Laura's First Pen Show!

Laura's First Pen Show!

I hardly know where to begin this blog article. The Baltimore Pen Show was one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in my entire life. And no, I haven't led a boring life. It was just so, so amazing to immerse myself and be surrounded by people who share my love of pens and to feel that I could fully be myself and be accepted, welcomed, and at ease. Pen people are some of the nicest and most interesting people I have ever met, and I love being a part of this world! I'll do my best to put into words and photos what made my first pen show so special, but I feel like it's one of those things that can only be felt, not truly captured and shared. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience.


Finding My Place

I first decided I wanted to go to a pen show after talking with Cary Yeager when he came to Pen Boutique to do a store event back in July.  Cary is a rep from Kenro Industries, the US distributor for AuroraEsterbrookMontegrappaOtto HuttPininfarina, and ystudio. He's also well known in the pen community as "Fountain Pen Day" and you've probably seen some of his great posts on Instagram. We had a long talk during a lull when the store was quiet, and he told me all about pen shows and encouraged me to go. I confessed that although I love chatting with customers one-on-one and feel confident in my role as sales representative and social media voice, I am actually a very introverted person, so I've never been sure how I'd feel at a huge group event like that, with so many people. Cary assured me that most pen lovers are introverts and feel the same way, and that you just have to go for it. Once you start talking to people, you find out that the fountain pen community is incredibly nice, and there is so much to learn from your fellow pen enthusiasts.

The part that impressed me most was when Cary described what went on after hours at a show. He told me that you can just hang out with other show attendees, discuss pens, paper, ink, and accessories, and find out what others are excited about. The fountain pen community loves to share, and people often offer to show you their collections and let you try their pens, inks, and paper.  Although mingling with people I didn't know sounded a little scary, I wanted to experience this!

Our Kenro store event was shortly before last year's Washington DC Fountain Pen Supershow, but I wasn't able to go to that show because I was needed in the store. I was sort of disappointed, but it was for the best because the DC Pen Show is the largest fountain pen show in the world and I think it may have been overwhelming as my first show. They were also renovating the hotel where it is held in Falls Church, VA, so last year's event was kind of crazy, and it will be much more enjoyable this August.  In any case, I made up my mind that I would make a show happen for myself this year, and I grew even more determined after hanging out with nibmeister Kirk Speer from Pen Realm when he visited from Colorado for our store event with him in December. Kirk enforced what Cary had told me, and strongly encouraged me to go to a show, have confidence in my abilities, make connections, and experience more of the friendly fountain pen world! 

So, the night before my birthday in January, I decided I was going to officially DO IT.  I had proactively requested the Friday and Saturday of the show off from work, just to make sure I wouldn't be needed in the store, and, a little after midnight on the morning of my birthday, I went online and ordered tickets and a hotel room for two nights. Now I couldn't wimp out. I was going to my first pen show! 

The venue at the BWI Airport Marriott in Linthicum, MD is close enough to my house that I didn't need to stay overnight, but I wanted this to be good.  I wanted to have a place to rest if I needed some time to myself, and to be able to participate in all the after hours events and fully immerse myself in the entirety of the pen show experience. It would be a vacation and a learning experience rolled into one.

As the show got closer, I told Pen Boutique owner Leena I was going, and she was delighted to have me help represent Pen Boutique. Although she'd decided not to have an actual table, she was planning to go on Sunday to see everyone, and her daughter Shriya would be teaming up with Jesse Tanenblatt (The Pen Blotter) to teach a Fountain Pens 101 seminar that Pen Boutique was sponsoring. I told Leena I'd love to write a blog article about my experience, tell people I met at the show about Pen Boutique, take photos at Shriya's event, and post on our Instagram account while there. We talked excitedly about what it would be like, and she said she wanted to pay me for my work at the show.  Hooray!  I had no idea at the time that I would end up representing Pen Boutique as much as I did, or that I would be so recognized and get to participate in so much. As it turned out, Leena was sick the weekend of the show and not able to go herself, so she asked me to give her regards to everyone, speak to vendors for her, get product samples, take photos, and make videos. I had a very important role that wasn't planned, but I loved it and I want to do it more!


