I have noticed, especially over the past year prices SOARING for vintage supplies. I am specifically referring to nibs and pen holders (the areas I know) and wanted to share a few thoughts. These are my OPINIONS and of course opinions will vary
No nib in the world is worth over $5, PERIOD in my opinion. Vintage nibs were made in such a way that every single nib was touched by a human, they were precision ground and each one scrutinized. This is why they are wonderful to use, and why they are so desirable. We have to remember this is a disposable product with a VERY limited life.
I am going to use the Gillott 604EF as an example, because it is my nib of preference and because I have purchased so many of them. About a year ago, there was a website that these nibs for sale, they had quite a few. The price was $3.50 per nib, which I consider a very fair price for this vintage nib. When I decided this was the nib I prefer, I bought them all, I think it was about 100 or so. This was the only source of these nibs to my knowledge. Within weeks the price on these nibs went up almost 1000%, yes that is one thousand percent. Someone listed them on eBay at $30 each and now there has been a couple people doing the same thing thing. First off, that is INSANE, that price is driven by greed, plain and simple. It keeps these nibs out of the hands of those who use them most. I can almost guarantee that they only sell one at a time, and only to people who want a chance to use the nib, just once.
We read that "So-and-So" Master penman from the 1900's preferred a specific nib and think that nib will help us be able to obtain the quality of writing they achieved. While the nib may make the hairlines a tiny bit finer than what a modern nib does or flex a tiny bit more, the writing they achieved was NOT due to a nib. It was due to PRACTICE and more PRACTICE. If someone like Madarasz were alive today, I can guarantee they could achieve the same results with a high quality modern nib, or even a nice vintage nib.
Recently an 8" Magnusson Pen Holder sold on eBay for $2500, yes you read that correctly Two-Thousand-Five Hundred Dollars! First off let me say there is no functional or historical value of a Magnusson that makes it remotely worth $2500. Someone at some point put some crazy value on a Magnusson, creating a false belief that it is the holy grail of pen holders. The fact is, I own several and in comparison with the other vintage holders in my collection they are of much lower quality than others. Magnusson, while historically cool due to the popularity during the golden age of penmanship, were not well thought out as far as construction. The Zanerian Fine Art Oblique Holder, a very similar pen to a Magnusson, is constructed 100x better and sell at around $100-$150 when they do come up.
First off, there is no magic in a pen holder. Its a matter of simple grade-school geometry and provided the pens geometry is correct and the pen is constructed well so that it will stay together and comfortable to use a $15.00 pen works just as well as a $2500.00 pen. There is no difference in the functional use!!! Many of you know I make many pen holders, and 98% of what I do is PURELY cosmetic. My $35.00 "Naked Pen Holders" perform EXACTLY the same as a $300.00 Kelchner Replica with Ivory that I have made. The difference is purely the time to assemble the pen and the cost of the materials themselves.
At no point ever think you NEED a vintage nib or pen holder. You can achieve wonderful results with a $15.00 pen holder and a nice modern nib. If you are lucky enough to find a vintage pen holder or nibs at a FAIR price, then by all means treat yourself if you are able.
If we as a community stopped paying these highly over inflated prices, even to sample one vintage nib, the sellers would have no choice but to lower the price or just sit on their inventory.
Finding Vintage Supplies at a REASONABLE cost
Below are where and how I find my vintage supplies. I have in two years collected a huge amount of supplies through these methods. Included are almost 100 vintage pen holders, 8 gross of Gillott 604EF Nibs & many other gross of vintage nibs which are in huge demand. I now have enough to last my lifetime and dedicate less time to this than I originally did for nibs. My pen holder collection...that's another story, lol.
eBay - The obvious, however to make it work you need to know how to use search to your advantage. Lets use "Gillott 604EF" for an example. Do a search for that term, then refine it by eliminating irrelevant categories and also sorting by "Newest First". You need to then save that search. You can also choose to be notified by email when new items are posted, this can get spammy, so use with caution. What I do is every morning my routine is get coffee, check eBay and then check email. It's a daily routine. I open eBay and use my saved searches to quickly go through what I am searching out. If you see a newly listed item at an auction format you want, message the seller. Tell them you are interested in a Buy It Now price. Sometimes they will agree and put it at a buy it now price for you and you can grab it up. Otherwise it's very hit or miss, I set a max I will pay for something, and if it's above that price I move on regardless. For example, any 604EF above $5.00 I don't even consider and completely ignore.
