Reflections on the DC Pen Show

Thursday & Friday:

Last year was my first DC Pen Show. Previously, it had been held at the same location for many years, bet this year its been moved to a new location.

While I am by no means a seasoned pen show attendee, I’ve attended enough shows to feel a certain rhythm. Suffice to say, the 2017 DC Pen Show was unusual on many levels.

By way of Penthusiast Oscar, our good friend Alexander decided it was time to update the coloring book pages. I am honored to have my very own page, complete with floating Col-o-ring! I can’t ait to see what wild color combinations folks can come up with for my hair. Brad and Myke also got their own awesome pages too.  All of them should be available online very soon. Thank you so much for making us feel goofy and sharing your talents, Alexander. We are lucky to have someone so amazing in our community.

I  helped Oscar and his merry band of helpers build Pay It Forward kits for the table. We worked for several hours and people came to visit us throughout the evening, It was one of the few chances I had to talk to Rachel and Brian Goulet who brought ink and other donations for the Pay It Forward table along with meeting lots of friends, new and old.

Me, Jessica, Ashley, SgtStretch (Phil), Penthusiast (Oscar), and JC

I ended the evening hanging out with the amazing Squishyink and Inkaday. We talked pens and ink and they figured out a way to get me to buy a pen before the pen show even started. Impressive ladies, indeed!

One of the major upsets to the show was the change of venues. This altered how the show was organized. Tables were not assigned until Friday morning instead of Thursday night. Some vendors were  assigned awkward locations which caused a long delay Friday morning. Things were settled by opening a new room, but that added several hours. Many vendors with larger fixtures, multiple tables or elaborate set-ups had to hustle to make up for lost time. It was well past noon before most were ready to sell. Needless to say, the lost time for attendees and vendors left many frustrated.

At a lull on Friday, the guys called me over to the Nock Co table, which was right next to the Vanness table. I wasn’t sure if something serious had happened but they both looked very straight-faced.  A friend of the podcast (who chose to remain anonymous) gave Brad and Myke the #003 Pen Addict edition Retro 51 and asked that they give it to me. Brad handed ito me and I completely lost it, tears welled up in my eyes. What did I do to deserve such kindness? How did I luck into such an amazing community? I send my thanks out into the world to my anonymous benefactor. I will cherish this gift forever.


Saturday had a more traditional pen show vibe. Sales were brisk and tables were filled with happy shoppers. I helped with the Vanness Pen Shop table again and sold ink, pens and paper as fast as I could count change and get the credit card machine to accommodate us. Wifi was iffy and the corner where our tables were located was HOT!

The evening event would change the rhythm of the day as it was Susan Wirth’s Memorial Service. The absence of such a constant and recognizable figure at the show was noticeable, but the evening would bring it into sharp focus. Many people spoke and shared stories about Susan and her impact, not only the community but, also on their life.

I don’t think I’ve made it clear how welcome Susan made me feel in the pen show community from the day I met her. She and John and Deborah Basel and her whole band of “Associates” have warmly welcomed me into the community in a way that is hard to explain. They have fed me grand doses of pen knowledge and history and always been cheerleaders for the new collectors and pen show attendees.

There were many tears and chuckles as stories were told about Susan’s impact– both the kindness and the shenanigans. She will never be forgotten by those whose lives she touched. Keep telling those stories and keep using the pens she found for you.

After the memorial, it was a bit of an awkward transition to go from mourning to partying. I fumbled through it and found myself at the Kenro event with Jake Weidmann at Top Golf. With the hand-eye coordination of a Muppet, I spent the evening photographing the others swinging form. Once I returned to the hotel, I was physically and emotionally wrung out and went straight to bed.



For the final day of the show, the Vanness crew was back behind the table for one more day of sales. Sundays are generally a little slower than Saturdays so we can talk to folks a bit more and even have a few minutes here and there to dash out from behind the table to make our own purchases or say hi to friends.

Sunday was my first chance to make it in to the ballroom. I’d heard rumors that Mike Masuyama, Jim and Scott from Franklin-Christoph were lined up as the nib grinding alley but I finally got to see it for myself. Dan Smith was just off to one side too. It was amazing to see them altogether. Maybe next year we really can have “Grind Alley” or “Grinder’s Corner” ?

I did have a chance to meet the new Lamy distributors and they were very positive that things were going to improve. They were confident that next year’s limited edition inks were not going to be as scarce as Petrol was this year and the EF nib void has been cleared up already. So, three cheers for the new Lamy distributor already!

As the day wound down we had to prepare to pack everything back into the van, crossing our fingers that we were packing less than we brought. A team of Slack regulars volunteered to help load the van (thank you!) and then we all sat at the bar eating, drinking and hanging out looking at pens.

In Summary

My experience with pen shows are always very different from the average attendee because I spend most of my time viewing them from behind a table. I get to see smiling faces who made their first or umpteenth pen purchase. I meet new people and see friends. I, however, seldom get to experience signing up for a slot with Masuyama for a new nib grind, browsing trays of vintage parts or shopping Sarj’s one-man pen show so I don’t know how this year’s DC Pen Show stacked up against other years from an attendee standpoint.

It took me a long time to pull together my thoughts and write what I hope is a fairly cohesive wrap-up of the show. While the show was a bit chaotic and I can’t guarantee it won’t be just as crazy next year, the DC Show is truly epic and I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from coming to it.

If you have limited time to devote, Sunday might be your best option though as all the kinks have been worked out by then. Of course, a lot of the stock is picked over by Sunday but there’s a bit more space to move. Just know that vendors do start to pack up so you need to shop fast.


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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thanks for the wrap. It was delightful finally getting to meet you on Sunday. When my sister and I first arrived, the “hostess” made a big deal about shuttling us into the smaller terraced alcove first, and I can understand why any of the vendors housed there would be miffed. Space was cramped, vendors seemed to be exceedingly irritated at having been placed there (Chatterley in particular), and there was a tension in the air. I had been to the Balto Pen Show in March, which was a LOVEFEST from one end of the large ballroom to the other, so this odd vibe for the DC Show was very unexpected. As was the absence of the largest brick and mortar pen dealer in the area – Fahrney’s.
    Whoever is running the DC Show either needs more help or better organization. There was little to no updated vendor info available online until the very day before the show. That was a travesty.

  2. I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading this recap! Thank you for sharing this with us, it was almost like I was there with you <3 Also sometimes you don’t need to “do” anything to receive kindness, but to let you know, you do do (hee hee 😉 a whole lot for us in the community as well, that people just want to give back in kind 🙂 Big hugs to you!!

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