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Filtering by Category: Fountain Pen Community

To Write a Letter

Fr. Kyle Sanders


Seeing posts or books about 'The Art of Letter Writing' makes correspondence feel like it's only for the qualified. The artist is trained and understands well his craft. 'The Art of Letter Writing' creates the mystique that letter writing is only for the initiated, the one who has put in the hours and does the work to home her skill. It creates this idea, even if only subconscious, that only the 'elite' write letters. It sets up a false dichotomy and an unnecessary barrier between the newbie and his first letter, sort of like giving an untrained person a sheet of music and asking her to sing the notes on the page to a song she's never heard. 

Certainly there is a certain skill at writing a letter but lack of that skill doesn't prohibit one from writing. At some point, all letter writers were inexperienced and unfamiliar with composing a missive to another person. Each person had to hone and figure out their particular style. 

For the post-modern person, the form of letter writing is foreign, indeed it's almost completely contrary to our normal communication, which is instant, moving through ext, tweet, or email. I can finalize a cross-continental transaction for a Visconti in minutes. So we think and communicate with immediacy in mind. "I need to get this out." "I want to share this now," and all my Instagram followers can see what I'm looking at right now. They can share my joy or my sorrow, express disdain or support while I'm in the state I was in at posting. The immediacy of sharing of emotion is core to the social media drive. 

A letter is different. It's like a photograph that captures a moment in time, but the receiver doesn't experience it till a few days and even weeks later. The writer will be in a different state when the receiver reads his letter. And so back and forth.

What a letter does is it solidifies and encapsulates that moment in time, it memorializes it and for one person only. It's very personal and intimate. It gives those events and topics a feeling of greater importance, because they are right before the writer and reader, on things they can touch and smell and feel. It must be important if I'm taking the time to write it down and share it with you, making life and its daily passing less trivial and more meaningful. 

Or maybe this is too heavy for you. At the same time, a letter can be something almost mundane in its ordinariness. It can be a place to share idea communicated through the mediation of a pen or pencil (or typewriter) which reveals more about the sender than the Arial font on a screen. It can reveal a person's enjoyment of detail or their grand personalities with each stroke of the instrument. I would go so far as to say it's more real than digitally mediated communication because there's nothing to hide behind but your handwriting. Sure, some letters are well made up and are beautifully and artfully written, and so appreciated, but most letters, from my experience, are more akin to friend's catching up over coffee or a beer, an ordinary but important space for human interaction.


What I've tried to do, so far, and I may have failed, is to convince the person wary of walking down this road to take that first step. This month of February is a good place to start. People all around the world are writing letters from INCOWRIMO (International Correspondence Writing Month). There is a large community of people taking time of of their busy days to send a correspondence each of the 28 days of the month. Even if you only write one letter, I would say it would be worth it.

If I still haven't convinced you or my prose style has turned you off (thank you for graciously reading this far) here are a list of other reasons.

  1. For pen people - it's another excuse to use your pens
  2. Responses to your letters means you'll get more than bills and junk in the mail
  3. It's an opportunity to meet someone you'll never have the opportunity to meet.
  4. For procrastinators - write a letter instead of trying to beat you Angry Bird high score, fun and productive, and you're still not doing what you're supposed to
  5. a blank page and tumbler of whiskey is a glorious thing, one gets emptied, the other fills up
  6. For the introvert - it's an opportunity to communicate what you're thinking but without the added pressure of people looking at you. I find I write with a clearer head than when I speak.

If I've convinced you and you're wondering where to go from here. Pull out the family address book and send a letter to a cousin or an aunt you haven't seen in awhile (preferably one you like). If you have a hobby group online ask for a few address of people you communicate with already, continue the conversation on paper. If you feel comfortable cold writing a random person you can find addresses of willing recipients at, there's a section of a short list of people who are randomly selected from the master list. These are people who would love to correspond enough to freely post their addresses online. You'll be sure to get a reply back. If you're part of the fountain pen community or pencil community, you can easily ask and find willing people on the various forums, groups, and chatrooms you frequent. 

I hope you will take advantage of the unique joy of writing and receiving a letter.

Atlanta Pen Show Recap

Fr. Kyle Sanders

Franz Dimson ,  Jeff Abbott , and myself (photo courtesy of Franz Dimson) 

Franz Dimson, Jeff Abbott, and myself (photo courtesy of Franz Dimson) 

I was looking forward to the Atlanta Pen Show all year. It was a long Lent, and I was anticipating a good time with my pen friends as we geeked out about extra-fine nibs and primary manipulation, knowing those were not underground sexual references.

It was different this year. Many of the regulars from the two previous years didn't come down, choosing, rather, to wait for the Chicago Pen Show. It opened up the space for something new, which included cupcakes and a contingent from San Francisco. The nights were filled with conversation and alcohol and pens. It felt like war. Back in the day, before the gun and the lamp, battles ended at sun down and all sat at camp recovering, licking wounds, and consuming comforting liquids, talking about the scars acquired and comrades lost. Thankfully the only thing spilled was Diamine Oxblood. In those camps was a communal atmosphere of 'we survived together' and it brought those soldiers closer.  We didn't experience violence, but like comrades in battle there was something shared that those outside camp wouldn't understand.