Preparing for the Show

As the date of the show approached, we wanted to let our customers know there was going to be a big pen show only half an hour away from the store, so Leena requested a sign for the store door.  I asked Lauren to make one, and was extremely pleased with the result.  Lauren has only been with Pen Boutique since November, and splits her time between the shipping department and the store, but she and I hit it off right away and I love collaborating with her. She's very artistic and I knew her sign would be awesome.

Once the sign was on the door, we started mentioning the upcoming show to customers, many of whom weren't aware of it, and I started telling people I was going.  I loved the connection I felt sharing anticipation with customers who also planned to go, including some who were just discovering it for the first time.  Every time I told someone, "I'll be there! It will be my first pen show!" I wondered how it would feel to really be at the show.  Customers always said, "You'll love it!  You'll have so much fun!" I hoped I would, but, even if I didn't, I wanted to be there and find out. 

To get ready, I read online about other people's experiences at pen shows, and made a to-bring list in my Write Pocket Ledger with my SF Pilot Falcon inked with Best Wishes from the Diamine Inkvent calendar. My hotel room was nice and quiet and I ended up not needing the ear plugs, but I used all the other stuff on the list except my laptop charger! I was too busy to use my laptop very much and barely opened it.

I packed a lot of food so I wouldn't have to spend much money on eating at the hotel, and it was great to have familiar and healthy food that I knew I would like for breakfast and an afternoon snack. My hotel room had a coffee maker with coffee and cups, plus a mini fridge, so I brought some bottled water, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt, as well as apples, a pouch of tuna, dried mango, and granola with nuts and seeds, along with a knife, spoon, and a few disposable plates and bowls. I wanted to make sure I had lots of protein because I knew the show would be tiring and I'd need it for energy and to stay alert. I also brought a high protein snack bar in my mini backpack, which was good because I ended up not being able to check into my hotel room until 4 PM the first day, so all my other stuff was in my checked luggage! 

I also thought a lot about which pens to bring, of course. I knew some people would be bringing fancy and unusual pens, because part of the fun of a pen show can be sharing your collection, but I ended up going with what made me feel most comfortable:  my good old medium nib rose colored Faber-Castell Hexo.  I wanted a pen with a snap cap that would be quick to take off, that was 100% reliable, that didn't write too big and take up a lot of space in my notebook, that could be replaced if I lost it, and that just felt familiar and comfortable in my hand. Although I have a lot of pens that I love, nothing beats the relaxing grip and perfect weight of my Hexo. Along with my Hexo, my constant companion at the show was a small A6 sized Maruman Mnemosyne notebook.  At only 5.9" x 4.5" x 0.4", it was the ideal size to throw in my little backpack, but had enough space to write notes and try pens without feeling cramped. This particular notebook also has the cool feature of lines on the front of the pages and blank backs, so I was able to use the lined pages for more structured notes and the blank ones for freeform stuff. It was perfect!

(Here I am clutching my notebook with the Hexo clipped on the front, in a screencap from a quick video I made right before I went through the doors labeled "Salon G" to enter the huge ballroom where the show was held.  I was nervous, but you can tell from my expression that I was thrilled, too!  When I showed my notebook to the woman manning the Mnemosyne table, she got all excited and asked to take my photo with it. Aw!)

The day before the show was a busy one, because Bill from Pilot Pens came to Pen Boutique for a store event, but I was feeling great and didn't get tired out at all, despite all the customers who came to see Bill and to take advantage of our raffle and sales.  Aurora and I gave out tickets to win a Pilot Vanishing Point and a bottle of Iroshizuku ink, and helped customers choose pens while Bill shared his amazing Pilot/Namiki collection. Just like Cary and Kirk, Bill was wonderful to talk to, laid-back, and nice. I casually chatted with him on my lunch break, and made some videos with him of the beautiful urushi lacquer maki-e pens he'd brought. 

My first fountain pen was a Pilot Metropolitan, and I own a bunch of different Pilots that are uncommon in the US, so it was really fun talking to Bill about our favorite Pilot pens and what is coming up next for the company. Bill told me he personally uses the e95s and the Custom 912 with Falcon (FA) nib, both favorites of mine! I was also delighted to hear we would soon be receiving the very handsome Custom 743, which offers EF, F, M, B, BB, and FA nibs as well, and I got my first look at the beautiful hand-lacquered Ishime pens that we will be carrying. The word “Ishime” roughly translates to “stone path,” which refers to the design hand-drawn into the cap and barrel's wet lacquer.  Later, at the pen show, one of our customers won one of these gorgeous pens in Pilot's giveaway raffle! (If you would like to buy one, please contact us and we will order it for you.)

