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Blog

DC Pen Show Recap

Fr. Kyle Sanders

Forgive me if I get sentimental. Forgive me if I wax poor poetic of a weekend that was full, filled to the brim leaving me with less than adequate amounts of sleep, full of beautiful people whose beauty comes not from runway looks but from good hearts, full of beautiful pens and beautiful inks, full of laughter and joy, full of many things that we seek in life: friendship, community, leisure, joy, generosity, kindness, mutual benevolence. I came away from the nation's capital filled with hope, which is itself a gift.

This may seem an odd, and terribly sentimental, response to a pen show. I left full after spending three days around writing instruments and paraphernalia? To capture why I feel this way would be difficult. And, although I have been bereft of words on the blog for many months, I will try to paint cabinet pictures to welcome you into why it is I feel this way. 

Our fellowship started small, Lisa Vanness, her daughter, Cassie, and myself. Through rain and through mountains we traveled. Being from the swamps of South Louisiana, anything resembling hills is impressive to me. Traveling through mountains for an extended period of time always garners images of Aragon, Legolas and Gimli hunting down the Urukai in The Two Towers. Tennessee and Virginia still maintained lush greens in the height of summer. Rolling foothills of Sailor Bungbox Norwegian Wood and Caran d'Ache Delicate Green meeting the Visconti Turquoise sky made most of our drive a pleasure. Even when the skies darkened to Iroshizuku Kiri-Same or the lighter shades of Perle Noire, the mountains pushed through as immovable forces fighting against the falling rain. After hours amidst the Shenandoahs we greeted the new lining of the highways, stone, metal, and glass of the DC suburbs, if only because they announced a coming end to our journey. 

We arrived to a show already abuzz with traders and some familiar faces. We didn't spend much time catching up as we took the metro out to DC proper to tour museums. The rest and relative quiet was an intentional calm before the storm. I spent my three hours amidst the tempura pain of the late Medieval and early Renaissance paintings of Italy. The blues of the Madonna and the reds of the Crucified Christ still stand out in my mind. By the time we arrived back, the fellowship was completed by Brad Dowdy, Ana Reinert, and Matt Armstrong. 

Friday morning came and our crew of bloggers and Vanness assembled to peddle pens and ink. Being familiar with most of the pens and at least some of the ink I found it easy to slip into salesman. Matt and Ana, the ink experts, spend their time helping match inks to pens or shades to inks. Ana with her bright pink hair and Matt with short almost imperceptible blonde hair navigated well the seas of magenta, blue/black, and sepia guiding ink-farers by their lighthouses to the safe shores of Akkerman and KWZ. Lisa flitted around lending her expertise to wherever it was needed. Brad and I found ourselves, most often, trying to sell pens people picked up but didn't care to buy. Cassie often enough became the exchequer ensuring proper funds were exchanged. All weekend there was a conviviality about our lovely band of misfits. Despite the long days and constant stream of customers, we were jovial. We were content being at a pen show, surrounded by the people and things we love. 

Because of the busyness of the table, we all didn't have much time to go shopping. This made it a very different show. It wasn't about the deep search and find for a gem. This show is made for this particular type of shopping because there are so many pens. I came having preordered two pens and having two more on my shopping list. I preordered the new Visconti Homo Sapiens London Fog from Chatterly Luxuries. I chose a broad nib when I picked it up. I also preordered a blue Aurora Optima from Dan Smith who ground a fine architect on the nib. Both are gorgeous pens. I also reserved a bottle of Lamy Dark Lilac from Vanness. 

There were two surprises on Friday. Franklin-Christoph has made a name for themselves at the beginning of shows by having prototype materials; that is now an expected at every show. The buzz was immediate when everyone heard Kobe-Nagasawa had brought their full line of ink. Their popular inks went in the first day. I was able to pick up #32 Tamon Purple Gray to add a second bottle of purple to my DC collection. The second surprise came from the debut pen company, Kanilea Pen Co. They represent a step forward in this continued movement in small American pen makers. Edison Pen Company and Franklin-Christoph started a new trend using great nibs and beautiful materials. They've gone a step farther by providing a story and meaning for each material used. They provide a few different body styles. They have a fantastic logo. They did it all right. Some of the most sought after pens of Friday, their stock was widdled down after one day. It will be interesting and exciting to see how they move from here. Once the Pen Addict talked about them on Wednesday, their website was overwhelmed, a good sign indeed.

