“It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” -Sheryl Crow, Soak Up the Sun

Parker 51

I recently acquired a vintage pen that was barely used by its owner, which is both cool and a little sad. Cool for me because I now own a sixty-four year old pen that doesn’t look a day over one, but sad in that the owner never put his mark on it. The pen never rolled across the surface of his desk, or went to the office in his suit pocket, or was scribbled with by his grandchild. He wrote his wedding vows, then put the pen away. Like I said, cool. And sad.

This got me thinking about pen acquiring and pen collecting and pen hoarding, and the fact that I’m undoubtedly in the throes of all three. It’s so hard to resist chasing all of the shiny things. What’s my favorite pen? Why the one that I just ordered, of course!

But as my pen cases fill up, I’ve started thinking about acquiring vs. collecting, and having vs. using. Like the 1959 Mercedes that’s purchased but never driven, it seems to me that pens that are rarely inked and notebooks that are squirreled away aren’t living their lives (says the person who has a bunch of empty pens and stockpiled notebooks). There’s something to be said for “mint condition,” but there’s also the joy that comes from using something, using it with care, and putting your mark on it.

Patina, according to one dictionary, is “an appearance or aura that is derived from association, habit, or established character.” When we use an object, a pen, day in and day out, we put our mark on it. It acquires a sheen or tiny scratches or a nib that’s worn to our style of writing. It acquires a patina. It acquires a life.


Coincidentally, as I was mulling all of this over, Sarj Minhas offered his thoughts on acquiring versus collecting, and developing a pen focus, on FPGeeks Podcast Episode #65. Some wise words from the one man pen show!

8 thoughts on “Patina

  1. Great thoughts!

    I’m always struck by the thrill and concern I feel when at an airshow featuring a vintage warbird. Years ago, I witnessed one destroyed in a non-fatal crash at EAA Oshkosh. I still have no answer for the dilemma of object love, except that – for me – the “silver talents” in scripture should be put to use, with care.

    Thanks again for your posts.

    • Thanks for the comment! I struggle with the double-edge sword of keeping things pristine vs. using them how they’re intended, and I like your airshow example. It IS thrilling and yet risky to use our stuff. I’m trying to be a little more mindful in my acquiring, so that what I own has some meaning. But there are all those shiny things out there! Tricky stuff.

  2. I too struggle with using versus preserving objects. I tend to “fall in love” with my belongs, not in a materialistic way, but in the sense that I admire their design and the labor they were born of. A few months back, I bought a pristine near-classic mustang for use as a daily driver. I soon began to worry that it would get dented, the paint would fade, parts would wear out etc. Above all, I dreaded the thought of being involved in an accident and losing my beloved muscle car. Then I realized, “hey, I could die and I’m worrying about a car!” That led me to my conclusion: I would rather die in the car that I loved and used, than to have it sitting at home under a cover where I failed to give it life.


    • I need to get better at rotating pens. I become enamored with a few and tend to ignore the others. Working on it, though!

  3. Hey Mary, I want what you’ve got (splendid P ’51 and sidekick)! Wanting, having, using is all so bemusing. More and more I buy two of admirable things, one to use and one to savor. My favorite things are well-made, well cared for, lovingly put to work. There’s delight in the use of good tools. As you say, they take on character all their own with associations personal to us but retain a working value long after we’re gone. Now about that long deferred novel you’ve been meaning to write… Parker ’51’s are superb writers! (And if you can’t bring yourself to use your midcentury beauty, Hero clones are cheerful, cheap, and a good one writes as well as any Parker.)

    • I’m enjoying this fun set! I’m apparently a fan of hooded nibs. Pencil is pretty nice, too. This set will get used…but with care.

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