2016 LA Pen Show Day 2: Friday

I love Seattle. Of all the places I’ve lived, it’s my favorite for a whole bunch of reasons. But come the middle of January, the omnipresent clouds, bland drizzle, and not-quite-cold-not-quite-warm temperatures start to wear really thin. The color of the skies, which I have dubbed “suicide grey” begin to chip away at all positivity and happy feelings. Come the middle of February, I look start to wonder why I chose to live in such a dark, drab, soggy place. Then summer comes, and I remember why Seattle is Greatest Thing Ever™.

The late winter (or as I call it, the Seasonal Affective Disorder Season or SADS) is a fantastic motivator to schedule some time in a warm, sunny climate. My co-workers often take off to Mexico or Hawaii to escape the drab. As the bright sunlight filtered through the cracks in the hotel’s blackout curtains early on Friday morning, I found myself glad all over to be in Los Angeles. I threw open the blinds, cracked opened up the window, laid back down on my bed, and soaked in the bright sunlight. It had been so long since I had seen a truly sunny day, I almost couldn’t contain myself.

Then, as if possessed, I threw on my workout clothes, took the elevator down to the hotel basement, and did an actual, honest-to-goodness workout. (I’m hitting the leading precipice of my mid-life crisis chasm, and I have this crazy idea that somehow I’m going to get back my dancer’s body.) Energized and excited, I showered, dressed, and headed down to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast before heading back to the show.

My hopes that the sour mood from Thursday had improved overnight were dashed the moment I walked past the registration desk in the hallway outside the ballroom. The show’s organizer was having a yelling match with one of the vendors out in the open, making people (myself included) all kinds of uncomfortable. I get it. Feelings were running high, people were frustrated and angry. As a melodramatic person in my own right, I understand that sometimes your emotions get the better of you. However, to lose your cool in the middle of the show floor like that was extremely unprofessional. If you’re going to play “see who can shout the loudest,” at least find a private place to do it and don’t exacerbate the situation by making the bystanders feel awkward and uncomfortable.

With the full count of show tables still unavailable until 2 PM and many vendors sharing their allotment of tables until then, the show still felt like it was in setup mode. Only a few of the major vendors had set up shop, and the foot traffic was still rather sparse. Fortunately, I had a list of things I wanted and needed to pick up, and many of the vendors I needed to visit were among the gallant few who had braved the disorganization to provide for we brave few willing to suffer the slings and arrows.

My first stop, as it should be for any pen show, is to get on Mike Masuyama’s list for nib work. Mike was set up out of the way at a back table in the hallway. Seated next to him was Nagahara-san from Sailor of Japan, also working on nibs. Mike’s list wasn’t too long, so I wrote down my name, then made my way back to the Franklin-Christoph table.

Visiting the Franklin-Christoph table for the color prototypes and new products has become something of a tradition and an event among the online FP community set. Folks flock around, watching as tray after tray of new items is unveiled, then they descend upon them like a hoard of locusts. (It’s actually really fun to watch.)

With foot traffic so slow, the F-C table wasn’t heavily visited that morning, so I had a nice, leisurely time looking over their offerings. There were several pens in the antique glass acrylic (also knows as “Coke bottle” pens.) There were some fun color-prototypes. But the big news for the LA show was the unveiling of their newest acrylic, Italian Ice.

Italian Ice, Ice Baby

Italian Ice, Ice Baby

The Italian Ice acrylic, at first glance, looks like regular, clear acrylic. But under the right lighting conditions, and especially from directional sunlight, the pen glows with an almost ultraviolet lilac color. F-C had several Model 02s and Model 66s in the Italian Ice. In the end, I picked up a 66 in Antique Glass and a Model 02 in Italian Ice, one with a 14k gold medium italic nib, and the other with a steel fine. Scott and I chatted amiably while he worked on getting nibs into my pens while Jim was helping a couple of other folks who had wandered by while I was getting my goodies.

A better shot of the Italian Ice Lilac Glow in the right lighting conditions. It's the second pen from the right.

A better shot of the Italian Ice Lilac Glow in the right lighting conditions. It’s the second pen from the right.

Because of the distance to the show and the cost of shipping inventory, the F-C folks had chosen not to bring along the bulkier and heavier stuff like paper or ink, which was a little disappointing. I was hoping to pick up a full bottle of Terra Firma while I was there, as I had passed along my sample bottle to other folks to try out. I will probably end up getting another gold nib from them soon, so I’ll just throw a bottle of Terra Firma into my order then.

