2016 LA Pen Show Day 4: Sunday and Final Thoughts

And, at last, it arrived: the day at the LA International Pen Show for the public.

The day arrived, as such days often do in La-La-Land, with sunlight peeking in through the curtains. I knew I was going to want a large breakfast, so I partook of the hotel’s breakfast buffet (mmmm, bacon) and then headed up to the show floor. I arrived by 8:30, and there was a small line forming. The public wasn’t allowed to enter the show floor until 10AM, so I took advantage of the extra time to walk around the show floor a bit and wish the various vendors and friends a good show with the promised crush of people who were supposed to be arriving soon.

By 10 AM, the line for entry wound out the lobby doors, down the sidewalk of the driveway, and across the street a block. I was on the show floor for most of the morning, so I didn’t track the movement of the line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly, and the show floor started to fill up. As I had spent the last two and a half days wandering around the show and looking at what was available, there wasn’t a lot I wanted to see pen-wise. I was mostly there for the atmosphere.

The show floor was busy, but not as cramped as I seem to remember from my time in DC. The crush of people was less of a crush and more of a mild squeeze. I was thrilled to meet a lot of folks who recognized me from my YouTube videos and said hi. (One of my favorites were Steve and his son Jake, who was in his early teens. Jake had been watching a lot of my videos and his dad had brought him to the show. I LOVE seeing young people getting into the hobby. It gives me so much hope for the future of our esoteric little obsession!)

I had a great time playing around at the ink station that Ricky had brought from the San Francisco pen show for the Vanness table so they could allow people to test a lot of their inks. I spent a chunk of time at the Chatterley Luxuries table, as they hadn’t set up prior to Sunday, and Bryant is always a good source of the fancy pens of the sort I like to buy. I browsed some of the Delta offerings at the Yafa tables, and asked a couple of other vendors about flexible music nibs. It was a pleasant day.

At lunch, I wandered back to the strip mall with my Kindle and went back to the Teriyaki joint: not so much because they had good food, but more because it was inexpensive and they had their Diet Coke dispenser out in the restaurant, so I could go nuts with the refills. (Despite my naps, I was starting to run on fumes by the end of Sunday.)

As the last two hours of the show wound down, I knew I wanted to make at least one more purchase. I had spent the last couple of days hemming and hawing over whether or not I was going to buy a Stylo-Art and/or an Eboya pen. Brad (from The Pen Addict) and I had been talking all weekend about how tempted we were by the offerings and had been teasing each other into buying something. So, with 90 minutes left before the show officially closed down for the day, I purchased a beautiful pen made from a highly figured ash wood, dyed green, and then lacquered over with urushi. The pen accepts sections from Pilot pens with #10 nibs, so I had them put in a broad nib, and it immediately wrote like a dream: no adjustment required. I was pretty darn thrilled with my final pen purchase of the show. (Brad ended up buying a pen from them as well if memory serves.)

Since I was right next door, I also stopped back by the Vanness table to pick up another couple bottles of KWZ ink. I have become a huge fan of KWZ inks since I got my first bottle back in DC, and I’m now up to eight colors, both iron gall and regular.

A couple more hands to shake, and the curtain closed on the 2016 LA International Pen show. I ended up with 11 pens, and (completely coincidentally) 11 bottles of ink. I went back to my room to unload the remainder of my stash, then went back down to the floor to help break down the Vanness table and load everything out to the car. Afterwards, a group of us went to the wood-fired pizza place across the street from the hotel for some yummy pizza (where I got a magical magnetic set of silverware that stuck together) then back to the hotel. Everyone was knackered (I love that word!) by the end of the day, so we just sat in the lounge of the lobby and chatted until about 11PM, at which point, everyone was ready to head to bed. I spent about an hour packing up my suitcase, and crashed into bed.

It's MAAAAAGIC! (Actually, it's just magnets. But still, weird, right?)

