DC Pen Show, Part Two - It's All About the People

DC Pen Show, Part Two - It's All About the People

I hope you enjoyed my article last week, where I talked about my experiences preparing for this year's DC Pen Show and collaborating with Leonardo Pens. Saturday was my first time working a table at a pen show, but the rest of my days at the show were quite different. As I alluded to at the end of the article, most of my time at the show was spent running around, meeting people, learning valuable information, and talking until my voice was hoarse. It was such a high-energy weekend, filled with positivity, fulfillment, and the growing feeling that I was in a place where I belong, that I was being recognized for who I am, and that I have a valuable role I love.


Go With the Flow

Unlike when I first arrived at the Baltimore Pen Show, I wasn't nervous when I walked into DC. Yes, I knew the Supershow would be huge and overwhelming, but this time I felt confident that I had a place there, people I was looking forward to seeing, and important things to do. Because the show was so large and unpredictable, I wasn't able to do everything I hoped, but I knew I would need to just go with the flow, and, if I missed some opportunities, others would find me. Before I carried my bags in from the parking lot, I picked up the painted rock I keep in my car and gave it a smile.  It's from a Kindness Rocks garden near where I used to live, and its message reminds me how important it is to be flexible, adaptable, and open to where life takes me.

As soon as I entered the Fairview Park Marriott, I felt exhilarated. I was back at a pen show!  This time, I was able to get an early check in, so I put all my bags in my room right away, and then came downstairs to get my badge and look around.  It felt very cool to have a real badge this time that would allow me access for the whole weekend and had my name and "Pen Boutique" on it!  But, even before I got my badge, I was recognized in the elevator, to my surprise and delight. Throughout the whole weekend, people kept coming up to me and exclaiming, "It's Laura from Pen Boutique! I love your Instagram videos!" Wow! It was very fun and gratifying to feel like a mini-celebrity, realizing people pay attention to my work and like it. Every time an exhibitor--like the ones at the Pen World Magazine table--knew me, I was amazed.  I had never met them. How did this happen?!

Thursday was only open to exhibitors and people with "weekend trader" passes, so it was very low-key and the big-name exhibitors' tables weren't open yet.  In the large ballroom, I spoke with a weekend trader college student who was selling extra notebooks to get cash for school, and she offered me a great deal on an Oberon Design journal cover. I knew my teammate Lauren wanted one, so I texted her to ask if she'd like me to snag it for her, but she told me she was planning to purchase a different one at Pen Boutique the next day.  

It was fun looking around for a little while, but the real show hadn't started yet. I ran into Klarissa from Leonardo almost immediately, and she gave me a big hug, as did Cary Yeager from Kenro, Scott Hammer from Sailor, and nibmeister Kirk Speer from Pen Realm. It was wonderful to see Scott, as he's been one of my biggest supporters, and seeing Cary and Kirk definitely made me feel at home and welcomed, especially as I thought back to how they'd each encouraged me to go to my first pen show, and how emotional I'd felt when I said goodbye to Kirk when leaving the Baltimore show. Later, I caught up with Kirk again and asked him about coming back to Pen Boutique for another store event, and we made plans to do it the weekend of November 18th, so that is definitely something to look forward to this fall.  Kirk is very talented and can tune or repair your nib, or make one of his extremely cool custom grind nibs for you. He custom ground a fude nib on an Esterbrook Estie for me at the Baltimore show, and I love that smooth, fun, and dramatic nib!

Speaking of "go with the flow," I couldn't resist asking Kirk for a photo of his sublimely inky fingers for an impromptu Inky Fingers photo collection I'd started when exploring the grand ballroom on Thursday. My Inky Fingers collection didn't end up being as large as I'd envisioned, but I definitely got some of the best inky fingers in the show (from my point of view, at least):  Kirk, along with two of my favorite vintage pen dealers, Myk and Walter.

(Myk, aka Mad Mercantile.)

(Walter.  Note the "mango chutney!" Love it.)

