Tag Archives: pen shows

Ohio Pen Show Bound!

Wow! What a whirlwind year! I can’t believe it is already time to go to Columbus for what will likely be our last pen show for the year. The Ohio Pen Show is always a great one.

These are just the repairs we’re delivering to customers at this year’s Ohio Pen Show. Just imagine the goodies you haven’t yet seen on this site that will be coming!

Look how busy we’ve been. These pens are just the repairs we’ve done to deliver to customers at the show!

Terry and his sons always put on a helluva good show, and I cannot wait to see them and all of my many other friends in Columbus. If you are going this year, please keep a look out for me. My table is in the main hallway, just outside the main entrance to the big room at the show. Be sure to stop by and say “Howdy.”

Well, I best get to fixin’ some more pens for you at this year’s show. See ya in a week!

2018 Dallas Pen Show Round-up

Sometimes the biggest part of an adventure is just arriving safely. My trusty car, Penelope Apocalypse, was debating existential issues with herself, as her starter was giving out. A quick trip to the dealership the day I was scheduled to drive south turned into a prolonged exploration of the starter system. After 5 hours of delay, the dealership determined that her starter was dying and it had no spares to replace it. Thus, I hit the road with no guarantee of getting to Dallas…but I really wanted to go!

In one of our few sober moments, Three-Finger Frank and I visit at my table during the Dallas Pen Show.

Stopping only for gas near St. Louis, I made it to Muskogee, Oklahoma, by 4 a.m. the following day. Penelope graced me with a fresh start in the morning, and we made it to Dallas on a wing and an exhausted prayer.

Thank goodness for great friends. The awesome pen dealer Joe Lowe was waiting for me in Dallas, and he found a dealership just a mile from the pen show hotel! I unloaded Penelope at the hotel, and we took her to the dealer for a new starter. One classic Luby’s dinner experience later, Joe and I were fortified for the show starting the next morning.

Pete Kirby and Mike Walker did a fantastic job advertising the daylights out of the Dallas Pen Show this year. It was packed nearly shoulder to shoulder all day Friday and Saturday! They sure run a good show.

I was on the back wall, where I was last year and stacked more than 4 boxes worth of goods on a single table. It is a great location, and I was visited by tons of friends all day Friday and Saturday. Charles S. and his buddy Murray came to visit from Ft. Worth. We had fun shootin’ the breeze. Then came Three-Finger Frank and his lovely wife Kelly. We’d eventually get a great dinner together, catching up on a year’s worth of conversation and puns.

The show was so busy, I barely got a chance to see any other tables other than the ones next to me. It looked like a vintage heavy show, and from what I could see there were some really amazing offerings. The oversized orange hard rubber Watermans with sterling silver filigree had me drooling the most.

Friday night ran late. After dinner, Frank and I continued on in the hotel bar, joking and swapping philosophical musings. We were soon joined by Nik Pang, and the laughs and bull session continued. It was like being in college all over again. I’m surprised our livers didn’t explode.

Saturday started way too early, but it was another fun day of friends and pens. My favorite new friend is Miss Targa Slim. Mysterious, beautiful and hilarious. We met the day before and had a delightful time swapping stories for a second day. She said she’d keep in touch, and I sure hope she does.

Saturday night the pressure was off, knowing I’d have a starter that worked. Another dinner at Luby’s with Joe and a few other friends, and then it was off to Muskogee. The long ride home was way more relaxing and uneventful. Although Penelope seems like a new car to me, she crossed the great 100,000-mile mark somewhere in Oklahoma! She’s the first car I ever drove 100,000 miles on, and she feels powerful enough to go another 100k…now that she has a new starter for the task.

2018 DC Pen Show or Bust!

After last year’s chaotic but successful pen show, we are hitting the road for the 2018 DC Pen Super Show!

We’ve spent the past month cleaning, polishing and organizing more than 300 vintage and modern pre-owned luxury pens not yet online for this show. This photo shows only a tiny fraction of what we will have available.

This is just a tiny fraction of the more than 300 vintage and pre-owned modern pens not currently on our website that we shall carry on our table at the DC Pen Show this weekend.

