Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, January 4, 2020

From Postage Stamps to Fountain Pens



Downsizing comes in four forms for me. 1) Selling collectibles that are well worth the time it takes like the western memorabilia stuff I sold last summer, 2) donating the household goods to Goodwill that I no longer use like small kitchen appliances, 3) giving stuff away because I want to see it stay in the family like the wicker suitcase that held all my grandfather’s worldly possessions when he immigrated here in the late 1800s, and 4) the category of downsizing that I call Jean’s Antique Adoption Center. This latter category of downsizing covers old things with an obscure market but they have a history that deserves to be preserved by someone who appreciates it like the Fisher Body Neapolitan Coach I blogged about last fall. The Adoption Center also covers collectibles that my husband and/or I once invested a lot of time or money in. However, the resale market is all but gone yet I’m still sentimentally attached and can’t bring myself to just trash the stuff. My lasted project falls in the latter category. I’ve been working on ‘stamp adoptions’ for the past three days but unlike the Coach I sold for a huge profit, the sales that will be generated out of a 9” x 16” x 22” plastic box of postage stamps will be at a loss. If I can even find buyers. Stamp collecting in America is all but dead and there is a glut of sheets, blocks and single stamps listed on e-Bay.

Before we met in 1970, both my husband and collected stamps as teens and our early twenties that we carefully soaked off envelopes or bought by mail order and using stamp hinges, we placed them in our Harris albums. It was a time intense hobby. After we met we switched from buying single stamps and started buying sheets and blocks, thinking they’d be good investments. And in our defense, it might have turned out that way if the internet hadn’t come alone to slowly choke the life out of the U.S. mail service. By the ‘80s we quit buying stamps altogether but we still tore stamps off envelopes that came in mail but otherwise we ignored the hobby. Nineteen years ago, when Don had his stroke and we moved into this house the box of stamps got put in the basement and hadn’t been touched since this week when I bit the bullet to do The Great Stamp Sort. 

Three days of sorting, writing up auction descriptions, photographing postage stamps and prepping them to ship, I now have 30 lots of stamps ready to list on e-Bay. It was probably a waste three days of my life to put that much effort into this project. I probably should have just said to myself, "These have served their purpose back in their day" and put them in the recycling bid or sent the box to the auction house where someone might not know they’d be bidding on albatross. But I like the idea that I’ll be coming full circle and giving the stamps a fighting chance to find new homes. The unused stamps I’ll list at half their face value just to stand out from all the others online. The big three mail order stamp companies are still in business and they might be attracted by the price when they can see a bigger profit in selling them overseas. And my two huge foreign lots from the first half of the 20th century might do well enough to make the effort worth the trouble but I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched. However, I've got to admit that my "Great Stamp Sort brought back the thrill of the hunt that attracted me to the hobby in the first place, especially when I mistakenly thought I'd found an error stamp worth over $2,000. It was so cool until I found an article online on how to tell the recalled error stamp from the corrected issue.

I’m getting close to the end of my sorting collectibles projects. I have a Cracker Jack metal and plastic toys collection but that’s been sorted into dates for thirty years. It doesn’t take up much room and it still "brings me joy." I'll keep that if I can. Same with half my seashell collection and the ones that don't make the cut will go to Goodwill. Other than that, I only have a couple more, small collections to deal with and before the winter is over I hope that stuff will be photographed, written up and ready to list in the spring. At least that's the plan. I'm working on political pinbacks now.

But the sort/sell job I’ll be leaving for last or maybe even after I move is fountain pens. Before my husband’s stroke he accumulated a small collection (under two dozen) of the fancy ones---marble, exotic woods, floaters and others that are still holding their values. After Don's stroke when we could no long go on collecting safaris his instinct to collect was still there. He’d pick up free ballpoint pens from offices or where ever. More than a few times he even pulled pens out of doctor’s pockets and admired them to the point the doctors would give them to him. You’d be surprised how many give-away pens a person in a wheelchair can collect in twelve and a half years. Of course the post-stroke ballpoint pens have no value and ever since Don died nearly eight years ago I’ve been reverse, un-collecting them; every time I leave the house I stick a few pens in my purse and leave one behind whenever I write a check. I’ve enjoyed my secret life as The Pen Fairy and I'm outing myself now because I've only got about two dozen yet to go. ©

29 comments:

  1. I love pens. I don't have any expensive pens but I just like pens and hardly ever pass up a free pen when given the opportunity. Every now and then I put a rubber band around a good sized group of pens and give them away.

