I have been a pen collector as long as I have considered myself a writer. There is no “almost” to qualify that. My first intellectual memories are of writing stories for elementary school. I drafted those stories in pen before I typed them, months before we were allowed to graduate from a pencil or type anything – and I had graduated myself to mechanical pencils some time before, anyway. I hoarded fine-point pens because I appreciated how I could write more compactly, so I taught myself to spot them unwanted in the bags and cases of classmates – and to this day, every ballpoint I own has a fine point refill.
One of my other first memories is shoplifting a Bic 4-color pen from a local supermarket when I had no money to buy it. I was helpless before the appeal of its size relative to other pens, the design flourishes of the Bic-ball at the cap end and its garish blue and white barrel. At every office job I ever held, I never used a pen casually taken from the supply room, instead treasure-hunting for unusual or better ones from stationery stores, pen shops and the Internet. Even today, most any receipt I sign, any list I make, any writing I draft is with a Lamy, Waterman, Sheaffer, Pilot or Platinum pen in hand. Favorites are kept handy in a repurposed bread boat on my desk, and dozens more are stored away.
In the formal parlance of the trade, I am technically not a collector — not a “completist”, that is, a collector who deliberately accumulates completely of a make and would not think of marring any examples with actual use. Instead, I am more a user, allowing my preferences and tastes over the years to determine what I acquire. I simply kept every pen I have used (though I have lost countless pens).
But I dont think I’m akin to the owner of a jazz-age Rolls Royce who drives it to the mall. There are few other types of collecting that more seductively invite the collector to use his or her objets d’art. And historically, pens are first utilitarian and secondly decorative. I have taken this philosophy to heart. As a result, I have an organically acquired collection of modern fine pens, collected on no other basis other than I preferred to write with one or the other at a given moment.
It’s a collection intriguing mainly to me – but in decades to come, who could say?
On this blog, I’ll present my collection, one pen at a time, gathering what I can of its history, trying to articulate my own memories of acquisition and current or former use. A lot of the pictures will show scratches, imperfections, lack of polish – especially true of the pens “in the boat,” in active rotation in my notebooks, bag or pocket. I’ll also do my best to include history of the pen where I can, though I think there’s a dearth of design provenance – most modern brands are part of a conglomerate, and even boutique pens don’t put a premium on recording their history. A lot of that history is deduced and parochial, and a lot communally suggested and hearsay, but out of all of it you can usually find a truth.
Let’s just see what Google pulls up about this: If you want to be a collector about this, 4-Color pens can be printed in honor of the G8/G20 conference, for Lady Gaga or redesigned thuggish and formidable looking appropos our age of terror.