Omas, Delta, S.T. Dupont, Namiki, Montegrappa and rare Pelikans will make a splash. Plus, we’ve loaded up on Montblanc from the 1970s and ’80s. In addition to that we’ve been adding a dozen ultra-rare Esterbrook pens, rare vintage Waterman pens and many great vintage Parker and Sheaffer fountain pens.

Naturally, we are returning with our Lamy nib testing station that was a huge hit last year. It will be loaded with this year’s limited edition Safari and Al-Star designs, as well as many great traditional colors. We’ve restocked Lamy ink, too!

We will have something for everyone. With a total of more than 600 pens in every price range on our table, if you can’t find a new treasure to love…you just don’t like pens.

One Crazy Summer!

Since last writing, I’ve been to the inaugural St. Louis Pen Show, moved secret underground workshop lairs and hosted visits by many members of my college fencing team!

The first St. Louis Pen Show was a monster success and a ton of fun.

First to the exciting and wonderful new St. Louis Pen Show. More organized than several already established pen shows, Anne and her crew have spent 2 years advertising and promoting this incredible show. Many of us vendors were worried no one would attend, aside from vendors. But no! A city’s worth of people who had never previously attended a pen show filled the venue for 3 days!

The trip down was uneventful…until we almost got run off the road by a tornado! About 2 miles from the venue, a huge cell of storm clouds began blowing across the interstate. Wind was howling debris across the highway, even bowing flag poles. A native-born Midwesterner, I didn’t worry until the clouds turned green and sirens started going off. Talk about bad times to be stuck in rush hour traffic.

Luckily, I only got rained on. No funnel cloud formed near me to whisk me away to Oz.

Many of the vendors were regulars on the show circuit, and we were all excited to catch up and discuss the past month or two since we’d last met. During the days of the show, nearly everyone who came to my table gushed about attending their first show. And most of the folks were 40 and younger! Heck. We even had a lot of kids collecting their first fountain pens. It was super encouraging to see.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games. After a very nice auction on Friday, one of our longtime friends passed away. John F. and his wife were among the first to welcome me into the pen show scene after a particularly bruising first or second Chicago Pen Show for me about a decade ago. John was a retired newspaper editor, and I was freshly out of newspaper work in an era that has seen the decimation of newspapers across the country. We commiserated and bonded over our journalistic past. We’ve talked at nearly every pen show since. This night was no different, as he recounted his recovery from a rather severe stroke a few months earlier. Little did either of us realize our conversation just before the auction would be our last. All of the vendors were upset to hear of his passing just as the show opened for Saturday.

Among the things this show got so right was the ceaseless promotion that included heavy media promotion to reach out to new showgoers. Plus, they had cell phone aps to help people navigate the show! AND, they had a break room for the vendors that was loaded with soda, sandwiches and snacks! Like other shows they had table watchers, a great bar scene for after-hours meetings and catching up, loads of free parking and a very nice hotel.

If you didn’t go this year, be sure to attend in 2019.

Here’s a quick peek at our new workshop as it comes together for many more great vintage pen repairs.

Soooo, in other news, we’ve moved! Well, we still have the same P.O. Box and Website, but the secret underground workshop is now much larger and better suited to fix all of your favorite vintage pens. We’re not 100% unpacked but close, as you can see from this top secret photo.

This will be a temporary home, hopefully, for only a year or two. Because after this, we want to buy our forever, permanent home.

Good Lord. I hate moving! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! It is stressful as all get out, moving a small business and home at once. Luckily, the new place is much nicer and all of the business items have been unpacked and accounted for. Sorry for the lack of updates for so long.

And while all that transpired, I had three lovely visits from Blue-Hair Cathy, Chewbacca and The Chihuahua. All teammates from my college fencing team…an unspecified number of years ago. All arrived separately on different days. Two from Montana and one from Antarctica! It was great to catch up on all of our current lives, while reminiscing about all of the people we impaled together.

And now we resume your regularly scheduled vintage pen and pre-owned luxury pen mania.

Roadtrip to Atlanta 2018

I love that fresh, brilliant light green of new leaves after a long winter. These are white oaks from northern Georgia in full bloom.

