continued to expand their market by introducing plastic pens in 1928-38 (the Patrician) and a ‘large men’s pen’. The ‘large men’s pen’ is one of the most highly sought after – and the hardest to find.

Waterman used various numbering systems to describe their pens.   There is not enough space here to go into this, however,  if you want to learn more about this system  you can purchase Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments .

fountainpens-3W

The Waterman Company also devised nine (9) different ways ¹ to make filling the pen with ink easier and cleaner. These methods were:

 

  • Eyedropper Filler (1884-1928)
  • Pump Filling No. 1 (1899)
  • Pump Filling No. 2 (1903-1926)
  • Safety Pen (1907-1940’s)
  • Sleeve Filler (1910-1915)
  • Coin Filler (1913-1914)
  • Lever Filler (1915-1955)
  • Cartridge Filler (1936-Present)
  • Ink-Vue-Filler (1935-1940)

 

Parker Pen Company (1888-Present)

This pen company did not see a steady increase in sales until 1898 when the development of the ‘Lucky Curve’ pen (so named because the ink feed was curved against the side of the barrel channeling ink back into the reservoir) was developed and widely advertised. The introduction of the Duofold pen in late 1921 – guaranteed for 25 years – also added to the company’s success. The orange lacquer colored ‘Big Red’ Duofold pen was a change from the traditional ‘big men’s’ black pen and as such was an instant success.

fountainpens_2PD

 

Parker is known for its plastic pens (late 1926) called Permanite. New colors were for the plastic Duofolds were debuted. The eight colors used are listed below with the year they were introduced in parentheses.

  • Orange (1921)
  • Black (1922)
  • Green jade (1926)
  • Lapis Blue & Mandrin Yellow (1927)
  • Moderne Black & Pearl (1928)
  • Moderne Green & Pearl (1930)
  • Burgundy Red & Black (1930)

Other colors you may find are Sea Green Pearl Marble, Chocolate Pearl marble and Red Pearl marble. Production of the Duofolds was stopped in 1932.

The Parker Pen Company continued to produce the aforementioned  pens and in 1933 introduced the Vacuum Filler pen (Vacumatic). This pen remained in production from 1933 until 1948. This was followed by the Parker 51 introduced in 1941. This pen is known for changing the look and style of all fountain pens to come resulting in Parker Pen Company achieving production of over a million pens a year beginning in 1946.

Other Pen Companies

Other pen companies – some more notable than others –  were produced by the following companies.   In addition to their dates of production being given in parentheses, we’ve bolded the companies whose pens are more highly sought after.

  • Sheaffer Pen Company (1913 – Present)
  • Wahl-Eversharp Pen Company (1914 – 1957)
  • Swan Pen: Mabie Todd & Co. (1843-1939)
  • Montblanc (1908-Present)
  • Crocker Pen (1902-1931)
  • Chilton Pen (1923-1941)
  • Eagle Pencil (and Pen) Company (1860-Present)
  • Conklin Pen Company (1898-1947)
  • The Moore Pen Company (1896-19560
  • The American Fountain Pen Co. (1899-1917)
  • A.A. Waterman Pen Co (1897-1920)
  • John Holland Pen Co. (1841-1950)
  • Dunn Pen Company (1921-1924)
  • Houston Pen Company (1911-1924)
  • The Lincoln Pen Co. (1895-1906)
  • Carter Pen Co. (1926-1931)
  • Aikin Lambert Pen co (1864-1932)
  • Paul E. Wirt Fountain Pen Co. (1878-1930)

And of course, there were numerous smaller companies who manufactured fountain pens to be sold through catalogues or regionally. You’ll find these do not have the demand or the quality of those manufactured by the larger pen companies.

How to Value a Fountain Pen

When buying fountain pens there are several things to consider. These are:

fountainpens-1Overall Condition – This is the most important consideration. You do not want to purchase a damaged pen unless you want it for parts. Look for damage to the cap, barrel, and nib. Damage such as this can result in losing up to 75% of the pen’s value.

Working Condition – Buy in working condition if possible. While pens can be cleaned and returned to working order, most collectors would opt out of this since it is possible the pen may be broken or damaged during the process.

Color – A colored pen is typically worth more than a black pen. However, check the color for quality. Color should be crisp and rich with no bleeding of colors when more than one color is used.  And, you do not want a pen where the ink has leaked and stained the barrel.

