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Case Study: Luxury Pens

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The history of the pen spans back to 2000 BC, when the Egyptians used reed pens on parchment and papyrus. The next great pen evolution would be the quill pen, used sometime around 600 AD. It wasn’t until 1822 when a machine-made steel-point pen was produced for the masses, which led to an overall increase in education and literacy. Though the implement was sturdier and more cost-effective than the quill, the user was still faced with dipping the pen in ink. The answer came in 1827 with the invention of a fountain pen which came equipped with an internal ink reservoir. By 1888, the ballpoint pen was introduced, offering an, even more, cost-effective option that was more durable, convenient, and could write on multiple surfaces–even underwater. In the 1930s, László Bíró, of Biro pens fame, came up with the idea of using quick-dry ink and the implementation of a small metal ball within the tip of the pen that would rotate, evenly, and cleanly distribute the ink.

It is no surprise that many of today’s luxury pen companies also have a long history, the oldest being Faber-Castell, which was founded in 1761. French luxury goods powerhouse Cartier began adding pens to their lines in 1868. Many of Cartier’s vintage and antique pens are considered highly collectible objets d’art and can be found in numerous private and public collections to this day. Parker, an American luxury pen company, was founded in 1888 and has been a favorite amongst many notable figures, such as John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II. Montblanc, founded in 1906, is considered one of the world’s most famous luxury pen companies. Named after the highest and most majestic peak of the Alps, it wasn’t long before Montblanc was a well-known name in over 60 countries.

The global retail value of luxury pens, in particular fountain pens, grew 37% between 2005 and 2015, in large part to massive growth in China. Early 2019 estimates calculated that the luxury pen market would generate more than $2.8 billion of revenue by 2021. Their growing popularity is due to two main factors:

  • These aren’t your everyday disposable Bic pens. There’s a higher caliber of craftsmanship and options here. Expert designs and precise machinery craft exquisite and reliable wares that, with proper care, will last a lifetime. Many companies offer bespoke or personalizing opportunities, such as Montegrappa and Montblanc, allowing the collector to create one-of-a-kind pens. Additionally, companies are increasingly incorporating high-quality materials such as platinum, gold, or gemstones to attract collectors.
  • They are seen as legacy pieces. Just as you would a vintage Kelly bag or your grandmother’s wedding ring, luxury pens are often handed down generation to generation as their quality and value remain steady over time.

These factors also apply within the secondary market, with varied auction results that are inclusive to all price points. Pens generally sell in the three-to-four figure range with the limited editioned examples selling up to five figures. Two other components that influence price are the quality of materials and level of condition. Pens made of gold or detailed with gemstones will generally see higher auction results than those made of resin or are unadorned. Outside of age, collectors are often influenced by condition. While some scratches or marks are generally expected, overt scratches to the resin or metal body or a bent nib will deter buyers.

In all, whether you fancy a classic Montblanc Meisterstück or a kaleidoscopic Parker Duofold, to own a luxury pen is to own a piece of finely-crafted history.