I got my motor running and headed out on the highway for another spectacular trip down to Atlanta for a great pen show. Maybe it was due to the fact Chicago had a couple of inches of snow on the Monday before the Atlanta show, Georgia just looked stunning to me when I made my way to the final destination.

It is a long drive, so I broke it up with a stay in Chattanooga, TN. In the morning I crossed the border into Georgia to check out the National Park for the battlefield at Chickamauga. During the Civil War, this was a staging battle setting up Sherman’s infamous march to the sea. Union General William Rosecrans was pushing into Georgia from the stronghold of Chattanooga. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had the job of sending them back north.

These cannon represent where the Union artillery was set up behind Gen. Thomas’ infantry, as the general prevented a complete rout of the Federal troops.

Bragg was successful for the first 2 days of the battle. A communications error by Rosecrans and his generals turned day three into a rout of the Union Army. As Bragg moved to completely decimate the Union threat to Georgia and the Deep South, a Union general named George Thomas stepped up and held back the onslaught. Buying time for the Union to flee the field, Thomas stoutly held off the Confederacy until the Union army successfully left the field. It was truly a victory for the Confederacy, but instead of wiping out the Union army in its entirety, as it had the chance, they were prevented from doing more damage. Gen. Thomas would be forever remembered as “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

This log cabin was a one-room home that was converted into a field hospital during the battle of Chickamauga. Check out the bullet holes still in its timbers.

It is impressive how well the battlefield is preserved. It is likewise impressive that the original road that separated the two sides during the battle remains in active service today! The road has been paved and widened to accommodate 2 lanes of traffic, but it is exactly where it was more than 150 years ago. I was duly impressed with a log cabin that was converted into a field hospital during the battle, as it has been fully restored and remains standing. You can still count the bullet holes in its aging timbers.

This granite statue of a Union infantryman was one of my favorites depicted in my favorite Civil War book as a child.

Battlefields have many memorials dedicated to the men and units that fought and died, and Chickamauga is no exception. When I was a little kid, only 7 years old, first reading about the Civil War, one of my favorite statues was of an infantryman from the Union laying prone and taking aim at the Rebs. It was in my dad’s big book blue cloth-covered book about the Civil War. I hadn’t thought about it for years and was pleasantly surprised to see it in real life, after I turned a bend in the driving tour. Unfortunately, my granite friend has suffered the loss of his nose, cap bill and rifle hammer over the years.

Okay. On to the Atlanta Pen Show. Jimmy, Suzanne and the gang have done a great job building this show. Plus, they have that show running like clock work. Three rooms and a hallway are packed with vendors, and the remaining room was packed with users and collectors.

With a steady stream of people visiting the 2018 Atlanta Pen Show, I barely had time to snap this shot my table and the room. The legendary Rick Horne was my neighbor for this show.

It also is one of the friendliest shows I attend every year. Everybody comes to learn, test, explore and have fun. Unlike most shows, it feels as if the generations blend seamlessly in the bar after the show shuts down for the day. You have at least 100 people talking, sharing pens, checking out one another’s inks and trading notes about what to buy or try. Younger collectors seek advice and expertise about vintage and luxury pens from veteran collectors and vendors, while those same veteran pen folks ask after the latest modern pens and inks the newer collectors are enjoying. It is really encouraging to see.

On Saturday night after the show, I ran to the Georgia Aquarium for an opportunity to bliss out with the monstrous indoor coral reefs! The main tank was my favorite as it was a 6,300,000-gallon salt water tank big enough to host 3 whale sharks, 5 manta, dozens of reef sharks and stingrays and thousands of fish. It was the next best thing to S.C.U.B.A diving. I loved being that close to the sharks and looking in their eyes and mouths. Be sure to visit if you ever get the chance.

Thank You 2018 Arkansas Pen Show

We had always heard good things about the Arkansas Pen Show in Little Rock, but they were all understatements. This was our first year in attendance, and we already can’t wait to go back. There’s just something about Southern hospitality that suites us fine.

Here’s a view of the action at the 2018 Arkansas Pen Show, as seen from the wall entrance where we were stationed. Good traffic and great vendors!