The vintage guys don't have anything directly to do with my job at Pen Boutique, but I look forward to seeing them because they are so easygoing, cool, and interesting. They have a gentleness that resonates with me. Even if you aren't into collecting vintage pens, I recommend stopping to talk with at least a few vintage pen dealers when you're at a show. You can learn a lot, and it's a nice change of pace, too.  After all, we wouldn't have modern pens without vintage pens, and, if you really love fountain pens, you'll appreciate getting a better understanding of the forerunners of the writing instruments that are made today. They are also some of the best people to hang out with after hours!


Pilot and Pelikan Serendipity

After I'd gotten my bearings and said hello to everyone I recognized from the Baltimore show, I realized it was way past my lunchtime and I should take a food and coffee break.  Serendipity struck, and Bill from Pilot Pens was about to get lunch at the same time, and asked if I'd like to join him in the lobby restaurant.  I'd gotten to know Bill at our Pilot store event back in March, and was very happy to have the opportunity to talk with him further.  He's incredibly nice, well-spoken, and a relaxing person to be around. I'm looking forward to another upcoming store event with Bill the first Saturday of December. I couldn't have asked for a better way to start off the DC show. 

I told Bill about how well Pilot had been doing in our popular "Battle of the Pens" series on Instagram. By popular vote of our viewers, Pilot had dominated the last two face-offs between five pens, with the Namiki Emperor reigning in the Battle of the Big Nibs, and the E95s already the clear leader in our latest, Battle of the Pocket Pens. In tribute to Pilot's success in the battles, Leila and I had decided to follow up with an all-Pilot Battle between the FalconE95sVanishing PointCustom 74, and Custom 823.  It ended up being our hottest battle yet, with voters showing lots of love for all the pens before the Vanishing Point emerged as the ultimate winner.  Bill was very tickled, and couldn't wait to hear the results of the ongoing battles.

As Bill was sharing more about his experiences as a representative, he mentioned his old friend and colleague Gary, who is our Pelikan representative. I had never met Gary, but, along with Pilot, Pelikan is one of my top favorite pen brands, so I really wanted to. Lucky for me, it just so happened that, shortly after he started telling me about Gary, Bill spotted him across the lobby, checking in to the hotel!  He waved Gary over to introduce him, and, even though he had been traveling all day and hadn't even visited his room yet, Gary very graciously took the time to meet me and talk. Although I didn't know Gary, he knew about me, and, to my surprise and great pleasure, he thanked me for my support and for the blog article I had written about Pelikans. It's one of my older articles, but was one of the most memorable for me to write, and is still one of my favorites.  When I was working on it, I couldn't stop thinking about Pelikan pens, and even dreamed about them.

(Gary, on the left, and Bill, on the right.)

Gary then offered to show me a very special pen he had in his pocket. I asked if it would be all right if I recorded a video, and he said I could.  He told me this pen was "the only one in the world right now... and has only actually been seen by about twenty people in the world, and so far the only person in the US who has seen it is me, until LAURA is going to see it right now for the very first time."  I gasped, "WHAT?! Okay, let's see it...!" and Gary continued, dramatically unsheathing it from its pen case, "This is the Pelikan M600 Art Collection."  I loved the pen immediately, and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, wow!" Nearly speechless, I added slowly, "That is... really... beautiful! ...Wow!"  It was stunning. Gary agreed, "It is the most beautiful pen that I've seen that Pelikan has come out with."

The barrel material looks completely different from other Pelikans, and when I asked Gary what it was made out of, he told me, "This is a very special process. ...Basically, they are etching a brass barrel and then putting ten coats of lacquer on it. They polish that lacquer and then print this image, which actually is an image that was painted in 1911 and was an art poster for Pelikan." He showed me an image on his phone of the poster by Italian painter Glauco Cambon that had inspired the pen. Cambon's design won the Pelikan poster competition “Competition for Art Painters and Architects“ in 1909 and was used in Pelikan's advertisements. Earlier this year, Pelikan hosted a survey on social media to choose which art poster would be featured on the new pen, and this one was selected by popular vote. There's a great article about it on The Pelikan's Perch!

The poster depicts swimming pelicans and their colorful reflections on the water, and the design and colors on the pen's barrel echo the reflections. The guilloched image has an almost holographic effect that seemed to move as Gary turned the pen in his hand. Gary remarked to me later, "More than any other pen, it has to be seen to be believed."  I completely agree.  You can see a photo of both the pen and poster on our website, as it is already available for pre-order, but the image doesn't do it justice. 

