“Why are you selling this pen when you said it was perfect?” Five reasons I part with greatness

I’ve been thinking about writing this kind of blog post for a while, but a comment on Instagram prompted me to get it down on paper.

Before I answer that question, a little context. In case you missed it, I’ve just completed perhaps my biggest sale yet. 19 pens are on their way to new owners.

It was not an easy process, and involved perhaps the deepest cuts and most challenging decisions I’ve made in a sale yet. I sold my Namiki Urushi 20, my Montblanc Agatha Christie, and my ASC Gladiatore Medio arco. Ouch.

But it’s not the first time I’ve been down this road. I currently own (including incoming purchases and pens out for repair) 18 full-size fountain pens. I have reviewed around 165 pens and owned at least twice that.

This means I’ve sold more than 90% of the pens I’ve ever owned. And I’m not selling them because they suck. Mostly, I like the pens that I review. I tend only to accept samples of pens that appeal to me — believe it or not, it’s not as much fun as you’d think to review a crap or boring pen. Equally, I tend only to buy pens that I expect to meet my needs and preferences. I’m not buying indiscriminately or actively looking to sell.

Put all this together, and that means I have sold a huge number of pens that I like, or even love, and that I fully intended to keep when I bought them. This includes the Yukari Royale referenced in the screenshot above, which I still honestly believe is a candidate for the best pen available today overall.

To make one thing clear, the fact that I sell pens that I’ve reviewed positively doesn’t mean that I was lying or exaggerating in my reviews, or that my review was wrong, or even that I’ve changed my mind. I can’t think of a single review I’ve written that I’ve read back, years later, and felt embarrassed to stand behind.

So what’s happening here? I think there are five explanations for selling ‘perfect’ pens.

Tastes and needs change

Pens with medium or broad nibs are no longer my preferred lines (and I don’t always want to send a pen to a nibmeister).

I now like pens bigger and fatter than when I started out collecting.

I find myself liking red and brown pens instead of bright blues.

These kinds of gradual shifts in preferences mean that some previously loved pens no longer see much use.

In these circumstances I think it’s perfectly natural to move on — just like swapping out the sports car for an estate when you have a family. There’s nothing wrong with the sports car, and it doesn’t deserve a negative review, but it no longer belongs in my garage.

Little irritations grow bigger

Over time I’ve learned which minor irritations grow to bother me. I know they are minor or even non-issues for most people, so they warrant only a mention in a review… but I personally notice them and they stop me reaching for a pen that I know is great, especially after the honeymoon period has worn off.

One example is the long cap threads on something like the Montblanc Homer or Onoto Magna — both otherwise stellar designs.

Another is the extra step of extending the nib on the Montblanc 1912, a pen I sometimes deeply miss.

Another is the faff of getting trapped ink out of a demonstrator, particularly a vac filler, or seeing ink drops inside of a clear cap.

Other pens, particularly Italian ones, gradually dry out when left to sit for a couple of weeks. Not a problem when you use all your pens every day, but annoying when you rotate.

In these cases, I know the problem is me, not the pen, but I also know that I’m not going to change, and there are plenty of other fish in the sea. I’ll go all Marie Kondo and thank the pen for its service, enjoy the memories it gave me, but pass it on to someone else who will get more use from it, unbothered by its peculiarities.

The highest value items get liquidated

When I need to sell some pens — as this week, when I suddenly faced an unexpected tax bill just when I was most overextended after Christmas and FPD/Black Friday — I have a choice: sell a load of quite nice pens for £100 each, or bite the bullet and sell a couple of amazing arco grails for a grand each.

In fact, depending on the moment, I may not have a choice at all; I keep my collection so tight that I don’t have much in the way of ‘fodder’ that I can sacrifice. There’s a loose but noticeable correlation between the pens that cost the most and the pens that I like the most. My collection has gradually increased in average pen value over time.

In these situations, it might be as clear-cut as this: sell a couple of much-loved pens or default on a credit card (although I should clarify it’s not been that extreme yet!). Frankly, at this point the attachment to the pens goes out the window. I love pens like the Montblanc Agatha Christie, but these are my most liquid assets. When I am feeling the cold chill of fear and having sleepless nights about my finances, I’ll sell them and breathe a sigh of relief with only a little handwringing.

