Experience A Pen Show

A pen show is a kaleidoscope of experiences. It’s like walking through a museum with fascinating art from diverse eras of the past. It’s like going to a library and finding books you never knew existed on subjects of surprising interest. It’s like visiting a zoo and being amazed at the color, size, culture and variety of the animals from some unfamiliar part of the world.

Many persons today are under the impression that fountain pens are a thing of the past and are quite shocked to see the displays of modern pens for sale…not just ballpoints and rollerballs, but fountain pens as well and mechanical pencils that match them. Far from being a thing of the past, numerous companies are producing beautiful quality fountain pens today, in a dizzying array of colors and styles. And there are vintage pens in great numbers still around from the past 100 years.

At a pen show you may be able to find a fountain pen just like the one you saw your grandfather or grandmother write with, or like the one you received as a gift for graduation, or like the ones you see in period movies. At most pen shows there is a high likelihood that a pen like these will be around, and perhaps for sale.

Some folks come to a show bringing a pen that is an heirloom, or one that has sentimental value because of its attachment to one they loved. They bring the pen to see if it can be repaired, or if it has any value, or to find out about its age, maker or history. Some bring such a pen to find out how it works, or how to fill it, or how to find ink for it.

Others come to shows bringing a handful of old pens they have accumulated from garage sales or antique auctions, asking if anyone wants to buy them. Often these pens are dirty and scratched up, usually not working, but occasionally a real rare gem walks in this way. While many are of little interest or monetary value, every collector at the show is excited when a special and desirable pen shows up unexpectedly.

At a pen show there is a lot of buying and selling, but a pen show can also be an adventure in discovery, where one can see, handle, use and learn about vintage and modern writing instruments. One can browse through hundreds of pens of all colors and shapes, worth from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. In a way, a pen show is a museum of writing technology, or a supermarket of pens. You don’t have to be a buyer to have fun at this.

In this setting one learns that pens are still exciting in the computer age; that some are things of beauty and works of art as well as utilitarian instruments. Here one can learn about the major pen makers, the different eras of fountain pen technology, the amazing variety of designs and materials. Some collector/dealers at the shows will be experts on certain manufacturers or pen models. Most are eager to talk with collectors or interested persons about a particular pen or era of pen production.

The engineer can enjoy the changing technology reflected in the successive improvements and inventions. This historian will occasionally find a pen used by a famous person to sign some historic document, or to pen significant letters or documents. The artist can plot how our changing tastes influenced the design of these writing tools. The entrepreneur can find how passionate inventors marketed their products and built massive production and distributions systems into major companies.

Primarily, people make a pen show. Pen lovers come from all vocations. And the ages vary too; children mingle among the tables as do the retired. There are the tirekickers and the thoughtful inquirers, the quiet eccentric introvert and the personable outgoing extrovert. The PhD, a business tycoon, a student, an artist or writer, a computer programmer, a garage sale king…all exploring the world of pens. Some are buying; some selling. Some are just looking. Some are trying out a pen’s writing “feel.” Some are bargaining for a better price; some are examining carefully for tiny flaws. Some are novices, while others have been collecting or using pens for a long time.

Pens create a wider culture: packaging, advertising, display cases, replacement parts, inks, and promotional items. At a show, you will find not only pens, but some of this ephemera that other pen lovers have accumulated. Some of it will be for sale, and often comes with stories about its origin or use.

Are you a lover of beauty, ingenuity, writing, history, or technology? Then a pen show is for you. The nostalgic and the creative will find it interesting. The practical or the innovative will not be disappointed. Spend a few hours at a pen show. There are ten to twelve shows around the country each year in major cities. There’s probably one near you. Start the adventure.