Grayling, Fern and the rest of the gang who organized it did a spectacular job seeing to all of the vendor and attendee needs. Lisa Vanness and her crew hosted an incredible after-hours party. So did the Pen Addict, Brad Dowdy!

Plus, there were all of the great collectors who came to buy, sell and trade. It was a blast, and we just had fun goofing off and talking pens with everyone.

Of course, we made the trip our Spring Break run for history nerds. After three lovely days in Little Rock, I made a bucket-list trip to the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. One of the park rangers there told me that this lesser known battlefield is actually the best preserved of all our National Park battlefields.

Shiloh, Tennessee, is stunningly beautiful in bloom. This is what the soldiers would have seen as they disembarked from their steamboats at Pittsburgh Landing in 1862.

The first thing to strike me about Shiloh was its absolute beauty. There is nothing like springtime in the South. Chicago is cold, grey and filthy in March. Shiloh was rainy…but it also was 72 degrees and in bloom. Words fail to describe the relief of fresh country air, green grass and flowering trees. It fills you with hope for a new season and year.

The battle was a two-day struggle in April 6 and 7, 1862. General Ulysses Grant and the Union Army were looking to cut the South in half, by taking away its only east-west railroad that had an important junction in Corinth, Mississippi. Pittsburgh Landing in Shiloh was the best place to invade. As the Union numbers grew around Shiloh, the Confederates mounted a crushing surprise attack. They nearly pushed the U.S. back into the river. But an army of fresh reinforcements arrived that night and drove the rebels back to Corinth the next day. It was the bloodiest battle of the war up until that date, with more than a combined 20,000 casualties.

A line of Confederate artillery aims at the center of the Hornet’s Nest.

The National Park Service preserved the complete battlefield, and it has made a great driving tour of it. Although it rained almost all day, I didn’t mind a little water as I walked sections I’ve read about since I was a little kid.

One of my favorite things to read about as a kid was “The Hornet’s Nest.” More than 2,000 Federal troops got trapped in a dense bit of forest and were eventually surrounded and forced to surrender. But, before they surrendered, they fought so fiercely that the rebel soldiers said the constant barrage of Minie balls coming at them sounded like angry hornets.

A Union cannon in the center of the Hornet’s Nest rests silently on this rainy afternoon at Shiloh.

It was something else to actually stand in the thick of the Hornet’s Nest. To my great surprise, there are very few trees still alive from the battle. The area was forested by white oaks, and those trees only live about a hundred years. Most of the trees you see in this photo are their children and grandchildren.

Another one of the sites I couldn’t wait to see was the Bloody Pond. I was an extremely gruesome child, but I loved the idea of a pond turned red with blood. As an adult, I appreciate the informal truce of the pond during the battle. Union and Confederate troops shared the pond to clean out their wounds and get some water to quench their thirst. Yet, after such intense fighting, it didn’t take long for the pond to fill with their blood.

An informal truce between wounded soldiers was held at this pond as the wounded from both sides tried to clean their wounds and get some water. Yet, with more than 20,000 killed and wounded at the battle, the pond turned bright red with their combined blood.

Just south of the battlefield, on the road to Corinth, Miss., is a little museum filled with relics from the fighting. It has an impressive collection of bullets, buttons, weapons and more. I especially liked a chunk of lead that was two bullets that had collided and fused in mid-air!

However, the real treasure of the museum is its owner, Larry DeBerry. You won’t meet a friendlier soul, and it is unlikely you will meet anyone–even a park ranger–who knows more about the battle. He gives private and group tours of Shiloh, and you won’t regret a penny of it. I cannot more highly recommend taking one of his tours or just dropping in to visit his small, but memorable, museum! Check it out: Shiloh Museum & Tours.

Stop here for a look a great relics of the battle and for a fantastic tour of Shiloh!

The drive to Corinth was gorgeous! The sun came out in the mid-afternoon, and I never thought Tennessee and Mississippi could look so beautiful. There was very little left of the battlefield in Corinth, and, so, I was off to Memphis. I hit Beale Street that night for all of the Blues History.

In the morning before returning to Chicago, I got all shook up at Sun Studios.

