2015 DC Pen Show Report – Thursday and Friday
(I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. I took very few pictures from the show. I was too busy enjoying it.)
Pen shows are something I’ve never really understood before. How in the world can you stand to stay in a hotel and do nothing but talk about pens for four days straight. FOUR DAYS. OF NOTHING BUT PENS. Don’t get me wrong. I like pens. But not that much. THEY’RE PENS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! I will admit the idea of attending a pen show held very little interest for me from the moment I heard that pen shows actually existed. But, considering that I run a blog and YouTube channel about fountain pens, I figured it was probably a good idea that I actually attend one of these shows, just so I could see what all the hoopla was about. I get it now.
I arrived at DC early on Thursday evening. The airline lost my luggage (despite my having gotten to the airport in Seattle three hours early), so the trip was off to rocky start. Fortunately, I had my camera equipment and my pens in a carry-on, and it was mainly my clothing that had gotten lost. After filling out all the forms, I took the shuttle over to the rental car company, picked up my Chrysler 200s, and headed to the hotel. (Side note: I decided that I wanted a rental car for this trip, in case I wanted to get away from the show and do some sight seeing. I won’t do this next time I go to the show. The shuttle to the hotel shuts down at 6PM, but the taxi fare from the airport is only $35, which was a lot cheaper than renting a car for four days. And between the metro stop across the street and the fact that I almost never left the hotel, the car sat largely unused for the entire weekend.)
I got to the hotel around 8PM. On my way in, I ran into Brad Dowdy of the Pen Addict Podcast just outside the hotel and we chatted for a minute. After checking in, I was starving and exhausted from a full day of travel. I was also without any additional clothing or toiletries. So I walked to the Wal-Mart next door, picked up some underwear, socks, a T-shirt, and some basic toiletries, then stopped off at Smashburger for dinner. (A word of note, when a restaurant has the word “burger” in its name, don’t go for the chicken sandwich. It can only be a disappointment.)
I returned to the hotel, ate, brushed my teeth, and went up to the hotel bar. First, kudos to the staff at the Sheraton at Tysons Corner bar. They did a great job with us mobbing the place every night. There was a huge table set up in the middle of the bar, and it was like a pen blogger mini-convention. I met a ton of people whose blogs I’ve been reading for a long time. Leigh Reyes was there with her menagerie of Nakayas (and now I desperately need to get a Nakaya with an elastic nib. Thanks for nothing, Leigh.) It was a lot of fun to be introduced to people who are just as passionate about this weird hobby as I am.
One of the things I was most worried about when I decided to attend this show was having to be socially “on” for so long. Despite appearances (e.g., putting out videos of myself), I’m a pretty unsocial person. After all, I record and edit my videos alone in my house. So the idea of being around so many people for such a long period of time was almost exhausting to consider. But one of the things I should have remembered is that a lot of people who enjoy this hobby tend to hover to the introverted side. As a result, being at the bar with all these bloggers felt less like attending a loud club than it did like hanging out with a small group of friends in a bar. It also helped that the bar at the hotel was pretty well-treated for sound, so you could hear the person you were talking to, and that it wasn’t a huge, packed space.
After a long day of travel, I was exhausted, so I headed back to my room around 11:30 to get some sleep and prepare for the next day.
Friday is, far and away, my favorite day of the DC show. Thursday, not a lot goes on. Saturday is swamped. Sunday is pretty quiet, but everyone is exhausted, so the energy level drops quite a bit. Friday, though: Friday is the day to do your shopping. I had come to the show with a pretty strict $2,500 budget–which is a lot, but I had sold several pens and had been saving up for about six months so I could go on a bit of a spending spree. With no local pen stores anymore, shows are the only place to try out higher-end pens I’d be a little leery of buying sight-unseen online. I suspect most of my high-end purchases will take place at shows going forward.
One of the most common suggestions for people attending shows is to bring your budget in cash, as most vendors don’t take cards. In my experience, almost every vendor at the show actually did take cards. I am glad I brought cash, as it made purchases for things like ink or nib services easy to pay for. And some vendors will give you a 2.5-3% discount if you pay cash rather than with a card. But the days where nobody takes cards seems to be pretty much gone.