After that, I headed over to the Edison table to pick up a gift for someone. Brian Gray was manning the table by himself when I stopped by in the morning, and we shot the breeze a bit while I picked out a nice pen and a nib. I always enjoy talking with the Grays. Both of my parents are from Ohio, and there’s a certain work ethic and dedication to craft that I find very common among folks from the northern midwest. The Grays are good folks, and I’m a big fan of their pens as well. I especially love to see the laid-out trays that Edison brings to these shows. This year, they had a big, panoramic window behind them through which the morning sunlight was streaming, making the gorgeous cacophony of colorful acrylics just glow. Throughout the weekend, every time I walked by the table I would, a la the old Skittles commercials, whisper “Taste the Rainbow!” to myself.


“Taste the Rainbow”

I stopped to visit Giovanni from Heritage & Style, the US distributor for several lesser-known Italian brands of fountain pens (as well as the Canadian distributor for Aurora) to purchase a Marlen Aleph. This lovely Italian pen has a nib that has had wings cut out of the side of the nib to give it some increased elasticity. (This is similar to what an elastic nib looks like on a Nakaya.) I also really like the clear feed on this pen.

Image Courtesy of Marlen

I wandered down the hall further to the Vanness table, still in the process of being set up. Mike Vanness was manning the table by himself as Lisa was still traveling and would arrive later in the afternoon. They had the recently-released Pelikan M800 Grand Place, which was one of the pens on my Pen Show shortlist. It’s a beautiful material, and much more translucent than I was expecting. But I wanted to scope out the rest of the show before I started my buying.

So. Much. Akkerman.

So. Much. Akkerman.

I moved into the show floor, stopping by several tables and browsing the goods. I stopped at Susan Wirth’s massive display. Susan is a hoot; she keeps a bit of crazy in her back pocket at all times and she can chat your ear right off. But she knows her pens. And every pen on her table is inked up and ready to write (something I wish more people would do). I headed right for her tray of flex-nibbed pens, to check for any pens that might be big enough for me to actually use. (I wanted to get another great flex pen, but so many of these vintage pens are so small!) I found one in particular I liked and put it on my short list as well.

2016-02-18 22.22.30

Keeping a Show Journal

One of the things I learned from DC is that it’s always a great idea to keep a pen show journal. I don’t mean going back to your room and writing down what you did. I mean, grab a notebook with really good paper and carry it with you. When you test pens or test inks, test them in your own notebook. I have a great hardcover B5-sized Tomoe River notebook from PaperForFountainPens.com that I carried with me throughout the entire show, and I’m glad I did. Every time I tried out a pen, I wrote down what pen it was, what kind of nib it had, and what I thought about it. I found myself referring back to my notes several times throughout the show, as I forgot what the name of the pen was I wanted, or whose table it was at. Even after I got back from the show, I have referred back to my journal several times.

Then I hit Sarj’s table. Oh, Sarj. This man just slays me. SLAYS ME! Mr. One-Man-Pen-Show himself, Sarj is where you go if you want to find the best possible example of whatever it is you want. Chances are, he’ll have it. And if he doesn’t, he can probably get it for you. Aside from that, he and his wife are some of my favorite people at the pen show to talk to. They’re both a hoot and a half. I have a feeling that Sarj will end up taking a whole lot of my money throughout the rest of my life.


While I was at his table, chatting and being shown a range of beautiful pens, Sarj pulled out a large folder and said, “Let me show you what I’ve picked up at the show this far.” Among the pens in that collection was a stunning, perfect Tibaldi Impero from the original, numbered production run, with its original box and papers, and one of the most gorgeous celluloids ever made. Tibaldi Impero celluloid is exceptionally rare and near impossible to find anymore, and the original pens, even more so. The pen wasn’t even out for sale, but from the instant I saw it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the premium a pen like that would command, but nevertheless, I added it to the short list!

I had been on the lookout for Pierre from Desiderata Pens. I knew from Instagram he was going to be at the show, and I also knew I needed to get ahold of his pens. Pierre makes fountain pens that are designed to use Zebra G dip nibs, giving crazy flex in a modern pen. And they’re really affordable, too. I had missed the opportunity to grab one of his offerings in DC and had been lusting after them ever since. I found his table and was excited to land my very first Desiderata pen. I picked an eyedropper prototype model made from a beautiful matte-finished Delrin. This material feels incredible in the hand, and I’m really excited to get to work on my flex writing.

I stopped by the Anderson’s table, which was a bit cramped from them having to share table space, and chatted with Brian and Lisa. I also love the Andersons: just such good people. We don’t know each other very well, but sometimes you just know that you like people right off the bat, and they’re good people. I was on a mission to buy ALL THE TURQUOISE INK this trip, so I picked up a bottle of Visconti Turquoise, which had been highly recommended to me. (And with good cause. It’s glorious.) I also picked up a couple of Sailor converters, because, for some reason, the converter that came with my beautiful Classic Pens LB5 Midorigi was a piece of garbage and kept leaking out the back. I can’t be without my Midorigi, and the Andersons had brought nearly their entire store with them. It was quite fortuitous.

