PenInHand - Musings on the Hobby

Jewels From The Bargain Bin

by Jim Mamoulides, October 31, 2003

Conklin All-American In Brown Lizard Skin Plastic

Many new pen collectors are surprised to discover that some of the more pricey vintage pens began their lives with a rather ordinary pedigree. It's no surprise to see top of the line pens from the golden years command top dollar today. One might expect fine examples of a Waterman Patrician, Swan Eternal, Parker Duofold, Sheaffer Balance, or Conklin Nozac to fetch a fine price.

But school pens?

Second line pens?

Parker True Blue Streamline Juniorette c1931

With the Great Depression came much more interest in making affordable pen lines. Some manufacturers introduced low end versions of their first line pens as well as second tier models. Others cooked up completely new brands, sometimes without a hint as to the actual manufacturer.

Some examples of these pens turned out to be very attractive and appealing to collectors many years later and what was once an economy pen now competes with many of its upscale brethren in price.

Parker True Blue Streamline Juniorette c1931 (Foreground)
With Parker Mandarin Yellow Duofold Oversize 1928

A non-discolored Parker True Blue pen is exceptionally attractive and was a bargain at US $3.50 for the full length pen, half the price of the top selling "Big Red" Duofold Oversize. The True Blue was advertised both as a school pen and an economy pen. They are just as well made as the Duofold and were fitted with smaller size high quality nibs. Today, fine examples of True Blues will bring prices very competitive with many larger Duofolds from the same year.

Sheaffer Balance 3-25 Blue Black Marble 1932 (Foreground) And Sheaffer Balance Jade 1929

The Sheaffer 3-25 Balance in blue black marble plastic is another case. This pen was made only in 1932, and was a low cost alternative to the Lifetime Balance pens. As with the True Blue, the 3-25 was an economy or school pen and its attractiveness and scarcity has rocketed it to a premium price position among vintage Balance models. Fitted with a smaller profile single color 14 karat gold nib, it still is a good writer and these pens can sometimes be found with flexible nibs, much less common on the top line Balance pens.

Sheaffer Balance 3-25 Blue Black Marble 1932

Conklin created the All-American line in the 1920s as a budget pen line. When the streamlined Symetrik line was introduced in 1931, the All-American line followed suit. Conklin used some very wild and attractive plastics on its 1930s All-Americans, including several colors of a lizard skin plastic. These pens are virtually identical to the Symetrik line in quality, and only lack the crescent quality marking and are fitted with plain 14 karat gold nibs stamped simply "ALL AMERICAN."

Sheaffer Vacuum-Fil In Green Snakeskin

Vacuum-Fil was a second line for Sheaffer and included numerous attractive pens. Some Vacuum-Fil pens came with unusual filling systems and stunning celluloid, unusual for Sheaffer outside the WASP lines, and the pens can be very pricey.

Mabie Todd Blackbird Oriental Blue c1929-1933 (Bottom)
Mabie Todd Swan Eternal 46 Black Hard Rubber c1925 (Top)

There are numerous other cases, such as the Modern Stripe or "moire" Skylines, which held up the bottom price point in the line when new, but generally command a premium now. This is also true for the very pretty Oriental Blue Mabie Todd Blackbird.

So be careful both to not overlook something that may not have been a premium model when new. There are some jewels among the cheapies. Be prepared for sticker shock on some of them, as there are others picking through that bargain bin, too!

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