MAKING THE GRADE: How to grade the condition of your fountain pen or other writing instrument

Our 10-Point System for Fine Writing Instrument Grading

By Jon Warren. Last updated:


All major collecting hobbies have an accepted grading system used by market participants to describe the state of preservation of the object in hand. Many of these grading systems are based on some version of a 10-point scale. An item rated as a 10 is the highest degree of perfection, often called MINT, and an item rated as a 1 is in horrible condition, virtually worthless except for extremely rare items and often called POOR.

I have outlined the various grades, and described the specifications for each. These grading definitions are intended to help you rate the condition of your pens. As in any tangible asset, the better the grade of an item, the more valuable it is.


When grading items, one should remember the goal: to paint an accurate picture in the mind of the potential buyer of what to expect upon receipt of the item. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, and often a seller can include high-quality images to help describe the item, but too frequently an image does not clearly show all flaws. This is when a good grading description becomes invaluable. The buyer relies on the seller's honesty and accuracy in disclosure. It is therefore incumbent upon the seller to do the best job possible.

This being said, writing a good grade description is an art not a science. One can be too brief, or too comprehensive, with equally bad effect. If too brief, the reader comes away with a feeling of uncertainty which results in a negative buying decision. Too much detail, the buyer imagines the accumulation of flaws in the description of every tiny flaw and imagines an item in horrible shape, when actually this is not the case. The same result occurs, a negative buying decision.


A PERFECT 10! NEW. Brilliantly clean, crisp, bright, no scratches or flaws, deep color. The highest grade possible. Pens must have no evidence of wear visible upon close inspection. The barrel, cap, nib, and clip all appear bright and clean, without dents, nicks, gouges, or flaws caused by everyday use. Basically, a LIKE NEW pen or pencil.

The MINT grade represents an unusual state of preservation and should NOT be used unless the item is LIKE NEW! An item that is NEW OLD STORE STOCK is MINT, of course, unless it has become damaged due to poor storage over the years.


9 on a 10 scale. Could be used or unused. If the pen has been inked, describe it thus. The example is visually ALMOST LIKE NEW but has some minor flaw, scuff, or tiny flaw that prevents us from feeling comfortable with describing it as LIKE NEW. There is no evidence of USAGE visible to the unaided eye. The pen is UNUSED and UNINKED.


8 on a 10 scale. Used but almost like new. The example has a noticeable flaw or flaws, but such flaw does not seriosuly affect the eye appeal of the item. It may exhibit minor handling. Overall an ALMOST LIKE NEW but still used example.

7 → EX+

7 on a 10 scale. Barely used. Used a few times. May exhibit barrel or cap wear. There may be slightly more handling than a EXTREMELY FINE example. The coloring must be above average, the cap must be almost perfect, any gold-plating (if any) must be unworn.


6 on a 10 scale. Above average, but used. Carefully used and not used. Bright and clean with visible faint scratches when help to light. Goldfill caps may exhibit minor rub wear but not to an extreme. The pen will have minor flaws as a result of minor handling. The coloring and brightness must be above average.


5 on a 10 scale. Average used. The pen will have faint scratches, light bite marks (one or two) may be present. Normal handling may be evident but there must be no damage.


4 on a 10 scale. The pen is clearly used and worn, but presentable. There may be several flaws but there will be NO parts missing such as a clip or finial.

3 → GOOD

3 on a 10 scale. The pen is clearly used and heavily worn, but not damaged. Cracks, bite marks, scratches may be present, but not to an extreme. The interior parts must be present.

2 → FAIR

2 on a 10 scale. A heavily used example. The pen is poorly centered and the margins come into the design. There may be counting marks, smudges or other signs of handling. There will be no folds through the design.

1 → POOR

1 on a 10 scale. The lowest grade. A pen with problems that may include cracks, a stains, chips, bent nibs, or fading or even missing parts. There will be handling issues and in general the pen appears destroyed.

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