Gary also allowed me to hold the pen and take a photo to text one of my special customers, Toni, who immediately told me she wanted to order one. I was overjoyed. I knew she'd love it, and I'd already made a sale, just by sharing my enthusiasm and excitement! I messaged Joy to call Toni and complete the order, happy and thankful to be part of such a great team and surrounded by people who love and appreciate uniqueness and beauty.

Because the pen Gary had with him was the only one in the world, he had to send it back to Germany not long after the show, but was able to exhibit it in an illuminated case at the Pelikan table over the weekend and show everyone how breathtaking it is. The pen's ETA is October, and it will be the first in a series of special edition fountain pens that Pelikan has planned.

Gary ended up being an awesome connection for me during the rest of the show, and, every time I interacted with him, I delighted in his enthusiasm, knowledge, and friendliness.  I actually spoke with him on the phone briefly tonight to clarify a few details for this article, and it was wonderful hearing his voice again.  He will be visiting Pen Boutique for a store event on December 9th, and I can't wait to see him!  I hope lots of our local customers will be able to come out and meet him. It will definitely be worth it.


Inspiring Discoveries

As I walked around the exhibition rooms, meeting collectors and exhibitors from all over the world, I kept an eye out for other exceptionally beautiful pens to share with Toni, who would be coming on Sunday. I also took note of new products that I thought would be a good fit for us at Pen Boutique. At the Luxury Brands table, it was wonderful to see the friendly Gillett family again, and I asked them about a gorgeous limited edition maki-e pen from Platinum that I knew Toni would love. When I showed it to her, she immediately decided to purchase it. Bryce also gave me an exciting tour of the whole table, highlighting some of my favorites that we carry at Pen Boutique, starting with Colorverse ink. The Platinum and Waldmann pens looked spectacular in Luxury Brands' beautifully lit display, especially stunning beauties like the Platinum Izumo Raden Galaxy and the Waldmann Tango Imagination.

It was really fun to see all the Benu pens glittering under the lights.  We only have a small selection of Benu, but I love that we are carrying this popular and effervescent brand from Armenia. My colleague Leila, in particular, is a huge Benu fan and has a very nice and sparkly collection!  Bryce was debuting the Harmony of the Hummingbird, a hand painted limited edition of 100, at the show that very day.

Bryce also showed me the lovely new Talisman pens that pay homage to the popular quartz crystals renowned for their enchanting "chatoyancy" phenomenon. We had just received these pens at the store, so this was my first time seeing them.

Most exciting to me, personally, was noticing the new denim pen cases from Girologio, which were also making their debut on Friday at the show. I'd been hoping to carry Mario Campo's repurposed leather writing mats at Pen Boutique since I bought one at the Baltimore show in March at the recommendation of my friends/customers Kim and Sandro, but I hadn't realized his brand Girologio was distributed by Luxury Brands! 

Kim and Sandro love Mario's mats and wanted me to try one because they think other Pen Boutique customers would, too.  Kim has two:  one at her desk at home, and one at work.  "They are great for protecting your desk from the inevitable ink spill," she told me.  Kim refills her fountain pens at her desk, and never worries about the mess because she can just wipe down the mat. 

Once I told Joy and Leena that the mats and cases would be easy for us to get through Luxury Brands, we finally decided to go for it, and ordered the whole gamut.  I am delighted.  If you've been following my videos on Instagram, you've seen our white "Mario mat" (as we fondly call it in the store) many times.  We like to use it as a background to show off pens and other products, because most of the surfaces in our store are glass. The mats come in Black, Dark Brown, Cognac, Navy, Purple, Red, Green, Grey, White, and Orange, but I'd chosen a white one because I knew it would offer good contrast in my videos. The white mat also has a cork reverse side, so I can flip it if I need a darker background.  I use it almost every day in the store.

I recently had a scary experience when I was swatching a bottle of dark blue Anderillium ink and the ink splattered all over my hands, my laptop (which, fortunately, was closed), my iPhone case, and the store's white Girologio mat.  It was a huge mess, but the white mat wiped completely clean and looked brand new, unlike my tan leather phone case, which is now adorned with interesting jellyfish-looking blue splashes.

