Write way to earn a profit: Fountain pens are gaining popularity as accessories and investments

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The Independent Online

Fountain pens are no longer the preserve of stubborn traditionalists and die-hard collectors. Modern enthusiasts insist these pens are style accessories, indicators of taste, extensions of personality. And several also pass muster as serious investments – the record price for a fountain pen is £183,000.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. "Most people start small and use their fountain pen as a lifestyle item – a friend of mine has a Montblanc attached to the end of his arm and uses it to sign things, point, wave and generally express himself," says Jeremy Collingridge, who is the organiser of the London Writing Equipment Show. "After a while they buy a few more and, before you know it, they've amassed a modest portfolio."

Fountain pens are classed as vintage, post-war or modern. The golden age of the vintage pen is widely recognised as the 1920s and 1930s when plastic replaced hard rubber, and high-quality instruments were bought by well-heeled business people. Items from this era from Parker, Waterman and Montblanc are highly sought after and are perceived as good investments: prices have doubled in some areas over the last 10 years.

For many people, Montblanc is synonymous with big, black pens, but it is the 1920s and 1930s piston fillers in coloured marble that are most coveted. Gold and silver plated pieces from Parker and Waterman also sell for thousands.

Very highly valued are pens from the Japanese maker Namiki. It was the Dunhill-Namiki Maki-E Lacquer pen from 1928 that fetched £183,000 at auction in 2000. It was hand painted by a Japanese artist and decorated with dragons.

The post-war market, from the 1930s to 1970s, favours pens such as the Parker 51, 61 and 75, particularly in gold. All vintage and post-war pens should be bought in the best condition possible. The fewer there are around, the more their value will rise.

Modern pens are generally less costly than vintage or post-war pens if you're looking for a style accessory, and you can snap up a simple one for anything between £50 and £1,000. Popular makers include Pelikan, Montegrappa, Cartier, and Conway Stewart.

If you are looking for modern pens purely as an investment, there is a growing market in limited editions. Some are quite valuable. The Montblanc Hemingway limited edition was issued in 1992 with a UK price of around £380, and now sells for more like £1,800. And the 300 Namiki White Tiger limited edition pens were issued in 1996 at £1,200 apiece, and are now worth £3,000

You really need experience or professional advice to know which pens are a good buy. It is generally best to avoid a series where thousands of pens are released.

Simon Gray at the pen dealer Battersea Pen Home, says: "The ones that increase in value usually have some special design, are the first in the series, or come from a sought-after name."

There are several routes through which to buy fountain pens. One is to go through a specialist dealer. A good dealer will only buy pens in tip-top condition and you should be able to verify the quality of your purchase. Buying online is often cheaper, but you take a risk when doing so, as it is easier to be tricked by misleading description or fraud.

Another option is attending a pen show or fair. For example, the London Writing Equipment Show will be held on 1 October; sponsors Parker will produce a limited edition of 88 Duofold pens for the show.

Although auction houses such as Christie's and Bonhams do not hold pen fairs because the revenues are too low, some local auction houses could be worth a look. Gorringes in the South-east and Sworders in Essex hold auctions of antiques at which vintage pens are bought and sold.

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