Help Me Out, Vintage Pen Fans

I’m going to the 2013 DC pen show this weekend, and I’m thinking of picking up some popular/iconic vintage pens that might be good comparisons for the moderns pens I normally handle, and for tools on my site like the Pen Plaza.

I’m not that knowledgeable about vintage pens, so I need your help…which pens would be the best ones for me to pick up while I’m at the show?

Write On,
Brian Goulet

2017-10-03T16:12:48+00:00 August 8th, 2013|Uncategorized|41 Comments
  • quinden

    The Parker "51" would be good! A Sheaffer Snorkel would be another iconic pen – you can probably get both of them for pretty reasonable prices at a show.

    Esterbrooks are another group of highly recognized pens that can be had for reasonable prices.

    I bet others will have lots of good ideas! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Will

    Parker 51, Scheaffer (touchdown or snorkel), Esterbrook J.

  • trevorbraun

    Parker Vacumatic, Waterman's 52 (or 55 if you've got larger hands), Sheaffer Balance. All classics, and should be in abundance there. Very distinct feeling for each. I always compare everything back to my Vacumatic Major though. It is a really good standard size and feel, and writes like a dream.

  • Kimberlin

    My cheapie picks are Waterman Thorobred (my daily writer, not beautiful an incredible flex gold nib) and Eversharp Symphony. Old Pilots are great too. And what about a Sheaffer Snorkel?

  • Richard Shipe

    Sheaffer Balance, Parker 51 and its lookalikes, Sheaffer Snorkel, old button filler Duofold, and definitely the Esterbrooks should be on your list of potential buys. At least strongly consider an Esterbrook since they're so plentiful and widely used among vintage pen collectors.

    Have fun at the show! (And thank you for the great service at your store!)

  • snedwos

    Also consider Eversharp – at least the Skyline.

  • I'd say find a good Esterbrook J with a fun nib (there are a bunch of different types). I just did that at the beginning of the summer, and it's a great pen. Hope we run into you at the show.

  • mhosea

    I don't see how you can avoid Parker 51 and Sheaffer Snorkel, the more iconic form of the Snorkel being any of the white-dot triumph-nibbed models rather than the open-nibbed ones (which are still excellent pens, mind you). I think if it's a pick-3 situation, the real debate is what to pick for the third. I'm not an Esterbrook user, but I hear so much about them from inkophiles that I think for GPC's audience there probably should be an Esterbrook or two. The good thing, of course, is that none of these pens should be very expensive.

  • NuprinBoy

    Others have made good recommendations based on historical importance, affordability, or attractiveness.

    But Richard Shipe makes a good idea. If you're looking for a more esoteric collection theme, you could try to collect pens with unusual filling systems like crescent, coin, sleeve, matchstick, bulb, twist, accordion, or blow filler pens. These tend to fall outside the bigger pen brands but would certainly intrigue any pen collector/restorer/repairer.

  • Josephine Robertson

    Iconic? Parker 51. A Pelikan 400 from the 50s is pretty iconic for the European side!

  • Liessa

    Perhaps not one of the wildly popular pens but if you come across a Mabie Todd Blackbird with a flexy nib: go for it. It won't break the bank and messing around with flex is lots of fun ๐Ÿ™‚ Stephen Brown did a review of one of these:

  • W.

    I'm not very familiar with vintage pens, but the major goal here–as I understand it–is purchasing vintage pens for comparison to modern pens in size (for the Pen Plaza), and general use (for Brian). Do unusual filling systems tend to be unique in those aspects? (Acknowledging, of course, that the inking stage will certainly be different.)

  • Ale-Alejandro

    If I had the money, I'd get a Vintage Montblanc, Pelikan and a Parker Vacumatic.

  • Patrick

    The crown jewel of my collection is my Mabie Todd Swan from 1939. I would definitely look for anything made by Mabie Todd because of their super flexy nibs and great quality.

  • Gary Linn

    To echo what others have said and maybe add a few more options… If you are looking for pens that most collectors would have and could therefore use as a comparison in the Pen Plaza, I would go for Esterbrook J, SJ and LJ, Parker 51, 45 and at least one size of Vacumatic, Sheaffer Snorkel, and maybe a Balance, and a No Nonsense and a School Pen.

    There are many other "iconic" pens like the Waterman 52, Pelikan 400nn, and Conklin Crescent Filler, but the list above should overlap pretty much everyone's collection at some point. They are all abundant and inexpensive so shouldn't set you back too much.

  • Richard

    I can't see that anyone has recommended a vintage Conway Stewart (totally different than the modern company.) Take a look at the 58 as an "iconic" pen. I collect 27s and like them a lot. The 540s for a pocket pen. The 15s 1A nibs are italic. These pens should be better known.

  • Jim

    I agree with everyone else as to the Parker 51 and Sheaffer Snorkel. I have an older Pelikan fine that has an incredibly flexible nib, so those might be worth looking at. My dear departed mother swore that the Waterman pens she owned in the 1930s and 40s were the finest pens to be had. I have a few much later Watermans and while they are very nice, I don't think they would come up to my mother's standards.

    Regarding Conway-Stewarts, my current every-day signature pen is a CS I got new about 35 years ago. It has had some long periods of rest, but its fine italic gold nib remains smooth and flexible to this day. There may be some CS duds out there, but the good ones seem, at least to me, to be really good.