Sun Studio is where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf got their start.

Believe it or not, I didn’t intend to stay for a tour, but I’m glad I did. In case you aren’t up on your rock history, Sun Studio is where rock ‘n’ roll was born. Ike Turner wrote what many consider to be the first rock song, which the band he was in recorded here: “Rocket 88.” A little while later, this is where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all got their starts. And really, that doesn’t do justice to it. Blues stars B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf also got their start here!

As part of the $14 tour you get to stand in the very studio where all the magic happened. Best of all, you get to hold one of the microphones Elvis sang into and sit at and touch the piano Jerry Lee Lewis used to record “Great Balls of Fire.”

All that history was a lot to pack into 48 hours, but it sure was worth it.

On Battlefields & Pen Shows

Now that I have the time to travel to pen shows by car (and after an airlines put $20,000 worth of pens on an extended vacation in cargo before returning them), I have determined to make the most of the road-trip experience.

Driving to the Atlanta Pen Show this year was particularly fun. In addition to loving pens, I also have been known to marvel over the American Civil War. As the drive through Tennessee and Georgia is rife with Civil War battlefields, I decided to stop in for a visit.

From the battle of Stone’s River / Murfreesboro (Tennessee) are a .69 cal. Minie ball, 2 .58 cal. Springfield rifle Minie balls, a .577 Enfield rifle bullet, 2 .58 cal. Wilson’s Cleaner Bullets, a .52 cal. Union cavalry carbine round and a piece of shrapnel from a 10-lb. Union Parrot gun (rifled cannon).

On the way to Atlanta, I made Murfreesboro my rest stop for the night. It is a surprisingly large and thriving city. I only knew it as a sleeply little junction during the war and assumed it had stayed that way. Far from. It isn’t quite Nashville or Memphis, but it is one of Tennessee’s biggest cities.

The national battlefield park at Stone’s River has been beautifully preserved. Stone’s River was a really big win for the Union as 1862 became 1863. They effectively swept the main Confederate Army out of the state, snatching a big victory from the jaws of an almost crushing defeat. The battlefield is known for landmarks such as the rocky-top terrain of the “Slaughter Pen,” Hell’s Half Acre (where a Federal brigade held off what should have been an overwhelming Rebel assault…among the members of that brigade was a young Ambrose Bierce, who would become a famous writer…a bitter wit and contemporary of Mark Twain) and the river crossing.

The national park is smaller than the full battlefield, but what is preserved is great. Plus, the guides at the info center are extremely friendly.

Just outside of the battlefield park is a Civil War antique shop. It was here that I lost my mind in Civil War relics bliss. The place is filled to the rafters with authentic rifles, pistols, swords, ordnance, spent bullets and more. The owner very kindly spent an hour with me, teaching me how to identify bullets, cannonballs and even bits of shrapnel! The inset photo features my Murfreesboro treasures. From left to right you have a .69 cal. Minie Ball (which could have been used by both the North or the South. These are, apparently, rarer to find. The Union was mostly armed with .69 cal rifles at the start of the war. As the South raided Union arsenals, they stole a big chunk of them. However, these rifles weren’t that great. Both sides replaced them as soon as they could with the superior…), .58 Minie Ball from a Springfield rifle (the Yankees’ primary weapon for the war), a spent .58 cal. Minie Ball from the battle, a .577 Enfield rifle slug (these smuggled British rifles were the primary weapon for the South), a .58 cal. Wilson’s Cleaner Bullet (a Northern bullet that was fired every 10th shot to rid the rifle barrel of sooty black powder residue and build up), a spent .58 cal Wilson’s Cleaner Bullet and a .52 cal. Union cavalry carbine bullet. In the background is a piece of shrapnel from a 10-lb. Union Parrot gun (rifled cannon). The bullets found in nearly perfect condition, he said, were likely dropped by nervous soldiers while trying to reload. You can imagine how terrifying it must be to see a line of several thousand men firing at you at once or running at you with their bayonets gleaming in the sun.

After several hours of getting my Civil War jones on, it was time to finish the drive to Atlanta. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve been on in years. Cutting through Appalachia was stunning. Spring had already long sprung down here, while Chicago was still just starting to turn green.