Now that we have a lot more colors, you'll probably be seeing other Girologio mats in my videos, and, if you come into the store, you can try one and see for yourself how great the writing experience is. I really don't know which color I like best. They are all beautiful.

(We are already out of the very popular Black and Dark Brown, so those aren't in my photo, but we have them on order!)


Getting to Know Girologio

Mario Campo is one of the most memorable characters I met at the Baltimore show, and I was really looking forward to seeing him again in DC. He has a very warm and dynamic personality, and his enthusiasm for his products is irresistible.  He also made a big impression on me because of how kind he was to me when I was leaving the Baltimore show. I got to know him better at the DC show and was very impressed by the individual attention he gives each and every person who comes up to talk to him. He's incredibly charming, but also very genuine. After the show was over and we'd decided to start carrying Girologio at Pen Boutique, I spoke more to him about his brand over Zoom.

(Pictured:  Mario talking to one of my favorite store customers, Mikele.)

First of all, if you're wondering how to pronounce Girologio, it's not as hard as it looks. Girologio is an Italian word that Mario invented, and it follows Italian pronunciation rules, so it's Gee-ro-lo-jo (you can try to roll the 'r' like Mario does when he says it, but that's not crucial). "Giro" means "to go around" or "to turn," and "orologio" is the Italian word for a clock or watch. His company was started as a watch winder business, so he contracted the two words to form the brand name "Girologio." Mario is Italian-American and speaks fluent Italian, which is very cool for me to listen to, since I've picked up a few words from being such a big fan of Italian opera.  At the show, I got to listen in on him talking with Italians several times, and I attempted, with limited success, to figure out what they were saying. It was quite fun!

After his watch winding business, Mario moved to leather watch bands, leather writing mats, and leather pen cases, and he has been very successful with his Girologio leather cases, but he had been wanting to release a non-leather case for a long time, because there are people who won't carry an animal skin. He told me earnestly, "I don't have that same sensitivity, but I absolutely understand and respect it." He didn't want to do anything that was fake, so he was thinking about trying canvas, silk, or parachute material, but someone made him a prototype in denim, and, as he puts it, "I had an epiphany.... I was like, that's it!" Even the blue jeans-esque patch on the back with the Girologio name is vegan and cruelty free.

The new cases took about a year to develop, and the first time he actually saw them was at the DC show, but he trusts his manufacturer 100%, so he wasn't the least bit concerned that he wasn't going to be happy with the product. However, he wasn't just happy. He was elated when he opened the box. "I mean, they looked so good. I was grinning... I mean, just... I was beaming. I loved them. I feel like I got exactly what I wanted."  

I got a 24 pen case at the show and have been using it ever since.  It holds almost my whole pen collection, so I store my un-inked pens in the case and put my inked pens in a tray on my desk.  When I first brought it home, I couldn't resist filling it with all my prettiest pens.  I absolutely love how it holds every pen securely, from my Esties, Pilots, and Montegrappa, to my most petite pens like my vintage striped Parker Duofold, Pelikan M205 and M400, and Omas Dama.

Showing Mario my case over Zoom, I told him, "When I touch this, it's soooo soft. Like you want to hug it, because it's almost cuddly feeling."

"Yeah," he agreed, nodding.

"I wonder, how tough do you think this is, this material? Like could it be damaged easily, if people just chuck it in their bag, or put it down on the ground, or whatever?"

Before I even finished the sentence, Mario starting shaking his head vehemently. "I wouldn't take a knife to it, or a pair of scissors, but I'm not concerned about--"

"About the fabric wearing out easily, or...?"

"No, Laura, I'm not concerned about that at all. I happen to think that they're gonna patina really, really, really well."

Suddenly, I got it, "Mmm!  Oh yeah, like a pair of jeans!"

"Yep. So, I think, if you're mindless about it, then it will patina. And, if you guard it, it won't. I mean, obviously, if you get it wet, it will patina.  But I think it could be your choice. I think this is going to look great when it's worn in."

"Yeah," I agreed, "when I showed this to Joy, she was just crazy about it. And she loved the feel of it, too." 

"Thank you."

