There was something new in the air this year at the 2018 Chicago Pen Show, and I liked it: new blood, innovation, advancements on the writing experience.
Long-time readers of this blog know there has been a rift between the generations of pen collectors for some time. The past few years in Chicago have attempted to address those issues and bridge that divide. This year seemed to succeed in many ways.
Alcohol helps. Really tasty expensive alcohol helps even more. Building on the success of last year’s scotch and bourbon tasting, this year saw about three times as many pen collectors (and some curious car collectors from a nearby auction) trying out top tier scotches and bourbons. The bottles ran from $50 to $120 or more a piece, but all were welcome to try. Many dealers brought in a bottle, but it was Mario Campa and a friend of his who curated a considerable tasting collection. They even brought in mini GlenCairn Glass snifters for us to use and keep! (Thanks to everybody who shared a bottle!)
With liquor to keep everyone together, the lobby of the hotel was filled with vintage collectors and new pen users rubbing elbows and having a great time sharing stories and pen passions.
If you are a pen show circuit regular, you will have been pleased to see and chat with most of the regular vendors who specialize in vintage pens and preowned luxury pens. However, what impressed me about this show were all the new vendors who seemingly came out of the woodwork. A young man named Ralph Reyes came selling custom-made nibs, the likes of which none of us had ever seen before. His triple-decker music nibs were the hit of the show. Yes, three music nibs stacked one on top of the other! They were easily the smoothest, wettest things I’ve ever written with. He sold out long before I got to him, and nobody on the vintage or modern side of the show had ever heard of him before.
Also coming out of seemingly nowhere…although Singapore is hardly nowhere…was a man named Darrell representing a company called Musubi. Musubi makes hand-stitched journals with hand-woven covers. Foregoing the modern use of book-making technology, Musubi uses centuries old bookbinding traditions for what amount to custom-made journals using Tomoe River paper! I had to have one.
Renso, of Papier Plume fame, made two new inks exclusively for this year’s Chicago Pen Show. Those were “Da Blue” (think the deep blue-black of the Bear’s helmets) and “Bootlegger’s Sacrement.” To my great surprise, Renso told me I was the “inspiration” for Bootlegger’s Sacrament. In September, at the Dallas Pen Show, I told him what a kick I got out of 2017’s Chicago-themed inks “Ivy Green” and “Lake Michigan Blue.” I told him there were countless themes and colors for the city, and that I really hoped he’d try for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Red. Sure enough, he decided to give it a try. Although he didn’t quite get the blood red that he wanted in time for this year’s show, he did create this beautiful red-wine-colored ink, which became Bootlegger’s Sacrament.
These were just a tiny sampling of the new vendors or more traditional vendors bringing entirely new products to market. It was exciting to walk the show and find all of this great stuff.
Of course the regulars to the show had great hidden gems, too. One friend discovered a Sheaffer Snorkel with an exceedingly rare music nib that most of us snorkel fans would have killed for.
My absolute favorite event of the show was Lisa Vanness’ Cinco de Ink-o party on Saturday night! It was like speed dating for pen geeks. There were 7 or 8 tables set up with an expert at each. The partygoers sat at one table for about 15 minutes learning from the expert. When time ran out, they’d get up and move on to the next expert. Anna of the Well Appointed Desk taught the joy of developing ink color rings, Nick Pang taught the basics of copperplate history, Paul Erano introduced people to vintage pens, Ralph Reyes and the folks from Franklin Christoph each showed off their nibs, Darrell from Musubi taught how to identify and grade paper quality, a Philippino woman whose name escapes me had a beautiful class teaching how to make your journal a work of art instead of just a written record of your life and there were several others who I didn’t get to visit, as I was asked to replace one exhausted teacher with an impromptu class about vintage pen filling systems. The entire event was a great opportunity for all to slow down and get to know each other and learn new aspects of the hobby they never knew before. It was wonderful!
If this is the future of pen shows, I can’t wait for more.