Although many of us are writing less by hand, as we rely more on electronic communications, high quality collectible writing instruments are still in demand. Consider the most expensive lot sold at the June 16, 2015, fine writing instruments auction held by British auctioneer Bonhams in San Francisco. A pair of Dunhill-Namiki fountain pens with a pre-auction estimate of $100,000 to $200,000 sold for $305,000.
Most collectible pens sell for much lower amounts, which makes the market more accessible. At the same Bonhams auction, the majority of pens sold for less than $10,000, with some going for under $1,000. But if you’re unfamiliar with collectible writing instruments, it’s natural to ask why someone would pay six or seven figures for a fountain pen.
Several factors drive prices of these writing instruments, including their scarcity. Limiting a pen’s production to a small number of units helps collectibility, according to Terry Wiederlight, co-owner of the Fountain Pen Hospital in New York City.
The company has been selling and repairing writing instruments since 1946, with approximately 20-25% of sales coming from in-store traffic; the remaining sales come from a global customer base ordering online or through catalogs. Wiederlight says company sales of fountain pens top sales of ballpoint and roller pens combined, but the market for high-end pens still lags the pre-recession era.
Fountain Pen Hospital is one of the largest Montblanc pen distributors in the U.S. and Wiederlight points to the Montblanc writers’ series of pens as an example of using limited production to ensure collectibility. The pens — primarily fountain pens — are named for the writers that inspired them, such as Jonathan Swift, Virgina Wolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In another, more modern example of limited edition pens, French luxury goods producer S.T. Dupont recently introduced a series of Rolling Stones commemorative pens. Production is limited to 1,962 pens — 1962 being the rock band’s first year — and prices were set at $2,200 initially.
At the market’s high end are Namiki-Pilot limited edition pens, which are among the most coveted by collectors. The company restricts some of its models to fewer than 100 pens, which are sold worldwide, essentially guaranteeing high prices and market demand among collectors. Similarly, pen maker Artus in Russia may produce less than a dozen of a limited edition model.