The Atlanta Pen Show was a ton of fun, as always. Jimmy Dolive and his daughter Suzanne put on quite a show. There isn’t much time for a vendor like me to wander and marvel over the pens, but it is always great seeing old friends and making new ones at the show. Many of the show’s highlights happened after trading had officially closed for the day. One of my favorite events was an informal after-hours get together in the hotel bar with many of the younger and newer bloggers and collectors. We all took turns showing off our favorite finds and latest ink samples. Plus, we all got to get to know each other much better.

Another fun night out had me at visiting the BRAND-SPANKIN’-NEW Suntrust Park, as the Braves took on the Washington Nationals. It was a ton of fun seeing the new ballpark with my Texas pen buddy Joe. The new stadium is quite nice, although I think I preferred the old one. (I’ve also been to their much earlier stadium known as Fulton County Stadium). The funny thing for me is how new it was. The vendors didn’t have their routines down, yet. The ushers weren’t really sure where anything was. The fans hadn’t developed as many rituals with the park, as they had in their old one. These things will all come and improve, but it was fun to see it opening week!

Once the show came to a close, I was on my way back home. I wish I remember the call numbers, but I listened to the greatest country honky tonk channel ever as I passed through northern Georgia. I stopped for the night in Franklin, TN.

Franklin was one of the last big battles for the Western theater of the Civil War. The Confederates were making a last-ditch, suicide effort to take Nashville and force the Yankees into a peace. The problem was that they suffered an overwhelming lapse of judgement and competency…letting the reinforcing Union Army march right through their lines without a single shot fired. Once the farming town of Franklin was reinforced, there was no chance for the doomed Confederate assault. In a charge over 1.5 miles of open terrain (a half mile longer than Pickett’s failed charge at Gettysburg), roughly 7,500 Rebels were cut down. A night of horrifying hand-to-hand combat ensued. The Union suffered minor losses compared to the full third of the Confederacy’s killed and wounded.

The townsfolk were so aghast at the carnage, they did all that they could to put it behind them as soon as possible. Very little land was preserved, unlike other major battles that became national parks. Here only three private pieces of property were preserved. I went to visit all three and was given incredible tours and insights into the battle. One farm house is still riddled with hundreds of bullet holes!

Although there was no national park to preserve it, I think I enjoyed Franklin even more than Stone’s River.

Two weeks later, it was time for my home show in Chicago! This, too, was great…and there was far less travel involved.

Later this year, I shall be attending both the Washington D.C. Pen Show and the Dallas Pen Show for the very first time. I cannot wait, as I’m told both are unforgettable experiences. I hope to see you there!

 

Catching Up Part II: Writing for ‘Pen World’

The editor of Pen World was reading through this very blog as he and the staff were working on the story about me in December and found my 4-part piece about helping to connect the generational divides by pen collectors. He really liked it and asked me to write my first story for Pen World Magazine!

The story featured in this April’s edition is a more journalistic approach uniting the generations. Having worked in newspapers for years and written for about a dozen different magazines, it was pretty easy to put that hat back on to report the story. Hopefully it will only be the first of many stories for Pen World. It is fun to write for magazines again.

Here it is with permission from Pen World. Most of the photography was provided by the delightful Laura Solon who is a big help at the Chicago Pen Show.

The cover to the April 2017 issue of "Pen World."

The cover to the April 2017 issue of “Pen World.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up Part I: Our First ‘Pen World’ Write Up!

It has been a crazy year for us at ThePenMarket.com. As some of you might know, I was working a full-time job…in addition to working full-time hours on ThePenMarket.com…while also coaching youth fencing competitions…while also writing a novel, seeing it published and ultimately being nominated for (and losing) a Pulitzer Prize. Toss in lots of pen repairs and a handful of pen shows…it was tough keeping up with these Drippy Musings.

I am very excited to say that I am now working full-time for myself at ThePenMarket.com. Good-bye, corporate America.  All the thanks goes to you, our customers, for helping me to live out a dream as a full-time pen entrepreneur!

