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?