To prompt the appearance of this article, Lynn K. replied to a Flex Nib Friday email newsletter with a great question:
Lynn was in luck because I already wrote thousands of words on the subject for the draft of a book on fountain pens. It's a nuanced answer and I wanted to give as much practical advice and points of consideration for anyone considering selling their pens.
So, here we go.
A necessary function of any collection is being able to sell the very items you collect. It seems rather counterintuitive, as a collector’s main drive is collecting the collection, not divesting themselves from it. Yet, most of us live with finite resources, finite space, and finite patience from our significant others. There will come a time - and yes, it will most undoubtedly happen, when you will need to sell a fountain pen or two.
Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier than ever to find a buyer for your prized pens. Thanks to global buy/sell marketplaces, discussion forums, Slack, Discord, and Facebook groups, there are many avenues to find pen enthusiasts who would be interested in purchasing or swapping your pens.
The first step in arranging the sale of one of your fountain pens is to gauge its present value based on the condition. To properly appraise the market value for your pen, you need to accurately assess its present condition.
The pen has never been used. It is in the same exact condition as it would be from the manufacturer. It is included in its original box with all the included accouterments (converter, cartridge, warranty, instruction other booklets, if applicable).
The moment you decide to ink your fountain pen, even to test it, this is the condition that it would fall under. A “like new” fountain pen is in excellent condition with no noticeable scratches, dings, or dents.
New Old Stock
This type of item may not have been used previously, but the box might show some wear and tear from being on the shelf for a long time.
There are varying degrees of used condition pens. If the pen has small dings, fine scratches, and some discoloration on the metal trims, then your pen might be considered “used - good condition.”
If the pen shows heavy use with noticeable dings, scratches, and other cosmetic flaws, then it might be considered “used - fair condition.” In describing this condition, it would be helpful to document the flaws with photographs.
Leading up to this condition, we assume that the pen is in working order and that the filling system is functional. When a pen has a defective nib, a non-functioning filling mechanism, or missing parts, then it would be considered “used, - for parts.” This means that the pen is only good for parts and isn’t a functional piece.
How to Identify the Pen Accurately
The next step in selling a pen is accurately identifying it. Pens don’t usually have a serial number or label on the pen that identifies the make and model. Most pens will have a brand mark to let you know which manufacturer produced the pen. Some brands, like Pilot, make pens that cost $2 (Varsity) and ones that cost $2,000 (Pilot/Namiki Yukari Maki-e). Besides knowing the name, we need to find figure out the particulars about the pen you are looking to sell.
Granted, it might have been a few years, or decades, since you came into ownership of the particular pen. It might have been passed down to you, gifted, or otherwise came into your possession without the box or paperwork that would normally accompany a fine pen. That’s OK, because we have the internet to help us here.
If, by chance, you do happen to have the original box or paperwork, this task is much easier as the product information is usually included on the outside of the box sleeve (possibly along with a UPC barcode to scan and search online) or in a care and use/warranty guide that is frequently included in the box of most pens.
Using Google images, you can take a picture of the pen and upload it to their image search engine for potential matches. If you take a great photo (and get a little lucky) you can find a direct hit that will look exactly like your pen. If not, we can still tap into the power of the internet to find out more information.
There are groups of pen collectors on the internet that are more than willing to help apply their vast pen knowledge to identify your pen. Heck, there might be potential buyers in that very same group. Post a picture of the unidentified pen on the /r/fountainpens subreddit or on a fountain pen Facebook group. Ask for their assistance in identifying the pen. Most likely, you’ll get more than just one reply.
Once you know the brand, model, style, nib size, and condition of the fountain pen, it’s time to do a bit of research to find out the going market price for the pen.
How to Find the Market Price for your Fountain Pen
Unfortunately, there isn’t any price index or pen collector guide to quickly inform you of your pen’s value. It takes some research. Thanks to the internet, you can appraise your pens with good accuracy.
Now that you have identified your pen, searching for the current market value isn’t all that difficult. While Google is a great starting point, there are more specific, useful resources that will help find the market price.
