By: Betty Jean Miller
Jeffrey Hess knew he was onto something last month when a "picker" - a sort of scout for antiques dealers - called to report he had found a fountain pen with snakes on it.
"He (the picker) had found it in Orlando," Hess said. "I told him, `You offer him $12,500, and I'll give you a $2,000 finder's fee.' "
It was an even more unusual pen than Hess had imagined. A European dealer has offered him $40,000 for the sterling silver Waterman snake pen, which features two snakes on the barrel and one on the cap. Only four of the pens have been found, Hess said, and the other three have only two snakes. Each of the snakes on Hess' pen has emerald eyes.
As far as Hess knows, his pen is unique. Michael Myers of Myers Antiques and Auction Gallery in St. Petersburg has seen a good many antique pens from estates. "They sell more in major metropolitan areas and big cities in other parts of the world," he said. "It's kind of a status symbol, a really specialized thing."
Until recently, pens have been just a hobby for Hess, 42. He owns Hess Fine Arts, a wholesale jewelry business in northeast St. Petersburg.
"I make my living on jewelry and watches," he said. "I've been collecting pens for about 10 years and became a dealer a few years ago when the prices went wild."
Pen World magazine wrote a story on Hess' snake pen this month, "and now I've been contacted by a guy in Tennessee who wants me to write a book on fountain pens. We've already set up a deal on it."
No stranger to writing, Hess has been a contributing editor to many books on jewelry and watches.
He is ready for the book on pens. "The market for pens just exploded about three or four years ago," he said. "You found pens were going to $1,000, to $1,500. The Big Red is the pen everybody remembers. It's actually a big orange Parker. It's worth about $100 to $200. Then, there's the Big Yellow Parker. It's worth $800 to $1,000. And you know, these things are just rubber plastic."
His pen purchases led him to Europe. "The Italians were crazy for pens. They like the ones with the gold and silver overlay."
And how does Hess feel about the $40,000 offer for his pen?
"I might keep it," he said, like a true collector. "It's nice to own something nobody else in the world owns."
But he said he probably will sell the pen eventually. And when he does, he said, his picker is going to get a nice bonus.
Copyright Times Publishing Co. Mar 19, 1993