(Here's Bill showing a customer the Sterling and Ishime pens he brought!)

I sold one of my favorite customers the gorgeous limited edition Tanuki (Japanese Raccoon Dog) Namiki pen that Bill had brought, along with my favorite Pilot Sterling pen, the Tsumugi. So beautiful!  Later, a large group who were in town for the pen show visited the store and I got to meet many wonderful people that I would spend time with again over the next two days.  Such a great crew! 

I went home Thursday evening simultaneously elated and calm, feeling ready for the big day Friday.  I was too tired after work to finish packing, but I didn't worry about it.  I could figure out last minute details in the morning. Instead, I texted another favorite customer/friend, Martin, who was also excited about going to the show but was much more experienced about pen shows than I. The next morning as I was getting ready to leave, he texted again and advised me, "Have a great day [and] drive safe. Don't be surprised that one of the symptoms of being overwhelmed is that one can feel like they are not enjoying THIS at all. So give yourself a mental and physical break here and there."  He added, "I know you're an adult but since it's your first one, I am sharing my own past experiences."  I was very touched and took the advice to heart.  I promised myself that I would go easy on myself and that it would be fine if I did some things wrong. Although I had high expectations and hoped to have a wonderful time, the show didn't have to be perfect, and I might not even like it. And that would be okay.


Pen Show Essentials

When I arrived at the Marriott, it was chilly and raining lightly, but I didn't get too wet parking and bringing my luggage inside for the hotel to hold until my room was ready. The show opened at 11:00 on Friday (10:00 on the other days), and hotel check-in time wasn't until 4:00, so I didn't have a room to go to for a while.  I was hoping for an early check in, but that didn't happen, so keep that in mind and make sure you have everything you will need in the bag you are keeping with you. 

I didn't want to be burdened with a large or heavy bag, so I kept the stuff in my little backpack to the essentials:

  • my wallet (with cash, a credit card, and ID)
  • my Faber-Castell Hexo fountain pen for taking notes
  • Faber-Castell Glam Violet Grip ballpoint (refill replaced with an extra-fine Monteverde Capless Ceramic Gel refill) in case I needed to write really small or on non- fountain pen friendly paper
  • a Sharpie for situations where other pens don't work, like writing my name and e-mail address on the back of glossy business cards
  • a small pile of Pen Boutique business cards
  • A6 sized Maruman Mnemosyne notebook for notes and trying pens
  • tiny Tomoe River paper notebook for ink swatches
  • a small fold up reusable shopping bag in its pouch
  • some ziplock bags (useful to protect your purchases if you buy items that don't come in packaging, such as used pens)
  • reading glasses in case I wanted to look at tiny pen details up close
  • a healthy snack bar
  • a battery booster for my phone, since I knew I'd be taking lots of photos and videos and I didn't want to have to worry about having to go to my room to charge my phone if the battery got low
  • empty space for stuff I'd get at the show!

When I checked into the show by showing the staff the QR code on my phone, I was given silicone bracelets color-coded for each day and a large reusable tote bag, but I decided almost right away to put the tote bag back because I wanted my hands free for taking notes and photos. Plus, I didn't plan to get that much stuff!  And I didn't... the first day, at least.

People who had paid for a VIP ticket were also given early entry privileges for all three days, a guaranteed seat in all free seminars, and a swag bag with cool stuff like a 55ml bottle of special 2023 Baltimore Pen Show Edition Blue Crab ink handmade in Maryland by Organics Studio and a beautiful VIP mug that says "Baltimore Washington International Pen Show" with the show's dates.  I didn't get a VIP ticket, but my VIP friend who had already been to many other shows gave me his mug and bottle of ink because he said I should have them as mementoes of my first show! Thank you! So nice! 

