They say the pen is mightier than the sword. And in the case of freelance photographer Vishal Kumaraswamy’s 250-plus pen collection, it’s much more than that. The pens speak volumes about the dedication it takes to constantly be on a search for new additions, while maintaining the old with your very own tool-kit.
“If you were born and raised in India in the 90s, Hero pens were a big thing. Their fountain pen was the first one my Dad ever gave me,” recalls Vishal, who started his journey with pens 12 years ago.
“It started off as a challenge in school, for a fest we were supposed to put up. After that, there was an exhibition held at Kanteerva Stadium, showcasing different writing instruments. A bunch of us who had taken up the challenge went had never fathomed the idea of cases to hold pens. But seeing them at the exhibition, we clicked photographs and got them made for ourselves,” he adds.
A hobby is often pursued for a short time and eventually, given up. But Vishal’s affinity towards writing instruments has kept him going — he’s also developed an interest in pencils. “I’ve started collecting pencils from different places I go to. I went to a couple of galleries in Scotland and London recently and picked them up there,” shares Vishal, adding, “my latest addition to the pen collection is the Bic pen by a French manufacturer. They were never available before and when they started being sold here, I had to own one.”
He talks about how initially, people would think it was weird to collect pens. “Back then, the only reason to own a pen was to use it to write. I guess it’s just one of the eccentricities you succumb to when you’re young. In fact, I have a lot of pens that I don’t use and some that I’ve still not taken out of their box or cover,” he laughs.
A large part of his fascination for pens grew from his father’s personal collection. “My Dad collects them too, but not in the fashion that I do. He’s a doctor and he’d get a lot of pens as compliments from pharmaceutical companies. He also had friends who’d get them for him wherever they’d go. He used to travel a lot and would inevitably pick some up along the way as well,” notes the 24-year-old.
Ask him about the special pens in his own collection and he eagerly answers: “There’s one set of pens I have called ‘Airmail’, which are made only in Mangalore. You don’t get them anywhere else and they’re fancy only because of that.”
Having understood the pen market for many years, he feels that the problem is that now, there’s a much bigger influx of rare pens coming in. “There was no William Penn in 2004.
Back then, Koramangala used to have a geographical institute, which had a pen store — they were the only guys who had Sheaffer and I own one of the first few Sheaffer pens to have come to Bangalore,” he says proudly. “When William Penn arrived, people started buying what they called ‘luxury pens’ like a Cross – something fancy to own, regardless of whether they write well or not,” he adds.
Does he plan to use this as his retirement fund? “The last time my friend sold his collection, I decided to value mine. It was a pretty high amount because nobody else had certain pens I had all in one place,” he informs. “I’m not looking to ever sell my collection. There are a lot of pens that I’ve given away to people as gifts and these can be seen as the empty pockets in my case. But if I don’t have two of the same pen, I’d never give it away,” he concludes.
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