THE RED AND THE GREEN – A recent Facebook entry posing the question – “Would you use a vintage pen daily?” – led us to the inevitable conundrum – “What is a vintage pen?”
Indeed, in the world of collectibles, one is often besieged by the words “antique,” “vintage” and “retro,” terminology that is bandied about interchangeably, irresponsibly and even illogically. Let’s try to distinguish.
“Antique” (from the Latin “antiquus,” or old, ancient) refers to items of aesthetic or historical significance, desired because of the combination of age, beauty, rarity, and sometimes, personal emotional connection. The closest to a legal equivalent can be found in the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, which defines antiques as “works of art, works in bronze, marble, terra cotta, parian, pottery or porcelain, artistic antiquities and objects of ornamental character or educational value, which shall have been produced prior to the year 1830.” This may explain in part why there is a largely unwritten rule that antiques should be at least 100 years old. Based on that, one’s fountain pen today, to be considered antique, should have been produced no later than 1918, and if one considers that the Waterman patent was first registered in 1884, that somewhat narrows the field of antique pen collectibility.
“Vintage,” on the other hand, (from the French “vendage,” or grapes picked during a single season) originally referred to a specific year for wine production. The term has had a secondary definition, and according to Ruby Lane, the world’s largest curated marketplace for collectibles, it refers to an era during which the item was produced (like vintage 1940’s), and exhibits the best of certain qualities associated with that period. It is generally agreed that vintage objects should be at least 25 years old, although for jewelry (perhaps most closely identified with fountain pens), online shops require that if labeled as vintage, the item should be at least 50 years old. For today’s penthusiasts, that would mainly be pens from the pre-1968 period.
And finally “Retro” (from the Latin suffix “retro,” or backwards, in past time) is not an old or a specifically dated object, but a newly produced item made in the style, trend or mode – often outdated, but has become fashionable again – of the recent past which one is trying to replicate.
In 2015, Pilot released its third version of the Metropolitan, the Retro Pop Collection of six vividly colored fountain pens embellished by a retro-patterned band reminiscent of nostalgic 1960’s pop art. The red has a wavy accent, while the green has a marbled feather design. These pens are juxtaposed against mechanical tools evocative of another, now dated, writing instrument – a “vintage” 1960-made hand-cranked Champion pencil sharpener from the Boston Pencil Sharpener Co. (est. 1899), and a “retro” version of the 1933 classic Matterhorn pencil sharpener by Caran d’Ache (est. 1915), reproduced in 2013 to celebrate the bygone tool’s 80th anniversary.
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