Vintage Pens – Terrific or Terrible?


Years ago I moved into the modern pen camp for reliability and ease of care. Cartridge/converters and piston fillers have been my focus with few exceptions. But the lure of vintage nibs caught me, again, and so a couple of older beauties joined the crew here with the hope that the writing experience would make the imperfections insignificant.

The Eversharp broad nib described in this earlier post was quite simply a mess. Some dope had taken a tool to it and bent the tip upwards. There were gouges in the metal in several places which were not apparent in the seller’s photo and which he failed to mention in his description. He generously permitted me to return the pen to him in Canada at my expense of course.

Eversharp Broad Nib

Eversharp Broad Nib

The second pen, a 1930’s Red Ripple Waterman 52 sporting a very flexible pink nib, worked for less than a week. This morning when I lifted the lever to give it a new fill, the lever and the surrounding metal literally fell out of the pen. The sac isn’t visible and without the frame for the lever, the mechanism lacks sufficient leverage to fill or empty. So my 52 is now a very expensive dip pen, at least until it can be repaired. The Waterman was shaping up to be my top daily user not just for its lovely flex capabilities but it’s delightful performance at everyday writing as well. <insert string of expletives>

Red Ripple Waterman 52

Lesson learned again. Vintage pens come with no warranty or guarantee. There can be repair costs as well as long queues for the repair person’s services. Some vintage pens may be very well priced and look like a real bargain. But that assessment might be wishful thinking rather than reality. All totaled I’ve had a 20% success rate with pens manufactured before 1970. Your experience might be significantly better…or not. Caveat emptor applies.

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  1. Thank you for this information. It is useful for a novice collector, such as myself, to know. You write well.


    • Glad you found it helpful and do come back soon. If you are into pens, check out my links. Lots of good information available at most of them. If not, then you should at least find some pen/ink/paper eye candy. 😉


  2. The waterman lever assembly is held in by some tabs on the bottom if I remember correctly. Those can easily break off. 😦 Can you use a coin to push the pressure bar down onto the sac so it will fill? Good luck!


    • Thanks for the tip, Tao. With your suggestion I was able to feel the sac and it is pliable. So that is to the good. The assembly will slide inside the barrel though the frame hangs loose. Using the lever to partially fill the pen would work but it would be challenging to clean out any old ink. It will need a proper repair for me to be comfortable filling it again. The 52 is in excellent condition otherwise. Someone either didn’t use it (no drawer wear) or was very careful with it. How can I do any less?

      Again, thanks for your suggestions. I’ll remember the coin trick for other lever fillers. Who knew a penny could be so useful? 😉


  3. I only have 3 vintage pens, and none of them as old as your Waterman 52. One, a Parker 51, was bought restored. A lever-filler somethingorother needs a new sac, so it’s a dip pen when I do use it. I would love a Waterman 52, as I like the red ripple ebonite, but I wonder I’m really the kind of person who wants to deal with learning to repair pens, or accept the expense of having experts restore them. There’s a lot to be said for the convenience of a cartridge/converter or piston fill.

    Lovely blog BTW. 🙂


    • Jglane, that’s exactly why I migrated toward modern pens. Not that all are created equal, but there are many quality pens manufactured today that are reliable and attractive. Finding a really good flexible nib is another matter. The choices are either expensive Japanese models or a variety of vintage ones. So if you don’t want flex, the options are wide open.

      I’ll take a modern converter any day over a vintage lever filler and my collection proves it. The only vintage pens I still own have very special nibs. My workhorse pens are all modern and easily cleaned with an ultrasound. For around $5 I can replace a faulty converter rather than pay $35 or more and send a pen off for months for repairs. For people who can repair their own pens or don’t mind parting with them for months at a time, vintage pens are wonderful. The variety, quality of materials, styles, and nib choices can’t be topped. Now if they were just reliable…


  4. Buy from members of the Zoss list or Fountain Pen Network and vintage pens described as “ready to write” are muuuuch more likely to be writers. ebay’s a gamble. I’ve had good luck so far, having gotten a Parker 21 and an Esterbrook J, both in excellent and working condition, but I was worried both times until the pens arrived.


    • Glad you’ve had some good experiences. Whether Zoss or FPN there are fair and ethical sellers and quality pens to be had.

      Of the last four vintage pens I agreed to purchase, only one was completely as it should have been. One seller was unethical and mildly insulting and two failed to disclose for whatever reason that the pens were damaged. Funny that the best pen was an Esterbrook J like yours. My one in four success rate holds true over years of buying used and vintage pens but certainly your success rate has been better than mine. I will say that it is worth returning to a seller with whom you have had a successful transaction. One in a while I’ve picked up a second, very nice pen that way.

      Unfortunately, sometimes a pen will need repairs so that cost has to be factored into the entire investment or at the very least allowed for within the budget for that pen. Well, unless you have deep pockets and cost is irrelevant. Now wouldn’t that be fun!


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