I spent this past Saturday at the Philadelphia Pen Show. It took a bit over 2 hours to get to Philly from my northern NJ home. Save for a bit of snow, the trip was uneventful and finding the Sheraton hosting the show couldn’t have been easier. I got to the show around 10:20 am so I was among the early arrivals for Saturday. The show took up two large rooms which made it a bit larger than I had imagined in my mind but I hear that the Philly show is only about half as large as the one in D.C.. I was more than impressed by the options available in Philly so I’m a little frightened as to what could be going on in D.C.!
I decided not to take any pictures because I wanted to take it all in and fly under the radar. During the 4 hours or so I spent at the show, I circled the room several times visiting different vendors multiple times trying to get a handle on the offerings and prices. Generally speaking, the prices were comparable to what you could find from pen retailers online but I certainly overheard plenty of haggling at a number of tables. Since I was mostly in the market for modern pens, I wasn’t on the hunt for deals (although I did get one) and spent my time really just trying to take it all in.
So, what did I learn going to my first pen show? First, there are wwwaaaayyyy too many pens in the world. When you’re at a pen show, the absurdity of tracking down particular pens and having a collection of more than a couple of decent pens can hit you square in the face – at least it did for me. That’s not to say I’m going to slow down my pen collecting, but you are forced to come face to face with your obsession in a rather stark way at a show. I knew to bring cash and I knew plenty of people would be spending mad amounts of cash. Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for how quick and easy it would be to spend money. One gentleman dropped over $1K in the span of about 2 minutes on 3 Parker pens while I was browsing a table. Again, I knew the money would be flying but to see the cash move in person was quite a spectacle. I think I’m going to start a pen show cash stash to be better prepared for the next show. Selling some old pens and bodily fluids to fund future pen show trips may also become an option.
I also learned that pen vendors are a patient and polite bunch. It was nice to meet Lisa and Brian Anderson in person. Turns out they’re as nice in person as they seem in their weekly podcasts. I spoke with several other vendors and they were all, to a person, very accommodating. In addition to the Andersons, specials mention goes to Susan Wirth. I talked Parker Jotters with her for a good five minutes and she was simply delightful. I’m not the kind of guy who uses the phrase “simply delightful”, but that’s the best way to describe Susan. She was a hoot and very helpful.
Lastly, I learned that Richard Binder and nib adjustments are the real deal. I never had a pen adjusted before but I do have a few that write less than ideally so I made sure to get on Richard’s list as soon as I arrived. I was #10 on his list for that day and it took about 2 hours for my number to come up. I ended up having him smooth out a fine nib for my TWSBI 580. Nothing fancy as far as nib work goes and it took Richard less than 5 minutes to produce a result I was happy with. The man knows what he’s doing and he seems like a thoroughly fine fellow to boot.
What will I do differently at my next show? I went into the show with a list of 10-12 pens to check out. Turns out that the list went out the window about 20 steps into the show room. Next time, I’ll go into a show with fewer pens in mind. I’ll then start by circling the show two or three times to see what’s what and then focus on pursuing these preplanned pens for a time and leave the rest of the day in search of a few surprises. I would also set aside some time to take in all the ink options. While I did buy a bottle of ink, it felt more like an add-on than a well-considered purchase. As part of a future plan to leave more time for surprises, I will definitely play with more pens next time. I spent a lot of time looking at the Philly show. Next time, I’ll leave time and space to play with more pens.
What did I get?
Kaweco Blue Al
Star Sport(M nib) – Paid a fair price, but by no means a bargain
Early ’80s glossy green Parker Jotter – Probably overpaid a bit, but I really connected with the color
Monteverde One Touch Engage – I got a very, very good deal on this directly from the Monteverde representative. It’s going to make a great test grading pen for years to come.
Organics Studio Neon Ink – List price
All in all, I’m happy I went. It was a lot of fun and even though I didn’t get the best bang for my buck in all cases I learned a fair amount. I live about 90 minutes from Hofstra so I suspect I’ll be going to the Long Island show in March. When I do, I’ll be a bit wiser and better prepared to take advantage of the day.
(Updated – forgot to include all the links in earlier version.)