The show itself was down a hall right beyond the hotel's lobby, bar, and restaurant, and there were plenty of bathrooms nearby. The setup was great!  It was very easy to check in with the friendly people manning the entry table, then freely pass in and out of the show wearing your bracelets if you wanted to take breaks and sit down to rest.  You could get food, coffee, or other drinks at the Lobby Bar, or a more leisurely meal at the Chesapeake restaurant, which had the same menu but more intimate seating. It was a nice, spacious, modern and convenient setup, with lots of little gathering places in the lobby that were perfect for mingling, as I would discover later.


(I stole this photo from the hotel's website. This is the space where I ended up having so much fun after dark, except empty of all the nice pen people!)

I was very thankful for this hospitable setup, because I wasn't too good at pacing myself, and on both days I got so caught up in the show that I didn't stop for a rest to eat and drink until far later than I should have.  It was wonderful to suddenly realize, "I need to take a break right now!" and be able to immediately stop what I was doing, walk down the hall, sit down at a table, and do just that. The only "problem" was that every time I took a break, I ended up spontaneously meeting someone else who needed a break at the same time, so we took our breaks together and my break ended up being a lot longer than I intended because it was so enjoyable talking to them! On my first day, I had a late lunch with a Pen Boutique regular, Liz, and we were joined by another regular, Brian. I have no idea if they had met each other before that or not. Although I knew them from the store, I hadn't talked to either of them very much, and the three of us were quite different, but we were totally at ease together.  As we sat around enjoying each other's company, talking about pens and our experiences at the show so far, Brian commented, "It's great to share the love of pens with people who understand. It's hard to explain to the normals."

(Lunch with Liz:  I got a crab cake sandwich, my favorite Maryland food!  I also forced myself to drink lots of water, which I am usually very bad at.) 

Taking unintentionally long breaks with other people was probably a good thing, because I needed a decent-sized break and would have exhausted myself if I'd just wolfed down something by myself and hurried back, but I did get slightly anxious because I didn't want to miss a minute of the show, and on both days I ended up feeling a little rushed at the end and like I didn't have time to see everything I wanted to before the show closed at 6 PM on Friday and 5 PM on Saturday.  (Sunday hours were 10 AM – 4 PM, but I didn't get a ticket for Sunday.) I guess that would have happened no matter what, because there was always more to see and more people to meet. I found myself thinking of the lyrics of one of my favorite Elvis songs, "Viva Las Vegas":

How I wish that there were moreThan the twenty-four hours in the dayEven if there were forty moreI wouldn't sleep a minute away 

The pen show was no Las Vegas, of course, but once I got comfortable and into the swing of things, I didn't want it to end! I stayed up until at least 2 AM the first night and 5 AM the second night. No, I didn't socialize that late, but the after hours fun did go on until after 1 AM, and when I got back to my room I didn't want to go to bed right away. Instead, I made videos for Pen Boutique's Instagram, and caught up on what others were posting.  Good thing I'm a night owl!  I was tired on Sunday after I got home, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.


Into My Groove

I know I'm jumping around a lot in describing my experiences, so let me back up a little and just tell you how it felt.  I'm generally a very calm and reserved person, so I wasn't excited, exactly, but when I first passed through the entry table and into the hall that led up to the large Pen Show ballroom, I was a little nervous.  I was very, very happy to be there, but I also didn't know what to expect, and I didn't have a defined role to play like I do when I'm working as a sales and marketing representative. I was on my own in an unfamiliar environment. For a few moments I felt lost and tentative, but then I almost immediately started encountering customers I knew from the store. I saw Liz right away (we ended up randomly running into each other several times over the course of the show!), and she told me about a beautiful Taccia pen she was about to break down and buy, then showed me Ian Schon's table, which was right near the entrance. A number of different customers had shared their Schon DSGN pens with me in the store, but it's not a brand we currently carry, so I had been wanting to check it out for myself. Liz has an amazing collection of Ian's pens and was clearly one of his biggest supporters. I loved hearing them talk about some of his latest innovations, and I made a mental note that I wanted to return to the table later and possibly buy a pen after I had checked out the whole show. 

(Ian Schon with his associates and array of pens. I was really surprised by how young Ian is!  I had no idea what he looked like.) 

Moments later, Vernon, another favorite customer who had given me advice about the show, welcomed me and told me a few things not to miss. His low-key and thoughtful guidance is always great, and his presence when I first arrived was perfectly timed.

