Fountain Pen Show Season Is Here

Delta Vintage Green with Fine Nib

My first ever pen show purchase

This year’s pen show season is already well underway with Philadelphia and Arkansas, along with the Eastern Pen Show in the UK, already part of history. Although for me it begins (and may end) with the Long Island Pen Show coming March 14th and 15th. I’ve only been to four pen shows (Long Island twice, Boston and Washington DC) so I’m far from an expert, but here’s my pen show strategy.

Pre-Show Prep

  • Check the pen show’s website or Facebook page, if they exist, to see who’ll be at the show and any workshops that may be available.
  • I keep a wishlist of pens I’m interested in buying. If it’s not updated I research typical prices and what I’m willing to pay. Plus any other info about the pen such as finishes or nib sizes I’m interested in. When I was collecting Esterbrook nibs I kept a list of the ones I didn’t have along with what they were generally selling for if they became available along which which ones were on the rare side.
  • I make of a list of pens or brands I want to see even if I’m not particularly interested in purchasing one of them. For example, when considering Pelikan M800 and M1000 I took a look at several samples at a show and was able to write with one of each. This let me know that the M800 was more my type of pen, but I wasn’t ready to buy until recently.
  • Set a budget. It’s easy to go crazy at a pen show so I set a budget. This also forces me to be more careful about what I buy. I don’t want to hit my limit and then find something I really want.
  • Generally, pen shows are more vintage than modern, although Washington DC is big enough so almost all brands and models of modern pens are represented. Smaller shows, like Long Island may not have a lot of modern brands. So adjust your expectations accordingly.

Part of the pen show fun is finding and learning about new things so I certainly don’t limit myself to these lists.

Esterbrook Dollar Bandless with 9555 nib

My first ever vintage purchase was at a pen show.

Things to Bring

  • Bottled water and energy bars/snacks. Most shows (if not all) have some sort of restaurant or cafeteria at the show so this is optional but it does make it easier to stay in the show if you’re pressed for time.
  • A loupe to examine nibs.
  • A pen case to hold any pen purchases, especially used pens which may not have a case.
  • A bag or backpack to carry any purchases. Many vendors will have bags so this is optional and also depends on how much you could potentially buy.
  • A vial of water. It can be used to test vintage pens for leaks. It’s not a bad idea but I admit I’ve never used it and didn’t bring one my last show. Some vendors will allow you to dip pens. But always ask before filling with water or ink.
  • A pocket notebook and pen to make any notes.
  • Cell phone. You’ll probably already have this just because you carry it all the time. But it can be used to take pictures of things you want to remember. You might be considering a pen but decide to move on and see what else is available. Take a picture of it and the table it’s at. This can also replace your pocket notebook, but where’s the fun in that?

At the show

CS Marlborough with Binder Stub Nib

My first nibmeister visit – also at a pen show

  • If I want nib work done the first thing I do is find the nibmeister I want to do the work and get on their list. Maybe not all of them maintain a list, but the three I’ve been to at nib shows did. While it may vary by person, if all you need is a nib tuning it’s probably OK to be inked, but if it’s going to be ground to a new point it should be empty. It never hurts to bring the pen empty since they’ll have ink to test it with. Richard Binder has a pen show FAQ, while specific to him it will give you a general idea of what to expect from anyone else.
  • Either first (if I don’t look for the nibmeister) or second (if I do) I make a pass around the entire show to get a general lay of the land pen show. Unless there’s something I want and it’s rare or a really good price I won’t do any actual shopping yet.
  • Enjoy the rest my time at the show.
  • I usually buy ink and paper when I’m getting ready to leave (unless, of course, it’s a bottle of Montblanc Bordeaux for $10) so I don’t have to carry around the heavier items.

Anything suggestions or anything I missed?

Additional Reading

I wrote about my first pen show and the Washington DC show.

2014 Atlanta Pen Show – The Pen Addict

2014 Commonwealth Pen Show (Boston) – Modern Stationer

2014 Long Island Pen Show – EDJelley.com

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