Gary Lehrer, GoPens.com and the Mother of all pen Catalogues!
Gary Lehrer and the Art of Fountain Pen Cataloguing.
Gary Lehrer is extremely busy, and getting busier by the day, as the mid-November deadline for publishing his 91st Illustrated Quarterly Vintage Pen Catalogue on his website, www.GoPens.com, approaches. This is the ultimate destination for vintage pen lovers and collectors. It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination. Gary started collecting fountain pens in 1987, having found a nice group in a coffee cup at a flea market (each of us should be as lucky). A few years later he was actively dealing, restoring and writing about pens! In 1995 he started publishing his Catalogue. At that time it was devoted entirely to vintage pens but, as the years went by, he began adding some Limited Edition and collectable (a bit more modern) pens as well.
Paradoxical as it may sound, it is Gary’s success which is also the biggest hindrance (if that is the right term) facing him as he goes about painstakingly putting all the details of his Catalogue in place. Gary is one of the world’s foremost authorities on vintage and antique pens and what he pronounces is taken as the last word by the writing instruments fraternity. Naturally, he has to check, crosscheck and double check anything he says in the public domain. When every word of yours becomes a sermon, life can’t be easy, and it is not.
If that is difficult, what makes the task even more painstaking is the fact that Gary is also one of the most revered pen restorers. The pens that make it into his Catalogue are either in pristine condition or are restored to near mint condition by his tender loving care. Buyers expect no less than a miracle from Gary so far as writing instruments are concerned. But conjuring miracles, consistently and unfailingly, is a steep (not to mention tedious) task, ever for the chosen ones like Gary.
Gary also insists on giving a guarantee with every pen he sells. Now to think that Gary Lehrer has been doing it for more than thirty years now, begins to put things into the right perspective.
Each year, Gary (accompanied by his very lovely wife, Myrna) travels around the US and Europe to find and purchase the pens he offers (and yes. it is getting harder and harder to find them). A small number of the pens in his Catalogues are consigned by others, selected to add diversity to the selections.
Every pen acquired is entered into a computerised data base. As this is done the most important job, that of individually affixing a price for each pen, requires research and concentration of a different kind. Not only have the pens to be priced at points that are expected to recoup the costs involved in this gigantic exercise, but the same should be as near the prevailing market price for similar items as possible. His next step is the restoration of each pen and the characterising the nibs, which too, is a field of specialisation in itself.
The pens are then all restored with uncompromising detail to make them as near perfect as possible – easier said than done, considering not only the wear and tear brought about by use and the passing of time, but also made difficult by the fact that the replacement parts are extremely hard to come by.
Then begins the highly cerebral work of writing the description of each pen for the Catalogue, highlighting the facts which make them desirable, often including history of the manufacturer, as well as adding the riders about physical defects. These have to be clearly stated so as to avoid any ambiguity. When a reputation that is as respectable as that of Gary Lehrer is at stake, there is no other alternative but to be 100% accurate with every entry. And this is only the raw-material of the Catalogue.
Once the descriptions are written, Gary carefully lays out each individual page of the upcoming Catalogue, grouping the pens into brands, models and categories which will both be attractive and make sense to the reader. Then photography begins, first in groups (one group for each page of the Catalogue) and, for those with original packaging, individual photos are taken so the reader can see this as well. Once the descriptions and photographs are integrated, the Catalogue can be finalised and uploaded to his website.
For the first week of publication, new Catalogues are password protected for Gary’s paid subscribers. The cost is a mere pittance of US$10 for four issues, but the $10 does separate and offer the experience to those who are the most serious and want the earliest and best selection.
On every opening day there is a surge in traffic to the GoPens.com website as aficionados from around the world rush in to pick the best pieces – a surge that has to be monitored so as to obviate the possibility of the servers crashing. Its neither easy being Gary Lehrer, or is it easy to run an eCommerce site that is as popular as GoPens. While the submission of orders is automated from the website, Gary and Myrna then handle every order individually, accommodating payment and shipping preferences individually for each individual customer.
Oh, I forgot, once the sale starts, the sold items are colour coded and the Catalogue updated on a war footing, with patrons even getting a chance to reserve items, which too are coloured.
To put things in perspective for you, the most recent Catalogue – No. 90 – had over 280 items in it, covering the entire gamut of writing instruments from Montblanc, Soennecken and Pelikan (Germany), to Sheaffer, Parker, Waterman and Esterbrook (USA), through to Japanese delights like Pilot, Sailor and Platinum. The range also had some extremely rare pens that are not only antique but certainly museum class – pieces of the history of mankind recounted through his obsession for creating the perfect writing instrument. If the list prices of all the pens that are in Catalogue No. 90 are added together, the amount one would arrive at would be just over US$135,000. After a Catalogue is on-line for 9 months or so, remaining pens are offered at 10% off.
I rest my case.
For Gary Lehrer’s exclusive interview: http://inkedhappiness.com/gary-lehrer-and-the-art-of-collecting-fountain-pens/
For GoPens website: https://www.gopens.com/
Note: All photographs of pens are from the GoPens Catalogue #90 August 2019)