Dr. N.J. Stanley can "pinpoint" the moment when she began her collection of pins with the first pin she ever bought.
"In the spring of 1979, before I started my migration north, I visited Savannah, Ga., and in a fabulous store filled with cool stuff, I bought a bright yellow half-moon with a delightful face painted on it. That moon marked the beginning ... and I still have it," Stanley said. "That purchase sticks so vividly in my mind, I think we can safely say that purchase began the collection."
Stanley, an associate professor of theatre and chairperson of the Theatre Department at Lycoming College, teaches acting, directing, theatre history and dramatic literature. She also directs plays for the college, with her most recent being "Mauritius" last fall and "The Taming of the Shrew" in April 2011.
Having just finished her 10th year at the college, Stanley is known for always wearing a pin each day that she teaches.
"My first day of teaching, I wore my 'First Day of School' pin, which I have continued to wear on every first day of every semester since then! It is the face of a somewhat freaked-out kid. I always talk about this pin and tell my students that it is expressing those mixed feelings we all experience on the first day of school. Ever since then, I have tried to wear a pin every day that I am teaching. I have so many now that I make a pledge not to wear the same pin twice in any one semester," Stanley said, admitting that she has enough to last more than two semesters, but wears her favorites more often.
Students have learned to expect to see Stanley in her pins.
"Students will see me off campus and ask, 'Where's your pin?' and I'll say, 'I'm on vacation,' " she said.
Stanley also said students try and find her on campus just to see her pins.
"My theatre students will seek me out to see my pin, even on days we don't have class together, and several students have given me pins over the years."
Stanley said she usually does not wear jewelry, so she finds it ironic that she likes pins so much. She said that her mother is a jewelry fanatic, and she remembers looking at a pin that her mother had in her collection when she was a young girl.
"It is a very small gold oval with a dragon's head inside. It looks awfully ferocious and it has a red stone in its mouth. I was always mesmerized by that dragon. Many, many years later, my mom gave me the pin to add to my collection. I think it is still my very favorite," she said.
Stanley's collection varies from "plastic junk to fine jewelry," and she accepts every pin given to her.
"The cool thing about having a pin collection is that I don't discriminate. Lots of people give me pins that they buy for me or pins they have found in drawers or who knows where! I say 'yes' to any pin offered me, and I will wear it, too, whether or not I think it is hideous or tacky or whatever."
While most of her pins are costume jewelry pieces, she does have many pins that have sentimental value, such as a pin that was given to her from a colleague, Danna Frangione.
"Danna went to Taiwan every summer to teach dance, and she brought me back a ceramic salamander in wild colors made by an artist there. Danna died of cancer in 2002, and, of course, wearing that pin always makes me think of her," she said.
Stanley travels very often, visiting countries where she can add to her collection.
"I spent two weeks in China in May, and I was intrigued by all the paraphernalia with images of Mao Zedong for sale everywhere. In an antique shop, I found a ceramic pin with Mao's face on it. I have no idea really, but I like to think that it was actually made and worn by someone during Mao's reign."
Stanley displays her pins on a mannequin that was given to her by another pin collector and student of hers when she was teaching at Franklin and Marshall College in 2000.
"At the end of the semester, she gave me a gift that I have always cherished. It is a mannequin torso made out of a soft material that allows me to stick my pins into it. The mannequin is the perfect place to display all my pins, and her name is Penny Pin-up," she said.
While Stanley admits that she has forgotten where each pin comes from after so many years of collecting, she is making a resolution to fix that when adding to her collection.
"I keep pledging to write down the information about each pin, but the odds of that grow slimmer each day, since I now own over 300 pins."