“Is this not the collector's exquisite pleasure, that his desire should know no bounds, should reach out into the infinite, should never know full possession which disappoints by its very completeness. O what joy to be able to postpone the fulfillment of desire to infinity!”
― Georges Rodenbach, The Bells of Bruges
I open the parcel, my heartbeat suddenly pulsing through my fingertips.
“Is it what I was hoping for?!”, I murmur to myself as I free the fountain pen from the confines of its protective packaging.
A soft sigh escapes as my eyes widen with joy. Then I reach for that chosen bottle of ink set aside for my prize. I twist the cap, disengage the barrel, and feed the converter.
My hand dances with the pen on paper as I write and write.
I emerge from the moment with a satisfied smile. Finally, I lay the pen to rest amongst its treasured siblings.
Why We Collect Things
Ever since humanity started putting down roots, our ancestors discovered the need to keep things. During those times, collecting was primarily for survival — to have enough resources for leaner times ahead or to attract a mate. This basic instinct of acquisition stayed with us, but since then has branched out into other motivations as we continued to adapt and evolve.
Nowadays, the singular act of collecting has transformed to include a variety of reasons behind it —
It is pleasurable.
Studies in neurology and psychology have shown that specific areas of the human brain are stimulated when presented with something unique or unusual. These regions respond to novelty with the emotional arousal to learn more about it. This pushes us to explore and discover its possible benefits — an evolutionary advantage.
It gives us a sense of history.
Collecting vintage or antique items helps establish a tangible connection to the past. Another aspect of this is when we collect with the desire to leave a legacy for future generations to appreciate.
It expands the mind.
For some collectors, it is the process of curating itself that provides a sense of fulfillment. It involves deliberation, knowledge, and a sense for the atypical or exquisite.
It fosters connection.
As we collect our treasures, we eventually discover others who share our enthusiasm. This social motivation helps us discover like-minded people and forges friendships that enrich our lives.
It is a matter of pride.
Acquiring something admirable and rare sets us apart, and can help us gain acknowledgement and esteem. For others, obtaining a precious piece for a relatively modest pride enhances that feeling of sound judgement. It is likewise satisfying to put together cohesive items for the first time.
It is a way of controlling our environment.
Another motivation concerns the continuous refinement of a collection. Organizing and rearranging items into varying states of cohesiveness can be perceived as an exercise in mastery — or a way of restructuring our surroundings as our preferences and awareness develop.
It is thrilling.
Going back to the pleasure center of the brain — the anticipation before acquiring the desired item provides the most stimulation (note quote above ;) ). This explains why collecting itself often becomes more of a passion than a diversion.
How To Collect Fountain Pens with Awareness
The variety of our collections is as numerous as the fountain pens available today. However, collecting employs a certain amount of focus that amassing does not have. Collecting follows a certain system determined by the collectors themselves — while amassing is more arbitrary. Excessive amassing is simply hoarding.
To help you become more discerning when acquiring your fountain pens, here are a few general guidelines —
Know what you want.
At the start of your fountain pen journey, it is natural to want to try all the pens that interest you. Examining pens during pen meets, getting feedback, or researching exposes you to numerous options from which you will discover your preferences.
Determine your limits.
A collection consists of several fountain pens with a unifying theme. There is a certain pattern to the pieces you eventually acquire and choose to keep. How many is therefore dependent on your budget and the availability of similar pens to establish a robust collection.
Collect what you love.
Acquire what strikes your fancy regardless of the brand or future resale price. Gathering for your own pleasure distinguishes the collector from the dealer — whose primary goal is to buy then sell later for a profit. In time, your collection will reflect your unique style and taste. This distinctive, personal stamp is what makes your choices extraordinary.
Organize and refine.
Once you have managed to collect a substantial number of pens (or have several collections), make it a habit to re-examine and/or improve your arrangement. Your preferences can change over time. With more knowledge and experience, you will be able to hone your discernment to add a personal artistry to your collection.
Follow your passion.
Another mark of a dedicated collector is doggedly following a lead to complete the set, like a true treasure hunt. This predisposition can border on obsession that hoarding is also known for. It takes a fair amount of discipline to design your collection cohesively.
Possible Fountain Pen Collections
Before you start your collection or when seeking to refine your current one, here are a few questions that can help —
What first draws your attention to a fountain pen?
is it color, shape, overall design? For me, a fountain pen’s first visual impression feels like an instant attraction, then I pause to determine if it fits my set criteria.
Are you loyal to certain fountain pen brands?
This usually comes with more experience as you continue to enjoy particular brands.
Is there a specific concept that defines your collection?
Such as nautical or seasonal themes, vintage or modern, Limited Editions? Take a moment to think on what truly resonates with you and consider if it reflects who you are.
Do you collect for function or aesthetics?
To use or to appreciate? Collections can be both, so take into account what works for your needs (such as nib width, grip diameter, balance, etc.) as well as what delights you.
When I started my fountain pen journey, all my acquisitions taken together seemed so random. It looked like I was already edging towards hoarding as I wanted to try all of them if I could — because I was still learning about my own preferences.
In time, I realized what fountain pens truly worked for me and continued to give me pleasure. It is an ongoing process — this distillation of my own collections — since I find that my preferences do change with practice and self-knowledge. In this sense, my collections have become reflections of my identity.
Since then, I have given away some of my pens to penable my newbie friends. I have also received some from others who are on parallel paths — an onward journey of appreciation, discernment, and growth.
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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!