First, there’s eBay. It’s the largest collectible marketplace website. Ebay has a sales record history that will show the completed listings that sold and, usually, the final selling price. For example, if I was to sell a Pilot Vanishing Point limited edition “Twilight” from 2015, I would search “Pilot Vanishing Point Twilight” on eBay and select the filters “Sold Items” and “Completed Items.” Then, you’ll be able to see if anyone sold this particular pen, when it sold, and for how much it sold. It might be possible that the seller took a “best offer” in which case the price will be struck through and it will read “best offer accepted.”
The drawback of this research method is that eBay will not keep a history of sales longer than about 60 days. So, if your pen is rare and there are not many on the market, it might be possible that you will not find any sales in this narrow timeframe. Even if you do find some prices on eBay, it is worthwhile checking another resource to compare.
The /r/Pen_Swap reddit forum is also a great resource because it is filled with only writing instruments and accessories. Search the name of the pen you are researching and make sure you are searching through the subreddit only and not the entire reddit website. Look for closed [WTS] - “Want to sell” posts that mention your particular item. Note when they last sold and for how much.
If you are on Facebook Groups, several Buy/Sell/Trade groups exist for fountain pen enthusiasts. Perform the same keyword search within the group to find any previous posts that offered the pen.
Just like appraising a house, you’ll want to get several comparable prices for your pen. Take into account the condition of your piece versus the pieces that were already sold online. Is yours in better or worse condition? Does it include the box and original paperwork?
Where Should I List My Fountain Pen for Sale
Picking a venue to list your fountain pen for sale or trade is an important factor in finding the right buyer and extracting the highest amount of value for your pens. eBay tends to be the first buy/sell platform that comes to mind for most people. The auction website is one of the biggest and easiest to use and can reach buyers around the world. The seller can opt to establish a firm buy price or set a starting bid price for an auction. Of course, the seller ends up paying for the reach and robust features in fees, which tend to range from 10% to 20% including payment transactions. The upside for eBay auctions is, if you list a discontinued, rare item, there's a good chance a bidding war might ensue. Thus, you might sell your pen for 20% more than your initial asking price.
Chances are, if you are part of the online pen community, you may already know of a few secondary market venues. If you browse the /r/fountainpens subreddit, you’ll enjoy browsing the buy/sell/trade listings on /r/Pen_Swap If you belong to a number of pen-related Facebook groups, there are special groups dedicated to facilitating transactions between collectors. Lastly, there are new groups popping up based on platforms like Slack and Discord which have their own pen enthusiast communities.
Now, since this is the digital age and groups can blink in and out of existence quicker than a theoretical subatomic particle, I won’t commit to linking specific ones on this post. Heck, Facebook might not even be around in 5 years.
Despite not having the broader reach of customers that a site like eBay has, a fountain pen online group is exactly the niche you need to find. They consist of members who share the like interests of writing instruments and, more than likely, there will be some looking to purchase pens for the right price. It is advisable to follow group rules and etiquette when listing your pen for sale. Follow any posted rules or instructions on how to post a pen for sale.
Selling on a group or discussion forum also has an economic benefit, as there usually is no extra fee other than the payment transaction fee. Some may suggest you can get your money with $0 fee if you select venmo or paypal “friends and family” transfer. However, it is strongly suggested to pay the fee to enable seller protection just in case things go sideways or the buyer falsely claims non-receipt or a damaged item.
The lower barrier of entry and lack of an accountable feedback system puts the seller more at risk for fraud and shady transactions when dealing outside of eBay. Of course, eBay has its own share of bad actors. However, the scammers tend to hide beyond as much anonymity as possible. And, the online groups provide this more than eBay. Prior to listing any item for sale, get to know the community first. Follow the conversations. See who posts early and often. Look at the sale listings and see the activity of the buyers and sellers to get a sense for who are the “major players” that are transacting the most. Observe if there are any complaints toward members you are dealing with.
Using the power of social media’s outreach, @virtualpenshow on Instagram helps get your pens out to the masses. With over 24,000 followers and growing, the chances of finding a buyer for your pen are high. Besides the usual payment transaction fee (of which you may choose to waive or pass on to the buyer if you please) there is a small fee to help sponsor the admins of the account.
If you have a rather large collection (let’s say over 100 pens of $100 value each or more), it might be best to purchase a table at a pen show. You can register as a weekend trader or exhibitor and have access to hundreds, if not thousands of pen enthusiasts looking to buy pens. This will take a little more preparation but it will save you time in listing each pen online. And, it will save lots of money on shipping.
