Buyer's Remorse, Impulse Buys, and Shady Sellers: The Vagaries of Buying Fountain Pens Online

(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)

It's a horrible feeling, buyer's remorse. You purchase something and then experience crushing, inescapable guilt. Kicking yourself, you wonder why you impulsively purchased something you knew you shouldn't have. Or, you realize, after the fact, that it was something you really didn't want or need, but it was shiny. Or, you discover you paid too much or that the seller sold you a dud. It hurts. It's embarrassing. It's expensive.

I've experienced it multiple times after purchasing fountain pens, and I never seem to learn.

The first time I had buyer's remorse was when I bought a sweet little vintage black Pelikan Ibis from a seller on Fountain Pen Network. It was my first purchase via FPN, and I didn't think sellers would be dishonest. The pen was described as "in working condition" (aren't they all?). I received the pen and filled it with Aurora Black ink (to match the pen, of course). And as soon as I sat down to write in my journal, black ink flooded everywhere. The seller claimed I must have broken the pen, because it was perfectly fine when he sent it (of course it was).

I was devastated. I spent money on a pen that was unusable, and the seller wouldn't accept a return or pay for repair. I felt taken (and I had been). I sent it to kind, gentle Rick Propas who repaired the pen for me. But the experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and even though the pen finally worked, I didn't like it anymore. It reminded me of my naïveté and the seller's bad treatment. I eventually traded the Ibis back to Rick in partial payment for a different Pelikan. Remorse? Yes, because I expected sellers to be honest. It was my first (and not last) experience with shady sellers.

I bought another vintage pen from a reputable dealer. It was a gorgeous lavender Eversharp Doric with an adjustable nib. Problem was, the thing simply would not write. The seller told me I was using the wrong ink, but the pen didn't work even when I used his recommended ink. The seller told me I was filling it wrong or holding it wrong or expecting too much of the pen. Eventually, after sending it back and forth, the seller let me return it. I think I'm probably on his "Do Not Sell Pens to This Woman" list. Remorse? Yes, because the pen was so gorgeous and I really wanted it to write. I loved that adjustable nib. But because I was able to return it, the remorse eventually disappeared but not the disappointment.

The next stupid purchase was also from FPN. I found a Montblanc 146 advertised as a 1950s celluloid MB with a 14K broad nib. The seller stated that the rings had "slight damage." In his photos, it looked like one of the thinner rings was slightly bent. "No problem," I thought. I really wanted a celluloid MB, and the price was a little lower than normal because of the rings (though it was still really expensive). Plus I expected the 1950s 14K nib to be springy, maybe even flexible. So I bought it.

When I got the pen, this is what the rings actually looked like:

Super glue? OMG! The center ring was completely loose, swinging around the cap like a hoola-hoop. I was furious. I contacted the seller who claimed (of course) that I was making much ado about nothing. But when I sent him photographs of the superglued rings and told him that the center ring was completely loose, he at least offered me a partial refund ($100).

I sent that pen to a well-known pen restorer. It was in his queue for over nine months. He returned it with the rings in better shape (cost for repair over $100), but by then the cork had dried up and the pen leaked everywhere. I sent it to yet another pen restorer who fixed the cork and re-did the ring job so the pen looked like new (cost for repair over $100). But he informed me that the nib was really from the 80s (not the 50s). Great. By then I'd spent tons of money on a pen that didn't even have an authentic 1950s nib, and the nib has no character (or flex). Remorse? Oh yes. But I've put too much money into the pen to sell it. I guess I'll have to spend more money and send it to a nibmeister. At least then I'll have a beautiful pen that writes well.

Then there was the Montblanc 90th Anniversary Rose Gold 149 I bought on a whim. Pro Tip: never buy Montblancs on a whim. This was truly an impulse buy–absolutely an emotionally-based decision. Right after the PayPal transaction went through I felt enormous remorse. "Why did you buy that pen?" I asked myself. "What were you thinking? You don't like 149s! They're too big for your hand!" "But it's got a rose gold nib," I told myself. "It's super pretty!"

Regardless, I knew I should not have bought the pen. I emailed the seller telling him I was feeling terrible remorse and asked if I could return it. He was gracious, saying that I could return it, but it would take him a little while to refund the money. He asked that I at least open the pen (but not ink it) just to see if I fell in love with it.