Vernon pointed me to the "Share the Wealth" and vintage pens tables manned by Jesse, who had come into the store the previous week to pick up some inks and notebooks Pen Boutique had donated for the Fountain Pens 101 seminar. I had a bottle of ink and a notebook in my suitcase to leave on the table, and I brought them by later. I love the concept of a place to get rid of pen-related stuff you don't need and give it to others who might like it!  The next day, I picked out a bottle of ink, a roll of washi tape, and a few ink sample vials from the table for myself.

(Jesse, aka The Pen Blotter, with some of his collection.)

I really liked being able to enter the show gradually, passing by nibmeisters and various different vendors along the hall before I reached the entrance doors to the ballroom where the majority of the tables waited inside.  Before I walked through the doors into the fray, I paused to record a quick selfie video, confessing, "I'm about to walk into Salon G. This is really scary, actually. I'm pretty nervous, but I already ran into about five or six people I knew from Pen Boutique, which is really cool."

Once inside, I knew I had chosen the right doors to enter by, because the first thing I saw was nibmeister Kirk Speer's Pen Realm table. It was wonderful to see his steady, inky hands and familiar face!  Kirk was busy as always, so I continued further along the path of tables, stopping to tentatively check out each vendor's wares. The room actually wasn't that crowded or noisy on Friday (Saturday was much busier), but it was too much for me to take in as a whole right away, so I concentrated on each table at a time, focusing in on the smaller details.

(The supremely inky fingers of Kirk Speer. I took this photo that evening after the show was over.)

Because I was there as a "civilian," and it was my first show, I was a bit shy and unsure of my footing at first, but when I reached Luxury Brands (distributors of Platinum Pens, Waldmann, and Colorverse, among others), the national sales manager, Bryce, called out, "Pen Boutique is in the house!!!"  I was amazed and delighted that he recognized me! 

At Luxury Brands' table, I was enraptured by a spread of gorgeous Waldmann pens in pretty colors, sparkling under the lights.  We had received a shipment from Waldmann at Pen Boutique the day before, but hadn't had time to open the box during the busy Pilot event, so the only Waldmann pen I had ever seen was the beautiful limited edition Jubilee 105 fountain pen I had sold to one of my favorite customers. Back in the store, my colleagues were setting up a new display for our new collection of Waldmann pens, but I wouldn't get to see it until Tuesday. I asked Bryce and his father John if we were carrying the pens in front of me, and they said yes, and told me they are called Tango Imagination. (I LOVE that name!) They were all beautiful, but my absolute favorite was the Lilac one and I kept staring at it and commenting about how much I loved it. I think it was actually my favorite pen from the whole show, although I saw many that were far more expensive, rare, and elaborate.  I should have taken a photo of the pens, but instead I just quickly recorded a video to remember.  Here's a screenshot.

As I continued along the tables lining the front wall of the ballroom, I reached the large Esterbrook table, manned by Cary.  I had stayed in touch with Cary, and seen him several times since the Kenro event in July, so he was very friendly and warmly welcomed me to the show, making me feel instantly at ease.

I didn't recognize one of the Esties, whose shiny acrylic gleamed in a kaleidoscopic of colors, reminding me of a Tiffany lamp or a pile of gems molded into pen form.  I asked Cary about it, and he told me it was the newest Estie, Botanical Garden, which hadn't been released yet. (We received them in the store the following week.) I loved it and considered getting one instead of the Petrified Forest Estie I wanted, but decided to stick with Petrified Forest because I love orange and it reminds me of a pink grapefruit.

As I continued exploring the room, I met more and more favorite customers who stopped me to say hello, and I grew more confident by the moment.  I had never expected so many people to recognize me and seem excited to see me!


Exploring the Floor

I stopped to try pens, write on paper, and talk to all sorts of different vendors.  The center of the room had lots of vintage pen guys and smaller companies like the local woman-owned Odyssey Note Books, while the outer walls were lined with the biggest brands including Franklin-Christoph, Taccia, and Pilot, and stores from around the country like Vanness and Dromgoole's. It was very cool trying brands we don't carry at Pen Boutique, including Leonardo pens and Midori MD and Midori Cotton paper, which I really liked. One of my favorite tables was the charming vintage Pelikan guy, Tom Baley, whose seminar I had planned to attend but skipped out on when I realized I was too hungry. I love Pelikans, and he was extremely fun to talk to. I sort of regretted bailing on his seminar, but I knew I had made the right decision because I needed a break. Maybe next time!