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    1. See, you're a collector, at heart. I've gotten spoiled, always having a pen handy. I can't look at a pen without remembering how much joy they gave my husband. I like pencils better to write with.

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  2. I love the idea of leaving the pens behind. As a teacher, I lost a ton of pens to students who borrowed them until I devised the Collateral System. They had to give me something of theirs--of value--which I locked in my desk drawer. Usually they surrendered their wallet, purse, cellphone, or a piece of jewelry. When I got my pen back, they got their personal effect back.

    Lots of times, at the end of the school day, I'd find pens and pencils on the floor or in the hall. I'd stick those in a cup on the shelf and those were freely available for no collateral.

    Never found a fountain pen. Sigh.

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    1. Good system! I wonder if kids use many pens and paper anymore when they can take notes on devices. I'll bet most wouldn't even know how to use a fountain pen if it needed ink.

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    2. Ha ha! I was a high school teacher and I accepted a shoe as insurance for the return of a loaned pen. I never lost a pen because even if they went out the door, they soon returned.

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  3. My goodness, when did you and Don have time to eat? It seems that every thing has possibility to be collected and has market value. Guess I have been throwing away good dollars each day but then I have usually live in a small house or apartment.
    I think it is delightful that you have become a pen fairy. Think of those you make so happy when they find one of your planted pens.

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    1. There truly isn't anything that isn't collectable. Some of the most fun things to collect are the free stuff...think stones or leaves and flowers to press and dry. They were all collections of past generations. Now you know why I used to tell people I collect collections.

      I doubt anyone even cares or notices that I leave pens behind except maybe a doctor's office when they pick a pen from an insurance company out of their cup of pens they might wonder how it got there. It's just a fun game I play with myself.

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  4. Wow...I continue to be amazed by your collections. I collected stamps for a while when I was a kid, but I have realized over time that I tend more toward toward purging than collecting. That said, last summer in one of my purges, I realized I had a few valuable pens that I sold on eBay. Once the first one went for a surprising (to me) price, I dug around for which others would sell. I still have trouble parting with some of my favorites even though I rarely use them. And we also have handfuls of pens everywhere with no value. I love your Pen Fairy idea. LOL.

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    1. I honestly don't think it's unusual for people who collect things to have more than one kind of collection, especially for those of us who collect tiny things like buttons, stamps, service awards, Cracker Jack toys, coins, wooden nickels and on and on. When you go looking for stuff, you run into other fascinating things. I'll bet if you had realized those pens were valuable when you younger and not in downsizing mode you might have gotten bitten by the collecting bug to acquire more.

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  5. I collect quotes, anecdotes, and pictures. Especially pictures, but they're on my computer so mainly I label them, put on keywords, etc. I also accumulate a lot of papers that I have to sort through, but I'm working on that!

    I like your idea of giving pens away. I've accumulated too many of those, too!

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    1. I love to collect quotes. there are so many of them out there that speak to me. I have notebooks full.

      Last year one of my minor New Year's resolutions was to not take or save things just because they're free. That was harder than you'd think. Even without leaving the house I'd get free greeting cards in the mail from charities.

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  6. I have enjoyed catching up on your blog after some internet issues of the past few days. You are amazing in your ability to organize and sort your collections and to plan their next journey.
    I love your pen fairy project. I was amazed to find out how little cursive writing is taught these days and glad to hear it is coming back in style. And a letter or a handwritten note in the mail is just a rarity. Penmanship is a window into the writer's personality and style. And writing with a well made fountain pen is a joy.
    I can't turn down free items. But I do try not to accumulate them.

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    1. I've always had a knack for organizing stuff. I don't know where that comes from but I can't even stand in front of a magazine rack without putting stray issues where they belong. I can do two sided gig-saw puzzles in an speed that shocks people.

      It's really hard to turn down free stuff, even if you don't need it and don't want it.

