I’ve always said that I’m a user of pens, not a collector. For me, the stereotypical collector has lots and lots of pens, often variants of the same model, for example all the colour variants of the Lamy Safari. They get obsessive about the details, hunting down rare examples and researching the companies behind the pens. They’re completionists. They may keep pens uninked to make them more valuable or just because they like looking at a pristine object.
That’s not me. I don’t like to have duplicates: I want every pen in my stewardship to bring something different to the party. I’m interested in design and beauty and function, not manufacturing history and trivia. And while I look after my pens, I expect to use them. If one is gathering dust, I sell it. I have the boxes, but they’re in the loft, not behind glass.
Despite this dramatically different set of behaviour versus a ‘collector’, I tend to still call my pens my ‘collection’. Is there a better word?
How about ‘toolbox’ or even ‘armory’? Certainly my pens are like a collection of precision instruments suited to different tasks and purposes, that one must be trained to use effectively and maintained if they’re to last. In a very real sense, I make my living with my pens.
But tools are cold, hard things, used for serious business. They may be impressive, efficient, well worn, sophisticated. But, There’s no beauty there, no play.
Maybe the word ‘palette’ would bring that flavour of art and creativity to the mix. I choose from my pens in their tray on a whim like a painter chooses colours, mixing nibs with inks and using them to brighten my day, enjoying how they feel. But surely the word ‘palette’ would better fit the colours than the pens. Let’s keep looking.
I have often discovered great pens almost by chance, despite the obsessive and thoughtful way I tend to approach my purchases. My favourite pens are found almost in spite of my analysis and rigour. There’s been nothing planned about the way my pen tray has evolved and gradually expanded over the years. So perhaps ‘accumulation’ would be more accurate?
But that sounds rather like I’m a hoarder, or like my pens are silt settling in a riverbed. It doesn’t account for the way I have ruthlessly filtered and pared down my pen tray. Maybe the better metaphor is a ‘curation’, showing how I’ve selected the best from what’s out there, like an art gallery or a zoo? Or, given how I show off my pens on this blog, maybe it’s an ‘exhibition’?
But art is there to be looked at. You never touch it. It’s removed and studied. And it’s sadly often pretentious. My pens scribble doodles with my daughter. They write shopping lists. They’re not in a gallery.
I see my pens as almost my version of jewellery or clothing, there to express my personality and carried with me every day — so is this my ‘edit’ or ‘wardrobe’? They rotate with the seasons and I list them on a sheet of paper for daily consumption — so are they my ‘menu’? They all have strengths and weaknesses but work well together for me — so are they my ‘team’ or ‘squad’? They’re like treasures, so are they my dragon’s ‘hoard’?
But now I’m getting silly. I do think the word ‘collection’ fails to serve what these pens are for, what they mean to me, and how I have acquired and disposed of them, how I keep them and use them for work and play. But maybe there are too many concepts here all tied together, and one word isn’t enough. Maybe I should get literal, and just call them ‘pens’?