Size – Most collectors are interested in the larger pens, while lady’s pens have remained less desirable.

Pen Sizes for closed pens:

Standard: 5-1/4′ (13.4 cm) to 5-1/2″ (14cm)

Men’s: Over 5-1/2″ (14cm)

Original Parts – when buying fountain pens you want one that is original to maintain the value. This is very important when buying Parker Duofolds as there are different variations to production years – and some pen stores would change the nibs and feeds out when making repairs.

Rightly so, fountain pen collectors are some of the most discriminating buyers due to the fact that they want the best quality, original parts (including case if available), and are willing to pay for what they want. If you are just starting out collecting fountain pens consider buying the best fountain pen your budget will allow. However, remember a damaged or pieced together pen where parts are not original will not increase in value, so you may be better off to wait until you find exactly what you want and can afford.

 

(1)   The Illustrated Guide to Antique Writing Instruments  by Stuart Schneider & George Fischler

Buying ‘Antique’ Furniture

Whether you’re buying old or new furniture, you want the best furniture you can get. Today we’ll take a brief look at some features to consider when buying older, antique furniture. First thing to know is that most of the furniture you are likely to see – unless you are dealing with a VERY high end dealer – will most likely be ‘in the style of’. This means the furniture was built at a later date to look like an earlier period. For example, we’ve all seen Queen Anne style furniture. However, original pieces of Queen Anne furniture can be dated back to 1720-1750, whereas the items you’re likely to see at estate sales, in shops or at auctions was probably manufactured in the late-19th or early-20th century.

Styles

Some furniture styles go back to the early 1600’s. However, we’re only going to cover the more popular styles of furniture you’re likely to see – those starting in the mid-1700’s.

In each case, the original date for each style is shown in parentheses followed by the type of wood used and a few distinguishing features. If you would like more information on period furniture, you may want to order a good book on  Antique Furniture – available on Amazon.

furniture_queenanne1

Queen Anne (1720 – 1750) – cabriolet leg with Dutch food, broken pediment top with urn or flame finials on tall pieces. Woods: walnut, maple, cherry. Decorations: carved shells, fans, sunburst motif.

Chippendale (1750 – 1775) – cabriolet leg with ball and claw foot. Woods: mahogany and sometimes walnut. Decorations: elaborate shell, scroll, foliage.

Hepplewhite (1785 – 1800) – square tapering legs. Woods: mahogany, frequently with satinwood veneer. Decorations: carving of drapery festoons, inlaid oval panels of satinwood, medallions of eagle or classic figures.

Sheraton (1800 – 1820) – turned and reeded legs. Woods: mahogany with satinwood veneer, curly maple. Decorations: shaped panels of satinwood, bow-knotted wheat ears, foliage sprays.

American Empire (1820 – 1840) – turned legs, spirally reeded or acanthus-leaf carved. Wood: mahogany with crotch-grain veneer, cherry, curly maple. Decorations: boldly done carving.

Victorian (1840 – 1901) – cabriole leg, white marble tops for tables. Woods: Rosewood, black walnut. Decorations: crestings and cartouche shaped medallions of flowers, fruits and foliage.

Eastlake (1870 – 1890) – considered part of the Victorian era. Can be found in oak with ‘scooped spoon’ type designs. Wood: Oak

Arts & Crafts (1900 – 1925) – straight lines with mortise and tenon construction. Wood: Oak. Decorations: brass, copper handles.

furniture_eastlake

Construction Features

furniture_dovetailThe following are some basic features to look for when shopping for furniture. While you may not be able to afford an original period piece, you can certainly afford a piece-in-the-style-of that is well made. So when shopping be sure to look for some of these clues as to the quality of furniture.

Dove-tailing is a means of construction to connect corners – typically drawers. It is created by the interlocking of tenons and mortises. (photo). Found in better furniture.

Veneering – is the application of a thin layer of fine – often expensive – wood that has been glued to less expensive wood to achieve a more desirable appearance. Most of the time the veneer is only applied to the top surface, however, sometimes the sides are also veneered. To determine if a piece has veneer, look for a separation line along the edges. Also, check the back of the piece of furniture. Less expensive pieces will have thin, low-quality wood here or sometimes pieces fitted together from other furniture.

