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Digger talks to Simon at The Battersea Pen Home - Vintage and Modern Fountain Pen Specialists

 

penhome.co.uk

 


 

Digger: Hello Simon.

Simon: Hello David.

Digger: Can please you tell us a bit about your background?

Simon: It started as a hobby about eighteen years ago.

Digger: Always the best way.

Simon: Collecting pens and then the gradual slippery slope (Digger laughs)

Digger: I hear that story so many times that people start as collectors and end up as dealers.

Simon: Yes. I enjoyed the repairing side in particular so it gradually took over from the day job.

Digger: What was the day job?

Simon: I was Group Finance Director for some London-based property companies.

Digger: And this is more exciting and satisfying?

Simon: Yes.

Digger: You must be quite handy then? Where did you get that from?

Simon: For repairing? I donít know. I just always enjoyed fiddling with pens.

Digger: It must be quite intricate?

Simon: Yes, you need to know what youíre doing. And back then, of course, fifteen or eighteen years ago, you could buy pens quite cheaply so you could practise on them. It gradually took over and I went full-time on it about fifteen years ago.

Digger: What services do you provide Simon?

Simon: We buy, sell and restore vintage fountain pens.

Digger: You donít take in stray pens from the street?!

Simon: We do service and repair customers pens and thatís about a third of the business. I trained at Parker and Watermanís factory at Newhaven about ten years ago to repair their products.

Digger: Canít get better names than that can you?

Simon: No. So basically we buy pens ourselves, service them and then retail them. And we provide the same service for customerís pens.

Digger: And there's lots of repeat business I should imagine?

Simon: Yes, which over fifteen years has built up quite a lot. So I would say one in five of the pens coming in is coming in from people who have used us in the past.

Digger: Thatís not bad is it?

Simon: Thereís not actually a vast amount of competition. Thereís only about three other people in the UK doing this full-time. The repairing side.

Digger: Are they liberally sprinkled throughout the UK?

Simon: Yes.

Digger: Whatís the 'Faberge' of pens?

Simon: It would Dunhill Namikis or Namikis from the 1920s and early 30s.

Digger: Would that be the same Dunhill who were making the lighters as well?

Simon: Yes. Basically Namiki is still there. Youíve probably seen Pilot pens - the cheap ones? Pilot is the same company as Namiki and they still produce very up-market makes of lacquered pens that retail new today in the £2,000-£10,000 frame. But in the late twenties and early thirties they had a distribution agreement with Dunhill and so some of their pens of that period were branded Dunhill Namiki. So on the nib it would say Dunhill Namiki, and those at auction have fetched up to a quarter of a million.

Digger: Has one ever passed through your hands?

Simon: Yes, weíve had a number over the last few years. I mean, not at that level but in the £5,000 to £15,000 range.

Digger: Canít be bad.

Simon: No.

Digger: Why is retro and vintage so perennially popular?

Simon: Itís strange, I mean I would say that the focus of our pens has shifted and it depends a bit what you mean by vintage. Fifteen years ago we were selling pens from the 1900s to the 1950s, principally to people who wanted to collect them and would put them in a cabinet and not use them. Over the last fifteen years thatís all changed around and what our customers want today are interesting-looking pens that are practical for everyday use. So itís very rare that we sell a pen these days, unless itís a Dunhill Namiki, that isnít going to be used.

Digger: I see, because I thought a lot of people tended to use finger and keyboard these days?

Simon: Well, people like to have a pen even if itís just for Christmas cards or the odd letter. And so really most of our sales today are pens that have been produced in the 1950s to 1980s.

Digger: I was talking to a gentleman who does vintage watches and another who does vintage toys and there is a tendency for it to slowly creep forward and things are moving forward from the 40s and 50s to the 60s, 70s and 80s. And I suppose that makes perfect sense, really, doesnít it?

Simon: Yes. Because pen design has moved on and the quality of the ink flow on a pen of the 1920s and 30s is going to be poorer than most pens today.

 

 

 

 

 

Digger: What is the impact of The Internet for you?

Simon: Weíve had a website for about thirteen years.

Digger: You were pioneers then?

Simon: Yes, we were one of the first vintage websites.

Digger: There wasnít a lot going on in those days on the web, I remember. Youíd end up seeing the same websites all of the time.

Simon: I know it was in the days when to have a company host your website was £1,000 a year minimum and if you needed any help with designing it, it started at £10,000 and worked up from there.

Digger: Amazing.

Simon: Until then weíd been printing a colour printed catalogue four times a year which probably cost us about £4,000 per year.

Digger: And the postage as well.

Simon: Yes. Getting a photographer in to photograph the pens and then having the printer design and put it together and the printing. These were mailed out to about 600 people who paid a subscription to receive it. And, at the same time, I was buying pens in the UK, flying to the States, selling them there, buying pens there and bringing them back here. And you made a profit just on moving the pens around, because what was rare here was still rare in the States but there was greater availability. So there was this happy circuit going on. And, of course, The Internet has changed all of that because within a year or two of having the website there was no point in paying to have the colour catalogue printed because stock was selling off the website quite happily.