It’s MAAAAAGIC! (Actually, it’s just magnets. But still, weird, right?)

Monday & Final Thoughts:

I found myself wide awake before the sun was up on Monday. (I always sleep poorly the night before traveling for some reason.) I decided to take advantage of the elliptical machines in the hotel fitness center one last time, so I took the elevator down to the basement and did a nice 40-minute workout before heading back up to the room to shower. I finished packing, ate my last granola bar, and hauled my stuff down to the lobby. Brad and I shared a cab to LAX, and my time in Los Angeles was over.

For each action, there is an equal-but-opposite reaction, according to the laws of physics. If my enjoyment of the Seattle airport on Day One is my “action,” then my utter loathing of LAX would be my equal-but-opposite reaction. What an ugly rat’s nest of an airport. No thought to design, traffic flow, functionality, or aesthetics: it’s truly one of the worst airports I’ve ever attempted to navigate in my life. I eventually found a nice (but rather pricey) restaurant called Campanile where I had some lovely salmon with mashed potatoes and charred broccolini, and finished off the meal with a delicious apple cobbler a la mode. (And, of course, several glasses of Diet Coke.) Then I hacked my way back to my ugly terminal and took an uneventful flight home, picked up my dog, and prepared to go back to work the following day.

My trip to the LA Pen Show was, to be honest, something of a disappointment. I was able to find several pens and inks, and I met some really great people. But compared to the DC Show, I found my experience in LA left me wanting. I’ve struggled with how to express the “why” of my disappointment without offending a whole bunch of people, but I’m not sure it can be done, so I’m just going to dive in.

When I attended DC, it was my first pen show, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a group of enthusiastic and dedicated pen people who had as much fun sharing their knowledge and sharing each others’ company as they did playing with their pens. Age, gender, color, nationality, experience level: none of it mattered. As one of my local pen friends (who I met at the DC Show) put it, “It was truly magical.” My father and I were both welcomed like we had been part of the group for years. There was an air of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm that permeated the proceedings. Every night there were dozens of people gathering together and sharing the hobby. It was so much fun.

Los Angeles, by comparison, felt almost lethargic. The aforementioned management issues certainly played a role in this difference. The LA show, from the moment I arrived until the moment I left, felt exclusive rather than inclusive. The aura was one where, “you’re not part of the old guard, and we don’t like the way you’re changing our hobby.” That sounds a bit melodramatic, I realize, but I actually got a 15-minute lecture from one of the crotchety old men behind their table about how bloggers and YouTubers like me and my ilk are ruining the hobby. “It used to be that you knew everyone in the room, and you could trust everyone to know what they were talking about,” he told me. He didn’t like that younger people were showing up and asking questions. He, in essence, said that he wished they could maintain their “inner circle” vibe without all these meddlesome kids getting in the mix.

But even the rantings of one crotchety old malcontent aside, I felt the difference over and over again. A lot of the older vendors were supremely unfriendly. I’d stand at their table looking over their collections, and there was never so much as a “hello” or “anything you’re looking for?” They’d look right through me like I wasn’t there. Other times, when I took the initiative and asked about certain pens, they would grunt only the tersest of answers, offering next to no information. There were several older folks there who put up signs saying “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH PENS” who would then act as though you were a criminal if you asked to take a closer look at something they were offering. Even in the bar after the show each night, there was no mingling of groups. The “us vs. them” mentality was far more prevalent than I had expected after my DC experience.

I also believe it is a serious mistake to hold the show’s public day on Sunday rather than both Saturday and Sunday. Based on accounts I have heard from a few people, the owner of the show refuses to even consider changing the public day. The show, in its current implementation, benefits the small trader with several folders full of vintage pens they can haul back to their room each night over retailers with large setups needing several tables. Changing the public day would be more beneficial to retailers with large setups who travel across the country with cases upon cases of product to sell. It would be more beneficial to manufacturers who are looking to announce and showcase new pens or raise brand awareness. As it is, most of them don’t start setting up until Saturday afternoon, leaving the show feeling a lot more empty than it should.

