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When Style Ruled the Desk – Vintage Fountain Pens

When Style Ruled the Desk - Vintage Fountain Pens
Here is a close-up of a gorgeous Montblanc 149 Meisterstruck fountain pen, with its iconic solid 18 karat gold nib engraved with "4810" - the height in meters of the famous Mont Blanc mountain in the Alps.  The luxury German fountain pen maker Montblanc first introduced the 149 Meisterstruck in 1952.  Widely considered one of the finest vintage fountain pens ever made, the Montblanc 149 Meisterstruck has remained in production almost unchanged to the current day.

Contemporary life can be a very cold, impersonal place.  All too often the modern world reduces us to a few key data points: a social security number, a credit card number, an email address.  And our addiction to technology exacerbates the situation, creating gulfs between us rather than bringing us together.  It is all too commonplace for co-workers to communicate via faceless email rather than in person.  Instead of calling that friend and hearing another human voice we are likely to send a terse, indifferent text.

But communication was not always so colorless.  Before texts and emails became a standard in interpersonal relationships, people used to hand write letters, cards and even documents.  And universally, to a man, they used the classic, timeless fountain pen to do this writing.

In the mid 20th century, a high quality fountain pen was the tangible, visible mark of a person of prominence.  A fountain pen displayed your personality for all to see, which, depending on the model chosen, could exude sophistication, social status or confidence.

Affordable Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
VINTAGE 1946 STRIPED DUOFOLD SENIOR PARKER VACUMATIC FOUNTAIN PEN RESTORED
$61.00 (4 Bids)
Ends: 5d 18h 3m

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VINTAGE WAHL DORIC FOUNTAIN PEN BRONZE GREEN 14K NIB
$100.00
Ends: 9h 49m
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vintage Parker 51 sterling silver ink pen
$61.00 (12 Bids)
Ends: 2d 13h 25m

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ANTIQUE JADE GREEN PARKER DUOFOLD JR LUCKY CURVE FOUNTAIN PEN w BOX
$65.00
Ends: 20d 14h 30m
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VINTAGE 1945 PARKER 51 VACUMATIC FOUNTAIN PEN GOLD FILLED CAP RESTORED
$56.00 (3 Bids)
Ends: 5d 18h 42m

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The heyday of vintage fountain pens was from the 1920s through the 1970s.  During this era, pen designers manufactured creations that dripped with the glittering zeitgeist of the prevailing age.  Fountain pens of the 1920s glimmered with angular metal and geometric designs, reflecting that era's optimism and daring.  Those from the 1930s combined  bold designs with rich colors to express the affluence and solidity so craved during the dark years of the Great Depression.  Vintage fountain pens of the 1940s, 50s and 60s possessed a streamlined sleekness that echoed the predominant aerospace milieu of the time.

A variety of companies produced high quality fountain pens during the mid 20th century.  US producers like Parker, Wahl/Eversharp, Sheaffer, and Waterman dominated the global pen industry during this time.  Pelikan and Montblanc are two notable German pen companies that were also active.  Waterman and Montblanc, in particular, are widely regarded as having created some of the finest (and consequently most expensive) vintage fountain pens known.  The preceding list of vintage fountain pen manufacturers is not exhaustive.  Many other pen companies existed and some of them made very interesting and desirable fountain pens.

Waterman Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
VINTAGE WATERMAN IDEAL CLIP CAP BLACK FOUNTAIN PEN
$112.50
Ends: 25d 16h 38m
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VINTAGE WATERMAN HUNDRED YEAR FOUNTAIN PEN
$125.00
Ends: 27d 14h 25m
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Vintage Watermans Ideal Fountain Pen 14K Gold Nib Boxed w Papers
$168.99 (17 Bids)
Ends: 11h 15m

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VINTAGE RED WATERMANS IDEAL FOUNTAIN PEN
$400.00
Ends: 9d 14h 51m

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Antique Rare 1930s Waterman Wood Grain No 13 1884 Ideal Eyedropper Fountain Pen
$435.60
Ends: 23d 18h 44m
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Vintage fountain pens come in a wide range of materials.  The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of tremendous innovation in the new field of plastics and this was reflected in the pens of that time.  Hard rubber, Celluloid, Bakelite and Lucite were all used extensively in antique fountain pens.  The metal trim and caps of vintage pens could be stainless steel, or plated, filled or even solid silver or gold.  Although uncommon and more expensive, some vintage fountain pen bodies are composed entirely of karat gold.

The nib, or metal tip, of a fountain pen is considered by most pen experts to be the most important part of the entire pen.  Most fine vintage nibs were made from solid 14 or 18 karat gold, although they can also be found in 10 karat gold, palladium and gold-plated steel.  Gold was the preferred material for fountain pen nibs because it allows them to be flexible.  This is a highly desirable characteristic that allows the writer's script to flow both effortlessly and artistically from the hand.