My first purchase was six-months in the making. I comissioned Shawn Newton to make me a holy water dispenser pen. (I'm going to spend another post on this and the full story behind it. ) It left Shawn's hands in February and travelled to the Vanness Pen Shop for a relief engraving, after which it was sent to Jonathon Brooks, of Carolina Pen Company, to do an abalone inlay on the cap. Jonathon delivered it to me on Thursday night as we all prepped for the show. I was ecstatic. I showed it to every person I could, and probably a few people multiple times. I was super excited about it. It's made it two years in a row that I've gotten a holy water pen at the Atlanta Show. 

This was my first year at a Friday of the show. It was evenly paced. It didn't seem overcrowded but was sufficiently attended. The only money I spent was on a brown luminescent Franklin-Christoph 45 to replace the one I purchased last year. The first disappeared (Sad face). I had Jim Rouse put the same grind on the nib, a stublique, as he calls it, or a SIG (stub italic grind) as F-C calls it. I have found the 45 to be my favorite of all the models Franklin-Christoph makes. I love the size and the grip. I promise I won't lose this one too.


I brought a few more pens for repair. I'm not ready to jump into the next 'stage' of pen geekdom, repairing my own pens. I know it's possible, and with practice anything can be done. However, I am more into seeing what can come out of the pen then what is in it. Not to say I don't appreciate a pen design, but rather I'm interested in creating sentences not pens. Anyway, I had an Esterbrook desk pen that needed repair and resaccing and an old Sheaffer Jade pen that needed a new sac and nib. The Esterbrook could be done at the show. I left the Sheaffer with Sharrell Tyree to restore. I'm looking forward to getting that pen back and playing with it. 

In my aimless wandering through the show (I wasn't lost, I just found myself talking to people rather that looking at pens), I came across Brad and Myke, of the Pen Addict Podcast, talking with Detlef Bittner. He was showing them the new line of Wahl-Eversharp pens. They've managed to design a semi-flex and full flex nibs to put in their Decoband model. This pen is a monster of a pen and makes a Montblanc 149 look like a Kaweco sport. I was impressed with how well the semi and full flex worked. Aurora's semi-flex had trouble keeping up. Being that the Decoband runs just shy of a grand. I'd have to save up get one.

Friday night was off the chain (did I use that slang right?). I've never seen so many Sailors in one place and there not be a boat. I was introduced to the King Eagle nib. The lower the angle of the pen to the page the wider the line, and it can be flipped over for a nice fine line. It's technically extraordinary not terribly attractive.


Saturday was the busy day. The rooms were packed for most of the day. It felt more frenetic. There were a lot of people who came up for the day which gave the show a high energy. Limited time, expendable money. I only picked up two things that day. I had been eyeing one the Karas Kustoms delrin models. It had a purple delrin body and a gold aluminum cap. They made it for LA as an homage to the Lakers, but in SEC territory purple and gold only has one team, the LSU Tigers. I couldn't not buy it. I prefer the Fountain K model to the bulkier Ink and in LSU colors it makes it a great daily carry pen. I also traded (my first trade) a Visconti Rembrant, I was trying to sell, for a seafoam green Sheaffer Snorkel. I love the color but the nib will need some repair. The Snorkel gives me more delight than the Rembrant. I was also able to sell two other pens that evening to fund a Sunday purchase.

Saturday evening was sushi and pens and pens and alcohol. Jim Rouse brought out some of his unique pens, like a demostrator Parker Vacummatic and a pen from the original run of Franklin-Christoph. Dave Rea also shared his brand new LB5, which about as large as the Decoband from the day before. Mr. Lambrou makes beautiful pens, but the more I handle the less I want one (and my pocketbook takes a big sigh).


I found Sunday tobe uncharateristically quiet. A storm did blow into the city which prevented some of the tentstive locals. Most of those there were vendors qnd weekend passers. Having been there for two days, I appreciated the slower pace. I spent the morning in front of Mark Bacas, the Nib Grinder. A few years ago I purchased a Visconti Salvador Dali. It never wrote well for me (I've owned 5 Viscontis and only the Rembrant I sold the day before wrote well out of the box), but I liked the body too much ot sell it. I also wanted a funky nib grind in homage to the king of surreal. Mark ground the broad nib into an italic, and, if flipped over, it becomes a fine. It's a cool little nib and makes the pen much more enjoyable to write with. I also had him turn the new Fountain K into a needlepoint. 


I ended the day with two purchases. All weekend I had been eyeing the special edition ebonite pens Johnathon Brooks brought. One in particular, with waves of light bluegreen at the bottom of the barrel, caught my eye. I must've picked up the pen 30 times over the weekend and Shea, Jonathon's wife, just egged me on each time. I liked it too much and had to have it. I had him put a 1.5 mm stub on it to just lay down ink. I left knowing I have a unique pen that is exquisite in a material I love. 