Digger: So no more jollies to America?

Simon: Thatís right and then eBay started up Ė going to a show in the States where one had been able to guy and buy quite freely Ė when you asked the price of anything it would always be ďWell, one went on eBay last week forÖĒ

Digger: I hate that. It doesnít mean a thing, does it?

Simon: No, but what that meant was that there was hardly any need to keep going over to the States or Europe, because everything, particularly now Ė you can have a look at half a dozen different sites in the States and get what you want without the £900 cost of flights and hotels.

Digger: The instant gratification is what The Internet has made possible. In the old days youíd have a wish list or wants list and it might take years to complete it but now, if youíve got the money, you can do it immediately. If the items exist, that is.

Simon: Thatís right, so the impact of The Internet has been absolutely massive. But I think overall, although the business is not less profitable than it was, it is less easy and slightly more difficult to get the profit. But it does mean that I donít have to fly to the States five or six times a year.

Digger: Or produce that catalogue.

Simon: No, the grief and time consumption of producing the catalogue. And lifeís quite relaxed as a result, really.

Digger: Thatís a great impact that your quality of life has improved. Thatís good, thatís good.

Simon: Yes.

Digger: You do sales and repairs Ė what are the most enjoyable aspects?

Simon: For me, itís the repairing. Iíve always enjoyed just sitting at the workbench and just fiddling around.

Digger: In an ideal world is that all youíd do or would you have to have the other side as well?

Simon: No, because apart from the workbench skill of taking pens apart and putting them back together and nib polishing and everything, the other thing Iíve built-up over fifteen or eighteen years is knowledge of being able to look at a pen and knowing what its value is. And so there is money to be made by utilising that knowledge.

Digger: Whoís going to inherit that knowledge?

Simon: No-one, I donít think. In the sense of someone starting out today, do you mean?

Digger: No, I wonder if somebody will take over when you retire? An apprentice perhaps?

Simon: I donít know if itís that sort of a business. Apprenticeships possibly Ė it would be nice for it to be passed on but then I donít have the time to spend two or three years on-and-off training someone.

Digger: So it might be lost? I was talking to a gentleman who repairs jukeboxes and he has no offspring who want to take over so he says he has another twenty five years and then he doesnít know what will happen to it. Thatís a shame when skills and knowledge disappear.

Simon: Yes, I hadnít really thought about it from that perspective.

Digger: Sorry about that, Iíve given you something to think about.

Simon: Well, yes, I am conscious when batches of spare parts turn up and you decide whether to buy them or not. What Iím buying is enough in terms of the demand to keep us going for 100 years. Very often you donít get half a dozen, you get 200, and if you use five a year or less...

Digger: But what you canít afford to do is run out of them.

Simon: Yes, thatís right. And so oneís constantly overstocked with certain parts and grubbing around for ones one doesnít have.

Digger: Well, maybe in fifteen or twenty years you might have to start thinking about an apprentice.

Simon: Yes. What there is Ė or doubtless there will be a few other people around then who are, like I was, keen on fiddling around with pens and repairing them. And then what theyíd benefit from is if I pass on the parts stock to them.

Digger: Itís difficult to predict what The Internet will be like in fifteen or twenty years time.

Simon: Absolutely, I think from a competition angle weíre quite well protected because the parts stock weíve built up over the last eighteen years is not stuff you can just go out and buy. So someone just starting up repairing today would probably not be able to do very much at all, simply because they havenít got the parts.

Digger: What are your best sellers?

Simon: Probably Parker Duofolds, Yard o Lead sterling silver pens and pencils.

Digger: these arenít; available from standard stockists?

Simon: Yard o Lead are, theyíre a traditional Birmingham-based silversmithing firm. The Parker Duofolds been produced since the 1920s and most of the ones we now sell are from the late 80s. The other one is the Parker 51 and we sell refurbished versions of that. Thatís probably, in terms of volume, our best seller.

Digger: Simon, many thanks for letting us know about The Battersea Pen Home.

Simon: Thank you David. 

 


 

 

penhome.co.uk

 

The Battersea Pen Home

 

The Battersea Pen Home is run by Simon Gray and Sean Lovell - its two founding partners.  We specialize exclusively in buying, selling and repairing pens and pencils, both modern and vintage. After being based in Battersea for ten years (hence our name!), we moved to Epping in 2000.
We refurbish and repair most makes of fountain pen for customers and are recommended by Sheaffer UK. We are fully authorized by Parker and Waterman to service their writing instruments. We usually have more than 500 vintage pens in stock at any one time and can also try to locate specific pens for customers. We are interested in buying vintage pens, both individual pieces and entire collections.
  • Pens For Sale
  • Pen Repairs
  • Inks and Accessories
  • Vintage Pens bought (individual and whole collections)

Battersea Pen Home, 
PO Box 6128,
Epping CM16 4GG

Tel: 01992-578 885   
Fax: 01992-578 485

Email: orders@penhome.co.uk 
repairs@penhome.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 


 

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