Cash in the attic: Pens and pencils

Writing history

Although the origins of the first pen can be traced back to Prehistoric times when sharpened instruments were used to scratch lines into stone, it was the Ancient Egyptians who first used papyrus (a form of paper), ink and the reed brush. It it not known exactly when it was introduced, but the quill pen, made from a cut-sharpened feather, was the predominant writing instrument from the Dark Ages until the 19th century when the steel nib took over.

17th to 19th century propelling pencils are sought-after today


Writing instruments from the 17th to the 19th Century, including portable writing sets and propelling pencils, are sought-after today. The first propelling pencil was developed in 1822 by inventor Joseph Hawkins and silversmith Sampson Mordan. Mordan’s silver and gold-cased ‘Everpoint’ pencils are desirable collectors’ items. Quality, date, materials used and importance of maker are the most vital indicators of value. Mordan often made his pencils in whimsical shapes including the 1878 silver-cased propelling 6.5cm (2.5in) pencil, in the form of a tennis racket pictured, valued at £700-£1,000.

Fountain pens

The first commercially-successful fountain pens date from the 1880s, with the fountain pen enjoying a ‘golden age’ from the 1920s to the 1950s. The market is dominated by top names such as Parker, Dunhill, Waterman and Montblanc. Due to lively trading on the internet and the ease of emailing vintage pens, pens by smaller, previously lesser-known brands have risen in popularity and value. It is also likely that collectors are turning to these lesser-known pens due to the increasing scarcity of the best and most sought-after pens by the biggest names.

Traditionally collectors have been interested in pens from the 1920s to 1950s, but, as good examples have become scarcer, attention has also turned to modern pens from the 1960s onwards.


A considerable premium is usually paid for pens that have never been used and are in mint condition with their boxes and paperwork. A used pen without its box and paperwork can fetch well under 50 per cent of the value of a similar example that has never been opened. Look for top names, an appealing design and as small a limited edition as possible.

Fountain pens were massed-produced in large quantities, so many common examples are worth less than £30, even with a gold nib. Pens should be complete and in working order to appeal to collectors. Avoid cracked or chipped examples, and try to ensure replaceable parts, such as nibs or clips, are correct for the pen.

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