Over the course of the weekend, I documented every ink I possibly could. I had made it my goal to become a bit more familiar with various inks. I'd never laid down so many inks in so short a time. I enjoyed seeing the subtleties in different shades from the same brand. A few caught my eye, but I only purchaed one, the Franklin-Christoph Blue 72. It's a simple straightforward, bright blue. I enjoy its simplicity. While getting the ink, Jim sweetened up the feed and nib of the 1.5 stub in the Brooks pen. Sunday night I went to dinner with some friends in Atlanta. When I returned there was a small remnant, i.e. Ana Reinert and the Cali crew (who I'm pretty sure hadn't adjusted to Eastern time by the time they flew out.)

Usually a pen show does not satiate the thrist for pens. In my experience it drives it. I got to see great specimens of the OMAS arco celluloid I wished I could enjoy. I'm still in search for a Montblanc Heritage 1912 I could afford. Other than the new Decoband, I've added two more pens to the wish list, neither of which I could've bought on my limited budget this year. The first is the Maui Makai from the Kanilea Pen Company. They have multiple pens one can desire, but this particular material piqued my fancy because of the translucent blue in the middle of the pen, transporting me to memories of swimming in the Florida Keys. The second is the Earth pen in Carl Fisher's, of Fisher of Pens, four elements series. The green galaxy look of the pen captured my eyes and my imagination. 

 On a final note, I apologize to those who followed this blog on a regular basis. I've gone through a transition time in my life, and blogging became less of a priority to allow me to work on other things in my life. I can't promise you regular writing, as much as I would want to, but I hope snd intend to make this a regular part of my life again. For those of you who have emailed me or told me at the show that you miss the blog, I appreciated that more than you would know. Thank you. 

Calligraphy by  Nikola Pang

Calligraphy by Nikola Pang

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?

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

Atlanta Pen Show 2016 Prep

Fr. Kyle Sanders

Coming off Lent and Easter, the Atlanta Pen Show is nearly here. And I am unprepared. I psyched myself up for the Arkansas Pen Show a month and a half ago. This is different. My excitement is more muted. I think that will change as the day goes on or on the drive to Atlanta tomrrow. Even now as I hear people arriving, it's growing.

Last year, I drove Saturday night and Sunday morning to catch the final hours of the show. It was great to meet so many people, even if they were getting over pen show hangovers and were somewhat out of it, except for Punkey. Punkey seemed to have boundless energy. It was probably that killer coffee he drinks (forgive the public inside jokes). 

This year will be very different. This year I'm traveling up with my sister, who declares she's not ready for the responsibility of a fountain pen. "So you're saying there's still a chance?!"

Her coworkers overheard a phone conversation I had with her where I tried to convince her of the goodness of fountain pens, sonthey created the above meme

Her coworkers overheard a phone conversation I had with her where I tried to convince her of the goodness of fountain pens, sonthey created the above meme

She's getting married in November. She's my best friend, but our relationship will change once she weds herself to her fiancé. So we're going on a sibling vacation, that starts at the pen show. She'll drop me off at the hotel on Friday and spend the weekend with her friends in Atlanta. She'll come by on Sunday, and I'll introduce her to this awesome subculture, which, at the moment, she finds odd. We'll then spend a few days in Asheville and Savannah. My excitement for the show is somewhat mitigated by my excitement at being able to spend some quality time with my baby sister. 

As the show approaches (tomorrow!), my mind is turning more to final preparations: what pens I'm bringing, what's on my shopping list, finalizing my budget (the IRS was not good to me this year). In the process of doing that, I'm also mentally setting up my game plan. 

Pens:   Since this will be the largest group of pen people I'll ever hang with, I figure I'll bring the jewels of my collection, inked up and ready to play with.  Having a collection of close to 100 pens is difficult to travel with, so I've chosen my 34 unique or favorite pens, housed in the large Monteverde case. I have four that need work that I'll be bringing as well.

Pen case user guide

Pen case user guide

On the lookout:  I have heard about and seen on eBay a holy water dispenser pen. There are Parker and Sheaffer models I've seen. Right now this is my grail (the irony is not lost on me). Hopefully, I'll be able to see Jim Rouse's, to at least see how they work. I'll be putting the word out that I'm looking. Shawn Newton has been posting some tasty pens on his social media. I will definitely visit him. OMAS will always be on my radar; I've been bitten by the bug. A Nock case might be in my future as well, oh and a Karas Kustoms Fountain K. I know the Franklin-Christoph table will be hopping, but something might tickle my fancy. 

The most important part of a pen show though is the people, getting to know new people, catching up with friends, having conversations about life, the universe, Nakayas, and everything. Most of the pens available could be bought online (should is another question I will intentionally avoid). The people, the face to face, are what bring the show its flesh; the pens are lagniappe. If not for the men and ever increasing number of women (which is a good thing), a pen show would seem more like a flea market, much product but very little relationship. That's no fun. A pen show isn't a captialistic vaccuum. It's the best part of a garage sale combined with the delight of a family reunion and the niche conversation of a comic book shop. The best part is that are no ludites or Gentiles. Newbies are just as welcome as the veteran (there are always grumpy people, but that isn't the norm). In fact, newbies can have the experience of a baby at the family reunion, being passed around from uncle to great aunt to cousin to learn all the varied stories of the family. 