    So have a great time at the D.C. pen show. While some of the rest of us are toiling away to make enough money to pay for our pen addictions, I'm sure you will both be doing things we non-attenders can only dream of. I live in a small coastal town in southwest Washington (Aberdeen WA will be the new San Francisco when global warming gets just a little further along). We don't have pen shows here; local residents mostly go ga-ga over antique rusting crab pots and bamboo fishing rods. OK, I'm jealous. But I still wish you a wonderful, fun time.


  • Andrea Kirkby

    Parker 51. I'd also say Parker 45 fighter or 75 – the latter with the wonderful adjustable-orientation nib. Real classics, nibs as well as pen design.

    From an earlier period of Parker, one of the Duofolds/Lucky Curve – the Juniors can sometimes come reasonably cheaply if they are user grade.

    A British brand worth looking out for is Onoto / De la Rue – early black hard rubber pens or later celluloids, very lovely. The plunger-filler is the classic, I think.

    As for the continental Europeans: Italian – Aurora 88, the original not the remake (same goes for the Parker 51!) – a streamlined, hooded-nib pen. And the original Pelikan 100s.

  • Parker 51.

  • CatBookMom

    An Esterbrook J and a Parker 51 are at the top of the list I'd give you. Nibs for the Estie in other than firm fine and firm medium are getting harder to find. I have a modern (1990s?) Parker Duofold Centennial (or is it International??) that is a great pen, too, and a large barrel, which I think you'd like.. Don't know how vintage you want to go. Pricing runs upward in the same order I've listed the pens.

  • Andrew Wang

    Since everyone's mentioned the Parker 51 to no end, I'll go ahead and put a plug in for what I think will be the next '51' equivalent: the Sheaffer Targa. Not quite a direct competitor to the Parker 75(the sterling silver one is though), but amazing pens nonetheless. They're practically infallible writers and the fit&finish is second to none for a writer's pen. If you get one with one of the PVC-sacced converters, the pen and filler will most likely outlast you. Complete with the absolutely drool-worthy inlaid nibs. Take it from someone whose Targa has carried him through some ridiculous number of exams.

    Besides that, definitely a Parker 51. I've got one with a .9mm CI by Pendleton, and it's every bit as awesome as it sounds.

  • Parsifals

    Dave Isaacson will be at the Show as well as several other vintage sellers. Dave mentioned having a hoard of Moore's, but I am certain he'll have others as will folks like Richard Binder, among others.

    Vintage pens can be fickle, more than humans, and it will be great to touch them, write with them and not rely solely on the name brand when making your selection.

    And some of the filling system are more challenging than others.

    Enjoy the show, and come back with great stories.

  • Anon

    My Conklin Glider with cushion point nib is one of my favorites. Not only is it a great writer, I just love the way it looks – the stripes, the crescent shape on the nib that looks like smiley teeth. I don't know if they are all this way, or just mine, but mine has a M nib that's a bit stubbish. Nice soft nib + ability to collect multiple colors = good ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Tina Hagin Newton

    Waterman 52 red ripple with flexy nib. It's the perfect flexy, and you can come home with one for a reasonable price.

  • Tina Hagin Newton

    I second this. A Blackbird or a Swan, which is the Mabie Todd top of the line.

  • Neillmot

    Most collectors don't really consider this a vintage pen, but my suggestion is to do a little "bottom fishing" and also pick up a first generation Sheaffer No Nonsense in addition to the other excellent suggestions you've received. With a smooth steel nib and built like a tank, the No Nonsense is an interesting example of an American pen manufacturer targeting a fountain pen for the general consumer market.

  • Freddy

    The Esterbrook J or Dollar series. These basic lever fill pens can still be found relatively easily, though the nibs are beginning to creep up in price. The ability to easily switch out nibs, as well as the writing styles of the more than 30 nib points makes them interesting to compare with some modern pens on the market today.

  • Don

    For me, the iconic pens are the Parker Vacumatic, Sheaffer Balance, Eversharp Skyline, Parker 51, Aurora 88โ€ฆ and there are so many others like vintage Pelikan, Montblanc, Conway Stewart, etc.

  • Cool Fool

    I'd recommend an old Sheaffer "School Pen" from the 60s-70s. They're not fancy, but they were (and many still are) very reliable. They got a good many folks – like me – started on fountain pens. The other pen I'd recommend is the old BCHR Conklin Crescent-Filler. I love these pens because of the funky elegance of their design, the way the evoke the early years of the 20th Century, the fact that they were the first successful self-filling pens, and for their association with Mark Twain who both used and endorsed the pens.

  • The 51's pretty much a given.

  • I'm intrigued by the Vacumatics, but I'm told they come in a lot of sizes, so I'm not sure if they'll meet my goal for this trip.

  • I think Snorkels will be on my radar, a lot of folks have asked about them.

  • I've had a few people recommend these, I'll be looking for them.

  • We'll be there most of the day Sat, see you there ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I agree, the 51 and Snorkel are pretty much happening. Prolly Estie J as well.

  • If it were for my own personal interest as a collector/restorer (neither of which I really am) then that would be the way to go. The point of this though, is to go with the more popular and recognized pen models so as to compare them to more modern pens. So I'll actually be sticking to the much more common ones, at least for this project.

  • I have a Swan, with no clip. Paid a lot for it, back before you could get a flex pen for $14 ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Yeah, I'll have to see about these and how much they cost. I'm not hopeful they'll be within my budget.

  • You've got a strong list here!

  • Kimberlin

    For non-flex nibs, you can't beat the conical Sheaffer ones that Asian companies are always ripping off. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Alex at Goulet Pens

    Sheaffer is definitely one of our most traditional and reliable pens. Love recommending the line to customers ๐Ÿ™‚