The lack of organization around table setup and lack of foresight around giving those retailers ways of securing their inventory at night could also be easily resolved with a bit of forethought. As it stands now, this is a show that feels far more catered toward the vintage offerings. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but there is also no reason why, with a bit of compromise, the show couldn’t be tweaked to support both and draw in even larger crowds as a result.

The LA show (really, nearly every pen show) could also use a major technological update. What passes for a show website these days is criminal. (Especially the website for DC.) I don’t understand how it’s even possible to run a show this large without online registration, the ability to pay via a card, or a computer at the front desk. A bit of technology and some better organization, and this show could have been a much smoother experience. (But that’s just the MBA in project management talking.)

In the end, the refrain I heard over and over again from vendor, exhibitor, and trader alike was, “If there was a competing show out here on the west coast at around the same time, I’d go to that one in a heartbeat instead.” The LA Show is one of the larger shows in the US, but I’m led to believe that ranking is in the number of attendees, not in the number of tables available. It seems to me that there’s an ample opportunity to improve the experience for both vintage traders and retailers of new pens, ink, and paper with some format tweaks. There should be a way to encourage integration of the old-timers and the new and young. If we want this community to continue thrive and grow, there needs to be a real effort made to bring these groups together, combining long-held knowledge with a modern means of spreading that knowledge. DC seemed to get the mix right. LA really, really didn’t. And until it does, I’m not really tempted to return.

  • Elise Mauceri

    Thank you for sharing. As a formatting FYI the portion that starts “I had a great time playing ” is doubled. Would you and/or Eric Orozco be willing to work on a second show. I hear he did wonderfully with Philly?

    • Thanks, Elise. I fixed it. For some reason, my blog’s editor will sometimes repeat the text at the start or end of a paragraph.

  • Michelle Ossiander

    The Denver Pen Show is nice, small but nice.

    • Robert Windle

      +1 for the Denver pen show. Its very nice.

  • Ralph Caccese

    Thank you Matt for giving us your impressions. I’ve been around a while and I’ve met some of those curmudgeons. You never said what you had done with Mike Masuyamma. Did he do any custom work for you?

    • I ended up having my nibs worked on by Nagahara-san instead. He turned the medium nib on my M1000 into a cursive italic, but accidentally melted the feed a bit. He also worked on increasing the ink flow of my Nakaya.

    • Mike didn’t actually work on my nibs. I signed up for him, but he sent me over to Nagahara-san. He adjusted the ink flow on my Nakaya Decapod and ground my Pelikan M1000 into a cursive italic. Unfortunately, he kind of melted the feed in the process, so it writes, but it’s not very attractive.

      • Ralph Caccese

        Hmmmm. I see. I guess Mike is very well known and in great demand. I’ve emailed him several times and he has always replied with very long responses. He seems like the consummate gentleman. I plan to go to the DC show, but at least 50% of the reason is to meet Mike Masuyama.

  • Allen Van Camp

    I guess for me the reason I’ll keep going to the LA Show is that I live 45-60 minutes away from the hotel. That makes it “the only pen show in town.” But I travelled to the SF show in ’14 and it was a great experience, and I heard that ’15 was even better attended. Maybe eventually the West Coast answer to the LA show in Feb. will be the SF show in August.

    • It was great to meet you, Allen! I understand, though. If I lived that close, I’d still go too. I’m just not sure this particular show is worth the trip for me going forward.

  • Thankyou for sharing. I always value your well-considered thoughts and opinions – don’t change!

  • Sounds like the exact opposite as Philly. The older enthusiasts were trying to get us more interested in vintage pens and restoring them, to keep them alive. They wanted to know what made us tick, and what we looked for in pens. We had several good conversations with a few of the older guys, like Paul Erano, about what the older enthusiast had to do to get us into vintage stuff, and he told me if I ever have any questions about vintage pens, or repairs, to get in touch with him.

