Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Question I Hate to Answer the Most

I was determined to clear out my backlog of recent photographs before taking more pictures of things to write about, so I’ve been holding off on shooting the items I acquired at the DC Supershow last month - some 75 pieces added to the collection that I’ve been eager to tell you about.  With the last of those older pictures running in yesterday’s article, I let the blog tick along on autopilot for a few days while I finally got to spend some time behind the camera.  All the DC stuff has been shot, along with a few other things I thought were interesting, and the images are now sitting in the hopper just waiting for me to say something meaningful about them.

There are three questions people frequently ask me - one fairly simple, and two I hate.  The simple one: “What’s the oldest pencil you have?”  That’s easy.  My oldest American pencil is probably that Woodwards & Hale I wrote about recently (, but I’ve got a couple English pieces that are a few years older still.

The first question I hate is, “What’s the most valuable thing you have?”  That’s a double hate there . . . I don’t really understand the question for starters, whether the person asking means monetary value or historical value.  I’ve got bits of junk laying around which I”d pay more for than a solid gold piece – but fortunately I haven’t had to do so.  Besides, asking what’s the most valuable thing in my collection is like asking me to show you my checkbook or my stock portfolio . . . it’s kind of rude and intrusive.

However, it’s that third question that really gets under my skin: “Which is your favorite?”  Even though on its face the question isn’t nearly as boorish as asking for a peek into my wallet, that’s the question that really, really, REALLY bugs me.

Because it makes me ask myself questions that I really don’t want to answer.

It’s not as though these inanimate objects are children I’m afraid to offend, so that I feel obligated to tell them I love them all equally.  The problem is that it forces me into this existential exercise of questioning why I like something and how much.  It makes me wonder whether I like the historical tidbit I found more or less than admiring a tiny work of art I found.

It also makes me stare into the face of my own greed.  I like to believe I can be equally happy taking a picture of something as I would be owning it, and I hope that’s true . . . there’s been plenty of times when I’ve had the opportunity to photograph things that weren’t for sale, or when the price tag is more than I can swallow, and I’ve satisfied myself (some would say “settled”) for that.  But the question isn’t what I have enjoyed seeing the most, it’s what I enjoy owning the most.

Besides, if there’s that one thing I enjoy owning the most, that means there’s something out there that I enjoy owning the least, which gives me a second crisis to deal with: if it's the thing I least enjoy owning, then why on earth did I buy it?

So far, I’ve only posted one article concerning something I acquired at DC – it was that sold gold Sheaffer with Craig Sheaffer’s name engraved on it, mounted on a card signed by Sheaffer and addressed to Edd Dawson, a pencil collector (see  Gritting my teeth, I’ve got to admit that is my favorite find from the show this year, and it’s probably in my top five finds of all time.

But as I sit here with a big pile o’ pictures of everything else I found at that show, I’m asking myself where I should start and the logical choice is which one out of all these is my favorite.  After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I keep coming back to the one I picked up from Pearce Jarvis:

It’s not quite the Parker snake magic pencil I have only been able to admire from afar, but it’s darned close:

I could stare at that fantastic relief of a snake winding its way through the cattails all day long:

The artistry even extends to the top piece

and in the lower corner of that last shot, you can see who was responsible for this fine piece of art: Fairchild Johnson, represented by a shield with an F and a J inside it:

Fairchild Johnson was a partnership between one of Leroy W. Fairchild’s sons and Ephraim Johnson, Jr., sone of E.S. Johnson, which operated between 1898 and 1905.  The complete(ish) story, with thanks to David Nishimura and his excellent article in The Pennant, was posted here at

Whew.  The uncomfortable question has been asked and answered, and the ice is now officially broken.  Now I won’t have as much trouble figuring out what to write about tomorrow, and I’ll be showing off all the other great things which came home from DC with me . . .

in no particular order, of course . . .

1 comment:

John Bosley said...

That is one nice looking pencil! I always find it interesting that there were so many snake pens and pencils produced. I wonder why? Thanks for sharing!