If you’ve not been in this situation, be glad. It means your hobby is under control, that you’re spending only discretionary income, that you’re managing your finances well. In that situation, you never have to sell a pen. You have the luxury of deciding whether you want to, and you may well tell yourself that you love a pen too much to ever sell it. But believe me… when you really have to raise funds fast, you’ll pull the trigger with barely a second thought.

I’ve never been in a situation where I might have to sell all my pens, even my Martele for example, or sell all my watches, even my coveted Tudor, Nomos or Grand Seiko. But if raising 20 or 30 grand would save my house… well, there’s no question.

Duplicate pens get weeded out and supplanted

I’ve said before that it’s both the most natural and craziest thing in the world to buy a second example of your favourite pen. Of course you want to surround yourself with more of what you love — but ironically you’re taking time away from the pen you loved first. You can only write with one pen at a time. This logic is what motivated me to slim down to just one Lamy 2000.

In other cases, a new acquisition may supersede another pen, while not being a direct duplicate. This is what happened for me with the Namiki. After I bought the Sailor King of Pen Urushi, it became very clear that I had two red and gold urushi pens in my tray. They feel and write very differently (the Namiki is made of brass and writes smooth as silk; the Sailor is made of ebonite and writes soft but with feedback), but actually this just made me see the Namiki in a new light.

I realised that its M nib was too wide compared to the Sailor, and that’s why I rarely reached for it. I started to appreciate the warmth and balance of the ebonite compared to the initial shock of cold brass. I started to like the short body, long nib look of the Sailor (just like the Montblanc 149) rather than the more conventional #20 nib of the Namiki.

The Namiki is no worse a pen, it’s just different — and the Sailor fits my current preferences better. If I was only to pick one red and gold urushi pen in my tray, suddenly the choice was clear, and after two and a half amazing years, I’m waving goodbye to the Namiki.

I get bored of pens I’ve owned for a while

Fact is, more than half of the pens in my tray I bought this year. None are older than 2019.

As great as a pen is, you can still get bored of it. I keep a small pen tray for several very good reasons, but it has its downsides. Imagine if you had only 18 films or albums to watch or listen to every day. No matter how good, you’d eventually tire of them. Given the opportunity to swap one of them out for a new one, you’d probably take the opportunity. You might even choose to swap an old faithful for an inferior product just because it’s new and exciting.

Making these decisions is a battle of emotions. On one side is the deepening appreciation, loyalty and attachment to familiar pens, and on the other, the fresh experiences that a new pen offers.

I’m human, I get tempted to buy new things all the time, and then when I’m consolidating again back down to my ideal number of pens… sometimes it’s the old pen that goes. No matter how “perfect” it is.

Breaking the cycle

As I wrote in my new year’s resolution post, I hope to manage my collecting better in 2022. I recognise that I will want to buy new pens to keep my experience fresh, but I know that these big and frequent sales are inefficient and exhausting. I lose money on nearly every pen I sell. I would be happier and in a better financial position if I could stop buying so many new pens, and therefore not have to choose which ones to keep and which to sell to recoup some money. But it’s not all negative. The experience I’ve had going through these processes has helped me understand myself better in lots of ways. I’m a more decisive and resilient person and much more honest with myself about where I’m still weak. And that has to be a good thing, right?

10 thoughts on ““Why are you selling this pen when you said it was perfect?” Five reasons I part with greatness

  1. I immediatly thought of Marie Kondo…besides, selling pens you appreciate and still love speaks highly of you, you are not deceiving anyone.

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  2. Your thoughts are expressed so well and make complete sense. I have been thinking some of your thoughts on occasion. I have not been able to make the decision yet. Shipping is expensive and cumbersome. I am glad you are satisfied with the outcomes .

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  3. Thank you for this honest and articulate post. I had asked myself the same question as the other reader. Often I have been tempted or lured by pens after reading your glowing reviews of them, and then been shocked and a little saddened, if not cheated, to see that you have since sold them. The explanation that it was part of an ongoing strategy to perfect and finely hone your collection (which became known as Newmanising) seemed flawed and destined to failure as I doubted that you would ever be satisfied. Now this last major cull is either a large scale Newmanising or else the strategy itself self destructing. It is hard to watch, like a binge and purge cycle.
    Everyone is different. Who is to say whether my own approach to the hobby is any more valid or sustainable? I struggle too with temptation and have accumulated far more pens than I can use and justify.
    You made many points in your piece. I haven’t attempted to respond systematically. It is just a hobby after all, and it is none of my business. If there were urgent financial reasons then perhaps there was little choice. But I really do hope you find contentment and joy in your pens, in the coming year and beyond.

