In late 2009, the London-based blogger James Ward and the artist Ed Ross began a movement to celebrate "stationery"—the term for office supplies, basically, in the U.K.—that they called the Stationery Club. Once a month, they would use the hashtag #stationeryclub, asking other Twitter users to join in their appreciation of common objects.
But in early 2010, Ward had the idea to host the club in person, like a book club, except about pens and paper clips and Post-it notes. He wrote a blog post, asked people to join him in a London pub, and then waited. "I had no idea if anyone was going to come. I kind of thought this could just be me sitting in a pub holding a pen on my own," he said. "Eventually, we took over the whole pub, and there was just one table left of normal people... I was just like, 'I don't know what this is.'"
It's easy to see why Ward hadn't expected the turnout: Office supplies, frankly, make for a boring conversation topic. Plus, today's workspace centers on screens—on laptops and desktops and tablets and smartphones—that do said office supplies' work. But Ward is a fan of the things that seem dull to others. Every year, he hosts The Boring Conference, "a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked—subjects often considered trivial and pointless, but when examined more closely reveal themselves to be deeply fascinating." And this year, he's also written a collection of essays on the invention of various office items, published in a book called The Perfection of the Paper Clip, out Tuesday in the U.S.