    Just listening to a few of the vendors before the LA Show about registering and getting tables, its sounds like the guy running it is stuck in the 1980s.

  • I was hoping to hear whether or not you visited John Mottishaw with the Classic Fountain Pen group and what Nakayas they may have had on display. Sorry to hear about your feed issue too. But overall I can see how one could be frustrated with the atmosphere you encountered while attending.

    • I stopped by the CFP table several times to look at the Nakaya, Eboyas, and others, but nothing caught my eye enough to actually buy. I never did get a chance to chat with John, as he always had someone he was with.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you for sharing your stories (and your amazing haul). I talked with a lot of vendors on Saturday and it seems that everyone is in agreement — except the management — about opening it up both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was great for me because I had opportunities for long talks with so many people at the tables but wow, those vendors with the huge setups really needed more than just Sunday open to the public. I didn’t experience the stuffiness you did, but it may be because I spent most of my time at the tables of dealers I knew — Edison, Andersons, Mottishaw, Franklin-Christoph, Vanness — more than anywhere else. It was wonderful to be able to express to them how much of a difference they’ve made in my life.

  • Denise Rogers

    Think about going to the Dallas Pen show. It’s small, but I had a great time meeting other Geeks when I was there. It was just right for a first time pen show goer like me.

  • conib

    Matt — I had a thought about those creepy pen dealers you encountered at the LA show. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that a knowledgeable customer is death to some of those who are in the “vintage”, “collectible”, or “antique” trade; that is, those dealers who are perhaps less than scrupulous about the quality, authenticity, or provenance of their wares. That sort dealer would also tend to discourage close examination.

  • Holly Preslar

    Matt: it was a pleasure to meet you in LA. Agree with many of your comments, especially the part about opening it up to the public on Saturday and Sunday. I had made some connections in SF last year, and through social media, so had a fun experience overall. But I definitely saw the disconnect between the old guys and the rest of the traders/buyers. I think San Francisco’s show is the answer. Went last year, it was my first show, and it was amazing. Everyone was super helpful and happy, great mixing of people going on. The SF Pen Posse was enthusiastic and inviting to everyone. Only issue is it is right after DC. Hope to see you at the Portland roundup in July. 😊

    • I’m going to try to get a group of folks coming to the Portland Roundup from Seattle. Should be a bit easier now that we have a local Pen Posse.

      • bubbamike

        Pen roundup? Pen Posse?

        • Pen Roundup: What I believe the Portland organizers call their one-day pen show in June. (At least that’s how I’ve heard it referred to.)
          Pen Posse: A relatively generic term for a local group of pen fans who gather together regularly to play with pens.

          Our Seattle-ish Pen Posse meets once a month (next meeting, March 19th!)

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  • miguel oxamendi

    Reading this made me very excited for the Atlanta Pen Show. That will be my first pen show experience. From what I gather that will have the opposite vibe of the LA Pen show with Brad and Myke in the house!

  • Adam Young

    Great write up. Sorry it was a disappointment, but I hope it was still a good time.
    I’ve only been to one pen show that was near me in Northern England. Nowhere near the size of LA, but a lot of you said rings true for my experience as well. There were some awesome pens there (mostly vintage), but it was a disappointing experience.
    First of all it was so hard to actually find out where and when it was on. The UK Pen Show website (they run ALL the pen shows in the UK) hadn’t updated the listing from two years prior, and I found out the date only from searching Facebook. When I got there it was a drab hotel conference room with all the atmosphere of a wake. I must have done a dozen circuits of the tables, and none of the vendors said a word to me. I ended up seeing a nice vintage Sheaffer with a good price (nothing had a tag on it though), and asked to hold it, and try it. The vendor asked “are you buying it?”, and I gave a noncommittal yes to which he reluctantly handed it to me, and found some ink and paper to test it. It was good, and I wanted to buy it. Then I found out nobody there has heard of debit cards. So I had to leave the hotel, and walk 10 minutes to and from a cash machine a couple streets over. I bought the pen, and then left. The show has since been cancelled, but I don’t think it’s all that different to the others here. End to end an awful experience for newcomers. It’s put me off them for life I think.
    Sorry for the ramble, but yeah this thing isn’t only in LA. I buy my pens now from my friendly local pen shop who love to chat, and happen to live in the 21st century.

