Every day, I amuse myself by scanning the hundreds of categories and sub-categories of sales merchandise on eBay. My amazement never ends with what sellers put up for sale. For fun, I played an Andy Rooney and asked, “Did you ever wonder what items appear in the ‘caskets’ category?” I searched in depth at my own suggestion. Some items were what I expected: For sale were low-priced caskets. So were pictures of funerals from seventy-five years ago. The surprise was a keychain with a trinket attached, in the shape of a half-opened casket, with a person lying in repose. I must admit, if I saw someone take out this ghoulish doohickey from his pocket, my reaction would be a retreat from fright, as if Frankenstein’s monster had me in his sights and stepped toward me.
On another random search, a seller marketed used children’s garments by dropping the hand-me-down handle and selling them as vintage, Korean War era clothing. On the seller’s site, a description of the items was featured as the last of their kind. The seller’s hype was, “It’s a piece of history.” My mind formulated the question: Why then, aren’t they on display in a museum? Bluntly, what I saw was used underwear. I envisioned a store-wide sale to Communist revolutionaries, as the best customer. Then the garments could best be classified under “Molotov cocktail wicks.”
Eventually, a daily eBay routine consisted of browsing one new category, the standard search and seek, and reviewing the ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pen categories. I never had a serious pen collection. I still don’t, but my interest grew. And if it continued and turned serious, I thought I might revert into a pen-collecting mogul. It would be easy to setup and to maintain a collection. All I need is one large filing cabinet filled with display trays. By comparison, a car collector needs 200,000 square feet of space, for storage and a showroom. Time would tell.
I was given a Cross pen and pencil set as a present from my family when I graduated high school, which I still have. Another set was presented to me when I left my first accounting job. They were identical sets, the only difference being that the accounting firm had my name engraved on it. They were tarnished, sitting in the bottom of a drawer. I cherished them, even though they seemed neglected.
My father had a 1950s white dot Sheaffer snorkel pen which he used for twenty years to sign his name to business documents. He thought he was president of the United States signing a piece of legislation. The pen had a stately appearance. Eventually he handed it to me ceremoniously, as if a scepter. The pen was a family keepsake, and I was anointed to guard and treasure it. At the time, I honestly thought he gave it to me to throw in the trash bin.
Every day, I steadily turned into a fountain pen junkie. I dropped the ‘mogul’ moniker, and chose a more fitting name: the junk pen collector. Cheap pens fit my sobriquet, ‘el cheapo.’ There were thousands for sale in every shape, size, or price. I might or might not buy one, but the fascination was the hunt. It was addicting, and I had to be careful. Once you find a new love, you’re likely to dive in and buy one of each. With discipline I was able to control my buying urge, but I found a special one. It was a captivating Bexley pen with a cappuccino swirl abounding the creamed colored background. I purchased it deciding its beauty belonged in a penholder in my office to show off. It was expensive, but in relative terms, cheaper than buying a painting to hang on the wall. Besides, I have grandchildren armed with magic markers. They could depreciate any painting hanging on a wall, in short order.
I learned the ropes by trial and error. Using the eBay bidding format, I made stupid mistakes, but I did not know how to better negotiate over the internet. I learned that sending an email to the seller, asking for additional information, or following up on what was the stated return policy helped. I shopped pen retailers to comparison shop. Everyone was overpriced. Once, I asked for another picture from another angle or an up-to-date retake. I did have some ammo.
My ideas made better purchases. The best advice came when I was told a story in a continuing ed class. The instructor, a real estate broker, opened a new office and began to shop for furniture. Good used furniture was okay, but antique furniture was more to his liking.
He spotted a classified ad that attracted his attention, a Louis IVth imitation love seat, which he went to inspect. The seller priced the piece of furniture at $950. As it turned out, on inspection, the closer the instructor came to the love seat, the more it looked like a real Louis IVth. He paid the owner a negotiated price and took the prize to his office. An antique dealer subsequently offered him $25,000.
The same can be said of my interest in buying pens. On eBay, I’ve got only a picture and a description of the item as my only ability to move closer and inspect it and determine its value. Early on, I was fleeced by everyone. Now that I’m smarter, I’m searching for the real Louis IVth for everything I consider buying. With no face to face contact, I’ve been unable to convey to the seller a message: his merchandise is junk, it’s not a Louis IVth, and the price is too high. I once sent a seller a terse note about a purchase I made. I felt better for writing a well-crafted note, but I was still was fleeced.
Other pens that caught my fascination were the floaty pens made by a Danish company, Eskesen. These pens have a liquid barrel with objects that move, as the pen is tilted. A pen I own has a Heinz Ketchup bottle. When turned upside down, ketchup flows out of the bottle. It’s a cute addition to my pen collection.
Novelty pens by the thousands make up this eBay group. Varied Disney subjects, animal subjects, and mountain subjects are portrayed in some form of animation. A John Deere tractor plowing a field was a great subject for a floaty. Cities from all over the world have a floaty pen animating their city with a well-known tourist attraction. Floaties are meant as ‘chachkas,’ amusement. There are some serious collectors, but in the minority. The most hush-hush subcategory is the pinup girl who soon poses in her birthday suit with a tilt of the pen. Homer Simpson was not to be left out as another subject of ridicule. He’s wearing a bathing suit in his floaty, which when turned, changes him, to wearing a European thong. The pens are hilarious and fun subjects.
My pen collection is not a train set in the basement. I started it during my recent illness, and have enjoyed adding pieces during my recovery.