(Some beautiful vintage pens I liked! Not the Pelikans.  I failed to take a photo there, probably because I was too busy bantering with Tom.)

When I reached the Coles Of London (Visconti and S.T. Dupont distributor) table, Mark knew me immediately and wanted to pose for a photo with me. I had met him briefly when he and other representatives visited our store the previous month to meet with Leena and see our displays, and he had surprised me at the time by saying he knew my face and voice from social media. He was so nice, and very charismatic!  I was a little embarrassed to be in a photo, but also pleased.

At the Taccia table, the Taccia manager, Shu-Jen Lin, was also eager to talk to me when I told her I was from Pen Boutique, and Sue and Klarissa, who I had met the previous day when they came to the store, were so friendly and nice, too.  Shu-Jen showed me her dazzling array of beautiful Taccia pens, told me all about some that she hoped Pen Boutique would buy, and let me write with the different nibs available on Taccia's high-end pens, which I had never tried because we don't dip test the limited edition pens in our store. I was extremely impressed by how smooth and wet they were, and especially loved the ink in the medium fine pen, which turned out to be Akasakura.

This limited edition maki-e owl pen had such beautiful delicate colors and detailing. 

I also tried the pen with the Akasakura ink in my little Tomoe River notebook, and the writing was so beautiful and rich, with incredible sheen. I definitely need to use more Taccia inks!

Shu-Jen asked me to come back later to talk more, and also invited me to a Taccia 20th Anniversary Get Together after-hours event that would take place on Saturday, where she would raffle some amazing prizes including a Summer Shimmer Miyabi Kaga limited edition fountain pen with a Sailor 18K gold nib worth about $1,270. It turned out to be a small gathering where she talked about Taccia's history and future, her concept of modern maki-e and high quality standards, her love of beautiful raden abalone, and her goal to make new designs for women's smaller hands. The winners of the fancy pen were Sandro and his wife Kim, wonderful Pen Boutique customers who I ended up hanging out with both evenings! (Okay, technically Sandro won the pen.)

I didn't win anything at the Taccia event, but I didn't need to because Shu-Jen had already given me a Taccia Spectrum fountain pen as a gift that she said she wanted me to use and enjoy.  She asked me to choose my favorite color and nib size, and I picked green with an EF nib.  I don't usually go for extra fine nibs on Japanese pens, but was shocked when I tried it and felt how smooth it was. That evening in my hotel room when I should have been resting after dinner, I inked the pen with the bottle of Sailor Pen Show Exclusive ink I'd won courtesy of Dromgoole's in the previous night's Pen Shows After Dark event raffle. It was a perfect combination, and I started using it right away. Later I showed my new pen to customers in the store, and they wanted one, so I asked Joy if we can order them at Pen Boutique and she said yes!  Clever Shu-Jen! We will soon have all the colors and multiple nib sizes. I honestly love the pen, though.  You can feel the quality as soon as you pick it up, the color is beautiful, and the two-tone steel nib is incredible.  I'm a Taccia convert now!


Pen Show After Dark

I ran out of time on Friday to finish walking through the whole ballroom, but late in the afternoon my friend/customer Martin arrived, and we met back up again for coffee and a quick dinner together after the show closed. We were both so exhilarated to share stories and talk inks!  It was delightful being able to spend time with pen people outside the store and just be myself, not a sales associate. I was able to experience this several times with different people throughout the weekend, and I loved it.

(The ink ring was the Blue Crab, the official ink of the show, but I wrote the words with my Hexo, inked with its favorite, Sailor Pigmented Seiboku Blue.)

Suddenly we realized it was almost time for the Pen Shows After Dark event hosted by Cary in his Fountain Pen Day personna, so we rushed to find it.  I took no photos during the event, because I ended up perched on a bar chair right near Cary, who was announcing all the prizes and calling off the ticket numbers of the raffle winners in a marvelous megaphone voice!  Cary was an amazing master of ceremonies and the event was lots of fun. 

