August 17, 2015

PFC statistics

, and numbers of pen collectors.

[Posted on L&P on Sept 23-25, 2008.]
        Here are some PFC statistics gleaned from reading the magazine.
        I have a partially reconstructed PFC membership list, but it’s not anywhere near to being complete.  The names were collected from any mention of the members within the editorials, and articles, and letters, and lists.  The membership total may have risen well over 2500 at some point, but my list contains only 761 names.  In my short list, there are 69 doctors, and 9 reverends and fathers and rabbis, and many others with professional degrees.  The early members all received membership cards with chronologically assigned membership numbers, and the highest number I could find in the letters was #463, but Cliff stopped issuing and citing these numbers around March 1980, right about the time when the lifetime members first appeared.  You can see an example of a card reproduced in a letter in the April 1992 issue, p.5.  Of the 761 members I found, there were only 88 whose membership numbers were given.  I also have a shorter list of 108 early members, if you count a few extras who are definitely from that early numbered-members period, but for whom I don’t have membership numbers.
        Here are the membership totals over the years, by Cliff Lawrence’s own admission.  From a start of only 3 members in early 1976, probably Cliff, Judy, and a close pen-collecting friend, the list jumped to 70-80 members by the end of 1976.  There were about 200 members in the middle of 1977, and a high of about 300 members sometime in 1978-79.  It went down to 225 members by June 1980, and then rose up to 638 members by November 1980.  There were nearly a 1000 members in January 1981, but it dipped down to 536 members by January 1983.  It was back up to around 950 members sometime in 1984, and then he states that a high mark of 2500 was within reach in 1989.  Whether he actually surpassed that mark is passed over in silence, and there are no more mentions of membership totals, that I could find, for the rest of the life of the magazine.
        During the time when the number of members fell, the magazine was physically reduced in size as a cost-cutting measure two times.  Hence the two gaps in the row of magazines as they sit on the shelf, one between March 1983 and December 1984, and another between May 1985 and July 1986, like buck teeth where the magazines dip down from 8.5 x 11 inches to roughly 7 x 9.  The magazine size returned to letter size in August 1986, and with the October issue it took on the two-color scheme on the inside and outside covers, a carmine red frame around a central block of black type and images.  The two-color scheme also crept into portions of the main body of the magazine in the 1990s.
        There were, however, a few telling signs of the increased popularity of the magazine.  A good measure of that popularity, and also of the financial backing for the magazine, as Cliff himself admitted, came from the sales of his various books.  Another telling sign was the appearance of the color covers on the magazines from November 1987 till Mar-Apr 1993, and also the color back covers that appeared sporadically from July 1990 till Mar-Apr 1993.  There was also the single instance of a color centerfold in the December 1990 issue, and the sporadic appearance of black & white “Ad of the Month” centerfolds throughout the early 1990s.  The number of pages in the magazine stayed at a constant 36, or 40 pages until 1992, when it went up to 44 pages in January, and then jumped up to 56 pages in May-June, and then up to a new high of 64 pages in its last two issues, Mar-Apr and May-June 1993.  The last issue, however, does not have color covers, and returns to the two-color scheme.  The magazine went out in a blaze of glory in those last 2 issues.
        Thereafter it was renamed the Pen Trading Post, and was strictly a pen sales catalogue of a slight 24 pages, until the membership fell off, and Cliff started to include some old reprints of previously published pen information and history to try to get his readership back.  The last issue I have been able to find is a simple black & white issue, no. 220 from October 1998, but there may have been others after that one.

        Pavlo Shevelo wrote, “George, that’s some research!  I’m just knocked out by both the volume of work done and the profound results achieved.
        “But [as you well know], in research, all and every result generates more new questions than were answered.  I’m pretty much curious whether it’s possible to answer the following questions, at least by some rough estimation.
        1. What percentage of all (‘serious’) collectors was covered by PFC membership?  Are any estimations of total quantity of collectors available, or possible for that period of time?
        2. Could it be possible that the amount of PFC readers was significantly larger than the amount of PFC members, or subscribers?  I mean things like the distribution of articles by photo copies, and lending and borrowing of original magazines.
        3. In opposite, what about the percentage of non-collectors, so just pen users, or consumers within and among the PFC membership?
        4. What is the percentage of PFC members who were silent, meaning never submitting either an article, or even a letter to be published, or broadcasted?  How many articles by other authors can be encountered during all the years of the PFC’s existence?
        5. What is the percentage of PFC members who remain to be integrated with the collectoring community up to the end of the 3rd wave as holdovers from and participants in the previous two generations?
        “Apparently the bottom line of my questions is an attempt to comprehend the role of the PFC as a means of communication and interconnection for the collector community, hence as an infrastructure element of this community, during those years.”