Parker Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
Vintage Parker vacumatic double jewel fountain pen
$110.00
Ends: 29d 12h 27m
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PARKER DUOFOLD PEARL  BLACK FOUNTAIN PEN INTERNATIONAL MED PT NEW OLD STOCK
$213.50 (9 Bids)
Ends: 3d 18h 57m

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Parker 51 Standard Fountain Pen NOS New Old Stock Never Inked Vintage
$142.75 (9 Bids)
Ends: 2d 19h 35m

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RARE VINTAGE PARKER VACUUM FILLER FOUNTAIN PEN PRE VACUMATIC SILVER 14K NIB
$500.00
Ends: 4d 13h 51m
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VINTAGE PARKER 51 AEROMETRIC Fountain Pen in TEAL BLUE 1953 FULLY RESTORED
$107.50 (31 Bids)
Ends: 5d 16h 6m

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Steel nibs were only used on cheaper pens.  All nibs, regardless of material, were generally plated with iridium or another of the platinum group metals to improve wear characteristics. Vintage nibs came in broad, medium, fine and other specialty tips in order to accommodate almost every conceivable writing style.

As with other antiques, condition is paramount when buying an older fountain pen.  A pen that is not in working condition will always be worth much less than one that can write.  A possible exception to this rule is new-old-stock (NOS) fountain pens.  These are pens that have sat in their original box for decades and have never been "inked" before - that is they haven't been used even once.

NOS pens are quite desirable, even though there is no guarantee they will work directly out of the box if filled with ink.  In most cases NOS pens only require minor restoration in order to work beautifully, even though they might have lain unused for well over half a century!

Sheaffer Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
Vintage Sheaffer PFM V Blue GF Cap WD Snorkel 14K FINE Nib Fountain Pen
$126.50 (6 Bids)
Ends: 5d 18h 34m

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Sheaffer Vintage Black Snorkel Pen uninked M 2 medium point
$145.00
Ends: 10d 17h 2m
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Sheaffer Snorkel Fountain Pen In Less Common Sage Green New Old Stock w Box
$199.99
Ends: 12h 24m
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Sheaffer Vintage Black Lever Fill Oversized Balance Fountain Pen fine point
$200.00
Ends: 8d 8h 57m
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Sheaffer Vintage White Dot Sentinel Cap Snorkel stickered
$125.00
Ends: 11h 17m
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Most vintage fountain pens that you encounter will be used rather than NOS, which is perfectly acceptable.  However, one has to make certain that any pen under consideration not only works, but also isn't too worn.  Brassing is a common wear phenomenon where the gold plating over a pen's metal trim or cap is worn through revealing the brass underneath - hence the name.

Depending on a vintage fountain pen's rarity and desirability some very minimal brassing may be acceptable in an investment grade piece, but the less brassing the better.  It is also paramount to search for examples with few or no nicks, scratches or dents, a requirement that can be challenging, especially with pens that have metal caps.  Avoid any pen with a broken clip or cracked barrel or cap; they cannot be considered investment grade under any circumstances.

Wahl/Eversharp Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
VINTAGE WAHL EVERSHARP DORIC FOUNTAIN PEN GOLD SEAL 14K NIB RESTORED WORKING
$250.00
Ends: 1d 17h 53m
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Eversharp Doric 7 Adjustable Nib Nice Pen Unrestored
$130.50 (13 Bids)
Ends: 4d 19h 51m

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Vintage Wahl Eversharp Doric Morocco 14k Flexible NIB
$120.00
Ends: 4d 13h 53m
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Wahl Eversharp Fountain Pen Doric Bantam Kashmir Gold Flexible Nib
$159.99
Ends: 16d 14h 16m
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WAHL GOLD SEAL DORIC AIRLINER Fountain Pen 6 Adjustable Nib INK SHUT OFF Box
$445.56
Ends: 19d 15h 20m
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One of the great advantages vintage fountain pen collectors enjoy is reasonable pricing.  Elegantly crafted specimens from the golden age of the fountain pen vary in price from about $50 for lightly used, common models to over $1,000 for the rarest and most desirable types.  But a wide variety of enticing, investment grade examples can be purchased for only $100 to $250.  This makes vintage fountain pens one of the sleeper hits of the antique world.

In fact, vintage fountain pen prices have already risen dramatically over the last 20 years.  It used to be possible to pick up good specimens at flea markets, second-hand shops and antique stores for $5 or $10 a pen.  While those days of ridiculously underpriced bargains are over, I still believe these overlooked tangible assets possess substantial future investment potential.