My game plan, then, will revolve around the people, my introversion, and the fact that my back is currently spasming. As an introvert, I love those conversation of three or less about something we love. I'll eat up conversation after conversation, and I'll forget to take a break to rest myself. Breaks are of utmost importance for me, for food, for prayer, and for rest.

This time away does a few things. It gives me strength and a renewal of energy. It gives perspective to my prospective purachases. It allows me not to get completely overwhelmed and crash exactly when I don't want to. 

I know many of us are introverted, so heed this advice. It's okay to walk away for an hour. Fear of missing out will be greater than ever at a pen show. Be confident in yourself and walk away so you can recharge. The extroverts will keep talking, keep moving, keep going because they're in an energy feeding frenzy being around so many people. Don't confuse yourself into thinking you can do the same. An hour away here and there will enhance your experience tenfold, especially the late nights. 

Those who will be there I look forward to meeting or seeing you again. Those who won't be there we'll miss you. 

Laissez le bon temp rouler.   

Correspondence Inspiration

Fr. Kyle Sanders

We’re nearly three weeks after the end of the writing frenzy that is International Correspondence Writing Month (INCOWRIMO). INCOWRIMO is where participants write once a day for the 28, or this year 29, days of February. It could be a letter. It could be a postcard. It just happens everyday.

I was having a conversation with an online pen friend sometime in February about writing letters. This friend was having a bit of trouble writing letters to near strangers. It felt somewhat uncomfortable. I encouraged her and gave a few insights that have helped me over the last few years as correspondence has become a regular part of my week. I felt that I should share that with you. 

I remember first writing to someone when I was in kindergarten. She was my best friend, who had moved away because her father was transferred. In the early 90’s, before Facebook or Facetime, my parents suggested I write to her. I admit I didn’t fully understand nor appreciate correspondence at the time. I would write to her; she would write to me. It was a way for both of us to ease the pain of separation. About a year later, the letters stopped as we had moved on into our lives in grammar school. The depth of writing of a five year old was surface level, as I couldn’t communicate much of anything well and could hardly maintain sentence structure, which I’m sure was helped by my mom. Nonetheless, there was a tenderness there between 2 genuine friends. 

I wrote letters here and there throughout grammar school, high school, and college, but most were formal or classroom related. I wasn’t really interested in corresponding with people, being content with AIM. As I got into reading blogs later in college, early in graduate school, I came across a fascinating blog called Letters of Note. Shawn Usher, the brains behind the blog, would find fascinating correspondence and some history about the chosen letter, then would post pictures of the letters along with his short introduction. They were always fascinating reads. Sometimes they were responses to fan mail from a celebrity, other times they were letters home from war, and still other times they were normal correspondence between friends. Each letter opened a new gateway to looking at history. 

This concept inspired a graduate school paper for Reformation/Post-Reformation History. I was intrigued with the relationship between St. Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus. They had met as young men, both intellectuals, one the son of prominent lawyer in London, the other an illegitimate son of a Dutch cleric. More became Chancellor of England before being beheaded for disagreeing with his ruler. Sharing his time between France and Belgium, Erasmus became one of the most prominent Scripture scholars of the century and Martin Luther’s most effective interlocutor. Their friendship was maintained for thirty years primarily through letters. This correspondence was the main content of my research for the paper. I became fascinated with their conversations and how much was revealed through these letters. I poured through well over 100 correspondences and ate up every word. It was through this research I became aware of collections of letters by other of my favorite people in history. I was always on the lookout for epistolary collections when I browsed the shelves of used book stores. I got to see a side of my favorite authors that cannot be seen in a biography. I now have letters from Tolkien to Mark Twain to Mother Teresa. I found their writing styles and the content of their letters an ever deeper experience of human relationships. 

A few years later I found the joy of fountain pens and the community around them on Instagram. Three weeks after my first pen pic on Insta one of my new pen friends commented on a pic of my currently inked pens, “u should send a letter my way! :)” I must admit I was taken aback. I barely knew this guy other than his taste in pens (Sailor) and his calligraphic skills. I was going to write a letter to someone with whom I had no rapport or intimate knowledge? I knew how emotionally invested a personal letter could be, and I didn’t know if I was ready to engage someone on that level when I knew him only virtually. My heart was reticent. My head, however, recalled the countless letters I had read by various people, some of which had a lower emotional investment than my own Instagram posts. I also recalled the great joy I had when I received a letter from my friend. I was much more invested in my mom’s opening the mailbox because there might be a letter in there, a continuation of the story and conversation.So I listened to my head, not my heart and wrote this random guy a letter. I received one back a few weeks later, and realized quickly how much I enjoy this form of communication. I picked up two more correspondents here, another there. I would keep in touch with the beneficiaries of my giveaways. Before I knew it, there was always a letter sitting at my desk waiting for response. 

