DC Pen Show, Part One - A Transformative Roller Coaster

DC Pen Show, Part One - A Transformative Roller Coaster

Getting to Know Sailor Nibs Reading DC Pen Show, Part One - A Transformative Roller Coaster 21 minutes Next DC Pen Show, Part Two - It's All About the People

If you read my "Laura's First Pen Show!" blog article back in March, you know the 2023 Baltimore Pen Show was a really big deal for me and an experience I will never forget. When I got home from the show, I was simultaneously elated and sad, exhausted and floating on a high that I didn't want to end. As soon as I was able, I stretched out on the side of my dad's bed and told him all about the experiences I'd had and all the connections I had made, about all the changes that were happening for me and how amazing it felt. My dad was too weak to respond very much but he smiled and smiled. I knew how proud he was of me and how happy he was to see my life blossoming before his eyes.  My dad died about two weeks later, and I'm so thankful that I was able to share the show with him. I knew I needed to be at the Washington DC Fountain Pen Supershow in August no matter what, so, as soon as tickets went on sale, I booked a "weekend trader" pass for all four days and a hotel room for three nights.


Supershow Expectations

I knew the DC Pen Show would be different from Baltimore. It's the largest fountain pen event in the world, and people kept telling me how much bigger and more intense it would be. It's 65% larger! It's twice as big!  It's five times bigger!  I wasn't sure which numbers to believe, and I'm not a numbers person anyway, so I didn't really have a concept in my head of what the size would be, but I knew that there would be almost 200 vendors, with nearly 350 tables, and that Saturday would be very crowded. Customers who had attended the show in the past warned me that it would get so busy at times that it would be physically difficult to move through the exhibition rooms or talk to the vendors.  There would be 6 nibmeisters, 11 workshops, 12 free seminars/special events, 13 raffles, and exhibitors from all over the world, including Italy, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, Holland, Croatia, India, Israel, Turkey, and the UK.  Exhibitors would range from "regular people" with stuff to sell like my friends Kim and Sando and their daughters, to experienced vintage pen guys like Myk Daigle of Mad Mercantile, nibmeisters like Kirk Speer from Pen Realm, custom pen makers like Jonathon Brooks of Carolina Pen Co, stores from around the country including Vanness and Dromgoole's, small family businesses like Anderillium Ink, large companies like Pilot and Pelikan, and distributors like KenroLuxury BrandsCole's of LondonYafa, and Itoya

As with the Baltimore show, I asked my very talented teammate Lauren to make a sign about the DC show for our store and Instagram posts, and we brainstormed ideas together.  Since the show takes place at the Fairview Park Marriott in Falls Church, VA (just around Washington DC's Capital Beltway from where I live in Maryland), we decided it would be fun if the sign showed kids hanging up posters about the event on the Washington Monument, with the Capitol Building in the background. (Pretty naughty, but since they're fountain pen -crazy children, we can excuse them!)  It's called the DC Pen Show, but it's actually on the outskirts of DC and is a lot easier to get to than it would be if it were downtown. The site is between the Ronald Reagan National and Dulles International airports, so it's a great location to fly into from anywhere around the country or world. As always, Lauren did a stellar job with her sign and exceeded my expectations!

As the event grew closer, Leena, Leila, and I discussed how we'd be involved with the show.  Leena had a long-awaited family vacation to India planned during that week (Leena is Nepalese, but her husband Raj is from India), so she couldn't go, but of course I would say hello to all our favorite vendors for her and do what I could to represent Pen Boutique, take photos and videos, and spread the word about our store.  At my instruction, Leena and Raj's daughter Shriya designed a friendly informational flyer, which we distributed on store friend Kim Fouche's table and Jesse Tanenblatt (The Pen Blotter)'s wonderful "Share the Wealth" table, which was manned with help from volunteers from the local DC Metro Pen Crew. Hopefully lots of people who didn't know about Pen Boutique picked one up and will learn about our store, our website, our Instagram and YouTube channels, and my blog. The flyer also included a ticket for 10% off your next purchase, so that was a good incentive to take one!

(Pictured:  Kim and Sandro's daughters' Alexandra Ozga and Samantha Fouche at their table, where they sold their own handmade inkwells, vases, and pen cases sewn from a variety of cool fabrics.  Such entrepreneurs! Thank you for your support of Pen Boutique!)