  • bfg

    Poor old curmudgeon will suffer the fate of anyone who tries to keep anything from changing. We have an interesting range of people in the hobby now – some who love old pens and their history, some who focus on pens as instruments for calligraphy, some who are hunting for the perfect flex pen, some who love particular brands of new pens, artisans who make unique pens, etc. and every sort of combination. This diversity keeps the hobby and the industry growing. I think we owe something to the folks that keep things going and saved so many of the classic pens in the years when it was an obscure hobby. I appreciate the excitement of those who are just discovering the pleasure of fountain pens. The shows are going to have to adapt or they will be replaced by newer forms.

  • Kathi Derevan

    I was very happy to get to chat with you a few minutes on Saturday–also had some nice conversations with Brad Dowdy. You were both just as I had expected from “meeting” you online (smart, funny, easy to talk to).

    • Hey Kathi, it was nice to meet you too. Brad’s good people, right? 😀

  • Pearce

    I just finished reading through your four day adventure at the LA show and it was interesting to see someone else’s perspective on the show. I believe you came by my table on Thursday and inquired about a flexible music nib, which needless to say is not an easy thing to find when it comes to vintage pens. If it helps I was sitting near the end of the hall on Thursday, and probably looked tired. I came as a weekend trader and was taken aback with how things were run this year too, it made for an uncomfortable show at times. One thing of note from your pen show posts, don’t be afraid to inquire about joining a group of people out for dinner. I can’t imagine turning away any pen nut from joining a group of us out for some good food and pen talk.
    As far as the new crowd and old crowd go I feel like I’m somewhere in between. I’m in my early 30’s but went to my first big show, the Ohio show, when I was 19. I guess some of the old crowd that maybe wasn’t to receptive to my pen browsing at 19 has warmed up to me over the years but I can certainly understand what one goes through. I still get it from time to time. Anyways say hi in DC!

    • Hey Pearce,

      I probably did enquire about a flex music nib. (I’ve been on the hunt for a while.) But it was nice meeting you. If memory serves, there was a Wahl-Eversharp Doric (?) with a stunning material in your collection that I was ogling. (Of course, I’m really bad with names, so I may be mistaking you for someone else.) In any case, I’m still waiting for the official dates for DC, but as soon as they come, I’m going to book my flight. So I probably will end up seeing you there!

  • Deborah Hartman

    really enjoyed this. haven’t been to a pen show yet, but i live in the DC area, and will look out for one

    • 🙂 If you can make it to the DC show in August, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

    • DC has a show, so does Baltimore.

  • I live in the south and only have access to small shows (I just got back from Little Rock), but honestly it seems like that’s probably a good thing. Larger shows just seem to have more problems.

  • Teri Morris

    Your observations about the LA show are very good. The show has always felt a little old fashioned to me, catering to the money-bags vintage collectors. It’s like they don’t want younger pen users, at least that’s the way I interpret the poor efforts on the web site or social media. We tried to sell there a few years ago, with very poor results. I’ll take responsibility for the poor results, because we mostly brought mid-range vintage pens (this was before we started working with Ranga), and the hall was full of the same type of pens. However, there was no effort to encourage us as new sellers. I know we could sell a lot of Ranga and PSP-Ranga pens at the show if we were to go again, but I’d rather sell at the SF show where the people running it are friendly and enthusiasm for pens and inks is encouraged.

