When you collect as many things as I do, you inevitably run into the side of at least one hobby where everyone values the things that are being collected much more than you do. And that isn’t a problem, and this won’t be about that being a problem. These people tend to want things to be pristine, some of them in the package, some of them out. For fountain pens and knives, they’re the people who don’t want anything with an engraving. For video games and toys, they’re the people that want the item in box, in shrink wrap. And for various other hobbies that I may or may not be involved in, there are different things that are important to the collectors.
Now, obviously I don’t agree with that. I have a video (but I haven’t posted it anywhere) of me opening a brand new Atari 2600 game in the late 2000’s. That would give some people a heart attack. But I just feel that if it’s a video game console or a toy, it was meant to be played with, and if it’s a fountain pen, or knife, or anything else it was meant to be used.
I know I’m not that way with everything. Older notebooks and art supplies I have a hard time using sometimes, because I feel like using them destroys them in a way, and that at least one specimen should be preserved. This applies more to something like a unique pencil and less to something like old paint that just seems wasted if it isn’t used.
It’s hard to find the balance of what to preserve and what to use, especially if you do believe that vintage items were meant to be used. My heart does sink every time I see someone who has an older item and is using it because it’s “cool” to do so and is in the process destroying it. They are well within their rights to do so, but I think that they should be putting at least a little more care into it.
I’m well aware that nothing will last forever, but I do want as many examples as possible of anything to last for as long as possible. That is part of why I invest so much time and money into my collections. I want to see them last, I like them a lot, and keeping them nice is just as important to me as the collection itself.
But what does that say about personal engravings in pens, knives, lighters, jewelry, and tools? Are they ruined even before the collector sees them? I don’t think so. While it is true that I tend to buy items without engravings or personalization, this has more to do with either them being less recognizable (No one would look at a painted Xbox and think it was an Xbox at first glance, and they might think I’m weird for painting one afterwards) or because people would think I stole things. “Hey, why are you using Edward Clavares’ pen?” Not that many people even really look at the engraving, but it could be a concern.
But as for items I won’t carry around: that older knife or fountain pen that should’ve been several hundred dollars that I got for free (that really happened), I like the wear and personalizations. It gives the items a sense of history. It’s even better when I know part of the story. I have a multi-tool with my dad’s name on it, a knife with my brother’s, and I had a notebook with my grandfather’s, but I gave that back to my mother. For all of those items I know part of the story, maybe very little, and I can only imagine the parts before, but having that realistic grounding is nice. I really do love the engravings on such items.
I also go to garage sales and charity shops a lot. Inside there are all sorts of items which have all sorts of different possible stories associated with them. Especially handmade items, which I always feel bad passing up. I feel like I’m leaving a part of history behind, even if it is poorly constructed history.
That’s why it’s nice to have several pieces in a collection that are personalized to some extent. I feel like I’m both saving history and getting a well-constructed product. Though I won’t seek out a product that has been personalized, having a few shows that these items were used by actual people, not just some other collector who took perfect care of them. And there is something collectable about a thing that has a person’s name on it, especially if it’s an uncommon name. It might be the only one like it in the world.
Really though, I’m just not snobby either way. I know there are some people who would never collect a personalized or even a used item, and there are some people who would only collect those items. And I understand the urge to do both, so I try to meet somewhere in the middle. I like to keep my mind open, and I haven’t yet gotten to the point in my collecting where I only collect a thing here and there that I’m really searching for. I may never get to that point. If you have exactly what you want to collect figured out, I’m glad, and your life is probably a lot more organized than mine. We all see value in different things in any given hobby. Like I’ve said previously, I’m not into buying anything very expensive. And as personalized items usually go for less on the second-hand market, the fact that I like them is just a bonus.
If you asked me why I collect what I do, I’d probably tell you I like to collect things that interest me, and stories interest me. Whether it’s some fictional universe the product is based on, or my personal experiences, or the crazy collection of a guy I met a few times who was a great person and really into all of this stuff, or just some letters on the side of a pen that I can make up a journey around, I like collecting for the story.