"It's just so soft, and nice to touch."  The fabric has a very light padding underneath, which makes it a little more... snuggly, for lack of a better word. I just couldn't stop smiling as I held the case. I wondered if Mario would think I was silly to hug it almost like a teddy bear, but he didn't look like he found it silly at all. It has such a warm and friendly feel. 

(Sorry this screencap from our Zoom conversation is so fuzzy, but it's genuine, so I liked it!)

When I mentioned how impressed I was by how well the elastic held my entire range of pens, Mario told me the elastic is extremely high quality, and never scratches even very large pens.  He has a leather version of the same case that he's been using for about 13 years and has taken to 110 or 120 pen shows, with all kinds of pens of different sizes going in and out of that case a thousand times, and it has aged phenomenally. "It is extremely important to me. I will tell you, Laura, I can't sell junk. I can't. They really, really wear well.  That is something I can absolutely assure you of."

Not only are we carrying the 24 pen size case that I own, we have the entire collection, from the small flip-top 3 Magnet Case all the way up to the large 96 Zip Case, which is sort of like a very cool looking small briefcase. With the help of Lauren and her excellent camera work, I made a fun video showing this case off. It's perfect if you have a large pen collection to transport! Right after we got the cases in stock, Ken, the friendly rep from Yafa Brands, came to the store to show us all his different pens, and I noticed he had this exact same case, but in leather.

The dark wash denim material really looks classy and cool, but, as Shriya put it when we were making a video together, "A little fun, y'know what I mean?" Yep. I do. I couldn't resist filling the cases with fancy pens in the store, but they are great for any collection, from Montblancs and Viscontis to Lamys and TWSBIs!  After all, denim is universal.

Since the denim cases are so new, there weren't any professional photos available yet, so I took pictures of every case for our website, and you can see them in the listings if you want more of my Girologio photography.  The sizes are:  3 Magnet12 Zip24 Zip48 Zip, and 96 Zip. It's a little challenging to take nice looking photos of pen cases, but I'm quite happy with how they turned out!

Next I asked Mario to tell me all about the mats, and he confessed that when he got a preview of them, he fell in love with the story.  The factory in Tuscany that produces them procures used Italian-made leather from car interiors, pieces of luggage, handbags, backpacks, and boots, and upcycles it into these beautiful mats.  He doesn't know how the process is done, and we both find it utterly mind-boggling to imagine, because the leather in the mats is so smooth. Mario started to explain, "The cool thing about them is, as an actual writing mat, I would say that they don't feel as luxurious as my full-grain ones--"

I finished his thought, "--but the surface is nicer.  If you're using a really thin piece of paper... the fact that it's so smooth... your pen's not going to feel the bumps."

"Exactly what I was getting at."

Mario added, "This mat is the most successful product I've ever sold.  Every show, I hear people talking about how much they love their writing mat, and people come to my table with friends to say, 'You've gotta get one of these writing mats.' People have written to me to tell me that they love their mats. You know, bothered to send an e-mail to say, 'Thank you, I love my mat.'  I've had people come to the next show, and buy three and four more, they love them so much. Like, 'I'm going to put one of these at my dining room table, and one of these in my office...' they just want them all over the house." 

I can totally see that.  I have two mats now--a black one and an orange one--and I already wish I had more!  Leila asked me to get her a purple one on Sunday at the show, and she uses it at her desk at home, both as a writing mat for her fountain pens and as a mouse surface with her laptop.

I love that the mats are a portable size, unlike most leather desk mats, so you can carry it around your house to different rooms and write wherever you want.  You can even take your mat outside, or use it as a placemat! It's the perfect size for that, and, of course, if you spill something, you can wipe it right up.

(Note that you can roll your mat up pretty tightly to transport it, but please don't fold it. If you put a crease in the mat, it will never come out.)

Mario also told me about a person who'd had a problem with their pen skipping and just decided on a lark to try using it on the writing mat before sending the pen out for servicing.  The pen stopped skipping!  At first Mario thought he just had an overenthusiastic client, but then he heard the story again and again, and realized there was merit to it.  I wasn't surprised at all.  I have definitely had finicky pens that won't write on a hard surface, and that little extra cushioning gives the tip of the pen what it needs to get good contact with the paper and flow consistently. The Girologio mat's very slight give makes the writing experience much more pleasant and improves the performance of all kinds of different pens, from fountain, to rollerball, to ballpoint. It's also impervious to getting imprinted by the pen, unlike the pads of paper I sometimes use. 