Then, last year I participated in INCOWRIMO, 28 days, 28 letters (and thankfully no zombies). It was at that point, 84 weeks after starting this journey, that I really fell in love with writing letters. I probably wrote letters to 15 new people in that one month, starting 15 new relationships. As an extroverted introvert, that was both exciting and tiring. I loved it, but it was also overwhelming like the first bite of the finest steak you’ve ever eaten. I was stunned into inactivity. Sharing myself in such a way wore me out. I don’t think I wrote another letter till April. Once I did, I knew I had to make correspondence a regular part of my life. It proved a good balance to the instant communication of social media. I now write at least one letter a week. I don’t feel the overwhelming need to respond to a new letter immediately. I wait until I've responded to the ones already sitting, patiently anticipating a response. 

You might have heard about INCOWRIMO, but were afraid, like me, to take up pen and paper, envelope and stamp to write a letter. That’s understandable. Try it anyway. I have been opened up to a whole new world of experience getting to know people from Australia to Canada to California and beyond (haven’t gotten a letter to the space station yet). I’ve ‘met’ people of vastly different beliefs than me and had civil conversations about those differences along with what we have in common. I’ve made new friends in places I may never go, but hope to. 

If you are wondering, “I don’t know if I could do this,” either because of the fast pace of your 21st Century life or because you don’t want to write to someone whom you can’t yet trust. I encourage you take up and read. Find a collection of letters from your favorite dead author (usually live ones won’t give over their letter for publication). If you don’t have a favorite dead author (email me, I’d love to introduce you to a few), do not fear. Sean Usher, of Letters of Note, has published a book version of his blog, a compilation of unique and powerful and easily accessible to every reader. Pick it up. Read. Learn, there are few greater joys than to know someone took the time to hand write you a letter

Arkansas Pen Show Recap

Fr. Kyle Sanders

taken by Lisa Vanness

It would seem odd to drive fourteen hours in two days to go to a show about pens, especially if the show had a mere twenty-seven vendors and only a few recognizable people. Despite the lower price of gas, it doesn't seem, to the 'sane person,' worth it. 

I posted last week how there is this awesome community that, at times, seems divided, and the division comes from fear and pride and a depersonalization of 'the other side.' Joe Crace, the Gentleman Stationer, furthered the discussion by highlighting the differing motivations of each 'side,' user or collector. All of this has generated much discussion amidst not only the Pen Addict Community, but beyond it into Facebook groups and no doubt elsewhere where I personally don't dare to trod due to prevalence of trolls, who, unfortunately, don't turn to stone when enlightened. All of these thoughts were bouncing around my head as I walked the tables of pens, had conversations with a great many people, and made a few purchases. 

Taken by Lisa Vanness

I arrived in time for the Friday night afterparty at Vanness. I was struck by the sheer number of things Mike and Lisa Vanness sell, from pens to cupcake tins and a myriad in between. That night  was a good chance to ease into the show. I knew some of the people by face from the Dallas Pen Show, a few years ago, and got to connect with some people I befriended there, namely the Newtons and the Nesbits, both awesome couples, one young, one old. 

Despite spending time on social media talking pens, a show can be a bit overwhelming because there is so much talk about the things we love. We can geek out and not get the upturned eyebrow. The night at Vanness made a good transition because it was as much about people catching up, person to person, as it was about the pens. I got to see people just hanging out talking about everything from mission trips to cooking supplies, of which Vanness had many. It allowed me to move from regular life and into the pen world. This insight gives new meaning to the fact that the publication, Pen World, greets every person who registers for the show, its name indicative of the subculture one is about to enter. 

At Vanness, I fell into a small conversation with Patrick, who has one of the few pen stores in New Orleans, Papier Plume, and who came up to the show as a vendor. We marveled at both the size and diversity of product in this family run store. As a store owner, he was amazed at especially the baking supplies they sold. He carries pens and pen related things, paper, bags, stamps, etc. This seemed almost contrarian. Why would a pen shop sell a large selection of cookie cutters and cupcake toppers? My answer was practical. It allowed them to stay open since 1938 and gives the shop a country general store flavor without the wooden Indian outside advertising a cigar brand. As I think now about it, at Vanness, pens aren't their own world but part of the world in which we live. It integrates them into daily living, on a subconscious level. When we enter a pen show, we step into a world of fantasy. There's certainly some hyperbole in the previous statement, but there's also some truth to it as well. Describing a pen show as magical isn't false.

It's somewhat appropriate, then, that the pen I purchased from Lisa, that first night, was, in a sense, connected to 'real life.' In the vast array of Bexleys she had, one with a woodgrain ebonite caught my eye. It was a limited edition commissioned by a local Arkansas outdoorsman and tourism entrepreneur, Jim Gaston, who apparently loved the New York Stock Exchange enough to call his limited edition pens, "The Bull and the Bear." The bull, the lighter, orange-ier of the two ebonites, caught my eye, and the lines and feel of the Bexley stub caught my heart. To boot, Vanness had all 100 of both Bull and Bear so I was able to get the number of my birth year. I'm not really a follower of the NYSE but the material and nib sold me. The pen had a story and connected me to Little Rock and New York. 

The next day, instead of entering the Castle Camelot or the Shire or Hogwarts, I entered into something smaller, like Merlin's hut or Bilbo's hobbit hole. It was cozy, homey, still full of magic but in a degree this little hobbit priest can handle. (I have this secret fear that going to DC is like entering the Lonely Mountain with Smoag inside. There's treasure to be found but you might wake a sleeping dragon. Forgive my imagination.) I had a few goals: a few pens needed fixing, I had my eye out for an OMAS 360, and I needed more storage for these pens I use. One day might not seem like enough time, but the show's smallness allowed me to take my time, both to browse and to talk. 