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  7. My brothers collected coins but other than that, I think our 1,000 sq ft house with 8 people was just too small to have a secret storage spot. Now I always take a free pen or tablet because these little boys go through so many! I sort my ink pens in one large coffee cup, permanent markers in another, flair pens in another and pencils/colored pencils in another. They have to ASK to use any of those but there is one container they can borrow from without asking.

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    1. See, people have collections they don't even know about. ☺

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  8. Ah, stamps. My dad had a collection that I have and I really need to take it to a reliable place to see if they'll pay anything for it. And I have sheets and sheets of old U.S. postage -- not THAT old. Someone sent it to me to use in collage art and I may forward the favor to other artists when I get my brain clear to do it. Or stick it on envelopes to mail myself.

    Rick LOVES fountain pens. I gave him a very good one we bought in England last year and it's his favorite thing, apart from his guitar. I can only imagine your beautiful collection and how much they must mean.

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    1. Stamps are going to be HARD to sell or rather to find a buyer. You're are older than mind so you might have a chance.

      I may list some of mine in the craft section. Those sheets just call out on to mail when I pay my bills. Too bad I can't figure out a way to used them to ship e-Bay boxes but then I couldn't get tracking and I need that. I also know someone who does prison ministry and gives the prisoners stamps with cards. I'm going to ask her if she wants some sheets.

      I've never enjoyed using fountain pens but I understand the attraction. Isn't it fun to give a gift that is truly appreciated.

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  9. I love fountain pens, always have, since I was a child. I splurged last year on a really nice one and I use it everyday. It brings me joy every time I uncap it to write, so for me it was worth the hundreds of dollars I paid for it (with my annual bonus - my treat to myself!).
    I have a fountain pen belonging to my late husband that I would like to sell. He never used it. It's a Waterman Ideal - I still have the box it came in and everything that went with it. I wonder what it would be worth?

    Deb

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    1. What's it's worth and what you can sell it for aren't always the same thing. The best way to see what you could get for it is to do an e-Bay search for the pen to see what people are asking for them, then go to the completed sales see what people are actually selling them for. I've see vintage Watermans go from $50 to $900. If it's a high end pen, find a specialized site for fountain pen collectors for selling resources. With the original box researching it should be snap and boxes always add value. I think the prices will hold another ten years so if it's not old enough to be vintage, you could just keep it a while longer.

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  10. Do you know about the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History on the campus of Regis College in Weston, MA? Check out their website. They evaluate, appraise, and/or accept donations of stamps for their museum. You might consider donating any that you don’t sell. It’s a small, but fascinating place.

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    1. No, I didn't know about it and I'd love to donate what doesn't sell on e-Bay which I'm pretty sure will be most of my lots. That will become my Plan B. Thank you so much! I love giving stuff I once loved to museums!

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  11. Your eclectic collections amaze me. I love the idea of leaving pens out in the world. I have unintentionally "collected" a fair amount and they mostly just clutter my desk drawers. Off they go!

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    1. Women collect a lot of stuff they don't consider collections...like shoes, purses, jewelry, scarves and other stuff they really don't need. I don't do any of those. LOL

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    2. Good point! Scarves are downfall collection. LOL

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  12. I've got a huge collection of sheets -- the last of my dad's collection. I haven't been able to get rid of them. Even the big stamp houses here in Houston don't want anything to do with them. The advice I've been given is to use them for postage. I did give some of the oldest ones to a local boy scout troop for some kind of project they have going, but otherwise I've just selected sheets that have interest to particular people (like state centennials, etc.) and given them to them. The rest will probably just stay in a drawer, because I don't want to mess with them.

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    1. Stamps are hard to throw away! I did set some of them aside to use. My first listing didn't sell and I won't bother relisting it. I'll try each batch once since I went to all the trouble getting listings ready. Then I'll send what doesn't sell off to that stamp musuem before even they quit taking them.

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  13. I love pens too. I never had a really nice collection but I always brought home any that were offered. I think stamps are really interesting too. It does show that when we invest in things thinking they will have a long time value, we just never know. I am amazed at the variety, not to mention amount, of collections you two had. You definitely had a shared interest.

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    1. Pop culture collectibles have always and will always lose their value as the people who collect them age, but stamps, coins and paper money collecting have been around since their invention, and all over the world. It still kind of shocks me how much the values of these three things have nose dived.

      As for collecting collections, when you don't have kids you have the time. LOL

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