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  4. Anthony, I wonder what would happen to your collection if you did not have to maintain a social media presence? Would you still feel the urge to cycle through acquisitions/disposals and have the lineup in the tray constantly changing?

    I’m not being critical, I’m just curious how much of a motivation it is.

    Cheers!

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    • Overall I think social media is a mostly neutral effect.

      Obviously social media gives me an endless source of new ‘ooh shiny’ stimulants that prompt me to buy. I also like the reward of the communal approval for the ‘new pen day’, and people admiring my collection overall (I covered this in a recent post a little: https://ukfountainpens.com/2021/12/27/true-motivations/ ). That together may accelerate the purchase cycle.

      Conversely, I find I get a lot of pushback from the community about selling. There’s almost a sense of outrage and shock in the comments when I sell a grail pen; people spot when a pen is missing from a tray photo and ask where it is, especially if it’s a recent purchase, a ‘catch and release’. I also fear the judgement of the community and worry how my actions might reflect on my integrity as a writer (which is partly what this post was setting out to explain). That could have a dampening effect on the sale cycle (and therefore the purchase cycle).

      As an aside, overall I don’t post that often on Instagram… it can be a week between posts. So I’m not sure that I’m “maintaining a social media presence”. I actually feel pretty boring and like I don’t have much of interest to share, compared to some of the people I follow who have hundreds of amazing pens.

      This blog, though, that has long been a factor in the cycle. If I don’t have new pens to write about, what will I say here? That’s why I have taken breaks or even temporarily shut down the blog in the past.

      All that said, when I sit contemplatively in front of my pen tray, thinking about how to stay within my ‘guardrails’ with my max number of pens, debating if there’s anything I’m not using or enjoying any more that I could streamline, or thinking about what I will buy next and how it will fit into the collection as a whole, Instagram is the last thing on my mind — aside from as a sales channel. Sat at my desk in the quiet of an evening, it feels like a very personal struggle. If I wasn’t on Instagram, I reckon I’d still go through the same process, at least to an extent.

      Thanks for asking the question!

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  5. Anthony,

    How do you decide for how much to sell your pens? I’m trying to convince myself to downsize my collection and debating whether/what to try to sell and what I might donate. I’ve never off-loaded a pen that had any real financial value before.

    You ask in your post “If I don’t have new pens to write about, what will I say here? That’s why I have taken breaks or even temporarily shut down the blog in the past.” Really? Why not write about which pen you are using this week and why? I’m always interested in how people decide which ink to use in which pen. And I would love to see more posts from people about WHAT they are writing: grocery lists, novels, Nobel acceptance speeches, doodles, letters to Mom. Does the choice of pen make a difference in what you want to write? Do you choose an old favourite pen for letters but reach for a fresh experience when composing an epic poem that will stretch to six volumes?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Ruth

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    • Hola Ruth!

      Pricing is hard. One approach is to undercut the lowest retail price by say 20% to account for the pen being used. Another is to see if you can find comparables eg on eBay. Another is to ask for offers from buyers, or ask communities you’re in for advice on pricing specific pens. The final guideline is: what’s it worth to you? If the market criminally undervalues a pen you’re fond of, to the point where you’re outraged by how little you’d get for it, don’t sell.

      Some people like to price high to maximise profit. I like to price competitively because it (hopefully) means a simpler sale with fewer tyre-kickers and painful failed negotiations.

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    • As to the second part of your comment, funnily enough I have a long post written and scheduled for a couple of weeks from now about handwriting and what I write.

      Of course, I was being reductive in my last comment: I write about lots of stuff other than new pens. I’ve written travel reports, ink reviews, notebook reviews, and plenty of editorial-style posts. However I think it still stands that a big part of this blog is about pen reviews, which help people decide which pen to buy. That’s been a core part of my mission. And while I’m happy to get quite personal on here, I certainly don’t want to make it all about me!

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  6. Thanks for answering my question from Instagram!

    Interesting to hear how your opinion of the Yukari Royale has changed over time. I disliked mine at first but have really grown to love it. On the other hand, I don’t like my KOP (ebonite, not urushi) so much these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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