(Apropos of nothing, their trip to LA had a rather auspicious beginning when they blew the transmission on their car 45 minutes from home and had to buy a new car so they could make the trip and get there on time.)

By now, it was almost noon and I was hungry, so I took my loot for the day up to my room and headed out to lunch. I took my Kindle and walked across the street to the Quiznos to grab some lunch and read in the covered courtyard of the building. The sun was out, it was warm, but pleasantly so, and all was right with the world. I headed back to the hotel, played around with my new acquisitions a bit, and headed back down to the show, arriving at around 2:30.



By now, the main ballroom had opened up and the mood of the show started to settle down. One of the things that surprised me most when I got down there was how many of the major retailers still weren’t set up. The big retailers were all on tables out in the hallway. This was great for traffic flow during the show but sucked for setup and takedown because there was no security overnight. It meant having to take down all your inventory each day and put them back up the next. Considering that some of these spreads could take hours to set up (and that the show started as early as 7 AM), it didn’t make sense to set up at all for these trader-only days because by the time you had everything set up, it would be time to take it all down again.

If I were running the show, I would have allowed the larger retailers with big spreads to set up in the ballroom, which could be locked at the end of each night, and reserve the hall tables for the traders who could easily put up and take down their smaller displays every day.

Nevertheless, things were settling down. I walked around a bit more, talked to a few other folks, asked several of the traders about acquiring a flexible music nib (I wasn’t able to find one this show, sadly), and popped back by the Vanness table to say hello to Lisa Vanness. Also there was the (in)famous Brad Dowdy of Pen Addict fame who had come along to help out at the Vanness table during the crazy busy days.

At one point, I offhandedly asked if there were swatches of the Bungbox inks that the Vannesses had brought with them. When Lisa realized there weren’t, she put me to work making some. This was fine with me, because as I was swatching them for the display, I was also swatching them in my show journal. And I ended up buying four of the bottles I swatched. (Also, my spellcheck keeps trying to correct my conjugations of the verb “swatch,” which is really annoying.)

2016-02-18 22.23.00

Come 4 PM, I was done in. I went back to my room and took a deep, marvelously long, 2-hour nap with the curtains thrown wide open so I could see the sun go down to the west. If cats have taught us nothing else, it’s that there are few things in the world more pleasurable than a late afternoon nap in the sun. As dusk hit, I awoke, walked down to Cozymel’s, the disappointing chain Mexican restaurant across the street a couple of blocks to the east, and had tamales for dinner.

Back at the hotel, I gathered my pens again and headed down to the bar, hoping for a bit more excitement than we saw on Thursday. It was still pretty low key when compared to what I had seen in DC, but I got to spend some time chatting with Franz (who I knew online and with whom I share an obsession with Classic Pens) and a couple of his local pen friends, Mike and Mark. They introduced me to a few pens I didn’t know, including some which I added to my “must visit” list for the following day.

I returned to my room pleasantly tired and played with my new pens for a bit before heading to bed.

  • PeppWaves03

    Thanks for the post for us who couldn’t be there. Can you check your link for the writing pad?

  • Anzan Hoshin Roshi

    Matt, you repeat the story, “(Their trip to LA had a rather auspicious beginning …”

    • Thanks. I fixed that once, but it came back again. My WYSIWYG editor on this blog does weird stuff sometimes when I copy and paste the text in.

  • Jan Scott

    Again thank you for this wonderful account of the show.

  • Lez Cartwright

    Thanks for the reports on the pen show. I really enjoy your writings and videos which I’m going to have to list in my ‘Personal Dangerous File’, hahaha, because a 10 minute quick read or a 20 minute video watch runs into HOURS hahaha, And, I need a way of making some money to pursue the hobby, but my ‘Use By Date’ has expired sadly, ah well, nevermind. Your productions are really enjoyable Matt, thank you. I saw your comment about tthe ‘Mid-life Precipice’ hmmm, had one myself some 20 years ago and I found it at first to be really terrible, but then I realised and I suppose this comment will get tons of flak… It’s grown up puberty!!! And when I thought of my time with that, it was really FUN for me until I got to 17, then was exposed to the adulterations of growing into an adult, then it started to be terrible. Mid life crisis, well, try to look forward with reasonable goals as you can never get back what you had in early adulthood, it’s just not there and that can be so depressing, but that was then, this is now, and it’s the one place you can’t get away from, so you may as well make friends with it. Sorry to go off topic and I’ve clanged on enough, maybe I should get a Facebook account, ugh! Another story.
    Thanks again Matt, yeraguddun.

  • Pascal Leers

    When I see all those pens at the pen show, the only thing on my mind would be…. “So many pens and so little money.”