As many of you know, I have a bit of a rOtring obsession and I'd say I spend more time looking at this brand than most. My collection has grown over the past several months and I've learned a few things along the way not only about the brand, but how I go about buying these pens. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on all things rOtring, but I hope to provide some perspective about what I do know and what I look for.
For you, you'll need to decide what pen (or pens...) you're interested in buying: ballpoint, fountain pen, rollerball, pencil? Also, which model or finish do you find most appealing? This is where some education will come in handy to help understand a bit more about the brand as it can be very confusing and expensive. Oh, and perhaps it would be good to set yourself a budget...
Knurling or Non-Knurling?
The title "600" gets thrown around a lot in the rOtring world on eBay, blogs, forums, and they aren't always correct in this. Now, as I mentioned on The Pen Addict Podcast a couple months ago, I won't go to the lengths of correcting someone that may classify a rOtring by the incorrect model (I'm guilty of this in the past as well), but this post is a good place to speak to it without calling anyone out.
A true rOtring 600 has knurling on the grip as well as the cap (if it has one) and has a twist dial for denoting the nib size, ink refill color, or lead hardness on pencils. If you see a pen or pencil that does not have knurling, then it technically is not a 600.
In the late 90's, rOtring went through some changes in ownership and the "new rOtring" started offering a line of pens and pencils called the Newton series. These instruments had the hexagonal barrels like the 600s, but no knurling, were slightly smaller, and had either gloss or chrome accents on the cap or knock. Some people refer to these as "600" Newtons.
Comparison of Newton vs 600 grips:
Comparison of Newton vs 600 caps:
The Newton also went through a second revision which softened the barrel shape and changed the cap to have an angled connection. I don't personally have one of these, but a friend of mine, Clint Robison, reviewed one on his site Good Things Done Well.
Telling the Age of 600 Pencils
I'm not going to spend a lot of time in this area, but thought I'd bring it up. Since the current rOtring brand is still manufacturing the 600 series in their drafting pencils, they are relatively easy to acquire and aren't too much, sometimes as low as $20.
On eBay or other sites, you might see what appears to be the exact same rOtring pencil advertised as an "original" for a much higher price which is likely true, but unless you're a die-hard rOtring pencil fanatic, dropping $150 on a 0.5mm mechanical pencil seems a bit silly when the current offering really is top notch. Unless you're specifically building a collection, I'd say sticking with the current lineup will do you just fine. I personally don't own any "vintage" 600 pencils.
What Seems to Be a Fair Price?
As the vintage fountain pens seem to be the hottest rOtring items on the market for the brand, I'll stick with these for this section. Heck, we might even dabble in the rollerball and ballpoint as well.
There are a few different models and finishes to consider with the discontinued rOtring fountain pens, but we'll stick with the main ones: knurled 600 series, Newton (First Generation), and Lava finish. I'm going to save the Lava for it's own section below...
If you look up "rOtring 600 fountain pen" on eBay or other sites, you'll get a variety of pens claiming to be the 600 (see above) at a wide range of prices. Buy It Now auctions can range anywhere from $150 up to $500 which is a huge difference. What is a reasonable price?
Well, in my findings, for a true 600 steel nib fountain pen in either new or like new condition, the going reasonable rate is probably around $175-220. There are some listed for purchase that you can get a NOS 600 for less than $200 which I'd say is reasonable if you want that peace of mind. The listings for $350+ are a bit crazy unless, in my opinion, it is a NOS gold nib version. Even then that is a bit steep though.
For a Newton (non-knurled) fountain pen, these can be priced similarly to the 600s, but I'd say a fair price on these is anywhere between $100-125. A Newton rollerball you should be able to get your hands on for less than $100 if you find it in an auction.
Many of you have seen my collection shots on Instagram and I'm sure the math is calculating, but as I mentioned in my recent Lava Multipen post, buying a vintage rOtring takes some patience and timing to get a good deal. Of my knurled 600 series fountain pens and rollerballs, only two did I pay over $100 for. The others I won in auctions and ended up making out for good deals. One I even paid only $60 for as I was kind of taking a chance on it, but it worked out. Bottom line, they are out there, but it takes some scouring and looking. A LOT of looking...
The Lava Edition
Technically falling under the umbrella of the Newton series, one of the more unique editions of the rOtring line is the Lava finish. The standard black and silver finishes have survived even until today, but the Lava was a limited run done around the late 90's and into the early 2000's. The finish feels a bit gritty (although not uncomfortable) or porous like "lava", hence the name, but is a bit more like a smooth grip tape on a skateboard. Brad Dowdy described the finish as "sparklier" than he'd imagined it to be when he received his, and in the right light it does glisten a bit. A very cool pen for sure.
