Of course the first question is why collect anything – why collect at all? It isn’t entirely inexplicable. A variety of theories spring to mind. The difficulty lies in deciding if any of them is correct. Perhaps it’s a remnant of the Paleolithic, when men went out and hunted animals, returning to the praise of their women-folk, who had also been busy, garnering fruits and nuts and edible roots. Or so we’re told. Then there’s the historical aspect, where collectors try to rebuild the past through the acquisition of defunct technologies. The ‘limited edition’ collectors – what is it that they do? Maybe it’s the pleasure of having things that few other people can attain (though many limited editions are not so rigidly limited as all that). Then there are the completist collectors, who must have every last production of their chosen subject. Without meaning to be insulting, this could be looked on as a form of neurosis.
Why pens, then? There are many alternatives, stamps, coins, pocket knives, books: there are as many types of collection as there are discrete objects. Pens are small, not requiring a huge amount of space in expensive property. Comparatively speaking, they are cheap, cheaper than jewellery or paintings, for example. They are decorative. Celluloid and casein produced glorious patterns, plating of base metals added lustre. Like many other collectables they exist within a pool of knowledge, about their technology and design, their manufacturers, their rarity or otherwise; subjects that collectors may discuss and develop expertise in. Is there a gender angle? Though I have no doubt that there are many women collectors, my own experience with my customers suggests that women more commonly by pens to use. So do many men, of course, but the serious collectors that I know are all men.
Perhaps one of the reasons for choosing pens as a subject for collection is that it is open-ended. It is very difficult to obtain every example of the output of one of the more prolific manufacturers, say Conway Stewart or Parker.
My own ancestry must have missed out on the collector gene. I love pens and have quite a few but those I retain are chosen for their writing ability. They bear little relationship to each other and are not displayed or recorded. Of course, a great many pens pass through my restoring hands and I do maintain a photographic and digital record of them all. Perhaps that’s my collection.