Here's a tip for UK fountain pen collectors: If you can't find what you want on eBay, try the police.
Among the unclaimed items that UK police forces sell through a website called Bumblebee Auctions are all sorts of writing instruments, from Lamy Nexx fountain pens to collector's edition pen-and-cuff links sets. The prices don't seem too bad, either, with new pens going for as little as one-third of retail.
The idea started in 1997 with Surrey police, who were looking for a way to dispose of property seized during arrests or turned in by the public that could not be returned to the rightful owners. This eventually led to the creation of online services that allowed people to report lost or stolen property, search police databases for missing property, and, in 2002, to bid on auctions of unclaimed items.
From reporter Naphtalia Loderick at Confused.com:
Site administrator Chris Leach said the appeal of the police auction site was its curiosity factor.
“With police auctions there’s a voyeuristic interest that makes the site very popular with users.
“It’s not like a supermarket where people go in to buy milk and bread - the basics. It’s more of a treasure trove where people might go for a look and end up coming away with something completely random.”
According to Leach, the most common items on the site are jewellery – “we get some very good pieces” - mountain bikes and power tools.
Exess Consultants Ltd, the company that manages the auction site, reports that 3K to 4K people visit the site each day, and that there are more than 21K users signed up to bid on auctions. More than a dozen police services in the UK use the site to dispose of property.
Recently concluded auctions included:
- A Lamy Nexx aluminum fountain pen, new in the package. Marked at £15.99, the pen sold for £5.
- A Parker Frontier fountain pen, new in the package. Marked at £19.99, it sold for £5.50.
- A W.H. Smith Signature Collection fountain pen and ballpoint pen set, new in the package. Priced on the Smith site at £14.99, the set sold at auction for £4.50.
(Keep in mind that there are shipping costs associated with each item.)
That's not to say that there are always pens on the Bumblebee site. It seems to be hit and miss, depending on what criminals take and what police get back. Some months, there are several excellent pens listed on the auction, some months there are none.
But, if you are a collector looking for a great deal on a pen, it's certainly worth checking periodically.