I’ve recently been bitten by the pencil collecting bug and I thought I would document my journey down this new hobby. It’s an odd thing to collect, isn’t it? How many other people do you know collect pencils? Most people collect items of a limited release or limited quantity but pencils are commodities! From the outside, it’s almost like collecting paper clips. What distinguishes one paper clip from another? For the most part, nothing really. I haven’t heard of anyone auctioning off a paper clip at Christy’s and I certainly haven’t had anyone come up to me and tell me what a fine paper clip I’m holding as I clip some paper together. Maybe at one time a paper clip was kind of cool – like when it was first invented and marketed. It was a neat invention that solved a problem. Someone had to dream it up for the first time. Now there’s hardly anything interesting about them anymore except for all the weird things people come up to do with them or to them.
Despite the banality of a paper clip, there will be someone who passionately collects them. Those paper clips probably mean something to the collector. Perhaps it is a special design that stands out in their mind from other paper clips. Maybe the paper clip represents a memorable time and place. Then this question must be asked: are they a collector who appreciates and understand or an “acquirer” who is simply picking up whatever they can find? There’s a lot of people that like to have one of everything just to feel complete. These people end up with, literally, thousands of examples of whatever is being collected in their possession.
I like mechanical wrist watches. They are neat little machines that are very complicated yet perform a very simple function. It’s easy to get lost staring at all the little mechanisms and gears inside a wrist watch. There are many forums and websites dedicated to wrist watches and the people who are excited about them. Some people have two or three wrist watches and some have 10 to 20 of them. Collections usually contain something in low end range costing $50 to a couple watches that may be $1k or higher. Of course, some people have more disposable income than others so they go hard core and have five to ten examples costing over $2k each! At that point though, it’s just collecting jewelry in my mind. For men, it’s like being a woman and having a lot of diamonds to decorate herself with. It becomes a pursuit of vanity.
It’s this pursuit of vanity that has turned me off somewhat from serious watch collecting. Reading the posts on some of the watch forums, I see a lot of “Which one should I get?” topics and they are not always asking for a technical justification. Seriously, nobody cares what someone else buys! It’s not my money that’s being spent and it doesn’t hurt my feelings when one watch is purchased instead of another. OK, so the poster finally makes a decision and buys a watch. Now they have one watch. Then, some of these people decide they need a watch for every occasion. Different brands and designs are bought. From two to three to maybe four. Suddenly, they get the idea that they are missing something. “If I have a Rolex then I will only have one model of Rolex. I better get another to ’round out’ the collection.” From four to five and possibly six. Now after spending thousands of dollars on high end watches, they see something “cheap” on eBay like a Seiko or a Citizen and so that gets purchased. From six to seven if not eight or even nine. Next, they want a watch that they don’t care if it gets lost at the airport. On and on and on….
Suddenly, they have hundreds of watches of all makes, models, and prices! One time, someone posted their collection of watches and they couldn’t even fit them on one picture! What in the world do they do with those hundreds, literally hundreds, of wrist watches? It’s one thing if they cost 50 cents each but it’s a whole different ball of wax when the average price of each watch is $500 or more. These people are addicted to acquisition. It’s like legalized cocaine. They don’t care so much about horology as they do about the color of bracelet and dial. These “collections” are just boring piles of wealth.
Now don’t get wrong. There are lots of people who have large collections of watches whose value exceeds that of a sports car and these people are truly passionate about it! They understand the internal movement, the design, the history, etc of watches. Each specimen in their collection is treasured and valued for what it is and it’s impact on the industry and on horology. There are also serious vintage watch enthusiasts out there too. These are true collectors.
A true collector can take something, anything at all, and keep it interesting – not only for themselves but for others as well to some degree. Collecting is not just an act of acquisition. Think of the collector as an ambassador of the hobby. Collecting becomes an art. Quantity is no longer king but only a natural consequence of collecting over time. It doesn’t matter if you have three or 300 of something. Seeing a collection of paper clips handled by a true paper clip enthusiast is much more interesting and entertaining than seeing an extravagant collection of jewelry collecting dust.
So where does collecting pencils sit in all this?