Today is a big day. It’s important for Penwell Co. as a business as today is the launch of an expanded product line which includes both aluminum and brass versions of the Penwell. This moves us further away from the “soft launch” posture we were in as we launched the company publically at the Colorado Pen show a little over one month ago. The reception we received there and the increased awareness of the product and brand since has pushed us hard to move along as quickly as we could toward further product offerings. These two versions will be added to our Standards collection as a stock option. If you’ve seen the Anomalies line you’ll be familiar with that as our “one off” line. While it has thus far only featured unique wood grain patterns, it’s intended to serve other unique non-wood iterations as we move along. Not yet established is the Limited collection. This will feature small batch production runs of various materials that aren’t suitable for larger scale production. Our plan is that next week we’ll have our first offering in this line, and if you attended the Colorado show you’ll probably have a good idea of what to expect.
While the building up of our product line is of great interest to us, and we hope of some interest to you, what’s even more momentous to us is what today, November 10, 2017 marks. If you’ve read the About page on the site you’ll be a bit familiar with what follows. It was 65 years ago today that my grandparents purchased a hardware store right here in small town Wallace, South Dakota. Small towns in general were more vibrant then and featured more industry than they generally do now. There were no chain stores or two day shipping, and a small hardware store was the norm, not some quaint reminiscence. Fun, but unrelated fact: The town was originally established two miles from its current location but when the railroad came through they literally picked up and moved the town to utilize the railroad for commerce. My own reminiscing of small town life could go on and on, but since that’s not the purview of this post I’ll move on. [Shameless plug—sign up for our newsletter, The Penwell Time if these thoughts interest you, as I’ll explore such and more as time goes on.]
My grandparents were successful enough in the hardware business to pass it on to their sons, so I essentially grew up in the place. Many, if not most after school and summer days were spent in or around the premises, sometimes helping, sometimes doing my own thing, and sometimes finding mischief (which I’m periodically reminded of). In doing my own thing I became a hack inventor/engineer of sorts. Considering the sheer amount of bits and bobs around me to use to build things, I couldn’t help but do so. This was a fertile field for a young, creative mind, and while no great ideas necessarily came from it the ability to pursue after such ideas did. What I mean is this—when one has an idea for a project there are outlets such as Pinterest to help facilitate the creation of something new, but often that’s really just a copying of someone else’s good idea. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m convinced no good ideas originate out of thin air, and I’ve utilized such services to energize creativity. More importantly, we’re all influenced by our experiences and exposure to our environments, and in my case the environment of oodles and oodles of raw parts in a hardware store trained me to think differently. For example, it wouldn’t be my style to see a wine bottle holder made from galvanized iron pipe and fittings, take an inventory of such, run to a big box store to procure my own parts to copy that example. First, as a true contrarian, I would never use what my eye sees as such utilitarian materials for interior decoration (that goes for old tire planters and anything and everything made from wood pallets, as well—my pallet Christmas tree yard decoration excluded, of course). What I would do is file away a new use for old materials, and then call that out of the mental Rolodex on some other project.
This isn’t unique to me as we all do this to one degree or another. What I do believe to be unique is the amount of Rolodex cards with those raw hardware materials listed. This is no superpower or some great characteristic in myself. I take it simply as evidence of the impact my grandparent’s decision to buy a hardware store, work hard to sustain and build it as a community business that served the area well for 54 years. My childhood memories are largely shaped by it, and the way I go about problem solving now is equally shaped by it. The Penwell came from a small inconvenience in my own life and a desire to solve it. The iterations surrounding me in my office show the hardware kid in me as I progressively worked to make a product work better in a simpler way. From a crudely cut concrete block version (I’d actually argue it isn’t that crude, but for the sake of effect we’ll say it is) to the latest brass version I have next to me, the maturing of the Penwell as a desk tool has undoubtedly been shaped by a small town, a hardware store, and most importantly, wonderful grandparents.
Happy 65th anniversary (in spirit), Keller Hardware, and thank you Grandma and Grandpa.