High-End Vintage Fountain Pens For Sale

 
VINTAGE RARE MONTBLANC MEISTERSTUCK SAFETY FOUNTAIN PEN 104G CELLULOID BODY
$2,800.00
Ends: 9d 11h 50m
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Vintage SOLID 14K Gold Sheaffers Ball Pen AI 705 2501 grams
$899.95
Ends: 13d 20h 48m
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VINTAGE RARE MONTBLANC SAFETY FOUNTAIN PEN SIZE 12 1 2 BLACK HARD RUBBER BHR
$1,200.00
Ends: 9d 11h 50m
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VINTAGE RARE MONTBLANC SAFETY FOUNTAIN PEN SIZE 17 1 2 BLACK HARD RUBBER BHR
$1,250.00
Ends: 9d 11h 50m
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VINTAGE MONTBLANC MEISTERSTUCK 149 FOUNTAIN PEN W 4910 2 TONE GOLD NIB USED
$900.00
Ends: 8d 12h 23m
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Vintage fountain pens allow both words and ideas to flow with a smoothness unmatched by today's keyboards or touch-screens.  In addition to potentially being an appreciating asset, a fine vintage fountain pen grants its user an echo of its glamorous past, allowing you to sign your name with a flourish and look stunningly good while doing it.

Paper Jewels – Medieval European Illuminated Manuscripts

Paper Jewels - Medieval European Illuminated Manuscripts
Here is a brilliantly colored leaf from a 13th century illuminated manuscript depicting scenes from the Aeneid, a classical work by the Latin poet Virgil.  The lavish use of bright colors like blue, red and gold is typical of high quality medieval illuminated works.

Long ago, in a more genteel age, the famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote in his moving poem "Sand and Foam" that "We live only to discover beauty.  All else is a form of waiting."  This is a Truth that we all too often forget as the harsh demands of our hectic day-to-day lives relentlessly engulf us.  It is also an adage that underscores what makes art so special.  Art is concentrated beauty given tangible form.  Regardless of the medium used to create it, each stroke of the artist’s paintbrush, stylus or pen is made with the intention of distilling the divine essence of beauty into a physical form.  And nowhere is this striving for unearthly beauty more obvious then when looking at the sumptuous designs and rich colors of medieval European illuminated manuscripts.

An illuminated manuscript is a handwritten book (or single page of such a book) that has been decorated with colored pigments.  European illuminated manuscripts were manufactured during the medieval period from approximately 600 CE to circa 1550 CE and were usually in Latin, the lingua franca of medieval Europe.  Illuminated manuscript production was driven by two different institutions.  European monasteries, the last bastions of literacy during the dark ages, became centers of book production after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Later in the Middle Ages, as European commerce and wealth grew, private scribes' guilds began to form.  These corporate-like guilds typically produced gorgeously illuminated manuscripts for wealthy clients who could afford the high cost of production.

Medieval Illuminated Book of Hours Leaves For Sale

 
MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BOOK OF HOURS LEAF c1470 INITIALS BORDER GOLD
$375.00
Ends: 15d 11h 53m
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MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BOOK OF HOURS LEAF c1470 LOVELY INITIALS BORDER
$299.00
Ends: 17h 23m
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MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BOOK OF HOURS LEAF c1470 LITANY OF SAINTS GOLD
$375.00
Ends: 11d 8h 7m
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ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT LEAF Minature BOOK OF HOURS Calligraphy LATIN c1480 RARE
$299.99
Ends: 22d 23h 5m
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ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BOOK OF HOURS BIFOLIUM LEAVES c1450 GOLD PSALMS 21
$495.00
Ends: 12d 11h 47m
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Illuminated manuscripts cover a wide range of topics, but most of them are religious in nature.  The most common types of texts encountered are Bibles, Psalters, Books of Hours, Breviaries, Bestiaries and musical/antiphonal manuscripts.  Psalters were religious documents intended for private use that contained excerpts from the Old Testament book of Psalms.  Bestiaries were encyclopedic tomes that contained entries of different types of animals, some real and some fantasy.  Breviaries were prayer books used by monks to guide their periodic daily prayers.  Books of Hours were personal prayer books used by private individuals.  Some of the most magnificent illuminated manuscripts to survive from the later middle ages are Books of Hours that were commissioned by extravagantly wealthy patrons.  A good example of this opulence is the priceless Tres Riches Heures of the early 15th century French nobleman, Jean le Duc de Berry.