        And I wrote, “I’ll take a stab at answering your questions, but they’re just guesses.  I hope others will take a stab as well.
        1. If I recall correctly, Fultz came up with an estimated number of about 100,000? worldwide.  That would make the PFC membership a mere 2.5%.  I would guess that they were more like 5-10% of all collectors at the time, “serious” or otherwise, which makes my estimate of the total number smaller.  You also have to think of the WES and other clubs like that around the world.
        2. Certainly the readership was significantly larger than the membership.  Some of the members listed were husband and wife, father and son, and even two women who appeared to be lesbian partners.  But these were just the tip of the iceberg of copy sharing, which probably at least doubled, or even tripled the number of readers.
        3. I can’t guess at the percentage of non-collectors within the PFC membership, but there were definitely some dealers, and pen users in there.  But most of the members were there for the information and the pen history, and they left when the information stopped in the mid-1990s.  By then, they could buy the pens in any of a number of other venues.
        4. About 80% of the members were silent lurkers, meaning they never wrote letters, but over 99% never submitted an article.  In other words, not too many articles were submitted, and most of those submitted were in the early years.  They did, however, submit a lot of the advertisements, and catalogues, and images.  At one point Cliff refers to a file of over 5,000 such items, either purchased, or found, or submitted, whether in original, or photocopy.
        5. A good 15-25%, possibly a lot more, of the oldies are still around and well-integrated within the collecting community, right through the subsequent two generations and up to the end of 3rd wave.  Some of them are not very computer literate, though.  I think the problem is in the reverse direction.  The newbies are not very aware of their history, and not very hardcopy literate, that is, they don’t read the old books and magazines.
    The role of the PFC and WES in those early years is incalculable.  They were some of the first means of communication in those early years, until the pen shows and other magazines came along, and the other local clubs and groups were formed.  And then the Web came along, and, depending upon your perspective, either spread it worldwide, or blew everything apart while everyone stayed home and watched it all on the computer, typing instead of writing with a pen.

        David Nishimura wrote, “Once again, good work, George.
        “I was just talking to someone the other day about the number of pen collectors active now.  I told her that there are no reliable figures—no one has made a systematic effort to date.  One could try extrapolating from magazine circulation figures, club memberships, pen show attendance, Ebay bidders, and pen website traffic, but even if you could gather all those numbers, the degree of overlap simply cannot be determined with any accuracy.  Still, even if absolute numbers cannot be established, at least we could get some idea of relative numbers—and I do think it is clear that there are more pen collectors worldwide now than ever before.
        “I must also voice my agreement with your point 5.  Though some PFC-era collectors are not so computer-savvy, the bigger factor is that most are disinclined to participate in online forums—which may have less to do with what “wave” of collecting they belong to, and more to do with their stage of collecting.  The fact is, few advanced collectors, no matter what era they began in, spend much time posting online.  Those that are pure collectors, as opposed to dealer-collectors, are even less likely to have any visible online presence.  I know quite a few advanced collectors who began in the post-Ebay era who don’t even spend time on Ebay with any regularity.  They are looking for very specific, very rare items, and don’t have the time, or inclination to do the online, needle-in-a-haystack thing any more.
        “As far as restoring awareness of their history to present-day pen collectors, perhaps we should try to publish an ongoing series of profiles of influential, but Internet-invisible collectors in The Pennant, or Stylus.  Rather than focusing on the highlights of their personal collections, as the Pen World collector profiles always did, these might emphasize the subjects’ place in the history of pen collecting, when and how they began, who taught them, whom they taught, what other collectors they particularly like and respect, as collectors, and their views on collecting, past, present, and future, etc.  It’s ridiculous that Internet-era collectors routinely post so excitedly about seeing this minor collector and that minor dealer at a show, while taking no notice of the field’s giants standing across the aisle.
        “The notion that these collectors are somehow stuck in the pre-Internet age is mistaken.  The collectors I’m talking about are still active, still attend shows, and all use email, mobile phones, iPods, etc.  You interview them just like anyone else: at a show, or by phone, perhaps with some email followup, as necessary.
        “Just because you are a collector doesn’t mean you want to be a researcher, let alone a teacher.  And not all teachers are inclined to teach introductory courses.  Look how many senior scholars in academia teach only graduate seminars, if given a choice.  Many researchers would be just as happy not teaching at all.
        “This is not peculiar to any particular era of pen collecting. Nowadays we see a lot of collectors who often post online, but most of this is chatter, plus asking and responding to extremely basic questions that could easily be answered by a cursory Internet search.  That 99% who do not publish any original research hasn’t changed a bit.”

        And I wrote, “David, publishing an “ongoing series of profiles of influential, but Internet-invisible collectors” is a great idea.  But The Pennant is probably a better venue for the series than Stylus, which seems to be going the way of Pen World lately, with its greater emphasis on modern pens.  And after a great start in the late 1980s and 90s, Pen World magazine is now almost a total loss to vintage pen collecting.  Also, you’re right to say “we”.  It should be a group effort, with different interviewers taking on various subjects, or even collaborating in small panel discussions and informal conversations.  For instance, Ron Dutcher, or Russ Stutler could interview Masa Sunami.”

