I have been a collector since I was a child collecting nothing of real value and rarely in mint condition, but if I had three items I considered it a collection.

Ink pens, from fountain to ball-point pens, were part of a small collection. In Winona back in the '50s and '60s, not only the five & dime stores, but a store named Williams Book & Stationery had pens. I loved this store at back-to-school time and at most any time. Something about all of the cool writing instruments. Maybe it was more of the writer in me and not so much the collector. I always wanted to have the best of the best of writing instruments.

To this day I still see those ads for school supplies and the ink pens, but now what you see are the cheaper pens in multi packages. Things were a lot different back in the '50s and '60s.

Penning history

According to "Fountain Pens: The Collector's Guide to Selecting, Buying and Enjoying New and Vintage Fountain Pens," by Jonathan Steinberg, "Around the 19th century steel pen points started to be manufactured in large quantities, of course they were more durable and easier to use. Ink did need to be replaced after a one-week use. We can thank Lewis Edson Waterman and George S. Parker who separately patented reliable ink-feed pen systems with many different ink-filling mechanisms as well as a variety of barrel designs, colors and sizes."

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Plastic pens took off in the 1920s and '30s. The ballpoint pen and the classic collector pen emerged in the 1940s. And by the 1960s, Steinberg writes, "manufacturers like Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman and Montblanc worked on more of a splash of color and design using lacquers and pens started to become more of a high-end fashion statement and with some being produced in limited edition sets for collectors."

Before you collect

There are three types of pens we should know. The dip pens that have a nib to dip into an inkwell, the fountain pen with the self-contained reservoir, and the ballpoint that has a little ball that allows ink to flow out when the pen is put to paper.

You can consult online resources and the public library to get to know what you are interested in and what to collect, as this will also help you avoid overspending on worthless pens.

Where to find them

You can check eBay and auction sites, but remember it is better to have a pen in hand to check out its quality. Pictures don't always tell the whole story, though the web can give you a feel for the market and what pens are going for. Pen shows are great places to start if you are a new collector, as with many shows you can actually see what others collect and ask questions.

Pens can be found at flea-markets, garage sales and antique stores. Know what you are looking for and do your research. If you are a general collector, consider those that may need a little work, since sometimes all it needs is a good cleaning or replacing the ink sac that can be done by a professional. Avoid plastic pens with cracks, burn marks, scratches and little dents as this will devalue the pen. Also make sure in a pencil and pen set that each match.

Joan Thilges, at New Generations of Harmony Antique Mall, in Harmony, said, "Looking for writing instruments is a popular quest in the mall. Favorite searches are for farm-related advertising pens, bullet pencils, and fountain pens, especially the Shaeffer brand, since they were founded at Ft. Madison, Iowa. Bullet pencils can start at just $3 while farm related advertising pens can be even more inexpensive. Fountain pens, in contrast, start at $10 and go up from there. Well known brands like Palmer, Cross and Schaeffer can bring much more. We have an unused Schaeffer set priced at $99. Customers love to add desk accessories like inkwells, vintage staplers, scales, and paper weights to their collections."