"I never had somebody say, 'Yeah, it's okay.'  Never! Everybody's enthusiastic about their $32 mat, you know what I mean? It's inexpensive, it's attainable, it's durable." He added, "The fact that it functions so well is a source of pride for me, but my favorite thing about the mats is that they are made out of leather that would otherwise be in a landfill. Recycling is of great value to me. I like less stuff to go into landfills, and I think any product that is made under any circumstances should have as long of a purposeful life as possible. We live, and have lived, in a disposable society here in the United States... and I just like that the leather gets to have another go. It genuinely means something to me, you know what I mean?"  

I won't guarantee that Girologio products won't make you start saying, "Y'know what I mean?" a lot, but, otherwise, I think I can 100% endorse all the ones I've tried so far, and I am very excited to be carrying this brand.  Thanks, DC Pen Show!


Lasting Connections

I loved the DC Pen Show, and didn't even take a lunch break on the last day because I didn't want to miss a thing.  I was exhausted, but my body was surging with happy endorphins for the whole weekend, so I didn't feel tired or hungry. I guess, my very favorite thing about the show was the people and the lasting connections I made.  I didn't even write about some of the best parts, like being moved to tears by listening to David Oscarson describe the details in one of his Deus Regit pens, or bringing two of my favorite customers, Natalie and Mikele, to the friendly Kobe team to get them Japanese fans to help them cool down, or loaning Mikele $40 so she could buy a vintage Esterbrook from Walter, who didn't take credit cards.

(David Oscarson showing Toni and me some of his incredible creations.)

I also really loved meeting Karen Anderson of Anderillium inks and being able to help her out by taking a bunch of unsold bottles of ink at the end of the show so she wouldn't have to struggle with bringing them home with her on the plane, after her son Bert had to leave the show early. Anderillium inks are my new favorite, and I felt pretty cool carrying two boxes full of ink out to my car! The Anderillium table was amazing, with TWSBI Ecos filled with every ink color, so that people could try them all. Brilliant idea! I got to see the beautiful new Lepidopteran series for the first time at the show, and was particularly excited by some of the delicate and unusual colors like Luna Moth Green and Tolype Moth Warm, both of which sold out.

And what about having dinner (and ice cream) with my special customer Toni after hours on Friday, and introducing her to everyone:  Gary from Pelikan, Cary from Esterbrook, Bryce from Luxury Brands, and Mark from Coles of London, then Kim and Sandro and all my vintage dealer pals, Kirk Speer and his pen-sharing entourage, even random people I didn't know who were letting everyone try their pens and inks. It felt amazing, after starting out the previous show nervous and completely inexperienced, to be introducing Toni to the after-hours scene and watch her go from shy and uncertain to loving it and wanting more, just as I had six months before. I think playing host made me bolder and more confident about just doing everything.  It was great.

Maybe I should have spent more time doing social media stuff, but I couldn't resist living in the moment, feeling the experience, spending time with new friends and old.  There were so many wonderful things that happened that I'm already forgetting.

Because the show was so huge and it was impossible to do everything and meet everyone, I know I missed a lot, but, if I had to do it all over again, I'd probably end up doing it the exact same way. The only thing I really regret is not taking more photos to remember it by, but it was like one of those family gatherings where you forget to take photos because you're too busy enjoying the event and being with everyone. Saturday night, especially, was full of conversations and connections that will stay with me for a long time.

I stayed until the very end on Sunday after the show closed, and watched the exhibitors pack up their tables and clear everything away, but I didn't feel sad this time. I was floating on a cloud, feeling very calm and relaxed now that I didn't need to be "on" anymore.  It felt very peaceful to have nothing to do, a feeling I very rarely experience anymore. My phone couldn't connect to the Wi-Fi, but I didn't care.  I enjoyed just sitting still and watching.  I didn't want it to end, but I knew it would, and that was okay.  There would be another pen show, and even if I couldn't remember everything about this one, it had transformed me in ways that I could already feel and that I knew would last.

-Laura P.

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