Medieval Illuminated Bible Leaves For Sale

 
Shaw Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Color Gold Lithographs Ornaments Bible AO
$699.99
Ends: 13d 16h 49m
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Bible leavesdouble columnilluminated initialsc1460two pages joined
$179.00
Ends: 24d 20h 9m
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The creation of an illuminated manuscript was an involved and time consuming process that involved many different stages.  These precious documents were committed to dried animal skin - usually sheep or cow - which was known as parchment, or vellum, if made from calfskin.  Parchment is extremely durable and will easily last for centuries, if not millennia, as long as it is stored in a climate controlled environment.  Parchment preparation could take months by itself, and a full book might require the skin of 100 cows.  After the parchment was ready, it was ruled so that the written text would be straight.  Then the text itself was added via quill or reed pen.  Next, initials, borders and figures were outlined followed by the application of gold or silver leaf and other pigments.  Finally, all the pages were assembled and bound, usually in a leather or wooden cover.  A typical illuminated tome might have easily taken many different highly skilled medieval craftsmen hundreds of man hours to create.  By the later Middle Ages these steps were usually executed in a proto assembly line process by different individuals, each of whom was a master in his own area of expertise.

Medieval Illuminated Psalter and Breviary Leaves For Sale

 
LARGE ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT LEAF c1400 LATIN Calligraphy DOMINICAN BREVIARY
$549.99
Ends: 22d 23h 5m
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MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT BREVIARY LEAF c1300 INITIALS FEAST ST ANTHONY
$495.00
Ends: 13d 6h 51m
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MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPT dated c1300 ADBreviary illuminated Vellum Leaf Gold France
$339.00
Ends: 7d 21h 39m
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Circa 1400s FRAMED MEDIEVAL BREVIARY ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT LEAF
$412.01
Ends: 11d 19h 5m
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Illuminated manuscripts were produced in a time before synthetic dyes.  This meant that saturated, vibrant colors were rare, highly prized and exceedingly expensive.  Gold and silver colors were produced by delicately applying paper-thin gold or silver leaf to a document.  Vermillion, a high quality red, was made from a powdered ore of mercury called cinnabar.  An intense green came from crushed malachite, a semi-precious copper carbonate mineral, while the renowned deep blue of ultramarine originated from another exotic, semi-precious stone called lapis lazuli.  Malachite and lapis lazuli were rare in Europe and had to be imported thousands of miles from the remotest, most inaccessible mountains and deserts of Asia.  Other, more common materials, like lead, iron, or organic matter, were also used in the production of various pigments, but these often resulted in less intense colors.

Medieval Illuminated Antiphonal and Music Leaves For Sale

 
c1300s ILLUMINATED Antiphonal MANUSCRIPT Bible MUSIC Antiphonary VELLUM Flemish
$175.00
Ends: 1d 5h 9m
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 Antique Islamic Persian Illustrated Illuminated Manuscript Musical Scene
$250.00
Ends: 15d 22h 13m
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LARGE ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ANTIPHONAL LEAF c16TH CENTURY  LATIN
$325.00
Ends: 11d 18h 31m
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Early Illuminated Manuscript Leaf Musical Note Page 2
$150.00
Ends: 26d 16h 29m
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Early Illuminated Manuscript Leaf Musical Note Page
$150.00
Ends: 26d 16h 28m
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The invention of Gutenberg’s famous movable type printing press in 1453 signaled a sea-change in the way books were produced.  Until that time the effort and materials that went into an illuminated manuscript meant that books were expensive luxury items.  And the more richly illuminated a book was the more expensive it became to produce.  In an age of drab earth tones, only the very wealthiest members of society could afford these brilliantly hued repositories of treasured wisdom.  Over the course of the century following its introduction, the printing press changed that situation completely.  Book production ballooned after the advent of Gutenberg’s press, increasing dramatically between 1450 CE and 1550 CE due to the new technology.  Traditional, labor-intensive illumination techniques were wholly unable to compete with the cheaper, faster printing press.  Consequently, illuminated manuscript production rapidly declined until output was essentially nil by the middle of the 16th century.

People crave beauty.  Once our more basic biological needs have been met - food, water and shelter - it is only natural for humans to seek out exquisite objects of refinement and elegance.  And there are few things of greater artistry than medieval illuminated manuscripts.  Laboriously, painstakingly crafted by hand at every stage of their creation, medieval European illuminated manuscripts represent the pinnacle of late medieval art.  And yet these wonders of human ingenuity can be wonderfully affordable investments.

A single illuminated page with modest yet enchanting adornments can be acquired for only around $300.  More complex and colorful individual leaves that radiate distinctive medieval European style are readily available to the connoisseur for around $1,000.  Prices escalate quickly as the amount of decoration increases however, and vibrant, fully illustrated pages can easily sell for several thousands of dollars each.  Fully intact books are usually prohibitively expensive, routinely selling for tens of thousands of dollars - even if imperfect or pedestrian in execution.  Exceptionally fine, complete manuscripts command even higher prices and rapidly enter the lofty domain of major museums and the ultra-wealthy.   If we all live to discover beauty, then surely medieval European illuminated manuscripts are beauty made manifest, descended to earth as a revelation to us.