Local Antique Stores - Most people try to go to them and see if they have anything. This doesn't work 99% of the time and you spend more money in time and gas than it is worth. I contact every store in my area and explain what I am looking for. I currently have about 30 antique stores that are in contact with me. In this example I will use nibs. I tell them I practice penmanship and always looking for old nibs. I ask them that if they have anything come in, could they please contact me. The one thing you will want to do is build a relationship, so I started by buying any nib at a reasonable price. Some were nibs I don't even like, but once they realize you are serious, they will continue to contact you when the items come in. I also sent each one a hand lettered mail showing them that I am a true user and not someone looking to buy items to turn for profit. It's a nice gesture and gets them interested in working with you. (Dealing with all the extra nibs I acquired this way will be in a section below regarding trading)
Estate Sales - Look around your local area, an estate sale is a HUGE undertaking and usually handled by Estate Sale Companies, contact these companies using the same methods as the Antique Stores. I have about 15 companies that contact me, again when something shows up. They are more than happy to work with you as these little items are usually tossed in a box of misc items that goes for pennies on the dollar. Again buying extra to build a relationship.
Trades - When you see or offered nibs at a really low cost, especially those that we know are more desirable, buy them regardless if you personally like them or not. There are so many different varieties of nibs that you most likely know someone who prefers another nib over yours. Pay attention and you will learn what nib others prefer and if you find their nib, contact them letting you know you have some and see if they have some of your nibs they would love to trade. This is how you get rid of extra nibs you may accumulate from Antique Stores or Estate Sale Companies.
Etsy - This is not an avenue I personally explored much. Because of that I don't personally have a way of using this site effectively. Others have mentioned it is a helpful source from time to time, so I thought it worth a mention.
BE FAIR / BE HONEST - This is most important, the ability of everyone to research value makes this so very important. Using 604EF's as an example again. They contact me saying they had a gross of 604EF's come in. I explain that I would be willing to pay about $3.00 per nib in bulk. I also voluntarily explain that if you look on eBay, you can see there are two people selling them for $30 each. I explain that this is an absurd price that people only will pay one nib at a time. I also offer to show them how to search completed items in eBay so they can see if items actually sold at that price and how many sold at the asking price of the crazy eBay sellers.
Dumb Luck - The last way, just happening upon items. If I'm out of town and pass a store or garage sale I stop. I don't go out of my way to search them out, this could be exhausting because you come up empty handed so often. If you see something that looks like it has a bunch of misc old items, take the 2 minutes to stop and quickly browse. I purchased 2 boxes of dream nibs and a few pen holders this way. I always offer to send them a letter using the items if they are comfortable with giving me their address.
Quantity - This is a huge thing. I hear of so many calligraphers who buy 5 nibs at a time of their favorites. This is plain silly and you have to get yourself past this if looking to collect vintage nibs and prepared to spend. If you buy in quantity, the price can be as much as 40% cheaper for nibs. A single Leonardt Principal costs $2.50 in singles, if you purchase by the gross (144) the price drops to $1.75, which is 30% cheaper. That equals $360.00 by paying individually for nibs vs. $252.00 buying in bulk, you SAVE $108.00 buying in bulk. You are now saving HUGE amounts of money, stocked up for a long time and then have the ability to trade or sell and easily break even or even make a profit by selling at NORMAL retail price. If you can't afford it alone, build a relationship with a friend and or friends and split the expenses and supplies. You just have to be prepared to buy in quantity for the above methods to work.
Summary - Overall if you do all the above things, you will be surprised after a while how often people contact you. I currently get at least 3 calls per week about these types of items, some good, some not. Be patient and you can get much more than you would ever expect. Like I said in two years time I now have enough nibs to last the rest of my life and enough pen holders to last many peoples lives. If everyone were to do the above, we would all have huge supplies of vintages nibs, could trade back and forth for nibs we each have a personal preference and more importantly set a REALISTIC price for vintage supplies and put the price gougers in their place!
Good Luck! and be Patient!