Finding a word other than ‘collection’

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’?

13 thoughts on “Finding a word other than ‘collection’

  1. I was eagerly thinking “curation“ several paragraphs before I got to it in your text,. I think (these days) curations are often on display, sometimes with rotating content.
    A museum is not the same concept these days as before electronic media made access and usage potentially much more engaging and far-reaching than physical limitations formerly contained it to. However, I understand your reservations

    How about a library – a library of pens? A library can represent an eclectic set of belovèd tools, which can be stored, shared, lent, enjoyed, sold, borrowed, bought, put to use, and arranged in all sorts of delightful ranges (author/brand; size: colour; type; nib width etc) at the curator’s pleasure/s appropriate to the “reader/s” on any given occasion.

    In addition it has the advantage of pens having once been essential for a library to exist! And plenty of beauty in a library – poetry even. Treasures, indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always called mine an accumulation, at least until you made me associate it with river muck, so thanks for that 😀. The hoarding association wouldn’t be all that wrong, especially a few years ago. Your final conclusion is probably best.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like where you ended up: “pens”. I don’t have a collection, or any other pretentious title; like my other stationery, there is no need for a collective noun. I have a number of pens, pencils and pads. I use them all.


  4. Perhaps the word you are looking to apply to yourself is “connoisseur”, one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art (in this case, fountain pens) and is competent to act as a critical judge and one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties of something (in this case, fountain pens).

    As to what you would call your pens, collectively, ahhh … now that requires a little more thought.

    As a connoisseur, you have built a thoughtfully curated set of pens. “Curation” isn’t quite the word needed, though. “Collection” comes close but doesn’t quite reflect your actions and aesthetic as a connoisseur. Because one can be a connoisseur of just about anything if enough time is spent in studying the one thing of interest, it’s hard to find a single word that could be applied generally to anything that could come under. “Repertoire”, “arsenal”, “stable” … none quite hit the note you’re looking for.

    Sighhh ….

    Finding the right word will take some time.


  5. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. I have tended to think that the distinction was simply between “collector” (implying some methodical approach) and “accumulator” and identified myself more as an accumulator. From the characteristics that you list in your first paragraph, I meet some of the criteria of a collector, but only those of having lots of pens and of having Safari’s in a dozen different colours. I am not sure whether a collector needs to have all of the traits or just some.
    But I think I may have started out with a misconception of what to “collect” means. The Concise Oxford Dictionary says “to assemble, accumulate or bring together”. So accumulating is still collecting.
    To “accumulate” is to heap up, gradually get an increasing number or quantity of..” which does not sound very attractive but is an obvious cosequence of acquiring pens at a faster rate than disposing of them. Clearly you take care to dredge the riverbed of accumulated unwanted deposits (with no disrespect intended to your former pens, some of which I now own!)
    Perhaps the terminology should be consistent, so that, if what we have is (viewed objectively), a “collection” then the owner is therefore a collector. But this means that we are defined by our pens. Sometimes, what we are does not accord with how we see ourselves or with how we would want to be seen.
    Recently, I commented to a friend that if I were to use each of my pens exclusively for a month, it would take 20 years to get round them all. She replied saying “You have graduated from a collector to a museum curator!” Happily I have 18 currently inked at present.
    It is important I think, to remember that the terms, such as “user” and “collector” are not mutually exclusive. You can be both.
    The important thing, which you mention, is that you enjoy your pens, that they brighten your day and that you make your living from using them. What further justification is needed?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A cellar? Like wines, you might have a few from the same maker, maybe different vintages. They pair with different foods, serve different purposes.

    A tool roll might be a better fit than toolbox.

    Perhaps equipage?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: State of the collection: May 2020 | UK fountain pens

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  9. Maybe you should do like me. I have a bunch of pens. Some of them are more or less related and have a common focus and they can pass as a collection. But a number of others merely is by-catch. Oh well.


  10. Just discovered today that you have ressurected the blog! I am really enjoying your new blog posts!
    This post got me thinking. Personally I have a lot of vintage Norwegian pens that are definitely a collection, as my own little fountain pen museum, of sorts. But I also have a sizeable selection of modern pens from different manufacturers that are the pens I normally use for everyday writing, and I’ve been thinking for a long time that it would be wrong to call those a “collection”. How about a “compilation” of fountain pens though? “Compilation” suggests that there are items from several manufacturers that you have curated into a group, which seems to me like a fitting term.

    Liked by 1 person

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