It arrived. I opened it. I took photographs of it. I'm sorry to say I did not fall in love. I can't really say why. It was a beautiful pen. But it didn't wow me like I expected it to. I felt wrong returning it to the kind seller– buyer's remorse just doesn't seem like a legitimate reason to return a pen. Instead, I put it back up on FPN (at a loss) for sale. Happily, someone bought it the next day. Remorse reversed, at least temporarily.

Then there was the blue cotton resin Omas 360 I bought because: BLUE PEN! I am such a sucker for blue pens. There really wasn't anything wrong with the pen, but the nib was too firm for my tastes and the triangular grip did not suit my hand. That one went back up for sale immediately.

As did the Aurora 88 with "slight discoloration" on the grip. Thanks, seller from Italy.

And the Sailor Pro Gear with a 21K hard-fine nib that was just too hard-fine for me but it sure was a pretty turquoise.

Remorse? Yes, yes. But when I can sell pens I shouldn't have bought in the first place, I feel a little redemption.

Most recently I bought a Montblanc Heritage 1912 from a seller we'll say is from Czechoslovakia (I realize that country no longer exists. But his country is rather . . . distinctive, and I guess I should protect his identity). I ignored tons of warning signs. He didn't have many seller ratings. He didn't have the box or papers for the pen even though he claimed it was brand new. He only posted one photograph of the pen. I should have heeded these signs, but when you fall for a pen, just like when you fall in love, you tend to be blind.

I did, at least, ask several questions before buying the pen. I asked if the pen had scratches, specifically scratches from the cap being screwed on (I'd read that some owners of the Heritage complained about this problem). "Oh no! No scratches at all!" he said. I asked if the pen was used or brand new. "It is new! Never used!" "But you don't have the papers?" I asked, a wee bit skeptical. "No, no. I don't keep those things. I just don't have the room. My wife owns this same pen! She loves it. It is made for a female hand. You will be so happy in love with this pen!"

I fell for it. I mean, it wasn't just that he said I'd love it. I was entranced by the cool mechanism of the Heritage 1912–the nib extending with a twist of the knob like a safety pen of old. The knob pulling out and turning into a piston. It was so James Bond. Besides, reviews of the Heritage said the nib was wonderful, almost flexy, and I loved the retro look.

Days and days passed while it traveled from Czechoslovakia. When it arrived, it was packaged in an Eau de Cologne box! That worried me. A Montblanc pen packaged in a cheap perfume box?

I extracted the pen from the bubble wrap, and the first thing I saw was a chip visible to the naked eye near the piston. I got out my macro lens and discovered scratches everywhere, including scratches on the barrel from the cap. Sigh. Duped again.

I PMed the seller and told him how disappointed I was. He claimed I was making a fuss over nothing. "Those are just micro-scratches," he said. I sent him photographs and said, "No. These are real scratches. Deep scratches. Not micro-scratches. This pen has been used!" I told him I wanted to return the pen. "No, no!" he said. "I don't have the funds. I sold another pen and it got lost on the way to China! And now I have to refund that buyer with the money from your Heritage, and it wasn't my fault! I have no money, and I'm about to leave for a three-week vacation!" Yeah . . . right.

I told him I wanted my refund anyway. He said to take it up with PayPal, which I did. Eventually, he agreed to a partial refund, though he tried to wheedle me down even on that. "I have a friend who can put $150 in your PayPal right now, but I can't do more than that." When I said I'd had enough and was returning the pen, he suddenly (and suspiciously) found more money for the partial refund. Remorse? Yes, but the partial refund softened the blow.

I really do love my MB Heritage. It writes beautifully and is one of the coolest pens I own. But somewhere in Czechoslovakia is a sweet-talking, vacationing seller who packages expensive scratched pens in Eau de Cologne boxes. Beware.

I no longer tell my husband these stories, because he just shakes his head and says, "Wife, haven't you learned your lesson?" No. Clearly I never learn my lesson. When a pen starts singing me its Siren song, I simply cannot resist its call. That's the nature of this thing we call fountain pen addiction.

There are worse addictions, right?

Posted on August 28, 2015 and filed under Fountain Pens.