July 29, 2015

Johnny Cuevas


  Nassau, December 1956, Cuban-American Johnny Cuevas with his Porsche Speedster.

, and the New York City collectors.

[Posted on L&P on Aug 31, 2008.]
        Nishimura wrote that Johnny Cuevas was a hugely important figure for New York City collecting, but Cuevas was before his time.  “Others will have to fill in his story”, he wrote, “but I know enough to know it deserves amplification”.  I mentioned three people who held pen shows in 1978 and 1979.  I already talked about Fred Krinke above, but George James was a National Science Foundation official who worked in the field of rocket science for the US government.  He also authored the 1979 article about writing instruments in the Time-Life
series, Encyclopedia of Collectibles, where he described himself as a Buck Rogers fan as a teenager when he bought his first fountain pen, a Parker 51 whose sleek, streamlined design reminded him of his teenage hero’s spaceship.  Now, as promised, here’s something more about Johnny Cuevas.
        There were some interesting threads on Pentrace a while back about the origins of pen shows, and about the most important and influential pen collectors and researchers.  These threads are now all long gone from Pentrace, but I archived them in my own personal library.  Concerning Johnny Cuevas, there was a thread on Pentrace in May 2005 called “Shapers and Changers”, and here’s the portion of that thread that dealt with Cuevas.  I archived it on L&P on Aug 31, 2008, and now I am saving it here.

        Daniel Kirchheimer posted on May 17, 2005, “In the mid-1970’s, I got my summer-camp friend Richie Golden interested in pen collecting, and subsequently, he met Johnny Cuevas at a flea market where he was set up as a general dealer.  Johnny already collected lighters, but Richie got him interested in pens, and since I lived in NYC and Johnny was in a basement apartment in the east ‘60s, we ended up spending a great deal of time together.  In exchange for teaching him about pens, he transported me to all the flea markets he was dealing at on weekends, and, of course, he got me in during dealer set-up!
        “Johnny’s first major find was at the flea market at Madison Square Garden in the late ‘70s.  He was meeting me at a deli on 8th Avenue to take me into the show early, but he had already walked around the show, and grabbed a Waterman 448, silver filigree overlay safety pen for $70.
        “Of course, he went on to be a major dealer in the early days.  We didn’t stay in contact so much after he had sold his whole collection, though he was continuing to collect.  As a teenager, the whole thing was a hobby for me, done out of love, and Johnny had bills to pay and had to make the hobby pay for itself, I think.  But I miss him. He was a really kind guy, and he treated me like a prince, even though I was a punk kid who thought he knew it all.  Has anything changed?
        “By the way, Johnny had an entire fascinating life before getting into the vintage stuff business.  He was a championship race car driver, and at one point he owned 17 cars.  He would show me his scrapbooks.  It’s fair to say he was cool.”

        Don Lavin posted, “Thanks for the stories about Johnny.  Do you know who he sold his pen collection to?  Try Ed Fingerman of the Fountain Pen Hospital.  And that is a story in itself.  I always enjoyed talking to Johnny.  Here is one story for the readers.  John had customers who wanted Waterman 58 ripples, so he concocted a story that there were 7 distinct patterns of 58 Ripples.  In this way he could continue to sell 58s to the same collectors long after they had acquired their first one!  A bit of a scam to be sure, but I still laugh at his salesmanship.  I also love the way he always referred to me as Laddie.  Laddie this, Laddie that.  I knew that he was from Cuba, but I did not know about his racing past.  Quite a guy.”

        And Daniel replied, “Yep, I knew about the deal with Ed.  I was withholding the name to protect the guilty!  I must confess that I served as an appraiser for that sale.  I should have stayed out of it to keep my conscience clear.
        “Cuevas was a top-tier racer who placed well at Sebring, etc., in the late ’50s early ’60s, I believe.  Raced Porsches, if I recall correctly.  Tooled around town in a gull-wing Mercedes.”

        Thanks for the stories, Don and Daniel.

    George Kovalenko.