For the pen show, you’ll need some cash to make change and the ability to take credit/debit cards or electronic money transactions via Paypal or Venmo. Know each of your pens well. Put them in a big pen case or bring some way to display them all in an orderly manner. Be sure to price them accordingly and realistically. Expect to negotiate and anticipate the idea that someone may want to buy more than one of your pens. Let pen enthusiasts know you’ll be there by promoting your collection on social media weeks before the show.
Instead of putting in the work and investment in exhibiting at a pen show or listing each of your pens individually online, you could offer the whole lot to a reseller who sells pre-owned writing instruments. Since most pen dealers tend to focus on new products sold direct from the manufacturer, there aren’t many outlets for you to shop your collection. Although selling your entire collection to one buyer is the quick and easy way, it also comes with a price.
Retailers need to make a profit on the items they purchase. Just like a pawn shop will make an offer that is substantially below the going market value, the pen retailer will do the same. They need to be able to sell you pen for the going market value. In order to make a profit on the sale, they will need to purchase your pens at a significantly lower amount. Thus, you will get a lower return by selling pens to a dealer than the other methods described above.
Once you have decided to list your fountain pen for sale on a specific venue (And please, only pick one venue. There’s nothing more shady and difficult to manage if you end up agreeing on a sale on a forum and then receiving a higher bid on an eBay auction for the same item.), it’s time to get your listing together to best present your item.
How to List a Fountain Pen for Sale
Essentials for a fountain pen sale/trade listing:
- Knowledge of the brand name, collection, pen material, nib size, nib material, filling mechanism.
- An honest evaluation of the pen’s condition.
- Photos from multiple angles with good lighting to show detail.
Besides having an exact identification and an honest appraisal of the pen’s condition, it is incredibly important to have good photography. Your pictures have to look appealing while accurately describing the pen. No airbrushing or photoshopping out any scratches or blemishes! Potential buyers care about the details, especially on a luxury item being sold at a premium price level.
When listing a pen for sale, having an excellent set of photos is a must. It’s probably as important as all the previous steps combined. The photo makes or breaks the sale. If the pictures are “potato” (or poor) quality, missing detailed shots, badly lit, or blurry, your chances of converting a sale are lower and the potential value you will extract from the pen will also be lower.
Having a clear, descriptive image allows the seller to accurately convey the item to the buyer. The pictures should be well lit, preferably with natural daylight. Although a clean, white background is ideal, it’s not necessary. Just as long as the background doesn’t distract or take away from the look of the subject.
Make sure to focus on the details of the pen, especially if you pointed out blemishes or other aspects of the condition. Buyers will want to see photos of the pen in the capped, uncapped, and pen with the cap posted (if applicable). Be sure to provide additional detail images that zoom in on several key areas of the pen - the nib, the trim (including finial), and the filling mechanism. With a particular focus on the nib, these are the most important characteristics most buyers are concerned with.
Several shots to include for the pen listing:
- Photo of the full pen in view with the cap closed.
- Photo of the nib up close
- Photo of the pen with the cap posted on the back (if it can be posted)
- Photos of any blemishes, nicks, dings, dents, and other anomalies.
- Photo of any included converter, cartridge, box, accessories, and/or documentation (if applicable)
- Photo of limited edition number or another distinguishing brand mark that might affect the value.
Although it is usually not necessary, it is beneficial to include a picture of a handwriting sample using the pen, writing your username and today’s date as well to prove the authenticity your listing. This might not be feasible when selling a pen in brand new condition. After all, inking and writing with it makes it no longer “brand new.” For a used item, however, it is fairly common practice.
With the photos, description, pen identification, and a marketplace picked out, you have all the elements to create a pen sale listing. The last (and often trickiest) part is setting a price. Only on an auction site like eBay could you set a starting price and hope for a bidding war to take place. Other venues usually require you to set a final sale price, which is often seen by buyers as up for negotiation. Utilizing the earlier market research, you should already know the going price for this particular pen. Even if it’s not the same exact pen, you should have a ballpark idea, at least.
Setting up an auction or a “buy it now” option depends on your best-educated estimation of the pen’s value. If your unsure and the pen seems to have a lot of potential upside, start an auction-style listing that would allow the market to determine the final sell price. For all other common and used pens, I would sell using a fixed-price listing or “buy it now” price.