    • Hey Teri! Thanks for stopping by! I hope to run into you (and see all the other lovely Ranga offerings) at some show in the future. I wish SF wasn’t so close to DC, because going to both would require an amount of time off and money that I don’t have. But I’ve heard really good things about the way the SF show is being run, and I’ve seen really great things from the folks from SF that I met in LA.

  • Hi There Matt! I excitedly
    introduced myself to you at the LA Pan Show this year. I was the 60 something
    woman who thanked you for your informative You Tube pen reviews, some of which
    help me to make purchase decisions in the past, especially when I was a total
    newbie. I am a member of The SF Pen Posse due to their overwhelming
    outreach to folks like me at The San Francisco Pen Show (my first) last August.
    As a group, I think they do much to promote the love of fountain pens…both collecting
    folks and new user folks equally. This group’s wealth of knowledge and
    willingness to share it runs deep. I have learned so much since going to their
    meetings. I would encourage you to get to their show this year.

    BTW, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance!

    • Hi Casey,

      It was nice to meet you too. The folks in SF really seem to be doin’ it up right, don’t they? I hear lots of good things about the Posse up there as well as the show.

  • solidmotion

    I attended the LA show several years ago and vowed never to return. Some of the vendors were extremely friendly and helpful. Several of the vendors seemed indifferent. Several clearly assumed that I had little knowledge of fountain pens (I’ve been collecting and repairing them for almost 30 years) and tried to fleece me. One vendor, who I will not name, began making derogatory comments about my sexuality as I was looking over his display. Unbidden, mind you; I was just standing there for about two minutes admiring the pens without touching them or saying anything to the vendor when he told me that I probably wouldn’t want a fountain pen because “they don’t write well if you have a limp wrist”. I couldn’t believe my ears. When I realized he was talking to me, I walked away and he kept making comments as I left. I have no idea what psychiatric problem he had, but that pretty much settled my mind about not returning to the show.

    • Well, that’s simply repulsive. And infuriating. I don’t blame you for not going back.

  • sumgaikid

    Hello,Matt! great blog on the LA pen show! Haven’t been to the LA show,but if what you’re saying is correct looks like I won’t be going to it anytime soon. I always compared the fountain pen hobby to that of numismatism,with some of the old guard wanting to keep it as elite as possible–sad that it really is true in some circles. Only show I get a chance to go to is the one in Miami(though it is a 10-hr round trip drive from Tampa). Would be nice to meet you there if you get a chance to go. Always enjoy your Youtube videos and your blog posts–in a kind way you pull no punches! Regards,John

  • Bebe

    I’ve always had a decent time at the LA Pen Show; of course, like another poster below, I live barely an hour away. I see no reason whatsoever to fly off to any other pen show when I can find so much at home. I couldn’t care less if the show is open Saturday and Sunday; a single day is more than enough for my needs. Was the vibe too low key, and thus off-putting? LA doesn’t take itself seriously, and I rather like a “take it or leave it” attitude. I don’t interpret off-hand comments personally, and I don’t expect the show to be all about me. Do I know what I want? Do I have any need to ask for help? Am I merely looking, or will I buy? These questions are essential to my own enjoyment of the LA Pen Show. After reading your 4-day review, I wonder that you went at all. Yes, I am certain the San Francisco Show would be be “magical”; after all, weighty matters like choosing nibs are fraught with much more angst up in Frisco (just as on the East Coast). And some persons are never satisfied.

    • I’m glad you are able to find enjoyment from the LA Show. I’m sure there are many others who do as well. Every show has a personality and vibe of its own, and just like with people, not everyone will like everything. I sincerely wish you many continued years of enjoyment in LA.

      In its current format, I won’t be back. And that’s okay too. There are other shows I do enjoy, with more open and welcoming communities of pen users. I suppose if I did live near any major shows, I would probably attend those regardless of the management or “vibe.” But since I live in a place with no shows, and attendance at any show is a major commitment of both time and money to attend, I see no harm in being picky about which shows I choose to spend my vacation time and money on.