Four Ts and a 2×2

You know I love a good model. Models help you understand the world (as much through their failings and exceptions as through their accuracy, often). They help you make sense of chaos by looking at situations from a rigid and clearly defined position.

Just this week I was doodling 2×2 matrices around nib properties for a reader request while planning my recent sale, and I ended up coming up with a model for my accumulation. Yes, another.

For once, the model is simple. Pens fall into four buckets. The two axes are usage and sentiment. Let me explain the four buckets and all will become clear.

The rough draft of the model — with a different label!

The first is Trophies. What’s a trophy? It’s something you look at, love, but don’t actually use. High sentiment, low usage. It might be strongly personal, or sentimental, tied to a memory of a time and place as a souvenir. It might be a milestone of an achievement: the Montblanc you bought for your first job. It looks beautiful, it has a story to tell, but for whatever reason it plays little functional role in your day to day life. Maybe it’s too expensive for you to feel comfortable. Maybe it looks better than it writes. Maybe you bought (or were gifted) what you’re supposed to like or what you used to like instead of what you actually like. In any case: it sits on the shelf.

The second is Tools. What’s a tool? A pen you turn to to get the job done. These are the pens you pick up every day, more than you’d realise, for quick notes and lists and work jottings. You wouldn’t say they’re particularly special or fancy, but that’s probably what lets them get out of the way. You don’t have to worry about them and they don’t let you down. They serve a purpose and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The third is Treasures. These are the truly special pens. The ones that are both precious and sentimental to you, and so amazing at getting the job done that you actually use them every day. Not just a trophy left up on a shelf.

And that brings us to the fourth category. What do you call a pen that doesn’t get daily practical use (it’s not a tool), but isn’t precious to you for what it is or represents (it’s not a trophy)? I settled on Tourist. These are the pens that are just visiting in your collection. They may yet settle down, but for now you’re not using them much and you haven’t yet attached much sentimentality to them. You could ask: why are they here? They’re not bad pens, but they’re not at home.

As an aside, I’m tempted to include a fifth category, Toys. These are the pens we keep around as projects, to test inks out, or that have crazy nibs. Mine tend to be Ecos. Yours might be Kawecos or Pilot Parallels. I bet we all have them, but they rarely make it on to the State of the Collection lists.

I applied this model thinking about which pens I could let go of.

Those under the Treasures category were easy. These are my top pens, the ones I am fond of and actually get useful value from. So they stay.

Tools I approached by looking for redundancy. These tend to be cheaper pens and I’m less attached to them, so I could see when I had multiple pens serving the same purpose (such as needlepoints).

Tourists were tricky to categorise, particularly if the pen was new. Is it a Tool but I have yet to find its niche? Was I yet to fall in love and make it a Trophy? But once they’re in that Tourist bucket, the solution is usually easy to see. Move them on to their next journey.

The problem category was Trophies, actually. These pens tend to be more expensive, and they tend to accumulate. It’s easy to rationalize away their lack of use as ‘saving for a special occasion’. And it’s hard to contemplate selling something that is precious to you emotionally even if you never use it. The solution here is to start using them and see if they turn into treasures — the line between those two categories is particularly fuzzy — and that’s what I’ll be doing with my Nakaya and Montblanc Geometry.

The other option is to recognise that the money tied up could be generating more value in other ways and commit to sell. That’s what I’m doing with the Montblanc 1912, a deeply personal pen that has consistently sat in my tray. But I was gentle with myself here. While I don’t often use my Agatha or Homer, I’m not going to sell them.

And that leads naturally to a final piece of advice that I’ve been trying to learn myself. Models aren’t perfect. Opinions change. All frameworks like this can do is give you a perspective to help you make your own decisions: they can’t make your decisions for you. Sometimes I wish they could!

16 thoughts on “Four Ts and a 2×2

  1. I love the logic and the naming! Before I went Pelikan only, I could easily have categorized my pens into each of those four quadrants. Now the majority live in treasures, with maybe two in tools. I enjoy your posts. David

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  2. That’s good logic and like how you’ve laid it out. I’ve done a lot of selling over the past year to only have 2 pens now and both probably fall under ‘tools’. May have to lookup for a treasure next!
    Do you have a set of watches to apply this matrix?

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    • I have fewer watches and I’m less experimental with them, but probably. Tudor BBGMT and Farer Lander Chrono are in treasures for sure. Seiko SARB035 Is too. G-Shock is a tool. Seiko SKX is an old trophy that I am sentimental about but never wear. Today I’m wearing my 34mm handwound Junghans. I think that qualifies as a toy right now, as does the tiny retro digital Casio I have in my watch case. And that’s it.

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      • That’s a good mix. I’m wearing the 34mm Junghans today too! I agree that’s more of a toy / tool for me as well, paired with a honey brown strap by Kaufmann. My other watch is a Cartier Santos in Medium that falls in ‘treasure’ category for me. Followed by a Garmin that’s a tool.

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  3. “Models aren’t perfect. Opinions change. All frameworks like this can do is give you a perspective to help you make your own decisions: they can’t make your decisions for you.” Something which applies to more than pens and watches!

    Do you have any suggestions for tool pens to go with a Vostok Amphibia?

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  4. A great model and name for them. I may use this model similarly to at least categorize those that are more tourists and time to let go.
    Thanks!

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  5. Loved the 2×2 model!!

    I used a more crude and rigid but effective (for me) method to deal with this fountain pen madness…. Max of 12 pens…. I figured you can’t use more than that if you really want to enjoy all the ones you have thoroughly……. I’ve further subdivided into three brackets [top teir (max 5) – your equivalent of treasures, workhorse (max 4) – a mix of tools > treasures, and finally EDC (max 3) – same as tools]…… Everytime I want to add a pen, it has to replace an existing pen in a relevant bracket!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this thoughtful piece. Very systematic as always although the consequences can be shocking. As you say, opinions change and it is nice to revisit a pen later, or at least know that you can. But this looks an interesting exercise even if you do not act on it immediately. It lets the pens in the danger category know where they are.

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  7. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – May 31, 2020 | Fountain Pen Quest

  8. As a business school graduate, I always enjoy a good 2×2. They can be used to explain anything. I’ve seen pens in my small collection move from Treasure to Tools to Trash. I’m not yet at the point where I have anything that would fit into the Trophies quadrant; I think my exceedingly-practical right brain won’t allow that, quite yet.

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