Late in the afternoon, when people had seemed leave to eat or take naps, I took advantage to browse a bit with Thomas Hall. We passed Chatterly and Edison Pen Co. perusing but not committing. It was at this point he asked if I had a shopping list. I had seen a pen in the Atlanta pen show that was an OMAS limited edition commemorating the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. OMAS is know for beautiful simplicity in their pens this one is no different. The same retailer was there at DC, Toys in the Attic. After taking a good look at with Thomas, I couldn't pass it up, It's my favorite of the whole haul. It needed a bit of work which Dan Smith helped with, and it writes wonderfully. 

Saturday was supposed to bring a rush at the beginning of the day. Some of that was lessened by higher traffic on Friday, but the organizers also didn't allow massive line to form. It was busy the whole day. The fun came after hours. The bar was populated with awesome people. A possible conversation with an outsider looking in, would've gone something like this:

What's going on? Where are you from?
We're from Canada, the Philippines, and at least a 3rd of the states in the US. We're here for pens.
Pens? The bystander pulls a Bic out of her purse, her face contorting in confusion.
Her responder pulls out a recent purchase, say the Aurora Optima, More like this.
The confusion mixes with wonder as her eyes grow wider.
We like to use and collect fountain pens, Aurora held out as a token of honor. 
But you're all so ... happy.
Yes, the pens brought us together, but we have made good friends with our fellow pen addicts.
Yearning grows on her face as the fear of looking an outsider fades, Can I join you?
Hooked

Such was the atmosphere that night. In fact, Brad told me one guy arrived that very evening apprehensive at attending his first show. He saw us at tables boldly walked up and introduced himself saying, "You must be here for the pen show." 

I spent most of the night under the tutelage of Thomas Hall, learning about urushi and how it charges per master using it. I learned about how to search for what you like and pass along what you don't, an idea I am more convicted of leaving DC. In the midst of the lesson, we dove deep into his collection of TWSBI 580's. Thomas has a large collection of Danitrio and Nakaya and all sorts of fine writing instruments. He loves the 580 body, but he has done brain surgery on them replacing the Jowo nibs for vintage flex. Oh my! Those nibs certainly wouldn't work for my everyday handwriting but neither is does M1000 (a pen quickly moving up the rankings). Stick with what you love is a great model. As I go back home, I'll start looking at what I love and what I don't. 

Sunday was more restful. It was filled primarily with goodbyes. Many had to get back to work for Monday returning to using their pens in the midst of the digital age. Sunday felt like a day of transition. There's some back door deals between sellers for leftovers, but you can tell everyone is preparing  to move on after a frenzy of two and a half days. For some stock has depleted, for others it's disappointingly unchanged. The Vanness table slowed for the first time the whole weekend. Most had gotten the inks they were looking for. Robert Maguire, a Canadian confrere, had generously passed along to me a Shearer Tuckaway with a military clip and faulty filling system. Mike, of Indy-Pen-Dance, coaxed it back to life. My final purchase was one I planned on making. I sat down at the Franklin-Christoph table to look at Jim Rouse's Sheaffer Legacy Fantasy pens. I pulled the whole case to me. At first, I was attracted to the orange material because its vibrancy makes itself known. As I looked through the materials though, I returned to the cracked ice material because there were small shimmers of blue like water bubbling up from rock. I might call it my Meribah pen. 

As we all parted, Sunday night was bittersweet. We so thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We enjoyed sharing our mutual love sans much drama, anger, and bitterness many had experienced at previous shows. I really think DC 2016 is a turning point in our community, and my hope is, despite different cultural backgrounds, we grow in unity through our mutual love of pens. 

my haul from the show