Pitfalls can sour your taste for picking up a fountain pen ever again. These missteps can turn what was an enjoyable hobby into an unsatisfying money pit.
Using my 15+ years of experience working in the pen industry, talking to fellow collectors, and managing my personal collection of fountain pens, I shall flag these “hobby hazards” and put little orange cones around them, so you don’t accidentally fall in and lose your love of writing.
The types of pitfalls fall under three main categories:
- I’ve spent too much money on the pen(s) - collecting fountain pens can get expensive quickly. Sometimes, these purchases can lead to deep remorse if the value of the pen does not agree with the price paid for it.
- The pen does not work - Unlike other collectibles, fountain pens are utility-driven. If they do not perform or have defects, it could put a bad taste in one’s mouth.
- Frustrations in using Fountain Pens - pitfalls in this category are less fatal and easier to navigate should you encounter them. These are minor annoyances that can be frustrating over time if you do not address them.
Pitfall #1: Spending money, but not getting value
Counterfeits plague nearly every type of luxury item - from handbags to watches to clothing to mobile phones. And fountain pens are certainly no exception. The most commonly knocked-off brand is Mont Blanc. However, counterfeit pens can be found at all price levels, not just in the high-end luxury segment.
The hazard of getting involved in a counterfeit pen is two-fold. Not only is the fake pen ineligible for any warranty support, but the built quality is usually subpar, and will often experience performance issues early into the ownership of the pen.
Counterfeit manufacturers often focus on duplicating the appearance of the original but are not adept at the precise functionality. The fountain pen nib is the most difficult part for any manufacturer to produce correctly. The exactness of the shaping, cut of the slit, fusing the iridium ball, and the alignment of the nib all factor into the writing experience. There is little room for error. It takes an experienced hand to produce consistent, quality results.
Thankfully, avoiding counterfeit products in the pen world is easy. Buy from reputable dealers who are authorized to sell the brands they carry at their stores. These days, more manufacturers are also offering a direct outlet to purchase from the brand. For example, you can buy Mont Blanc pens directly from a Mont Blanc store or their official website.
Kickstarter can be a wonderful opportunity for budding small businesses and independent makers to bootstrap pen projects. It can also be an opportunity for charlatans to over-promise and under-deliver.
Scams aren’t limited to the Kickstarter crowdfunded projects either. The internet makes it easier than ever to set traps for uninformed and opportunistic buyers.
There’s one particular example that continues to float from crowdfunding sites to accepting pre-orders on their own website. The Scribble Pen promises to write in any color. A sensor on the pen records the color of anything in your surrounding environment - an apple, a flower, a shirt, etc. The manufacturer promises that the pen can combine the CYMK inks inside the pen to write in the color that was scanned.
The Scribble Pen sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately, it is.
The unscrupulous people behind the Scribble Pen canceled their Kickstarter campaign, got booted off another crowdfunding site for misrepresenting a prototype for a mockup, and continued accepting pre-orders directly on their website. If you’ve visited the Scribble website at any point in the last 3 years, they’re still accepting those pre-orders at a substantial discount - only 1 day left!
Other enterprising individuals utilize low-cost social media advertising and lack public knowledge of fountain pens to peddle rebranded cheap pens at luxury prices.
These companies purchase pens for $2-$3 dollars each, then rebrand them as luxury or “flexible nib” pens, listing them for $40 each (Half price from $80! A bargain!).
Not only will these trendy-sounding companies hype a product that isn’t worth nearly what they are charging for it, but they will also advertise using other people’s videos on social media. I and other content creators on Instagram have, on more than one occasion, had our videos stolen and repurposed as an ad for one of these companies. Thankfully, the online fountain pen community looks after each other and quickly recognizes the fake content, reporting it to the proper channels.
The companies misrepresenting themselves will always continue to pop up in some form or another. So, as an informed buyer, it’s necessary to develop a sense of smelling a rotten deal.
Thankfully, the internet makes it easier than ever to investigate and cross-reference a company to determine its reputation for handling business. To avoid the pitfall of dealing with a dubious dealer, consult the online pen community across various forums to ask if anyone had any experience placing an order with Company XYZ.
Murky Secondary Market
Let’s say you are searching for that one rare collectible pen or, you’re looking for a bargain on a used pen. The secondary market is sometimes the only resource for these finds. However, pen aficionados can get burnt by transactions gone wrong.
A common issue with individual sellers is that they do not represent the product faithfully. Sometimes, these people are estate sale or garage sale flippers looking to make a profit. They don’t know pens, especially vintage, and might not accurately list the item. Other times, a seller might hide the true condition of the pen, or the fact that the filling mechanism doesn’t work.
Worst case scenario: you send the money and get nothing in return.
Here are warning signs to observe when browsing on individual sellers’ listings:
- Poor, blurry photography
- Using only one photo, and it’s a stock photo
- No mention of the product’s condition
- Poor seller feedback, or zero feedback
- The price is suspiciously low for the product being offered
- The description of the item doesn’t match what you’re seeing
Since the secondary market contains many individual sellers, the potential for being scammed is much higher than shopping with a retail business. Before transacting a sale, check the feedback and reputation of the seller. If there are any of the above red flags on the listing and you can’t verify the feedback of the seller, then it’s best to stay away, no matter how tempting the offer.
Buying into the FOMO
Although FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) seems like a benign issue, it is capable of depleting your funds on pens that will probably lose value over time.
These days, limited edition pen releases seem to happen All. The. Time.
If you follow many pen brands - TWSBI, Esterbrook, Nahvalur, Sailor, Leonardo, Kaweco, Retro 51, Edison Pen Co, and Benu are great examples - there might be a new, limited edition pen dropping every day of the week.
It’s exhausting to keep up. And, your wallet will not be happy.
While some limited editions become highly sought after and appreciate in value after they completely sell out at the retail level, there are many pens that end up in the “clearance” section 6-10 months later.
It’s tough to swallow a loss when you quickly snapped up that $500 pen, only to see that it’s on clearance 6 months later for 30%-50% the price.
When faced with a bright, shiny new limited edition pen that catches your eye, take a deep breath and sleep on it. Since the market is so oversaturated with limited edition pen drops, hardly any of them instantly sell out anymore, so you have some time.
Wait a day or so and ask yourself if you really feel it is worth buying it now. If you’re worried they will disappear, just keep in mind that people may end up selling theirs in the future on the secondary market I mentioned before. True, you may need to pay a little extra, but maintaining a disciplined approach to buying is worth more in the long run than shopping impulsively.
Keep a lookout next week for Part 2 of the "Pitfalls in Pen Collecting" series.