Screws – Check the screws used on a piece of furniture to attach the hardware or hold the mirror and/or backboard in place. In some cases, you’ll see screws in the back where they are used to help hold the piece together. Flat head screws (and square nails) are an indication of an older piece. Phillips head screws (1)  were first marketed in the early 1930’s – so any piece with a Phillips head screw is either not original or possibly has been repaired.

 

Types of support under chair seats springs, straps – Older chairs will have wire springs hand-tied tied together and supported with canvas straps. Check the underside of chairs for construction and screws!

 

Watch Our For:

furniture_mortiseWood worms – typically found in English furniture. Wood worms can cause a piece of furniture to literally disintegrate. When shopping, look for small holes about the size of a pin head. This is epically true if the furniture has been imported. If you see these small holes, tap on the piece to see if ‘sawdust’ falls out. This is a sign the wood worms are still active. They can be very destructive to the point where at an auction one time, I witnessed a person put their hand through the side of piece of furniture that was nothing more than a paper thin sheet of ‘wood’ – with nothing behind it but wood dust.

If you think you have a piece of furniture with wood worms, they can be treated by encasing the piece in an air tight cover with formaldehyde tablets, and then leaving it for a period of time. The length of time depends on how bad the infestation is.

Grain Painting – not a problem if you know that is what you’re buying. Items such as this typically are made of less desirable wood (pine) that has been painted to look like a more expensive wood. Some pieces are quite nice and if painted by an artist, you’ll have to look close to tell the difference.

 

Stains – if a piece of furniture has stains, be aware that you most likely can’t get them out. Even refinishing a piece won’t help if the stain has penetrated the wood. In some cases, wood bleach might help – but unless the piece is something you can’t live without – it really isn’t worth the effort or expense. Wood bleach is not easy to work with and can be harmful to your person if not used correctly.

Bad veneer – watch our for peeling, torn, cracked or curling veneer. Veneer can be repaired using special glues to re-attach the existing veneer if it is just loose or bubbled. If veneer is missing, you’ll need to replace the damaged section – and in some cases the whole top. This can be a lot of tedious, expensive work if you do it yourself. An alternate solution for bad veneer would be to cover the top with another material. For example, marble.

 

Happy shopping!

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_F._Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enamel Artwork: Cloissone & Plique-a-jour

Cloisonné is thought to have been used as far back as Byzantine times for jewelry and religious items. However, the items we are apt to find today when shopping estate sales and flea markets will most likely be Chinese or Japanese pieces produced somewhere between 1900 – 1950’s. These mass produced, un-marked items were manufactured typically for export. However, some pieces were artist created and these will have more value. The trick is to know the difference . . . and this will require some in-depth study of cloisonné.

cloisonneprocess

How Cloisonné is Made

Cloisonné as we think of it today is an item that has a metal base. This base can be copper, gold, silver, brass and sometimes even steel. Copper and brass are the two metals you are most likely to see as they were relatively inexpensive to use and easy to work with.

Once the base and final form have been created, the design is either transferred or drawn onto the form. Next, wire or thin metal strips are attached to the piece with a special glue to match the design. If the piece is large, for example a charger, parts of the design may be fitted together first before being attached to the piece.

cloissonevases

These compartments (or cloisons in French)  are filled with colored enamels to match the coloring of the original design. Once filled the piece is fired in a kiln and cooled. Firing causes the enamel to sink making it necessary to repeat this step as many times as needed until the enamel is above the wire separating the compartments.

After the final firing, the piece will have an uneven surface. To make the enamel level with the wires, a grinding process is used. Once this has been done the piece is polished. And finally, the exposed wires are covered by either dipping the piece into a liquid of gold or silver or either electroplating giving it a finished look.

Note: Some pieces have an enameled bottom, while others will have metal.

Plique-á-Jour

Plique-á-jour (French) can loosely be translated to  ‘light of day’ and is a related technique of enameling. One you’re likely to see in jewelry. In this process the wires or thin metal strips used to produce the design have no metal backing. This give the piece a stain-glass look. This look is enhanced by the use of clear enamels that allow the light to come through.

cloisonneplique

Pieces of Plique-á-jour are created by using a thin copper or mica base for the design.  This base is then either etched away with acid or peeled off – respectively.

Jewelry items using this method are very desirable and can be quite expensive.

If you are in the market for cloisonné or plique-á-jour, educate yourself. It may save you hundreds of dollars since most people – including many dealrs – are not knowledgeable on the topic. For more in depth information about cloisonné, consider the reference guides available on  Amazon.

 

 

 

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