The puzzling appeal of mementos

Once again we have an utterly absurd fuss ginned up by Republicans over the fact that speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi had handed out to various people the pens used to sign the articles of impeachment. I had known that at formal signing ceremonies in the US, the pens that are used to sign the documents become important trophies that are given out as rewards. Barack Obama used 22 pens to sign the Affordable Care Act and Lyndon Johnson used 75 to sign the Civil Rights Act. Donald Trump also gave away dozens of pens after signing the trade pact with China, an event that no one will remember after a few weeks. But I wondered how you could have more than one pen and the above linked article explains what happens.

The pens, engraved with her signature, were intended as souvenirs for Pelosi’s allies. She carefully signed the documents, apparently stroke by stroke, using different pens for each portion of her signature. Then she distributed them to impeachment managers and committee members. [My italics-MS]

How can one sign anything ‘stroke by stroke’? If you do not do it in one flowing motion, surely the signature would look odd, with jagged breaks as you switched pens?

Apart from that, I do not understand the fascination with such mementos. They have no appeal for me but clearly some people attach great significance to be in contact with an inanimate object that happened to be used at an important event, or even not so important events, as can be seen with spectators in the stands fighting to grab hold of baseballs that have been hit in their vicinity even during a routine game.

I once went to the library at my university to look at some of the letters written by Charles Darwin of which we had a collection. Afterwards, a faculty colleague asked me if I had felt something deep while handling a piece of paper that had been also handled by a scientist that I greatly admire. He was surprised when my answer was no. It was nice to see what Darwin’s handwriting looked like but that was about the only significance that I felt. Darwin’s handwriting was terrible by the way, barely readable, even worse than mine.

Does any other country have similar elaborate signing ceremonies using multiple pens?


  1. Jazzlet says

    In the UK the Queen signs Acts of Parliament into law and no, the Queen does not indulge in such behaviour.

    I’m not a great one for mementoes generally, I rarely keep things like cards unless they are beautiful, I even threw away all of the letters my mother sent me weeky when I went to university, as they just made me very very sad -- she died during the Easter vacation of my second year -- and I have not regretted doing so in the fifteen or more years since..

  2. machintelligence says

    I think the advantage of mementos is that they incite memories. I try to purchase a Christmas ornament or something that can be hung on the tree from every country I visit. (In spite of the fact that I am an atheist.) When I take them out each December I am reminded of the places I have traveled. Their significance will not outlive me, but a pen that had been used to sign an important piece of legislation could become a family heirloom.

  3. Ridana says

    How can one sign anything ‘stroke by stroke’? If you do not do it in one flowing motion, surely the signature would look odd, with jagged breaks as you switched pens?

    Given how so many people’s signatures look these days (see the Lecher Panda’s sawtooth scribble e.g.) they could sign with an X and no one could object.

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