Leena had gifts and hand written cards for me to bring to a few special people, including Barbara Johnson, the lady responsible for putting the whole show together, and I wrapped those in sheets of our beautiful handmade Lokta wrapping paper. I also made a huge list of about 25 different people I hoped to speak with and several events I wanted to attend, including Pilot Corporation of America's handwriting analysis, Bert Anderson of Anderillium Inks' The History of Ink seminar, and Esterbrook's after-dark gathering led by Cary Yeager, aka Fountain Pen Day. I did present all the gifts, and it was an especially huge pleasure getting to know Barbara and her cute little dog, but I ended up having time to do none of the events, and I never even saw some of the people on my list, despite trying my utmost and barely pausing for a break the entire weekend.

(Pictured:  Meeting Barbara Johnson for the first time, on Thursday when I first arrived during the busy setup time.  She's wonderful, and, every time I saw her, she looked happy, despite somehow dealing with juggling all the intricacies of this colossal event!)

I also didn't really buy anything for myself, other than a roll of washi tape with fountain pen nibs on it and a $10 “Maki-e” -style Platinum Preppy that we didn't get at Pen Boutique.  (It's my first Preppy!  I was penabled by a couple of favorite customers I ran into on Friday....)  I just didn't have time to shop for myself, and that wasn't what I was there for. I was there for the experience and for the people, and I wasn't let down in the slightest.  The show was an even wilder and more exhilarating ride than I ever could have imagined, and, although it was exhausting and unpredictable, I loved every minute of it!


Losing it to Leonardo

Let me back up a little. Yes, I knew going in that I'd only be able to experience a fraction of what the show had to offer, both because it was so large, and also because I had a lot of responsibilities in my growing role as representative for Pen Boutique.  But, most importantly, on Saturday, my colleague Leila and I would be at the Leonardo Officina Italiana table to debut our Pen Boutique store exclusive collaboration with Leonardo, made from one of Jonathon Brooks' wildly popular Primary Manipulation materials.  Leonardo is a brand we are just beginning to carry again at Pen Boutique (we stopped in the early days of the pandemic, when getting the pens shipped to us from Italy became too challenging), thanks in part to a connection I had made at the Baltimore show with Klarissa, Leonardo's new brand ambassador. Klarissa wasn't yet working for Leonardo at the Baltimore show, so I knew her because she had been helping at the Taccia table, but, not too long after the show, she called on the store phone to talk to me about Pen Boutique forming a relationship with Leonardo and possibly doing a store exclusive pen.  Making decisions like that isn't part of my role, but I was very excited to bring it up with Leena, and I hoped that I could influence her decision.

(Pictured:  Klarissa, on the right, with me at the Leonardo table selling our store exclusive pens at the pen show. Thank you to Martin for the photo!)

A few months earlier, one of my favorite new customers, Mike, had shown me his Leonardo pen, and I loved how it looked.  He was pretty new to fountain pens, and had a lot of questions for me, so he was very fun to talk to, and it was exciting helping him build his collection and his knowledge about different filling mechanisms and pen brands.  I sold Mike an Edison Collier that day, showed him Pelikans, and later turned him onto Esterbrook Esties and the Pilot 823. He, in turn, got me really interested in Leonardos, and I had been studying the Leonardo website, dreaming about which Leonardo I wanted.  I'd made it a point to check out Leonardo pens at the Baltimore Pen Show, but ended up not buying one because I couldn't decide on a color and nib size, and I didn't want to rush my decision.

When Pen Boutique's new relationship with Leonardo finally became a reality, I was delighted to meet with Klarissa along with our new store manager Leila, and learn about the pens we'd be carrying. It had taken a number of phone calls and lots of e-mails, but we'd made it happen, thanks in part to Leila, who was also a big advocate of the Leonardo idea.  We all felt triumphant and excited, and Klarissa kept me in the loop as the whole process unfolded. 

Leena had chosen Jonathan Brooks' vibrant PM4 material for our pen, and decided to name it Rangoli, in honor of the striking art form native to the Indian subcontinent. Rangoli are geometric designs traditionally crafted using brightly colored sand, quartz powder, limestone, red ochre, dry rice flour, flower petals, and rocks. In many parts of India, Nepal, and a few other countries, women create Rangoli in front of their homes as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The Rangoli represents the happiness, positivity, and liveliness of a household.

Growing up, Leena loved seeing these captivating designs adorning the fronts of homes, showcasing creative depictions of peacocks, lamps, flowers, trees, and more. During festival times, the designs become even larger and more spectacular. This beautiful art form is further enhanced with the placement of a lamp, illuminating the design and bringing joy into our lives. Leena's family continues this tradition in their home, especially during the festival of Diwali.

