Taking stock: a few thoughts on the pen collecting journey.

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.

Pineider Avatar, Lipstick Red. An object of desire.

18 thoughts on “Taking stock: a few thoughts on the pen collecting journey.

  1. Dear Rupert

    This is absolutely the best article I have ever read on this subject! This should be pinned on every forum dealing with the love of Fountain Pens!

    To inform our friends I can tell that you also have a collection of vintage camera…

    By the way, your upcoming significant birthday, is it the same as I have celebrated two month ago?

    Lennart Wennberg
    Sweden

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments. If any of these thoughts are of use to anyone then I am very glad.
      Yes, the vintage camera accumulation is a whole separate story!
      And yes, I shall be 60 next month and entitled to free public transport in London. Hard to believe, I know.

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    1. That sounds very sensible. I suppose I have not bothered selling the pens I have stopped using, as most of them would have minimal second hand value. Were they all £500.00 plus, it would be a different matter. As it is, I do quite like getting them out occasionally.

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  2. What a good read this post was. I am very restrained and only have a few pens, although I enjoy window-shopping a great deal. When I find one pen I love using, I am quite likely to buy the same model in a different finish rather than a totally different pen altogether. I’m afraid if I let go of one pen I would spend the next ten years trying to find a duplicate because I was missing it – that’s how it seems to go with most things in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I admire your restraint. Having only a few pens sounds so sensible! It is a good idea to buy a spare pen when you find a type that works for you. And I think I would be the same, trying to find a replacement if I parted with a pen before I was ready to let it go.

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  3. This post appeared when I was (and am) thinking about buying a new release that has been much acclaimed in the pen-hobbyist universe.

    Speaking against the purchase is the fact that I own four pens of earlier decades that are more or less equivalent to it; three would be very nearly duplicates of the new acquisition, except in color. I don’t use any of the four with much frequency and have no urgent reason to believe I’d be going mad using #5 for more than a week or two. (But it’s a handsome color, and it might become a favorite, no?)

    For me the most telling observations in Rupert’s post are that “the result of adding more may be to dilute the use and enjoyment you have from your existing ones,” followed by “Perhaps a beautiful pen is like a beautiful landscape view: we do not need to see every one there is.” Which does, now that I think of it, apply to more things in life than buying fountain pens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jerome. Thanks for visiting the blog and for your comment. A lot of pen hobbyists wrestle with these dilemmas and so take comfort that you are not alone. The new pen release might become your favourite pen ever but you will not know until you buy it. The wish list principle might help. Good luck.

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    1. Thank you! I do not think we need be totally on one side of the curve or the other; a general trend will do. I say this as I am enjoying a used Visconti van Gogh purchased from a friend last weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Not that I feel neurotically compelled to keep the ball in play, but the Visconti van Gogh purchased last weekend touches a nerve. For me it isn’t only pens: I am resolved to stop buying books the way I’ve done for too many years. But have just purchased a book I should have bought at least forty years ago and arguably should not buy now: Printing and the Mind of Man, the catalogue of a wonderful printing show held in London in 1963. That London isn’t entirely there any more, nor is that England, nor of course the Venice of Aldus Manutius.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This post rang true in so many of the most important ways. I too have been attempting to reduce an accumulation, but almost in the reverse of your process, I’ve been passing on anything that doesn’t call to me when I’m reaching out for a fresh pen. In a sort of consumerist twist, I’ve found that these have mostly been steel-nibbed pens in the less-than-$150 bracket.

    So much for my socialist values 🙂

    I’m down now to 33 fountain pens in total, mostly Sailors, Platinums, vintage Parkers, Watermans, Sheaffers, a Pelikan, and a Montblanc that I reach for more than almost anything else. Like you, if I look at something else with any kind of desire, I’m trying to think about what it could add that I am lacking… and that, I am finding, has proven extremely efficient at keeping my wallet in my pocket.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It is interesting to see where the hobby takes us, as our tastes alter. I am quite fortunate to still be able to enjoy my modestly priced pens. To me, the ‘perfect pen’ loses points if it costs a fortune.
      I think you have done well to avoid the accumulation growing out of hand. Do you still have your Edison Collier with stub nib?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A very interesting and thought-provoking article! Thank you!

    I write a lot (fiction and non-fiction) and, for me, fountain pens are essential as I find I write far better content with a first longhand script and then transpose a revised version onto a screen. This means my fountain pens are an essential and daily tool.

    Over the years, I have narrowed down my preferred sizes (Pelikan 800s, Sailor Pro Gear large size, the old, now sadly discontinued, Visconti Van Gogh maxi pens and the TWSBI Ecos. I have c. 50 pens…

    I think an important factor in the pen buying addiction syndrome so many of us suffer from is the way manufacturers entice us with “limited editions”. Every year, the tempters of Hanover bring out gorgeous new Pelikans, (recently the Vibrant Orange and the Stone Garden- both immediately acquired…) and now there is the latest Blue Dunes special edition. The knowledge that once they are no longer in production they are gone forever is a very effective but wicked form of temptation. I normally succumb.

    Another odd aspect of the collecting mentality is that it makes me act irrationally. I have found myself seriously contemplating buying the new Visconti Midnight in Florence, (c £700) until a moment of sanity takes over and I tell myself that I really can’t justify this sort of expenditure. So I have tried to impose a rule on myself that I won’t go beyond £350 for a new pen but even that is a resolution that gets broken on occasion…

    On the other hand, it is surely a fairly harmless addiction. I tell my wife she is lucky it is not gambling, alcohol or expensive cars…

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    1. Thank you for reading! Lamy is another brand which rolls out new editions each year which are just the same as the existing models but in new colours. And yet I sometimes buy them. I resisted this year’s colours and the Pelikans that you mention. But as you are a writer you have a better excuse than I for buying them.
      I agree, there are worse addictions. It is a very pleasant hobby, deriving exquisite pleasure from pens when most people regard them as tools. At least we are not alone!

      Like

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