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Buying a Vintage fountain pen as a gift

A vintage fountain pen as a gift

A vintage fountain pen is, I suppose, a luxury item in the sense that it is not essential to every day life, as the earlier ones were at the time of manufacture. On special occasions, such as Christmas, such items are always appreciated on the basis that 'I've always wanted one but couldn't justify the expenditure on myself'.

A fountain pen is also, traditionally, a gift given to show recognition of an academic achievement of some sort, a graduation for instance.  The scene from the wonderful film 'A Beautiful Mind', where John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, is showered with pens after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on Game Theory comes to mind. 

So, what kind of person would love an old pen as a gift? 

Perhaps surprisingly, it is not only the older generation, at the London Pen Show recently I saw a good number of 'twenty or thirty somethings' enthusiastically trying out the vintage pens on offer.  

Some of the things that the vast majority hopeful recipients of a vintage pen have in common are: 

* A, not always fond, memory of using a fountain pen at school or college.

* An interest in machines of some kind, simple or complex.

* An appreciation of old designs and antiques in general.

* A love of tactile and aesthetically pleasing objects.

* Some interest in historical matters, every old pen has a story!

* A tendency towards the unusual or quirky.

On a good many occasions I have been asked to find a pen from a certain year, very recently a gentleman wanted a 1972 Parker 51 for his wife's 50th. birthday present, she was born in that year.  I was pleased to find one to suit.

It is also not unusual to be asked for a particular make of pen to replace one that was lost, stolen, or bashed up many years ago.

How much should I pay?

The price of the gift is obviously a major consideration.  There is a misconception that vintage fountain pens are just too expensive when compared to modern pens.  An example is a direct comparison between a Parker 51 from the 1950s and the 'New Parker 51' introduced this year.  The 1950s. pen has  a filling system that uses bottled ink and a 14Ct. Gold nib, you can buy a really nice, restored one for around £100.  The 'New 51', Gold nibbed version has an ink cartridge arrangement and retails for around £220. 

If your budget limit is, say, £50, there is a good choice of servicable and attractive vintage pens, often with Gold nibs.  If the pen has been properly restored or serviced it will probably write well and be around for many years to come.  The reason that these pens are so inexpensive is generally because they sold well 50 or more years ago and are consequently not particularly rare.  A Parker Doufold Slimfold, 45, Lady and a range of lesser known English lever fillers are good examples. 

If you have a slightly more relaxed budget, say, around £100, there is a good range of attractive and practical vintage fountain pens available.  There are too many models to look at all of them but, if I had to recommend just one pen it would have to be a Parker 51.  I do admit to bias here, I love 51s.!

Things to look for: 

* The pen should work, and write well:

The main purpose, in fact the only real purpose of a fountain pen is that it should write.  If buying online it is important that there is a writing sample or, at least, a description of the writing characteristics of the pen.  

* There should be a returns policy in place: 

No matter how carefully you choose there is always a chance that the pen isn't right, either it doesn't work properly or doesn't suit for one reason or another.  You should be confident that, if this is the case, that you can return it for a full refund or replacement.

* The pen has been serviced and tested:

Even if the pen is listed as 'unused' it should have undergone a thorough check and service.  Vintage lever fillers almost always need a new ink sac, as these deteriorate with age.  Pens that rely on seals and gaskets in the filling system e.g. Sheaffer 'touchdown' models, all plunger or piston fillers, and vacumatic pens, should have had the seals replaced as they also detreiorate with age.

* A full and accurate description, with photographs: 

Too often, online descriptions of vintage fountain pens are sketchy and the photographs are inadequate.  You should be able to see the pen from a number of angles with close up shots of the important details.  The description should be accurate and comprehensive, simple 'one liners' are seldom sufficient.

* The price should reflect the value of the pen: 

This is sometimes quite difficult, as it is for all vintage items.  Articles published online purporting to give tha value of vintage pens are usually worthless in that they are often years out of date and often ill informed or just plain wrong.