The magicians at shows are said to be the pen repairmen and nib workers. They can turn a broken pen and unusable nib into something new and glorious. Although this show lacked a worker of nibs, it did have two repairman, Jeff Powers and Danny Fudge. Both have wealth of experience and bot are fantastic guys to talk to. Danny had worked on a pen for me while at the Dallas Show so I figured I’d see Jeff, whom Lisa had introduced to me the night before. He was able to cox life out of an Esterbrook LJ and an Arnold Pen (I can never find which model), both of whom needed new sacs. I also left another pen with him to work on when he returns home. I dropped the pens off to him at the beginning of the day. Mid-afternoon found them in tip-top shape. I was grateful for the work he did, but, and this is what makes this community so great, he was even more thankful to me for the life I lead. What happened makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t feel I deserve it. He waived his repair fee and then proceed to give me a Sheaffer Balance that he had restored, a beautiful little green pen. I am still both humbled and in awe of his generosity.

Generosity is something I think characterizes this community as a whole, whether it’s with information or with actual things. It’s one of the reason I love being in this community, not that I’m looking for handouts, but rather, generous people are people you want to be around. They build you up, recognize your dignity. It was the virtue that characterized my experience of the whole show. Everyone was generous, with time, with stories, with sharing experience, or trying pens. I think when an ungenerous person is encountered (I didn’t experience any in Little Rock) it comes as a shock to us newbies because our experience has been so overwhelming positive. 

I caught up with the Nesbit and Newtons at the show. It seems I get something from the Nesbits every show and I get something from Shawn a few month after the show. I saw an acrylic on his table that I really like, that will probably turn into a dip pen or one of his new pocket models. 

The Nesbits are a sweet couple in their 70’s from Oklahoma City. Dr. Nesbit found himself with quite a collection of pens, new and vintage, many of which he purchased from Mike Vanness. In Dallas, I got my first Esterbrook from them. Since then, he started converting cigar boxes into pen cases much like BamaPen. In fact, he connected with John Hubbard, of BamaPen's, when visiting a child or grandchild. He had a few of John’s pieces as well as a few of his own. One caught my eye for its being different. The cigar box turned pen cased didn’t have the profile of a warehouse viewed from 500 feet in the air but rather looked like an apartment complex that you can open from the top.  It stores 20 pens vertically. I determined it was mine. I also spied three OMAS 360’s in one of his trays. I returned three or five times to their table throughout the day, both to talk and to eye those pens. Aesthetically, I settled on the yellow one, over and above white and red. The 18k fine nib was dreamy, and they gave me a price I couldn’t refuse. It was my prize purchase and was the last one I made that day.

Most of my day, though was spent browsing the vintage offerings. I spent a good 30 minutes looking at some old pens one vendor had. I didn’t know how old, and the prices weren’t labeled. He had them on photocopies with a letter/number system to designate the pen. It worked well for him but not so well for me. I’m attracted to shiny and really liked these overlay pens he had. So I picked one up, examined it, and asked him about it. It was beautiful. I didn’t notice, until I look back in hindsight, how nervous he was as I handled his pens. One I really liked. I didn’t know the price, but I asked if I could try the nib. He promptly told me the pen’s history, late 19th century Parker, and the price, well above my budget. At that moment I was scared and no longer intrigued. He said something to the effect of, “I’d be afraid to break it if I used it.” And I realized, I didn’t want to buy a pen I would never use. 

Manning the Franklin-Christoph table while Jim was away. I guess he could trust the priest ... (Taken by Lisa Vanness)

This whole exchange happened across form the Franklin-Christoph table. I wonder if Jim Rouse, their penman extraordinaire, overheard our conversation. Later in the day, as I was playing with KWZ blues (Lisa gave me a bottle for review) at the Vanness table, I overheard my name. Jim was talking to a man in his seventies who wore an extra bushy, white mustache that floated out beyond either side of his face with spectacle sitting atop the bridge of his nose. Jim was explaining what I had read from the Gentleman Stationer earlier in the day, while at lunch. Us newer folk are more about the writing experience of a pen. We want a pen that writes well and looks good. A collector wants an old pen in pristine condition, whether the writing experience is good or not. Our goals are different. It was interesting to hear similar things from different quarters both from voices I respect. The conversation online about this has been great to follow. I think the commonality between collector and user lies in the fact that we both love pens. Our love may be for different reasons, but its mutuality bonds us together. I found that to be the case during my day in Little Rock.

Earlier in the day (forgive my non-linear storytelling), I had gone out to my care to deposit the cigar box I didn’t want to carry around. I stopped by the men’s room on my way back in. While there, I get a text from Lisa saying I won a door prize. Thankfully, although I wasn’t physically present, they didn’t pull another name. I came back to a large 13”x13” box with a whole Sheaffer No-Nonsense Calligraphy set and a gift certificate for pen repair from Danny Fudge. Again, the generosity of the community proved great. I was actually looking at generating a set for a calligraphy project I’m working on for my parish.