I usually quietly sit in the corner at gatherings like that, but I really got into the spirit of things and applauded for each winner with a big smile, as if I was the official Pen Shows After Dark cheerleader or something. (I wasn't.) It was wonderful to see the delight on each winner's face as they came up to accept their prize, while Martin darted around taking official photos and Bert Oser, owner of Bertram's Inkwell and the show's organizer, oversaw it all.  Each prize had been donated by a different vendor, and there were lots of great inks and pens handed out! I didn't really expect to win anything, but was very happy with the bottle of Sailor ink I received when my ticket was drawn close to the end. I couldn't have asked for anything I would have wanted more.

This was actually my first time meeting Bert, and every time I saw him at the show he seemed very serious and devoted to making sure everything went smoothly.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be to pull off a show like this, and all the details that must go into it. On my way out on Sunday morning, I made a point of stopping to thank him and tell him what a wonderful show it had been and what an unforgettable time I'd had.  

After the official After Dark gathering broke up, show attendees who were staying late or staying overnight at the hotel spilled into the lobby and came together in groups of various sizes.  Cary and Martin introduced me to the D.C. Metro Pen Crew people, who were gathered in a cozy alcove, sitting in comfortable lounges and on the floor. I had already met some of them briefly but didn't really know them at all. They were extremely welcoming, especially Erica, who let me and many other people try her amazing collection of pens! 

(Martin, Cary, and Erica talking pens. This photo is a little blurry, but I love how happy Cary looks!)

Erica asked me about my favorite pens and I told her about some of the ones I own. None of my pens cost more than $500, and I was surrounded by people who have gigantic collections of rare and beautiful pens and special nibs I've never even heard of, but no one looked down on my pens at all. I only had my inexpensive Hexo to show, but I pulled it out and let people try it. They actually liked it and were impressed by the comfortable feel and how well it writes!

I loved passing time with Erica and the crew, but after a while I decided I shouldn't spend the whole night in one spot. I needed to see what else was happening. So, I got up and wandered around a little. Almost right away, Kim and Sandro invited me to join them at a small table. They were Pen Boutique customers, but I didn't know them well and didn't even recognize them at first.  (I am extremely bad at identifying people and remembering names, so if you ever meet me and I don't recognize you, don't feel bad! It's a lot more uncommon for me to actually recognize someone than to not.) Joining them ended up being the best decision I'd made all night.  They were so congenial and hospitable! They also had a bottle of Pinot Noir, and knew all sorts of fascinating people, including several vintage pen guys who were extremely interesting to talk to. Walter, the vintage pen dealer who was sitting next to me, commented, "Fountain pens are a tactile experience," a quote I immediately recorded in my notebook.  They absolutely are and this is something I try to bring out in my blog.

Walter also tried my Hexo and was impressed, even though he seemed generally uninterested in modern pens.  The following night, I spent time with the same people, in a changing group that came and went, and we shared our new pens from the show (both modern and vintage), a bottle of vintage Parker Quink ink for dipping, more Pinot Noir, Dewar's blended Scotch, and Port Askaig Islay single malt. Over the course of the two nights, Walter wrote "Mango chutney" over and over trying different pens in my notebook, somebody else wrote "Twas brillig and the slithy toves," Walter commented dryly when I described my blog writing style, "Well, your whole vibe screams gonzo," Kim told me I needed to meet Mario Campa of Girologio and try his leather writing mats, and we talked about topics ranging from pens to gourmet food to poetry. Although I had never spent any time with these people before, I was totally relaxed, comfortable, and genuine.  I had never been in a situation where I felt so at ease carrying on conversations with a group of people, so welcomed and accepted. I wasn't with anyone or in anyone's shadow, I was just myself, and people liked my company. It was wonderful.


Custom Nib & Final Everything

During the daylight hours on Saturday, Kim did introduce me to Mario and I got to see his wonderful leather writing mats (I bought one to show Leena, so maybe we'll start carrying them at the store? I hope so!), and I also completed the assignments given to me by Leena, who called in the morning before I went downstairs to tell me she wasn't feeling well enough to come, and asked me to get photos and videos with all our favorite vendors including Coles of London, Pilot Pens, Luxury Brands, Jesse Tanenblatt, David Oscarson, Taccia, Cary/Esterbrook, and Kirk Speer/Pen Realm. She also asked me to go to Shriya's Fountain Pens 101 event, and to get notebook samples from a vendor that Kim ended up helping me find, since I had no idea where they were located.