Similarly a quick check on eBay or similar sites can often be a big mistake.  Auction prices depend solely on the number of bidders so can be hopelessly wide of the mark, in both directions.  Pens listed on these sites as 'buy it now' can be more accurate but are often hugely inflated.  It costs nothing to list so an unscrupulous lister can 'chance his arm', a 'win, win' for them and a 'lose, lose' for you.

The safest way is to buy from an established dealer with a reputation to protect and an investment in the process.  Website hosting is not cheap and the time and effort to get a decent position on the search engines is considerable.  Prices on these sites, and this is one of them, do vary but are generally in the same 'ball park'.  As every vintage pen is unique, in tems of condition, some variation is to be expected but you should be able to come to the conclusion that 'I should be paying between this price and that price for this type of pen', which is as close as you'll get.

Things to avoid: 

* Inadequate Information:

 Ideally you would like to handle the pen, try it, and do a thorough examination before you buy, but, as most purchases will be online this isn't usually an option.  However, a fair and comprehensive assessment is still possible but very rarely offered.  Online auction sites are simply not suited to a purchase of a vintage pen as a gift at Christmas, it is a 'one time shot' and must be as good as you can make it for a very special purpose. 

The information given is generally insufficient and/or not sufficiently reliable to make the gamble, unless the seller is a respected and recognised dealer.  The 'hassle' iinvolved if things don't go to plan can be very sistressing.

* Impractical vintage pens

A vintage pen may be in excellent condition, very beautiful, rare and desirable but still a terrible choice as a gift.  Really old pens, often with lovely flexible nibs, perhaps 'eyedropper fillers', often fall into this category.

Unless the person you are buying for is a collector and has a known interest in this particular pen it could well be totally unsuitable, the main reasons being practicality and robustness, or lack of it.

These pens are best suited as collection pieces or 'signature pens', only used for special occasions.  As the name suggests they are perfect for cards, signatures, or letter writing but totally unsuitable to being carried from place to place and used on an every day basis.

* Obsolete cartridge fillers:

Some converter/cartridge filling pens are now practically unusable because the cartridges or converters are no longer made.  This is hardly ever disclosed on eBay and the like, by the time you find out, it is too late.  For some models, such as the Sheaffer Targa slimline pens, the cartridges can be found but it is not easy.  Others, the Waterman CF, for example have to rely on modified cartridges from other pens that seldom work efficiently.

Fortunately, Parker made a committment, when they introduced cartridge fillers, that Parker cartridge would always fit any Parker pen, and they stuck to it. A cartridge that fits a 1964 Parker 45 will also fit a 2022 Parker pen.

* Dings, cracks, deep scratches, and chips.

It could be argued that this is always the case but it is often completely fine to buy a pen with these defects, providing the price is right, as a daily user.  I have a very 'bashed about' Onoto that serves very well as a signature pen.

Nevertheless, as a gift, it's probably not a good idea to buy something that is not right and cannot be economically viable to fix.  Metal caps may be fine with the odd slight ding or ripple but if the dent is serious then a new cap is probably the only solution.  As the number of pens made is eaual to the number of caps then it is clear that good caps are now in short supply and correspondingly expensive.

* Pens that don't write or write badly:

If a lever filler doesn't fill, it's probably, although not certainly, because it needs a new ink sac.  Under normal circumstances this is an easy fix but, in the case of a gift it isn't a good idea.  Even if a new sac is fitted it may be that the pen still doesn't write properly for a different reason.  A 'dip test' is inadequate as it only tests the point, not ink flow.


I hope this helps in selecting a vintage fountain pen as a gift for a loved one at Christmas.  Please feel free to contact me at: if you have any questions or need firther advice.

If any pens on this site are of interest I would welcome an enquiry before purchase.  I will give a full, and honest appraisal of the pen and it's suitability as a gift.  I also offer a full, no quibble, money back returns service with free postage.