When I saw the pens for myself, I immediately understood why Leena had selected this gorgeous material and named it in honor of her beloved Rangoli.  Each pen is unique and features a captivating sparkling swirl of aqua, violet, magenta, orange, yellow, cobalt, and rose. 

Rangoli is a numbered limited edition of 100 Momento Zero and 50 Momento Zero Grande (with silver or gold trim) fountain pens.  The regular Momento Zero, which comes with a converter, is similar in size to an Esterbrook Estie, but with a shorter cap. The Grande version is perfect for people who love slightly oversized pens, and is piston-filled.  These pens feature Leonardo's beautiful steel nib with thier fenice (phoenix) design.  The Grande size is also available with 14k gold nib options (in silver or gold trim), but we have already sold out!  (We are also carrying Momento Zero and Momento Zero Grande pens in Jonathon Brooks' Primary Manipulation 1 material, which is available in either a glossy or matte finish.) 

There is so much variety in the different pens... in some, the darker colors like cobalt and violet are more prominent. Others are light and pretty as flowers, with yellow, pink, and aqua in the forefront. Still others are blazing with lots of orange and magenta. 

No two are alike, and each contains a different blend of the spectrum of hues, but they all exude an uplifting feeling of peace and joy. 

Once we had confirmed our plan for Rangoli and worked with Leonardo to create the exclusive package design for our pen, we embarked on an Instagram campaign to announce the release of the new pen and host giveaways of two Momento Zero Rangoli. Working in tandem, Klarissa and I revealed the news about Rangoli, starting with a black and white teaser to pique interest about what colors it would be.  (The image she used was a desaturated version of my photo above.) One giveaway would be on Klarissa's Instagram account, @thesnowystudio, and one would be at the DC Pen Show.  The whole thing was very complicated and very exciting, and felt even more so because I was directly involved in making it happen, so it was personal!


Rangoli Frenzy

At the show, one of my responsibilities was to take care of the Rangoli pens that Leonardo co-founder and CEO Salvatore Matrone had brought for us from Naples. They were given to me on Friday evening in a leather pen case, and I had to inventory them in my hotel room to count how many we had in each model, trim variation, and nib size. With the exception of the samples that Klarissa had brought for Leena a month earlier, we hadn't received the pens at the store yet, so this would be our first inventory.  We would debut them on Saturday and then I would bring any remaining pens back to the store to sell, so I also had to keep track of what we sold, and tally what was left.  It wasn't hard to do, but I was very tired at the end of each day, so I had to really concentrate to make sure my count was perfect!

(Pictured:  the Momento Zero Grande half of the pens.  The rest are under the pen case's velvet divider. I used my trusty Hexo to do the count, of course!)

I had hoped to interview Salvatore and designer Jonathon Brooks on Thursday, when vendors were first arriving and setting up, but they were nowhere to be found, and Salvatore was extremely busy at the Leonardo table on the other days of the show, so I couldn't interrupt.  I was on the opposite end of the table on Saturday, and neither of us had a moment to even catch a breath, so I barely had a chance to say hello to him, but I witnessed his special attention to detail up close on Sunday when I was helping one of my favorite customers to purchase a one-of-a-kind Leonardo Momento Zero Grande Ebonite Special Edition with a beautiful swirling design. Before she left the table, he had her write with the pen, and personally tuned the nib so that it was perfect in her hand.

Despite being extremely pleased to be there, I have to admit that working at the Leonardo table was probably my least favorite part of the show, because it was so busy and a bit harrowing. Just as I'd been warned, Saturday was extremely crowded, and people constantly came up to the table to ask us about Rangoli. I loved seeing them ooo and ahhh about how beautiful the pens were, but, because everyone was in a hurry on Saturday and didn't want to spend too much time in any one location, I didn't have the opportunity to engage with them very much, and had to enthusiastically repeat the same information over and over:  that this was our Pen Boutique store exclusive pen, Rangoli, which we were debuting at the show today. It came in Momento Zero and Momento Zero Grande sizes, with silver colored trim for the MZ and either silver or gold colored trim for the MZG. The price was $230 for the smaller pen, and $325 for the larger one. They all had steel nibs, but we'd have gold nibs available soon at the store.  You can choose any pen you like, and we can nib switch it to the nib size you want.  Also, would you like a raffle ticket?  Be back at the Leonardo table at 3 PM for the drawing, and you could win a Rangoli!

