“It won't be easy; you'll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel…”
So you're concerned that there is a noticeable gap in what is available the fellow hobbyists in your neck of the woods, and other seemingly more fortunate — or perhaps just more organised — hobbyist communities elsewhere have in train only make the disparity all the more conspicuous and perturbing. You're motivated to do something to remedy the situation, assuage the feeling of being left out, and make a contribution to the community within your sphere. There are seemingly successful examples from which you can just copy certain elements; and the upfront investment required looks minor enough to be affordable and acceptable to you.
Yes, I've been there (and, yes, I have an unhealthy predisposition towards excessive use of adverbs 🤔 ).
It's easy and tempting to jump straight into solution mode, without first clarifying and articulating the problem and/or your goals. After all, nobody would deny that there is a gap; and anything to help fill it is better than nothing, surely?
I'm going to leave that thought with you for a bit, and talk about what I have learnt or realised, particularly around the logistics and operational costs of sharing initiatives, since I started the pens, inks and samples pass-around initiative in Australia in 2018.
Sharing ink samples, by way of a collection that travels ad hoc from point to point, by post is challenging for many reasons; and I suspect foremost is the cost of participation. Unlike (mobile or immobile) centralised infrastructure that can serve multiple users — who presumably will visit at their own travel expense, but also their own convenience, without booking appointments and/or long wait times — in situ, the non-trivial cost of shipping the entire collection may well exceed the value to a (most likely) single beneficiary at its next stop, irrespective of which party on either end of that leg of travel pays for it. The shipping cost is wholly expended, irrespective of in what proportion of the collection the next participant may be interested. If you want the sharing initiative to be ongoing in that format, instead of being a disjointed series of transactions each with one requestor and one giver who are clear, specific and in agreement on what is wanted and what is sent, then the collection ought to be larger and broader than all that the immediate next participant wants; and that means all passage of all those ‘uninteresting’ surplus ink samples has to be paid for, each step along the way. If someone is only interested in 7 out of 40 ink samples in the collection, he cannot simply elect to pay for shipping of the 7 samples, or even the 8 of his own he intends to contribute to the sharing initiative; depending on the agreed terms of participation, he would be up for the cost of at least shipping 33 remaining ink samples to the next participant downstream.
Then, there are postal regulations and packaging requirements around sending liquids by post — be it in proper parcels or, if allowed, in flat ‘large letter’ mail articles — and they add again to both packing effort, and shipping and packaging/handling costs, from which some would-be participants may argue that nobody benefits from except the postal service operator, as if protection from leakage and loss of ink in transit has no inherent value. There are all sorts of implications and/or limitations that may be put on the format of how the collection is sent, what type of sample containers you use and how they're to be sealed for secure shipping.
In the case of the pass-around initiative I started, the two concerns above are mitigated by letting the travelling ink sample collection piggyback on a box of surplus or no longer wanted, new or mostly unused fountain pens and retail bottles of ink available for the taking. The shipping cost for the whole box, ink samples and all, is less than the price of even just one bottle of Noodler's Ink, Rubinato, Robert Oster or Pelikan Edelstein ink of interest locally; and I reckon people are generally more prepared to part with almost-full bottles of ink they bought but don't like, and in doing so top up the potential value of the box for someone downstream, than to pay $10 to send ink samples on if they don't think the postage offers good value for money. The box physically has sufficient space to house sample vials of different sizes, although I prefer to use 1.8ml vials for a number of reasons, and have hundreds of them to spare.
Unlike a library of information, books or some other asset type, the resources contained in a collection of ink samples are by nature consumable but not inherently renewable; a sample is consumed, more likely in whole than in part, upon being selected for testing or use by a participant. If you only put one sample of whichever inks you want to share into the collection, then unless it is an unusually plentiful sample from which multiple users can draw a ‘reasonable’ volume each, a given sample will benefit one recipient only — and that sample's contribution to the overall attractiveness of the collection to prospective downstream participants is thus extinguished. (If you include a 1.8ml sample of an ink, and someone draws the equivalent of an ‘international standard’ short cartridge's worth — about 0.7ml — of it in a single fill, but then decides he doesn't like it, how likely would he want to forward the 1.1ml remaining in the meagre-looking, half-filled vial at his expense to someone downstream?) This is especially relevant if you include samples of some ‘premium’ or ‘unobtainium’ inks as headline items to bolster the initiative. Yet, if you include multiple vials (or otherwise individually contained single servings) of a rare and/or highly sought after ink, there is nothing you can do to prevent a participant from taking multiple servings. Once you've read enough posts on FPN, you'll see that some sample-loving folk just about demand outright that ink samples are to be of at least 4ml if not 5ml in volume, and sneer at smaller samples or treat those as an affront; so if you include three 1.8ml samples of an ink that one such fellow hobbyist likes, what do you think he (or she) would likely do?
At this point, you might want to have a clear idea of for what purposes you want the ink samples you offer to avail fellow hobbyists. Do you want to give them (just) enough to get some first-hand experience with using an ink in their pen(s) of choice on the paper(s) of their choice, and assess whether it is suitable for their particular use cases for an ink of that colour, so as to decide whether to order whole retail bottles? Do you want to give them the opportunity to swatch the colour, produce a writing sample, or perhaps a more substantial ink review which may then be shared, such that you're supplying the raw material while they provide the skill and effort, in a collaborative endeavour to churn out information about the ink that is then published for the benefit of the broader hobbyist community? Do you want to give them enough for a week's worth of writing, so that they may be sated by the experience and move on to the next ink sample, without feeling the need to buy a whole bottle unless it extraordinarily surpasses all the other inks they have already bought or sampled? Most importantly, if they're not the type of fountain pen user you consider like-minded with yourself, would you want the sharing initiative of your design and instigation to nevertheless accommodate their wants?
So, let's circle back to the earlier question of which problem you want to solve, or what gap you're trying to close. If it's a matter of having no easy and economical way for you, and like-minded local hobbyists, to seek and obtain ink samples and broaden your (collective) exposure to different inks and brands, then a travelling collection for sharing is a cost-inefficient way to address it, to say the least; and it doesn't accommodate the request-fulfilment (or client-server) paradigm that is actually desired. In what way(s) is this a better model for your intended beneficiaries than for a giver — or any number of givers in the community, by agreement or otherwise — to accept requests for samples of inks he or she has and is prepared to spare/share?
If you want to build up stronger networking and encourage more interactions between local hobbyists, and foster more of a community spirit that is perhaps somewhat below your fondest expectations at present, an unmanaged travelling collection has an uncertain future for two reasons; you may not have gauged the level of interest among others to carry it forward one step at a time, and it only takes a single point of failure to extinguish the initiative. If it is to be managed to a plan, or at least tracked in its travels, you should have an idea of how that is to be done, and who will provide the management effort overhead.
Consider upfront also whether you want this to be (at least partly) in your control going forward as the project starter and/or sponsor, or cede control of it to the community altogether having seeded the initiative and done your bit.