I started my day with an Earl Grey and a Cranberry muffin in the cafe at the hotel, then I bought my trader’s pass ($45) and entered the show. In reality, you almost don’t even need to buy a pass to enter the show. You don’t have to flash your pass to get onto the show floor, and I saw people wandering in before the show officially opened. Folks who were clearly not there for the pen show were meandering around out of curiosity. Don’t get me wrong: I encourage everyone to buy a pass if only to support the show itself. I do think, however, that the show organizers could have done a better job ensuring that a pass was actually necessary.
I had, as many people recommended, come with a several goals:
- Get Mike Masuyama to work on a couple of pens. I needed him to repair, then grind, a Sailor Pro Gear I had dropped nib-first on the hardwood floor and then tried to fix/grind myself (*cough*). I also needed hime to adjust the nib on my Omas Ogiva Alba which just poured ink.
- Visit Andreas Lambrou’s Classic Pens and and check out their offerings. I had been wanting to see/try one of them since Dan’s review of the LB5 – King of Pen.
- Handle some Danitrio Pens and see what I thought
- Check out the Edison offerings, and maybe land a Menlo if the fit was right.
- Check out the OMAS offerings and maybe pick up a Paragon.
- Get some interesting inks
Before the spending spree began, I made a beeline over to Mike Masuyama’s table to get on his nib work list. He is, far an away, my favorite nibmeister, and I had some pens that needed work. I got to his table around 9:30, and already I was 22nd or 23rd on the list. It didn’t look promising that he’d get to me on Friday.
Having never attended any pen show before, let alone the DC Show, I had no idea what to expect. Holy cow is this show huge. They tell you it’s going to be big, but I just wasn’t prepared. It was massive. So, after getting on Mike’s list, I did a quick loop around the main ballroom, the side ballroom, and the lobby. I purposely did not make eye contact with any of the vendors, nor did I stop to talk with them. I just wanted an overview of everything to get a sense of where to start.
One of my first stops for the day (along with many, many other people) was the Franklin-Christoph table. Scott, Jim, and Lori had a huge setup with an ink testing station and a couple of nib testing stations, all their paper, leather goods, and pens. Most folks went straight for the color prototype trays where you could see their experiments with making pens with lots of different materials. Folks love getting ahold of these one-off pens. There were a couple that caught my eye, but I wasn’t ready to buy quite yet. Lori did provide me with sample bottles of their four newest colors, Loden (a lovely green-black), Tenebris Purpuratum (a rich, semi-dusty purple), Black Cherry, and Terra Firma (a terra cotta color that is almost a dead ringer for Montblanc Da Vinci Red Chalk, and probably my favorite ink from the new line.)
Then I stopped by Andy Lambrou’s table. He didn’t have much out, and I was concerned that if I didn’t pick up something on Friday, there wouldn’t be anything left later in the week. I would return to his table (with dire consequences) on Saturday to find a much larger selection. Apparently, he didn’t set everything out for Friday. Andy’s a great guy, and he’ll talk your ear off about his pens. I have his Fountain Pens of Japan and Fountain Pens: United States and United Kingdom books, and have enjoyed them. He’s a walking pen encyclopedia. I picked up the LM1 in Red Flame from him after a fair bit of hemming and hawing. I loved the Jupiter pens at his table, but I wasn’t ready to spend half of my show budget on a single pen. Yet.
After another loop of the show floor and a stop by the Edison booth to introduce myself (I had always wanted to meet Brian and Andrea, and they’re such nice people), I made my way back out into the lobby area. I stopped by the Vanness table to see their impressive selection on inks, and picked up a bottle of Akkerman (#28 Hofkwartier Green) and a bottle of the KWZ Iron Gall Turquoise. Reviews of these will be coming up on the site eventually, but I really love the Violet and the KWZ IG Turquoise. The KWZ is my new envelope-addressing/check signing ink. It goes on not unlike Pelikan Edelstein Topaz, but over time, oxidizes to a nice, rich, permanent blue-black color.
Then I entered one of my major danger zones. I meandered over to the Chatterley Luxuries table, where they had set up in an alcove off of the lobby. Now, regular viewers of The Pen Habit know that Chatterley is where I go to buy most of my high-end pens. The service I get from Bryant and company has always been top-notch, and their prices have always been very good. (And no, they’re not paying me to say this: I’m just a big fan.) There were a LOT of beautiful pens that had my attention. I had been eyeing the 90th anniversary OMAS Paragons, especially the ones in Green Saft and Burlwood Celluloids, but my eyes fell upon Bryant’s collection of Danitrios, and I came across this beauty.