Sheaffer seemed to be the brand of the show for me: the No-Nonsense, the Balance, and then, a Sheaffer Triumph. One of my favorite pens in my collection is a Sheaffer Triumph Desk Pen, which is the only pen I own that is always inked up. The nib is quite unique, being intentionally upturned in what can leave the ignorant afraid the nib is bent. I was attracted by a Sheaffer (I didn’t know at the time it was a Triumph) with a very large cap band. I asked the vendor about the band. He then casually turned to the vendor to his right who seemed to me a fountain of knowledge not different from Merlin himself. The bushy white eyebrows furrowed and the stooped shoulders shifted and a worn voice opened up the annals of scribal history. This particular pen began production in the summer of ’41 only to be changed in design as the war machine took most of the metal. This design then is a special reminder that things changed drastically after December 7, 1941. I already knew I loved the nib. It didn’t take much more for me to make the pen my first purchase of the show. When I use it, I will write in the knowledge of the history that frames the pen and the freedom I still have to write what I please and publish prose on pens in the open forum of the internet.

I said goodbye as the show wound down, I walked out of this pen world and back into the real world (a phrase forever colored by MTV). In so doing, I came to the awareness of why this hobby and love of pens and pen culture has captured our imagination, our attraction to beauty, and ultimately our pocketbooks. The fantasy and magic of pens allows us to see the truth of the world in greater clarity. The colors and the lines, the letters and their shape give us the means to see the world. Despite the present mood of fear, bright greens and block letters remind us there is still brightness and solidity. So I leave you with a quote that fairly describes what I mean to say in betters words than I can compose.

“Can you not see that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming.” - G.K. Chesterton

My haul. 

Letter to the Pen Addict Community

Fr. Kyle Sanders

I will start with some qualifications. What I'm writing won't apply to all of you, and first and foremost is addressed to myself. I also take into account the less than stellar time Matt Armstrong (aka Pen Habit) had at the LA Pen Show only a week and a half ago. Furthermore, my intention is neither to brag or alienate, and where I unintentionally do so, call me out. My intention is rather to speak and attempt to unify. 

I am going to the Arkansas Pen Show this weekend. It will be tiny compared to LA or DC (although it is reducible to LR if they wanted to rebrand it), and it will lack the Pen Addict Community that makes Atlanta so much fun. I will ostensibly only know Shawn and Elizabeth Newton and Lisa Vanness. It won't have the displays or the enormity of vendors. Furthermore, I suspect I will see my fair share of fishing vests and men old enough to be my grandfather. The thing is I will be uncomfortable. I won't have someone to relay ideas off of or be my wing-man, or me his. And that's okay. It's okay I'm entering into the deep, unknowing of what I will find. 

The Pen Addict thing

Brad and Myke have watched this awesome community form around their podcast and Brad's blog. It's spawned a Pencil Podcast and countless new pen blogs, this one included, courtesy of Squarespace advertisements. We all value Brad and Myke's opinion. When Brad has recommended a pen, a retail rush on that product occurs. Recall the Matte Black Pilot Vanishing Point being one of the highest selling products at JetPens, or the sell outs at Pen Chalet due to a promotion. Nakaya found a new market when Brad got his orange scar pen. We value his thoughts, to his credit. 

To an extent, we don't veer outside of what he has recommended. I haven't asked Brad, but I would venture to take a guess that one of the regular questions he gets from the PA Community is, "when will you review this ..." If it hasn't received the Dowdy seal of approval, is it worth buying? We have the relative comfort of reading a review about this pen or that pen from the whole host of awesome blogs and, if you dare, the Fountain Pen Network (FPN) forums. But not everything has been reviewed, or an item may have received less commendation from a reviewer due to personal bias. We certainly aren't perfect, and reviews have no objective standard. Do we as pen people, then, just patiently wait until someone reviews a mid-century Shaeffer or a sweet looking 20's Conklin, or one of the many models of the Parker Duofold?

The internet has really allowed, through the studying of reviews, for us to make more informed choices than our forefathers in the hobby. But I think it can also stagnate our ability to learn things ourselves by making mistakes. We're conservative, not with our wallets, but with what we buy. That's partly due to our budgets, but I think fear is also a factor. What if I buy a pen I don't like it, or I buy a pen that doesn't work properly, or isn't something I've heard about before? We might have a fear of missing out with regard to new products, but we can also have a fear of making a mistake, especially in online purchasing. But if we don't make mistakes, we don't learn from them, and we place our trust on Brad, or others, to more or less make our decisions for us as to what is a good pen. 