The joy of the freedom of working for myself means that I can bring this blog up to speed. As such, it is time to thank “Pen World Magazine” for writing a story about my novel “Little Victories” in the December 2016 issue. With their permission to share it, here it is:

The 'Pen World Magazine' cover December 2016.

The ‘Pen World Magazine’ cover December 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Controversy in Chicago Part III: Let’s Help the Rookies

Now that veteran vendors and rookie pen collectors are breaking the ice, let’s lend some veteran assistance to the rookies navigating their first pen shows.

1421 Waterman PhileasYour first pen show is bound to be an overwhelming affair. There will be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of vintage and modern pens. You will find rarities you never dreamed of seeing in the flesh, and you will probably want to spend 10 times the amount of money you intended to spend. Plus, there are all of the custom services, which might take months to get performed through the U.S. mail but you can have satisfactorily completed in a single morning or afternoon at a pen show. And then there are the spare parts, inkwells, papers and cases!

To help you safely navigate your first pen shows, here is some advice that ought to help you breakdown the experience and keep it positive.

PRE-GAME STRATEGY
Set a budget and a goal for the show. Need some repairs done? Want a nib ground to perfection? Looking for certain pens? Organize all that you hope to achieve.

1324 Waterman 100 Year PenYour best bet is to put together a list of all the things you’re looking for and hope to do. This way you can take some time to marvel at the splendor of the distractions before you check in on your list to focus on your goals.

Loyal reader Justin P. recommends contacting your favorite eBay and other online vendors to see if they will be at the show. If they are, let them know you can’t wait to see them there and give them a heads up to your list of pens or merchandise that you want. Many will gladly set it aside for you so that you can have first dibs. Plus, it always helps to put names to faces by meeting in person.

Many shows are offering more and more seminars about repairs and the histories of the brands. Check out the show schedule online or in your show pamphlet to see what special events you don’t want to miss. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to help you remember it is time to head over to the seminar. Time passes remarkably quickly, and it is easy to get sidetracked.

If the show offers a weekend pass, you might want to get it. To make the most of the show, it helps to attend all of the days it is open. Day one is your best opportunity to pick up a really rare pen before somebody else snatches it. If it is a 4-day show, days 2 and 4 are quieter days, which are better for meeting new people and asking more questions about the pens and the hobby. Day 3/Saturday will be the busiest day. During trading hours, few vendors will likely want to talk for long because this is their best opportunity to sell the most and pay for their expenses.

Glass Topped CaseYet, some of the best times are after the formal trading closes for the day. You’ll often find clusters of vendors and collectors hanging out, talking or getting a drink. Strike up a conversation with them and get to know who they are, what their pen passions are and let them get to know you. Pen People, regardless of their experience with the hobby, are usually very friendly and chatty. People can usually be found talking pens in the lobby of the venue well into the wee hours of the morning.

SERVICES:
As I don’t do any nib grinding or Mont Blanc piston repair work, I love coming to the shows to take advantage of these services. The trick to navigating these services is to be there the minute the doors to the show open in the morning. If you are one of the first on the repair-person’s list, you can guarantee your pens get done that day.

Be sure to clearly explain to the repair folks what you want done and ask for an estimate first, so you know their prices and aren’t hit with sticker shock. Most repairs are fairly affordable, but it is always best to know what to expect. Vendors won’t mind fixing 2 or 3 pens for you at the show, but don’t expect for them to fix an entire shoebox full of pens at the show. They might ask to take that many pens home with them to work on later.

L15S Lamy Calligraphy NibsAt most shows you can expect to find full-time repair specialists such as Mike and Linda Kennedy of Indy-Pen-Dance, Ron Zorn, Richard Binder and “Mike It Work.” All four of these vendors are nationally known for their excellence. You can’t go wrong with any of them. If you do have 15 to 20 pens you want restored at the show, it might be best to spread 3 or 4 amongst each of them to see who’s work you like best. Expect also a minimum repair bill to be $20 to $25 per pen. It could be up around $40 to $50 if you want your nib ground to a new size and shape.