This is the Tsugaru-nuri Kara-nuri finish in the “Wine” color, and it’s one of the most beautiful pens in my collection. The 18k nib is deliciously springy, smooth, and wet, and the pen feels just superb in the hand. The price was right, and I bought it on the spot. It wasn’t even noon yet, and already I had marked three items off of my to-do list.
I took a break, dropped off my purchases, and headed over to Noodles & Company for lunch. I returned to the hotel, took a short nap, and then headed back up to the floor.
After the lunch break, I did some more visiting. I stopped by Shawn Newton’s booth and drooled over the Sumpter he had on display made out of Green Ripple ebonite and Ivory Celluloid. I stopped by the Walh-Eversharp booth and got to try their soon-to-be-released Deco Band with their super-flex nib. This nib is something else. I think Walh-Eversharp and their nib manufacturer have truly re-discovered how to make a real, modern, wet noodle flex nibs. This nib is wonderful, and the body of the pen is made from the most lovely rosewood ebonite. It’s a pricey pen at $850, and the initial run is only going to be of 75 units, but the nib is so unique that it really intrigued me. I put both pens on my “maybe” pile. (I would, later in the day, return to Shawn’s table to pick up this beauty, for reasons I will explain in depth when I do my review.)
I stopped by the Andersen Pens booth and met Lisa Andersen (Brian was out on the show floor, I think), and purchased another bottle of Akkerman (#15 Voorhout Violet) and a bottle of Sailor Sei-boku. The Sailor ink came highly recommended from Lori at the bar the previous night, and I had never used any of the Sailor pigmented inks, so I though I’d give it a try.
Then, I stopped by Sarj’s table. Now, if you’ve never been to a pen show before, but you follow these post-show wrap-ups, you’ll probably recognize Sarj’s name. He is known, and with good reason, as the one-man pen show. He has EVERYTHING. And not only does he have everything, he’s got the best known example of everything. I spent a good while drooling over his display, and chatting with he and his wife, who are about the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. (Sarj also helped me a bit with the Brummie dialect, as I recently butchered the accent in an audiobook I was trying to narrate, and he can do a great one.) Then I stumbled across a Limited Edition OMAS Arte Italiana old-style Paragon in a very unusual Green Arco celluloid I had never seen before. I was entranced. The pen had been out of production for years, but he had a pristine example. And I wanted it. But I refrained. I figured I’d wait, and if it was still there later in the week (and I still had any budget), it was a sign that I needed to own that pen.
I spend the rest of the afternoon chatting with people and hovering around the Masuyamas’ table, hoping that Mike was going to be able to fit me in. Unfortunately, as we got close to the end of the day, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make the cut. So his lovely wife very kindly put me toward the top of the list for Sunday so I could be sure to be seen.
As the day wound to a close, I still hadn’t received any word of my suitcase from Alaska Airlines, so I called their luggage claim line and asked for an update. The woman with whom I spoke told me they hadn’t found anything, but said that I should go out and purchase clothes for the next couple of days at the airline’s expense. So I hopped in the car and drove to the large Tysons Center mall, made a mad dash through Macy’s, and stopped at Panera for dinner. Then it was back to the hotel.
Friday night, the Pen Addict people had a gathering in one of the conference rooms with pizza and drinks, and some prize giveaways. I arrived with the party in-swing, and the room was stiflingly hot. I met a few more people, then I got to meet a couple of my pen heros, Brian and Rachel Goulet.
If there is a celebrity in the fountain pen space, it is Brian Goulet. I, like many of you, was introduced and brought into the hobby by his videos. And as someone who has done videos as well as run my own business, I feel like I have at least a minor understanding of how vital Rachel’s input has been to the success of the Goulet Pen Company. Brian pulled me aside to do a quick Periscope with his followers, and Rachel and I chatted for a few minutes in that stuffy room. I know they’re just people (and super-friendly people at that), but meeting them was, without hyperbole, one of the highlights of the trip for me. They have been super-supportive of me, especially when I was going through the attacks that nearly drove me out of continuing to make videos. I barely know them, but I feel as though I know them very well. And getting to meet and chat with them was very cool.
After that, it was back to the bar for more hangout time. My father, who was flying in from Utah, arrived around 10PM. We made a quick trip to McDonalds for dinner, since he hadn’t eaten anything since leaving home, and then we headed back up to the bar to finish up the night. Eventually we headed back down to the hotel room where we stayed up until 2AM chatting before finally falling asleep.