Leila and I worked hard conveying the information and showing off the beautiful pens.  Sometimes people were seriously interested and wanted to dip test the pen first, so we ran down to the other end of the table to grab the bottle of ink from Salvatore so they could try the pen and choose their desired nib size.  If they wanted to buy one, they picked their favorite instance of the pen, which was a very difficult choice, as there was so much color and pattern variation in the collection.  If their favorite was the wrong nib size (for example, medium rather than fine), Leila or I would find another pen with their desired nib and swap the two.

The most popular nib at the show was fine, but when I tried them at home later, I couldn't pick a favorite!  They all wrote beautifully.  I think I'd get an extra fine, but I'll probably change my mind tomorrow!

Switching the nibs was a little nerve-wracking, because we didn't want to lose track of which nib was which, or what nib size each nib was! I soon learned that I needed to remove the converter before swapping nibs on the Momento Zero pens, and later I disassembled one at home for a photo to show how you can easily take apart the pen for cleaning.

As you can see in the photo, you can even access the Momento Zero's converter through the removable end cap, which allows you to refill your pen on the fly.  While I was working on this blog article, I made a video to demonstrate both the secret trap door and how easy it is to remove the nib.  

Just like in the video, the nibs were often inky from being dip tested, so of course my fingers got covered with Leonardo red ink!  I liked that part. I love getting inky. Once someone had their perfect pen selected, Klarissa would use her credit card reader to finalize the transaction. Klarissa was even busier than we were, as she had to complete all the charges for the whole Leonardo table.

As always, Leila and I were a great team, and we each made sure the other was able to take a brief break for lunch to eat the sandwiches Leonardo had kindly provided for the whole table. I went up to my hotel room to wolf mine down in private, and in the brief lull I realized just how intense the morning had been.  I had to patiently make my way back through the crowd to return to our table, and soon it was time for the 3 PM giveaway drawing.

If you saw the video I posted on Instagram, you know how exciting our drawing was.  At 3 PM, a huge crowd had formed around our table, and Leila held the box of tickets while Salvatore reached in to stir them around and select one.  Everyone waited with bated breath as Salvatore pulled out a ticket and displayed it dramatically.  Leila and I had expected him to hand it to Leila to read the number, but he held it up as if the crowd could see the tiny number for themselves! "What's the number? What's the number?" I asked, laughing nervously. 

Thinking fast, tiny Klarissa looked over at the ticket Salvatore was holding, and, while continuing to record a video of her own at the same time (!), read out the six digits as loudly as she could. It's a good thing it was her and not me, because my voice was extremely hoarse by that point, and didn't recover until Tuesday! A man in the distance called out the last three digits again so those farther away would be able to hear it, and, after a moment during which everyone eagerly checked their ticket, there was a shriek of delight, and the crowd parted to allow our winner to rush forward, waving her ticket aloft.  It was such a thrilling and wonderful moment of pure emotion, writing about it now is actually making me tear up a little!  

We couldn't have had a more perfect winner. She was jumping up and down with excitement, absolutely thrilled to have won Rangoli.  I pointed to the Memento Zeros with a very inky finger and told her she could choose any one she wanted. "And if you like one, and want to nib switch it to another size, go right ahead!" As I repeated, "Congratulations!" she immediately started eagerly comparing all the pens, and took her time to carefully choose the one that spoke to her the most.  


End of the Night

At the close of the day, I left completely exhausted, but also eager for one last night experiencing the after-hours part of the show. Thursday and Friday nights had both been absolutely wonderful, and each one different and special in its own way.  Up in my hotel room, I inventoried the remaining Rangoli pens and then took a bath to try to relax and revive myself a little before going out to dinner at a nearby restaurant with one of the interesting vintage pen vendors I'd become friends with at the Baltimore show.  When we got back, it was time to hang out in the lobby with our favorite group of people, including Kim and Sandro and many others.  None of us wanted the evening to end, and I didn't end up calling it a night until about 4 AM. Sure, I'd had a long and intense day, but I'm also a night owl and I didn't want to miss a moment. How could I go to sleep, when it was the last time we'd all be together like this, until next time?

I also don't want to draw this blog article to a close, but I need to go to work tomorrow and can't stay up until 4 AM this time, so I'll leave you with a cliff-hanger that will be concluded in my next article.  Next time, I will get more in depth about some of the memorable people I spent time with (other than Klarissa and Leila!), including some of my favorite vendors and customers, and wonderful vendors I had never met before this show. Not only did I make connections that are expanding my horizons and my knowledge of the world of fountain pens, I also discovered some fantastic products that we are now carrying as a result!  I can't wait to tell you all about them.

For now, time to rest, and I'll see you next week.

-Laura P.

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