If you are having nib work done, be patient and remember it is very precise and time-consuming work. Don’t rush your grinder. However, as you are asking for a very specific and personalized repair, don’t be afraid to say the nib still doesn’t feel right when they ask you to test it. They want you to be happy with their services, and they will work hard to get the precise feel you want in your nib. If they spend an inordinately long amount of time getting your pen just right, they might charge you an extra $5 or $10, which is okay. Time is money, and you will get to enjoy that pen and nib for the rest of your life.

DEALING WITH VENDORS
It came as a great shock to me that not all vendors are there to sell. Some table holders are just there to meet with old friends, show off an impressive collection or to do any number of other things. For most of us, it is a business.

To avoid getting overwhelmed or making rash purchases of the first things you see, spend some time walking around and keeping an eye out for the merchandise on the tables. I like to make a complete sweep of the show before making any purchases…unless I spot something rare that I must buy quickly or not see again.

Don’t be shy. Say hi to the vendors and don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for. It is really easy to overlook the pens you’re looking for on tables that seem lightly populated with pens.

Keep a running tally of prices in your head or on a notepad. It is safe to assume you will find dozens of similar pens at the show. Prices and quality could range all over. Plus, it will help you keep from going over your budget…or show you there is room from an extra new treasure.

1262CWhen you are ready to get serious about buying a pen, there is a whole checklist of things to do:

  • ASK the vendor if you can pick up and examine his or her pen (You’d be surprised at how many people break pens or inadvertently mess up an organizational system.)
  • Look over the pen carefully for cracks, dents, imprint quality and brassing
  • ALWAYS try first to UNSCREW the cap. NEVER YANK on a cap.
  • Search for cracks on the lip of the cap with your thumbnail. If you spin the lip of a cap over your thumbnail, it will gently pick up any crack that might not be visible to the eye.
  • Use a loupe to examine the nib. Are there cracks? Is the tipping good? Are the tines aligned? Are one of the tine tips cracked just below the tipping and about to pop free?
  • If the nib looks okay, then test it for flex with your thumbnail. Put the underside of the nib’s tip on the top of your thumbnail and gently add pressure.
  • ASK if you can test the filling system. If you feel any pressure or resistance in the filling system, don’t force it. Ask the vendor if it needs restoration? (Lots of vendors complain about people breaking levers and other pen parts while checking out the filling system.)
  • Finally, ask if the vendor has ink and if you can dip the pen to try it out.

CLOSING THE DEAL
Cash is king. All pen dealers accept cash. However, many are now accepting credit cards due to the simplicity of smart phones and apps by Square and PayPal.

Before you start negotiating the final price, ask if they accept credit cards…if that is all you have with which to pay. This might save everybody some time and trouble. Don’t be upset if they say yes but also tack on an extra 2% or 3% to cover the fee charged by the credit card company. Some deals run the profit margin pretty thin, and it is fair to pay the processing fee.

1265 Pelikan 400NNTo negotiate a deal well, it helps to be well informed about the pen you are buying and its current prices. Be sure to highlight any flaws in the pen and make an offer that is fair and realistic. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that is still too high for you. Yet, don’t be afraid to accept a counter offer that is reasonable, especially if you received good customer service.

Many vendors don’t put prices on their pens. Some of them like to game you a bit to see how much you are willing to pay. Let’s say you’re looking at an aerometric Parker 51 in black with a lustraloy cap. You ask how much, and the vendor replies $100. It’s okay to smile, say thanks and put it back down. Unless it has something rare like a stub nib or some other uncommon feature, he or she will likely counter, “Well how much were you hoping it would be?” You can honestly say–because you know there are 3 bajillion black 51s in the world–that you were hoping for around $50. The vendor will likely acquiesce with something like, “Well, I can do $55.”

Feel free to ask vendors lots of questions, BUT understand that they might expect you to buy something if you take up too much of their time. If you have tons of questions, but aren’t ready to buy, save them until you are with a vendor whose pens you will be buying or until the show slows down and the vendor has more free time to talk.

And, of course, if you do get a cranky vendor who doesn’t treat you as you feel you should be treated, just move on to the next. There are often well over 100 vendors at most shows, and somebody nice will likely have just what you’re looking for.

Have fun!