I’ve got a confession to make before kicking off Wednesday’s featured toy entry for this week. It’s more of an admission that I want to get off my chest, and I worry that by making this admission, it may change the way you all look at me. In fact, you might never look at me exactly the same way again. But, as someone who has been more open than he ever thought he would be in this small nook in cyberspace, I suppose one more confession won’t hurt.
I am a hoarder of pens.
I’m not talking about pens that farmers use to house their pigs, goats, roosters, and hens. I’m talking about ball-point, felt tip, fountain, gel, calligraphy, and tri-colour pens.
For as long back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by pens. In fact, I think that I know the exact moment in which I developed my obsession with pens. But, we’ll get to that a little bit later in the discussion.
As I type out this entry on my laptop, my attention is fixated on the container of pens that I currently have stored nearby. I haven’t exactly counted every single one of them, but I would estimate that I have at least five hundred of them on hand. I have pens made by PaperMate. Pens made by Sharpie. Pens made by Bic. I think that I even have a few pens that have the Staples logo on them.
And, there’s also something interesting about the huge amount of pens that I have accumulated over the last few years. If you examine them very closely, there are only a handful of royal blue pens, and only the occasional black pen. The others are a variety of different colours. I have red, green, purple, pink, gold, orange, silver, burgundy, aqua, cyan, magenta, fluorescent yellow, and even white!
(Don’t laugh at the white pen...it came in handy one year when I sent out Christmas cards with dark green envelopes.)
A lot of people have asked me what I have against “normal” pens. They want to know why I insist on using bright colours whenever I do sign something, or take notes, or any other activity where one uses a pen and a piece of paper. To set the record straight, I have nothing against what is considered to be a “normal” pen. I happen to use black pen in many circumstances. Most financial institutions want you to validate a cheque using a black pen (because as much as I want to, I don’t think emerald green would fly). It’s the same deal with filling out important paperwork for tax refunds, applying for a passport, or filling out a job application. I’ll also use black pen (or at the very least, dark blue) when filling out a card of condolence for someone who recently lost someone close to them.
For everything else, I break out the colour, and make no apology doing so. When someone is having a birthday and a card is going around, I sign in colour (in some cases, if I know that I’m signing something ahead of time, I will try to bring the person’s favourite colour and sign it in that). Most people who have gotten Christmas cards from me will attest to the fact that I tend to sign them in various colours. In fact, there was one instance in which I actually went to sixteen different stores (including two in the United States) before I found a pen that had the right shade of maroon to match the card design on the outside.
(Yeah, yeah...not only am I obsessed with pens, but I’ve probably given up my “man card” in the process. But, hey, at least everyone who received a Christmas card from me in 2007 appreciated the effort. J )
And, I also very rarely use the same colour two days in a row. Yesterday, I used a light blue coloured pen. Today, I’ll probably choose purple. And, tomorrow, I’ll decide on pink...which will make my pink hating co-worker grimace in disgust. It’s not like I have a shortage of colours to choose from. I have hundreds of pens.
But how did I develop such a fascination with pens? In particular with pens that were unusual colours?
Well, I think it started right around May 1987. That was the month that I turned six years old, and my family threw me a surprise birthday party that year. That particular year my birthday fell on Victoria Day (which meant no school), and the living room was decorated with banners, party decals, and balloons (as long as they were hanging up out of reach of anyone accidentally popping them, I was fine with them being in the room).
I honestly was too young to remember everything that I got for my birthday that year, as my sixth birthday was well over a quarter-century ago. In fact, there were only two major details that I remember from that birthday. The first was the happy face that was made completely out of balloons (which actually looked very cool). And, the second detail was the fact that I had gotten this for a present.
Spirograph. The toy that kickstarted my coloured pen habit.
And what a fun toy that Spirograph was too! My Spirograph came with four different colours of pen...black, blue, red, and green. And, if I remember correctly, the red and green ones were the first ones to lose all of their ink. I was absolutely fascinated by the green one in particular, as I had never seen a pen write in that colour before in my life. Shortly after that, my parents took all of us to the Woolco store on their famed $1.44 days, where they had a selection of coloured pens on sale (which included new colours like purple, pink, and orange), and of course, I used some of my birthday money to buy some of these pens so I could have more colours at my disposal.
(It’s really scary how I can remember miniscule events that took place 26 years ago, but can’t remember what I did 2.6 seconds ago.)
Oh, that’s right...we were talking about Spirograph, weren’t we?
Everyone who has ever played with a Spirograph knows how the toy works right? In addition to the pens, a Spirograph comes with a set of plastic gears and various shapes that all have jagged edges. When a pen is inserted in one of the holes cut into the gear and spun around, the force exerted will allow gears that are touching it to spin in a different direction.
To be able to use the Spirograph the way that it was meant to be used, you’ll have to get a piece of paper that is placed on a heavy cardboard backing (this prevents the paper from moving around with the spinning gears). One of the gears (the stator) is pinned to the piece of paper, and another plastic piece (the rotor) is placed so that its gears line up alongside the stator. When the pen is moved, the line that the pen makes becomes a curve. The pen is actually used as a method of providing locomotive force, as well as drawing the intricate curves and patterns that appear on the paper. Though, I will warn you, it takes a LOT of practice before you can get a design that you’re remotely happy with.
It took me about a year before I learned how to master my Spirograph...and honestly, I think I would likely need a refresher course.
But if you have a Spirograph, and have mastered the difficulty of keeping the momentum going, the payout can be amazing. Just have a look at some designs that were created using a Spirograph below.
The Spirograph toy was developed by British engineer Denys Fisher, (taking inspiration from the mathematician who created the invention known as the “spirograph”, Bruno Abakanowicz). Fisher demonstrated the toy at the 1965 Nuremburg International Toy Fair, and the design was so successful that manufacturing began almost immediately. The distribution rights to Spirograph were bought by Kenner (which in turn was bought out by Hasbro), and by 1966, Spirograph was marketed as an educational toy for kids to play with.
Or, for those kids who were just a smidgen too young to have fully developed motor skills (a.k.a. anyone younger than three), there was also the toy known as the Spirotot, which Kenner released in 1968.
At any rate, Spirograph was a great toy to play with...even if I didn’t really understand how it worked.
The Wikipedia entry on Spirograph actually has a mathematical formula posted within the description, but I decided not to post it because of the fact that it might bore some of you, and I have absolutely no idea how to decipher the algebraic code. Mathematics and I do not get along. But, if you’re really curious, or enjoy math, you can click HERE to find out the mathematical properties.
And, if there’s one thing that I took away from the Spirograph, it’s that green pens were always cool. I should know...I likely have about a hundred of them by now.