I recently stumbled across a whole new world in the acquisition of writing instruments. I was actually searching for an antique specimen cabinet to use as a display case (but that is the subject of a whole other post), and found a site called Invaluable. They are essentially an aggregator of antique auctions across the globe - generally estate sales of furniture and the like. On a whim, I searched for fountain pens. I found one seller with a marbled Pelikan 1001 that I will review when it arrives, but then it all went a bit weird.
I noticed a Mont Blanc special edition listed for about $5,000. That held about as much interest as a UK bank account since 2008. But in the corner, in tiny writing, was the auction it was part of: “Stilos”. An outfit called Artcurial was holding an auction devoted entirely to pens with 400 lots the following day in Paris. This was intriguing, and so further down the rabbit hole I went.
First of all I went through the catalogue. Ho hum, ten thousand euro limited editions covered in as much gold as Mr. T.2 I think about 100 pens were Mont Blanc alone. But wait. What’s this? Two Danitrio Genkais? Interesting… a Nakaya piccolo? a Pilot Myu? A Tibaldi Impero? And good lord, is that the Visconti Wall Street LE I have been looking for? Gulp. I wonder how I can bid?
A few frantic emails to France, bank details, IBAN numbers etc and I was in! The only thing was, the auction kicked off at 2pm Paris time, or 10pm Sydney time. I had a long night ahead of me… What made things worse was that they went in alphabetical order by brand, so the Viscontis were right at the end in the 370s.
When the hour arrived, I clicked on to the “Join Now” button, and my jaw dropped. Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much we take technology for granted when it has changed so much, so fast. It came home all the more given that this was a triply old fashioned setting. Pens? Check. Auction house? Check. Paris? Check. And yet there I was, in bed in Sydney, watching a live feed of the auctioneer running the show. In French, obviously, but auctioneers gabble so fast it made little difference. On my screen was an “interested” button. Click this and the gentlemen and ladies in Paris would pay attention to you for that particular lot. After that, it was game on. Bids would flash up on the screen, your big red bid button would show in big letters the amount you needed to bid, and each lot was over in approximately 30 seconds. It was exciting.
I just watched for a while, seeing if the lots were going for around the guide price, which they generally were. That was a relief - it would have been pretty frustrating to pore over the catalogue thinking “150 Euros - ooh!” only for them to all go for double. So I waited through all the Auroras, and Bexleys, and Caran D’Ache. But when the Ds came around the Danitrios (in beautiful purple urushi) blew past theirs (and my) limits. The same with the Nakaya piccolo - it went for about $30 less than the cost of a new one! As for the rest of my targets? The Tibaldi was heartbreaking. There was only one person bidding - get in quick! And… my screen froze. I was hammering away at the bid button, but by the time it unfroze, we were on to the next lot. Grr.
In the end, I stuck it out until 2am, and picked up the Visconti Wall Street LE, and a Visconti Aida for pretty good prices (I’ll update when they arrive). It was worth it for that, but it would have been worth it even if I had bought nothing. It was an exhilarating experience just to be part of the live auction virtually3.
Highly recommended, would buy again4.
1 Bizarrely from the auction houses 10 minutes down the road from where I grew up south of Manchester in the UK, who I had never heard of until 4 weeks ago when they handled my grandmother's estate sale. Or should I say my grandmother's estate's sale? Because she can't be selling... you know what, never mind. ↩
2 I have trouble with making up to date references. I'm a lot like Bob Hope in that regard. (c) Tim Vine ↩
3 I have only attended one live auction, where I bought my wife's engagement ring. Obviously she wasn't my wife at the time. It is *scary*. I got into a bidding war with a telephone bidder, and if you think you can get swept up in an eBay auction, this was light years worse/better depending if you stress or thrive on the adrenaline rush. ↩
4 A word of caution. Buying at auction costs you an extra 25% of the hammer price as commission to the auction house5, and 5% more VAT if staying in the EU. What I did was convert 130 Euros into Australian dollars, and then use that figure as what I was actually spending for each 100 Euros I bid. Also, I noticed a couple of pens make their way to eBay located in Paris within two days or so at significantly higher prices. ↩
5 Guess who didn't know *that* when buying an engagement ring? ↩