When running the listing, be sure to answer questions that others ask in a timely manner.
If there are any discrepancies in the description or title of the item, be sure to be upfront and change the listing before someone purchases the item. It is best to accurately represent the pen to the fullest extent of your knowledge. When others may point out that a potential mistake was made, do additional research to verify and make sure the listing is updated accordingly. It will save you in the end from the potential headache of a dissatisfied buyer who raises a dispute against you.
SOLD! Now What?
When the sale or auction concludes, be sure to receive payment securely before shipping the pen. Confirm the shipping address is valid and pay attention to any comments or notes the buyer might have left. They might ask to remove any bill of sale from the packaging because it is a gift. Or, they might request a certain type of shipping carrier. I’m not saying to bend over backwards and yield to every demand of a picky buyer. Just make sure to acknowledge their request by either honoring it or opening a line of communication to discuss the issue.
With money securely in your account, it is time to deliver on your sale. Easier said than done, right? It isn’t enough to simply throw a $500 pen in a padded envelope and send it on a thousand-mile journey. Shipping can seem like an unnecessary expense, as consumers are conditioned to think that “free shipping” is a birthright. However, it is absolutely essential to deliver your pen in the promised condition and insure it in the case of shipping damage or loss.
If your pen is already included in a box, that will help protect the pen inside. However, the box itself needs to arrive at the buyer in promised condition as well. Buyers will probably take issue with a box that gets crushed or dented in transit. So, regardless if you have a box or not, make sure to use plenty of padding to safely package the pen in a mailing box.
If you’re an internet shopper (I mean, who isn’t these days, right?), I suggest recycling the boxes and packing materials you receive from other vendors. It will save you money and time in having to purchase shipping materials.
But, before you start packing the box, please make sure to empty the pen of any remaining ink and rinse it out thoroughly so that no ink is present in the filling mechanism, feed, or nib. Sending a fully inked pen in the mail is asking for a disastrous inky mess for the recipient.
Since this book will be accessed by a global audience, I won’t go too much into detail about shipping methods, services, and couriers. I will recommend is tracking and insurance on your packages above USD 100. There is always a remote chance of your package getting lost and there’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing an irreplaceable pen as well as the money from the sale. Providing a tracking number also puts the buyer at ease after the transaction is completed.
If you plan on selling multiple pens in your collection or would like to heighten your reputation as a quality seller, I would suggest including a small, handwritten note or something that personalizes your delivery. Include the username or alias that you are known as on the platform the purchase was made.
Leaving feedback on a successful sale is crucial to the thriving online trading ecosystem. Feedback holds buyers and sellers accountable for their conduct and the quality of their interactions. A seller’s reputation rests on the number of positive ratings they receive from buyers. Buyers can also be vetted by the number of positive ratings on their account as well.
Feedback systems are employed on developed buy/sell websites like eBay and the /r/Pen_Swap subreddit. Reputations are built one transaction at a time and are clearly visible status markers for users on the platform. It is easy to discern a heavy user with a new one. It’s also easier to pick out the bad apples.
So, when the trade is complete, leaving feedback is encouraged on both sides. Sure, a buyer’s job is easy - just pay for the item when the invoice is ready to be paid. There’s far more responsibility on the seller’s end to deliver on the pen as promised. Yet, both sides benefit from receiving a 5/5 stars for a successful, no-fuss transaction. Even if all the buyer did was pay on time, it’s still worthwhile to let others know that they were a responsible member.
For sellers, a high positive feedback rate (95% positive or more) provides social proof that the seller is reliable and their pens are worth the prices paid.
How Does a Pen Sale Go Incredibly Wrong
There are many ways a purchase can go sideways - the package can get lost, the pen may arrive damaged, the pen doesn’t work, or the buyer might bail and not pay, If any trouble does occur, it’s important to reach out to the other party before resorting to starting a payment claim or posting negative feedback. It could be a simple misunderstanding that needs clarification.
If contact with the other party was made and no resolution was reached, then it would be appropriate to seek restitution through PayPal, eBay, and calling on group admins for help. At the end of the dispute, leave feedback for the user that serves as a warning to other potential buyers & sellers who might deal with them.
Lynn, this post might have been more than what you were asking for, but I hope the answer is useful for you to successfully sell your fountain pens confidently.