        John Chapman wrote, “There are different types of researchers.  I suspect most advanced collectors are researchers in the sense of knowing what pens are rare and what are needed to complete collections.  That does not mean that they are spending a lot of time digging through the patent files, or researching old newspapers and magazines.  Some care more about the pens themselves than, say, the story behind the owners.  I suspect that some of the ones that have not published have a ton of knowledge gained from seeing and handling thousands and thousands of pens, rather than from more academic knowledge.  This hands-on knowledge is incredibly valuable to understanding pens and pen history, yet sometimes gets neglected by a more academic approach to pen research.
        “But I think that David’s point is more that many advanced collectors have little interest in easily sharing their knowledge with masses of new collectors, particularly internet-focused collectors who ask lots of basic intro questions.  These advanced collectors are more interested in discussing advanced questions with equally advanced collectors, not constantly educating the new folks.  Or they would be happy to answer questions from new folks, if approached—they just don’t put their knowledge forward for free as graciously as people like David do.”

        Rob Astyk wrote, “John, I understand your point about advanced collectors wanting to discuss pens with their peers.  I see nothing wrong with that at all.  Yet if the information those folks have never gets out, how can others rise to a level that allows them into their discussion group?  Worse yet, perhaps some lucky newbie has a model that is the missing link in some chain of developments of that particular pen.  The newbie may not be able to discuss detail like an advanced collector-specialist, but his information could benefit the advanced collector, while the advanced collector’s knowledge and experience could advance us all, if shared more broadly.
        “Collecting is inherently an avaricious hobby.  We all want to have certain pens in our collections[, or leave certain pens in our collections when we die].  But there comes a point where the private grasping becomes poisonous, if never shared with others.  I know that I often look at photos posted in the Pentrace “Sunday Topics” and say, “That ought to be in my collection”.  It isn’t, and I’m happy for the person who owns the great set, or perfect example, but ultimately I am very grateful that he shared, so that I know something new, and can indulge in momentary jealousy.  There’s something pathological, I think, in never sharing.”

        David Nishimura wrote, “A good and perceptive response, John.  The advanced collectors we are discussing are hardly avaricious, or secretive.  By and large, they are very open to intelligent and informed questions, and will often graciously field the really basic queries as well.  What most are not interested in doing, however, is going out of their way to set themselves up as question-answerers to the world.  To find this blameworthy is absurd.  Many live very busy lives; many are reticent by nature.  Answering questions takes time, and most questions end up being repetitious.  Many questions are asked by those strictly interested in making money off the information, while many questioners are demanding and ungrateful.  I received a nasty and obscene reply just the other day from a woman who was asking me to identify and value some pens she was going to list on Ebay; my offense was chiding her for not cropping or resizing her multiple, multi-megabyte photo attachments.
        “What we appear to be seeing here is a disconnect between those who think everything should be continuously broadcast to everybody and those who are content to have the information accessible to anyone who is willing to make a modicum of effort to seek it out.  Fact is, just as most people don’t want to read academic journals, most collectors aren’t interested in the most involved and esoteric details of pen history.  The real barriers to access are internal and psychological.”

        And I wrote, “We all remember how much Frank Dubiel loved to field questions about pens, but even with him there was a limit.  When he got sick and tired of answering the same questions over and over, he would brusquely tell the person to “Read Da Book!”.  And when someone persistently asked questions that were answered in his book, another of his famous responses was to tell the person, “Da Book is not a correspondence course”.  But if you asked him a question about some esoteric pen issue, he would just shine.  And most other advanced collectors are the same.  They are, as John said, “more interested in discussing advanced questions” with their peers, rather than acting as “question-answerers to the world”, as David said.”

        John Chapman wrote, “Well, there are also tiers of new-ness to the field.  I would argue that many Newbie’s don’t bother to try to build something like Penpedia, but just ask their questions on the pen boards, even though a quick word-search might give them some of the information.
        “Fortunately there is a second tier of newbie, in which I think I can include myself, who is learned enough to answer some of the basic questions, and defers the more advanced questions to the more knowledgeable.  They need to be corrected, from time to time, by more knowledgeable collectors, like some of the good folks here.  I would suspect that this is the type of newbie working on Penpedia.
        “The question that something like Penpedia, or Lion and Pen, or any other source needs to ask is what its particular format has to offer the collector with advanced knowledge of the field.  Why put their information on a new website, of unknown longevity and management, as opposed to writing an article for The Pennant, or another source?  Why is someone like Fultz writing articles for Pen World and Penbid, and not posting in online message boards?  There are established venues for information, and new venues need to demonstrate their value.  Plus, there are questions of ownership that are different online versus elsewhere.
        “I also suspect there are a great number of collectors out there with great plans to compile their pen collecting knowledge into a book, or some such, but never quite get to it, as is true in so much in life.”

        [That’s sort of what I’m doing, in my small way, here in this blog.]

   George Kovalenko.