I met Shriya at the entry table when she arrived, showed her into the show, and brought her to say hi to Cary, then left her on her own to explore in the company of her boyfriend. I didn't want to cramp her style.

Later, Martin and I met back up and both took photos at Shriya's event with Jesse, and also shared our mutual delight in the discoveries we had made so far.  Shriya did an amazing job at the seminar, and I stayed to watch her for a short while, then got back to the show to complete my mission. The seminar was so popular, every seat was needed, and I didn't want to take up space in the room. I proudly thought, "You got this, Shriya!" and left her to shine.

Back in the main ballroom, I chatted with Bill from Pilot again, and his delightful colleague Meghan. I was fascinated by asking her about what she did for the company, and also very pleased by the FriXon erasable ink ball clicker pen she gave me in my favorite color. It's an inexpensive gel pen that we don't carry at the store, but it works great and is very cool!

All the vendors were extremely obliging of my requests for photos and videos, especially David Oscarson, who hadn't been at the show the day before.  He showed me all his pens and enthusiastically told me about his plans to add detailed videos of each pen to his website. David was very charismatic and interesting to talk to!  I had never met him before, but we recorded a fantastic video together and he gave me a huge pile of brochures for our customers, telling me Leena is one of his best advocates. I was especially attracted to one of his water lily pens, which he let me hold and look at up close under the light, commenting that it was a special edition of eight.

Meanwhile, Cary hooked me up with the Petrified Forest Estie I wanted, which he'd talked to Kirk Speer of Pen Realm about custom grinding for me.  Kirk squeezed me into his very busy schedule and made me the fude nib I'd been longing for since his visit to our store in December.

(Thank you to Martin for this great photo of Kirk doing this thing on someone else's pen at the show! I didn't take any photos of him grinding my nib because I was recording footage for a video instead.)

I loved being able to watch him do his magic again, and the resulting special nib was even better than I'd hoped!  It's so smooth and easy to use, with a line that varies between extra fine and as wide and wet as a paintbrush, depending on the angle you use.  I was able to get the hang of it almost right away and I'm having so much fun playing with it and showing it to people.  I'm hoping to use it for art, and it's definitely inspiring!  I am 100% happy with both the color Estie and the nib I chose, and I am so thankful to both Cary and Kirk for their kindness! I look like a giddy goof grinning like crazy in the video I made with Cary showing off my new pen, but oh well!

Sunday morning, I checked out of my hotel room but couldn't resist slipping back into the show for a few final photos and to say goodbye.  On my way in, I ran into even more of my favorite customers, including Natalie and Eric, who were both attending their first pen show, too. It made me so happy to see them experiencing the wonderful event I had loved so much.

When I said goodbye to Cary and told him, "I'm not really here. I don't have a ticket for today, but I snuck in," he offered to give me his VIP badge so I could stay longer. I explained that I needed to leave because it was my mom's birthday, but he gave me his badge anyway as a memento. Aw!  

On my way out, I stopped to quickly thank Kirk again and tell him what an amazing time I'd had.  He gave me a hug, and whatever he said to me made me start crying a little because I was just so moved by the whole experience and how special it had been. I knew I had to go back to real life, but I didn't want it to end.

As I hurried back down the hall to leave the show, Mario from Toys From The Attic called out to me. He'd asked me to stop and say goodbye on my way out, but, in my emotionally heightened state, I'd completely forgotten. Still choked up, but laughing, I explained to him why I was in tears. He was super sweet and told me I definitely needed to go to the DC Pen Show, and also gave me a flyer and talked to me about the upcoming New York Metropolitan Pen Show that he is hosting. I don't think I'll be able to make it to that, but I sure want to go to DC and I hope to see everyone again there!

Mario told me he'd seen me at the after-show gathering the night before, and commented, "You looked like you were having fun."  "Why? Because I had a bottle of wine in front of me?"  "No, because you were smiling."  Yes.  Yes, I was.

-Laura P.

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This blog article is lovingly dedicated to my dad. Rest in peace, Dad.