The Lava edition rOtring pens have recently taken the pen community by storm it seems. There has been a lot of talk on Brad and Myke's podcast, Ed Jelley's blog, and on The Clicky Post about the Lava editions and it seems that the prices have risen considerably on these recently. Sorry folks... supply and demand at its finest.
When I was purchasing mine (outside of my $30 Lava ballpoint find), you could easily pick up a rollerball edition for less than $100 and a fountain pen for as low as $125 in Buy It Now auctions. Today, only a few months later those same pens generally always run over $200. Even ballpoints and mechanical pencils are up in that price range! There are the occasional auctions that turn up on eBay, but if you're planning on bidding I'd say to budget around $150 if you're serious.
What to Look For?
If you have the benefit of going to local pen shows, you might be able to find some 600s or Newtons for you to hold and look at in person. This is ideal, but for most people you have to stick to forums like Fountain Pen Network or auction sites like eBay. I've purchased nearly all of mine on eBay and have a few things I look for and do:
- Sellers with high ratings - if they aren't even at 100% I start to ask questions of why. Look through their feedback to see what other people are saying about their experience
- Do they appear to know what they are talking about? If they describe the pen as "we bought this from an estate sale and don't know anything about it", this could be a little unnerving, but at the same time you might be able to buy it for cheaper. Granted, you're taking a bit of a risk as you're not really sure the condition, but if the pictures are clear, detailed, and you have a good idea of the overall quality you might be willing to take a chance. My $60 600 was pretty gunky and I had to soak it for a couple sessions, but she writes great and the barrel didn't have a scratch on it.
- Ask questions - are the pictures detailed enough or are they even matching? I've seen some listings that use stock photos even for these vintage pens. If that is the case, usually let it pass.
- Look for auctions - these usually start with a lower reserve and depending on the timing can often sell for much less than the Buy It Nows. I won a black NOS 600 fountain pen for about $90 shipped in an auction which sure beats $220.
- Look for people selling from their private collection that have high ratings. If the person appears to have overall integrity and took care of the pens, might be a good fit.
- Original rOtring boxes are a good sign for it's age too.
The Bad and The Ugly
Not all rOtring listings that look really good on the outside are quite as they seem. I've had a couple of pens I've purchased arrive at my door with a few imperfections that could make or break a deal for someone.
With the 600s particularly, where the caps and barrels meet there are little "gears" so to speak that force these parts to line up. Well, an unfortunate flaw in these gears is that they wear down over time with long-term use. The cap and barrel may not have a scratch on them, but if the pen was used a lot during its time even with great care, these parts eventually start to become a bit loose. I purchased a silver 600 rollerball that was flawless on the outside, but once it arrived I noticed that the cap and barrel were a bit wiggly. The pen still works, but isn't a nice snap fit like you'd find in a brand new one. A deal breaker? Maybe.
Another issue I've seen on two pens is that the barrels and caps of the 600s and Newtons are sometimes prone to cracking. I'm not sure if it is the colored finish on the outside or if it is the brass itself. Even on a NOS pen, I've seen instances of this and I don't know if it is simply a failure in the product, if it was dropped at some point, or what. These cracks can be unsightly and are imperfections in the pen, but they don't seem to impact the usability of it.
I ordered a black NOS EF 600 fountain pen that I acquired for a really good deal, but upon it's arrival I noticed these cracks in the barrel. I was bummed to say the least, but in looking back at the auction I noticed that the cracks were visible in the pictures (very lightly), so shame on me. I'll still use the pen and I'm glad to have it in my collection, but I'm not so thrilled that I made the mistake I did as it could have been much more costly!
One last point is that these pens are discontinued models which means that there is no warranty on parts if something goes bad. The biggest issue I think would be the nib and nib units of the fountain pen versions as rOtring made their own proprietary nibs. They weren't a #5 made by Schmidt you could swap out from another pen, so the problem is if it gets damaged from dropping it or not practicing good "pen hygiene", you may end up with a nice pen barrel with no way to write again through it. For the prices they run I'd say this is a really big consideration.
As I said above, I don't claim to be a complete rOtring expert, but I hope this post might grant some insight and help for those looking to get one (or some...). There are definitely things to consider.
Please feel free to comment or reach out to me with questions as I'd love to hear your thoughts!