The Old School and New Media

I think that's one of the differences between "the old guard" and us newbies is they made many, many poor pen purchases before they amassed the collection they now sell at pen shows. I think there's a resentment toward us "youtube people," as Matt experienced, because we share our mistakes and our joys in pens with the world, as opposed merely to this small community. Despite being a global industry, fountain pens, at least in the United States, seemed to me to be very tribal Within the tribe there was safety and protection and community. With the dawn of the internet, FPN, Youtube, blogs, and a podcast globalized their hobby, opening it up to new sectors and demographics. No longer can the fountain pen hobby be anti-digital technology. We now sit with our phones, and cameras, and computers and set fountain pens alongside technology, not separate from but integrated into our digital lives and the digital continent. Fountain pens used to be part of the small band of rebels who held out against the digital revolution. No longer. And that is a difficult thing to realize for the men in fishing vests. To admit one is wrong (i.e. digital and analog cannot be integrated) is a difficult thing. New things mean change and despite what we say to the contrary, we humans are very uncomfortable with  change. 

The resentment of the old guard, I think, other than above, is that we don't make the same mistakes they did. We come in to a show having read this review, or that blog post, or that website and are looking for a specific thing not because we have personal experience of it, but because we read about it. This experience is in counter-distinction to theirs. Their first pens, and collecting them, was trial and error. The wealth of knowledge was in the hands of the sellers, who shared that wealth. We seem to have all the answers before the question is posed. So all this experience they've amassed about these pens can seem, to them, to be overlooked or devalued by our research. And although they shouldn't, many take our preparedness personally because they invested so much time, energy, and money to acquire and understand this little pen they're selling. 

I'm certainly not defending grumpy men in grumpy moods being donkeys to interested buyers. I'm rather trying to give context to the seeming grumpiness of many. Just as they shouldn't take our preparedness personally neither should we take their resentment personally. There are reasons for both and mercy need reign. 

With all our research, there's something extremely valuable in the grumpy man's experience. No one wants to feel devalued, especially when there is an age gap, and that devaluation takes on an added generality (old vs. young). A way to bridge the gap is, instead of leading with our research, we gain their perspective first. How did he acquire the pen in question? What is it's history? Show him you value his experience because, in truth, his experience is invaluable, which is the same reason why we put so much trust in Brad's two-cents in the first place; he has experience where we don't. If the seller balks or is still mean, move on and don't take it personally. 

The Value of a Pen show

On the internet, we are afraid of making poor purchases. Amazon has trained us to be prepared buyers who have sought out the experience of others. At a pen show, we can make mistakes and buy a bad pen or a pen, which at first, seemed great  but turned out to be more or less than what we bargained for. It's the place where we can let go of the fear of making a mistake and learn, by asking, by casting lines and sowing seed. It's the place where we can tap into the shared experience of pen aficionados who have been talking pens before I started using one in the fourth grade. The pen show is the place where we can bridge the gap between oral knowledge and wiki-knowledge. 

I will be keeping this all in mind as I drive up to Little Rock this weekend. I will test it out, make mistakes, maybe even get offended by some grumpy old man. But my hope is that I'll gain some new stories and experiences that I'd never hear in the Slack room or on Instagram, unless there was a Humans of Pen Shows. (Somebody's got to make that happen! I mean come one there's an Orcs of New York!) 


Fall-en for Pencils Giveaway

Fr. Kyle Sanders


Unlike many of you who live up North, fall has only just begun in South Louisiana, just after the official start of ’winter.’ Leaves are turning colors and temperatures are dropping below 70°, sometimes. Laugh or cry you may but our winter is your fall.

Now this weather gets me in a sentimental and reflective mood. I’ve come a long way over the course of this year in my relationship with woodcased pencils. At the beginning of the year, if you would’ve told I’d traveling to my year end retreat with a 2B triangular pencil and a pencil encased in what looks like a bullet I would’ve thought you off your rocker. I was through and through and fountain pen guy. As I said back in February I despised pencils. Then I chose them to be my Lenten sacrifice. Unfortunately, from a sacrifice perspective, by the time Easter came I had begun to enjoy using pencils. After those 40 days I reviewed the Blackwing 602 and didn’t consider it reverenced. I think if I were to review it again my position would change.

Over the course of the last 8 months I found myself purchasing single pencils at art supply stores and off the internet. I even subscribed to receive a dozen special edition Blackwing pencils four times a year. Special edition pencils, really? 


I now enjoy using pencils. The smell of cedar can just be sensed by my weak olfactory sensors. it's such an enjoyable experience to sharpen a pencil. That statement itself is new to me; it feels weird to write it.

Part of what helped me is this stationary and pencil community. the Erasable Podcast Facebook Group has been a blast. I’m not as deep into pencildom as I am in pendom, so I’m still learning.

To say thank you to you my readers and to the community, I have a giveaway courtesy of my friends at Metalshop CT and Nock Co. I know it seems like all I'm doing is giveaways but I promise, posts are on the way.

Here what’s up:

I've chosen colors than remind me of fall.


1) an orange Twist Bullet Pencil with a green tip

2) a sky/pick Nock Co. Fodderstack with Dot-Dash notecards

3) two orange Palomino HB's with erasers

4) a CW Pencils 2B Triangular pencil

5) General's Pacific #2

6) Field Notes Orange Pop #2

7) Kita-Bosch Red Pencil

Here's how it works:
Make a comment on the blog.
CHECK BACK ON THE BLOG ON JANUARY 1 at NOON CST to find out if you won. If you did email me through the letter button on the top right of the site. You have 4 days to respond before I choose another winner.