I have been reflecting a bit lately, on the state of my fountain pen collection (or accumulation) and journey and whether the process follows a common pattern. Am I on the same path that others have trod and if so, where does it lead? This has been prompted by thoughtful posts that I have read recently, from Inkophile My Wishlist And The Desire To Acquire and from UK fountain pens Going on a diet (recalibrating to smaller, cheaper pens).
I keep a simple database of my pens, using an app called Memento, with a few details including the make, model, date purchased and price paid. I also add a record of inks used and a few other general notes. I usually have the list sorted by date of purchase so that I can easily see the most recently added. But the list can easily be re-ordered alphabetically or by price paid.
Going by price paid, I looked back at my list, currently sporting 225 pens, and was struck by how few I had bought costing more than £100.00. There were only around 20. And most of those cost between £100.00 and £200.00. There were only four costing me more than £200.00, namely a Parker Duofold International, Delta Fantasia Vintage, Pelikan M800 and a Montblanc Classique. I do have some other superb pens including Pilots and Montblancs which I have not included as they were received as gifts.
This means that I have a large number of cheap and modestly priced pens, including the ubiquitous offerings from Cross, Lamy, Parker, Sheaffer and Waterman, quite a few duplicates plus a good number of Chinese pens. Perhaps all these should not count, on my list. Yet the Wing Sung 601 is one of my favourite pens and cost only around £11.
A coming significant birthday means that I have now had an interest in fountain pens for 50 years. This has been spurred on in recent years by the internet thanks to YouTube video reviews, blogs and internet shopping. It is ironic that when I was a ten year old, a fountain pen was a necessary tool whereas now as an adult the pen has become a toy. I still use my pens every day but no-one needs 200. Does there come a stage in life when the desire to have less belongings takes over from the desire to have more?
I did not set out to become a fountain pen collector. I do not see myself as a collector. I have not tried to buy rare pens as collector’s items or gone about filling in gaps. Rather, for many of the relatively more expensive pens that I bought over the decades, the aim was for it to be a new “best” pen, a special lifelong companion. This can be said particularly of pens which were, at the time, the most expensive that I had bought, such as Parker 75, a Sheaffer Connoisseur or the Pelikan M800. The aim was to have a pen that would be long lasting, reliable, of good quality and something to enjoy owning and to take pride in. Not all pens fit this category of course and others, such as Lamy Safaris, were bought to give unflashy service at work. Although I do not know why I have them in so many colours.
A by-product of this mentality, if you keep repeating the process of trying new and promising pens without also selling or giving away the old ones, is that you build up an accumulation of pens, many of which may be no longer used.
Those with sufficient will power and determination to outweigh the sentimental attachment, carefully prune their accumulations as they go along. I have neglected this. Others may reach a stage of realising that they have too many pens that they are not using or likely to use and feel a desire to move them on. I have been extremely fortunate to have received some of my most valuable pens in this way. So is this a natural step, of going from increasing the accumulation, to reducing it? I read in an Instagram Q&A from SBRE Brown this weekend, that he once had around 300 pens but has now reduced his number to about 20.
For a fountain pen enthusiast, buying a new pen is exciting and enjoyable and let’s face it, addictive. But there comes a point when you realise, perhaps later than you should in my case, that having increased your number of pens, the result of adding more may be to dilute the use and enjoyment that you have from your existing ones and to be counterproductive. Also, with experience we should become better armed at identifying what we like and do not like, resisting temptation and distinguishing “need” versus “want”.
Perhaps a beautiful pen is like a beautiful landscape view: we do not need to see every one there is. The uplifting effect of one is enough.
It seems obvious but thought should be given when buying a pen, as to what it offers that your existing pens do not and whether it will really be any better. But manufacturers design pens to be attractive and to sell and make profits. I do not think we should beat ourselves up too much if we succumb to the appeal.
What we find comfortable to spend on this hobby will differ from person to person. The question of whether a pen represents good value is complicated and difficult to gauge objectively. It may depend partly upon the amount of use it gets. Whether a pen is good value and whether you have good value from it, are different things.
A pen wish-list is a useful tool. If a pen takes my fancy, (say, the Diplomat Aero or the Lamy Imporium, for current examples), it is a good exercise to add it to the list and compare its appeal against others already on the list. Also, leaving a pen parked on the wish-list for a while helps to weed out those which are just fleeting fantasies or to be overtaken by later desires. It is better to go off a pen while it is still on the wish-list, than when you have bought it. How many times have we bought an exciting new pen, only to have our heads turned by something else, within weeks of its arrival? Which is my favourite pen? My next one.
A good fountain pen is a wonderful thing. The act of writing in itself is pleasurable, to see and feel the nib gliding effortlessly over the paper and leaving a line of glistening fresh ink in its wake. And then there is the satisfaction of using the pen for developing, organising, expressing and recording our thoughts – perhaps not well enough in today’s piece.
At the end of the day, is it all rather frivolous to have a passion for fountain pens? At times, when the stresses of life become unpleasant, it might seem so. But happily at those same times, there is a real benefit to be had from having a hobby which provides relaxation and enjoyment. It is then that the thought of getting out a particular pen and pairing it with a particular ink, can have restorative benefits. Now, I wonder, how would Robert Oster Aqua go with my orange Leonardo Furore? And if this keeps us going in times of adversity, then it is priceless.