I am a loyal listener of the Pen Addict podcast, and pen shows are a frequent topic on the air. I’ve never been to a pen show, but from listening to Brad and Myke, it sounds like a lot of pen, paper, and ink eye candy!
In a way, a pen show is kind of like a convention — it’s a huge gathering of hobbyists and enthusiasts of this niche interest, and there are vendors, booths, items for sale, and much more.
When I found out that there was a small pen show happening in San Francisco, I knew I wanted to at least check it out. Here is a brief recap of my first pen show!
The massive ink testing stations were definitely my favorite part of the show. Each of these was hand crafted by the volunteers of the SF Pen Club! This innovative idea is essentially a large sheet of plexiglass-type material with holes drilled in. Glued into each of the holes was the cap of a simple, piston-filling fountain pen. Simply unscrew the pen from the cap to test the ink color!
There were 5 stations, each with 100 ink colors, all donated by volunteers. I have never seen this many ink colors in one setting before! They were individually numbered, with numbers corresponding to ink names and brands printed on a card.
One thing that I had heard on the podcast, but was still blown away experiencing it firsthand: the kindness and generosity of the “pen people” that I met.
I was sitting by myself at one of the ink testing stations, and two nice guys came to chat! Franz (@franzdimson) and Michael (@mpheenan) were seasoned fountain pen users, and we chatted for a while about pens and inks. Franz even let me test out some of his favorites, which you can see in the pic above!
I could easily have sat at the ink testing booth for hours, but I needed to walk around the show and scope out the other booths! Here are a few photos I took of vendor table setups.
Lisa of Vanness Pens was there, and of course I had to stop by and say hi! She doesn’t know who I am, but the moment I said that I knew her from the Pen Addict Podcast, she was so warm and friendly and asked how I was enjoying my first pen show. Her table was filled inks from all different brands, plus some more rare and obscure inks that are hard to find!
Franz insisted that, in order to have a “Quintessential Pen Show Experience”, I must talk to Susan Wirth. I was pretty nervous about talking to her, since she seemed really busy… but I did want the Quintessential Pen Show Experience!
Susan is like… the all-knowing matriarch of fountain pens. She is literally a walking encyclopedia of everything related to fountain pens, handwriting, vintage pens… you name it — you can literally feel the wisdom exuding from her as she talks. She appears a little grumpy at first, but you soon realize it’s actually a humorous, good-natured grumpiness with some sarcasm thrown in.
I told her I had an interest in calligraphy, so I wanted to try some Italics and vintage flex pens. I had seen some incredible demonstrations of what vintage flex nibs can do, and was keen to try one myself! She set me up in front of the “Italics” and “Flexibles” section, which had some truly beautiful vintage pens on display.
She needed to take care of other show attendees, so she left me a few basic instructions:
- Write as if you are actually writing. None of this “quick brown fox” nonsense!
- Write two or more lines with each pen. You can’t really feel a pen if you only write a few words
- Don’t think too much or write too slowly. Just write!
I decided to write a quick journal entry about the show thus far!
As you can see, each pen was very different! Some of the Italics were more dry, and that second flexible pen in particular was gushing ink. I got heart-eyes for the last one I tried (the fifth pen from the left in the photo above). Look at that flex! Unfortunately, I don’t have THAT many coins ($275) to spend on pens, so I had to put it aside and hope that I’ll run across it again at another show in the future.
After testing the flexible pens and listening to Susan talk about her paper preferences, I decided to go back around and see if there were any tables I had missed. Good thing I did, because I saw Mike Masuyama, the famous nibmeister! Mike fixes up troublesome fountain pens, and can grind your pen nib to exact preferences. He didn’t believe me when I told him he was internet famous.
At this time, the show began winding down and the vendors started covering up their wares. Unfortunately I was not able to attend either Saturday or Sunday, which are supposed to be busier and more exciting. This was plenty exciting for me already, so I’m looking forward to seeing how next year’s show goes!