Guide to Buying Restored Fountain Pens on eBay

We all love a good bargain and the thrill of the hunt. Unfortunately, responsibilities and life in general often keep us from scouring antique shops and flea markets for those great finds. Buying on eBay allows us to get our fix in the comfort of our homes and offices during the times we can manage. The downside is we do not have the pen in our hands to look over carefully and must rely on photos and the seller's description.

Today I worked on two pens, each of whose owners had bought his pen on eBay from a seller who claimed that the pen was restored. Now what exactly does restored mean? My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines restore this way:

"to bring back to or put back into a former or original state"

(There are other definitions, but this is the one that applies to restoring pens.)

Well, if the seller has dropped the pen in his bowl of chili and has then cleaned off all the chili, by the above definition he has restored the pen -- but only to the condition it was in before he dropped it. Sure, we are splitting hairs here, but this silly example goes to show that "restored" can mean different things to different people. The "restored" Snorkel I worked on today had a gummy sac and a spring with enough rust to give the Titanic a run for her money. The "restored" Vacumatic had a new diaphragm, but it was not cut to the correct length (a common fault), and it had bound up inside the barrel. Furthermore, the joint between the barrel and the section was not sealed, so even if the diaphragm had been done right the pen would have leaked.

Maybe these sellers felt that simply cleaning a pen on the outside is "restoring" it. Or maybe they figured they could get away with not doing it right. I don't know, but either way, the buyers took a beating.

So where does that leave us as buyers? For me, it's pretty simple. I assume that any pen I buy will require a complete restoration, by which I mean that I will have to disassemble it, clean the parts, repair any damaged parts, replace any broken or missing parts, put the pen back together, polish it, and then adjust it to bring it as close as possible to like-new condition. There are some sellers who do a fantastic job of restoring pens, and once you learn who they are you can feel safe when they say a pen is restored. With sellers you do not know and trust, you are truly buying a pig in a poke, and it's best to assume the worst. 

The terms NOS (new old stock) and "mint stickered" do not mean that a pen has been restored. They mean that the pen is as it was found. The original sac could be ossified or the O-rings dry rotted. We just got in an NOS Sheaffer Snorkel with a mis-cut slit that would not write. Most likely the stationer put it to the side to return to Sheaffer and never got around to doing it. The pen was later liquidated when the shop closed. The pen was later sold as "mint stickered." Is that description accurate? Yes, it is. But the pen was not in usable condition.

Keep buying those old pens on the Bay; that is part of the adventure. But buy smartly, and be aware that the pen might need to be properly restored for its new life in your collection or rotation.