Philadelphia Pen Show

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.)

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12 thoughts on “Philadelphia Pen Show

  1. Very nice write-up. I have had some of your same experiences and feelings. I agree the number of pens displayed is rather overwhelming. However, wasn’t it worth it all? You think about it for a long time.

  2. Thanks Jeanne. Yes, the sheer number of pens is stupefying. I told my wife that I had a “pen headache” by the end of my visit. You’re also right in that it’s well worth the time. I’ll be able to take in the next show more effectively knowing better what I’ll be getting myself into.

  3. Lucky you.. I don’t think I could drag the family to an event to see pens..I’m still going to try though.. ie.. we can go here and then we can also visit this pen show…

    It’s quite hard buying pens on the internet without trying them.

  4. Thanks or stopping by rminnj. I’m lucky enough to live a manageable drive away from Philly so I was able to make it a day trip by myself. The wife (reasonably) understands the pen obsession thing so she was cool with me taking the day and the kids were otherwise busy so it worked logistically on the family side of things.

    I agree it’s difficult to buy without trying. I’m willing to take a flyer on a $10 to maybe even a $50 pen, but more than that and you really need to get exactly what you want. I have resold pens on ebay without losing too much money in the process and chalk up the difference to educating myself about what I like and don’t like. Hopefully, this is where reviews here and on penaddict.com or edjelley.com and several others can be helpful. If you see something that sounds like it pushes most of your buttons then, if the price is right, the chance may be worth it.

  5. Nice post! I made out with a Kaweco AL Sport (couldn’t pass up the $10 gift card to Fountain Pen Hospital, a TWSBI 580 and a bottle of Kon-Peki from the Andersons.

    1. The AL Sport has really started to grow on me after I switched the M nib for a fine. Also, how can you not love Kon-Peki. What a great color and nicely performing ink!

      1. Indeed. I got the Kaweco in black with a fine to be my everyday pocket pen. Loaded up with noodlers black, it doesn’t even show thru on field notes. Perfect!

        The twsbi on the other hand, I had to send to Phillip. He had to switch out the feed and tune it up a bit. Just got it back today. Gonna ink it up (with the kon Peki) and test it out again 🙂

      2. As you may have noticed from the original post, I too had issues with my 580. It’s better now but still not among my “go to” pens. Seems to me that the fine nib on the 580 dries out quicker than the fines on other pens, including other TWSBIs. All of which reminds me – I need to get that 580 review posted!

  6. Ah. Totally missed that bit! I think I’m going to have my lamy 2000 EF worked on at the show next year. I just wish it were a bit smoother and didn’t squeak! Maybe masuyama or binder. Any advice on that front?

    1. Binder did the work on my 580 and it definitely writes better. He was perfectly nice and wanted to make sure I was happy with his work. Other than that, I can’t really provide too much guidance. I hear nothing but good things about Masuyama. I suspect either will do well so long as you know what you’re looking for and are able to communicate it accurately.

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