Collecting Strategies – Making Sense Out of Pen Collecting

I often get emails from people who used fountain pens in their early school days and recently found them again in the back of some desk drawer.  I can sense the sparkle in their eye and that gleam of nostalgia when they talk about their pens.  Then they start using them.  Then they want more.  It’s a natural progression for many.  Use them, put them away for years (sometimes even decades), find them again, repair them (or have them repaired), use them, want more.

I also hear from people who are first timers.  “Newbies” as they can be called online, who have an interest in anything other than a ballpoint.  There’s just something about that feel of liquid ink touching paper.  And let’s face it, there are plenty of gateway drugs inexpensive, well writing, pens out there.  Take a TWSBI 580 or a Lamy Safari for example.

What occurs after the first pen happens to all of us at some point.  Pen Number 2.  By the time Pen Number 3 comes along, we officially have a collection of something, but we’re not really sure what to call it.  This goes on until we’ve amassed some ridiculous amount of pens with no apparent cohesive nature to them, or we run out of money and have purchased every pen on the planet.  I’m still working on the latter, by the way.

At some point we need to focus, or regroup if you will.  You’ve got a dozen pens and they’re all different.  You want to continue to collect but you quickly learn the one key lesson: You can’t have them all.  So we start to do some research and then Big Pen Sell Off #1 occurs.  We sell what we think we don’t want to try and focus on something we think we do want.  Then the whole process starts over.  Buy more pens, focus and refine, Big Pen Sell Off #2, buy more pens, etc.  How do I know this?  Because I’ve done it far too many times.  How, then, do we collect?  Let me provide just a few ways you can make a cohesive grouping of pens.  Veterans will no doubt be familiar with this process, and have gone through many Big Pen Sell Off’s themselves.  Newbies, take note, and learn from our mistakes.  The fewer times you have to have a Big Pen Sell Off, the better.

1) Collect a particular model  – Whether that be a Parker Vacumatic or 51, a Sheaffer Balance, or a Namiki Vanishing Point, sticking “in the family” as it were, can build up a nice grouping.  Keep in mind it may also be beneficial to pare down the model into further sub categories as trying to build a collection of all the Parker 51’s available will not only be difficult, but can be very expensive.  Maybe you just want to concentrate on 51 Vacumatics, or later 51 Aerometrics.  Even further refined, maybe just one of every color in the series can be challenge enough for some pens.  Lisa and I are currently working on every color in the faceted Namiki Vanishing Points.  We now have two left after seeing a real rare version at a show last year we didn’t know existed.  We count six just in that series now, but once we have them all it will make for one nice set.

2) Collect “type” sets – Coin collectors do this all the time.  One example of every type of pen from a manufacturer or series.  How about a Waterman 52, 54, 56, and 58?  Maybe an Esterbrook V clip, Dollar Pen, Transitional, J pen, and a Deluxe or two?  How about one each of the different striated plastics in the Vacumatic or Balance series?  How about the Moire Skylines?  Yes, some of these could be considered almost a sub category of strategy 1, but perhaps even more refined.

3) Colors – Yes, I said it, colors.  How about different green pens, or maybe you really like black, or yellow pens.  I once knew an Esterbrook collector who was trying to collect all the green Esterbrook’s ever made.  Did he succeed?  I don’t know, but what he did have was pretty impressive.

4) Materials – Many manufacturers used similar patterned plastics.  Like black & pearl or jade?  Lots of companies used them.  Some even used the exact same plastic or rod stock, so you could get different brands with identical plastics.  One could make interesting compilations out of jade, red marble, mottled hard rubber, or even just black or chased hard rubber pens.  I know what you’re thinking, black hard rubber?  That’s boring.  Well, you’d be suprised what some manufacturers would use to spruce up an otherwise ordinary boring black pen.  THAT’s what makes it interesting.  I have a good collection of black hard rubber pens with some form of gold, gold filled, or sterling ornamentation.

5) Filling systems – Similar to a type set I suppose. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century there was stiff competition for self filling pens.  Lever, button, crescent, matchstick, sleeve, thumb, and a few I can’t even begin to describe.  In working order, these could not only make for a nice collection, but a lot of fun play time.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  I should note at one point, past or present I followed or have some of each of these examples.  The further down the rabbit hole you go, the more you start to have multiple foci and fewer Big Pen Sell Off’s.  This is where I’m at now, working on my second big collection.  I imagine at some point I may refine that by weeding out the lesser examples.  Then with that money I’ll buy better examples and the process will start all over again.

What is your current focus?