Last week, my wife, three kids, and myself loaded up the mini-van, packed some snacks and DVDs, and made a three-hour trip to the St. Louis Pen Show (it should have only taken around an hour and forty-five minutes, but hey, I have a son who is potty training)! This was the second year of the pen show in St Louis and I was excited to see how things would progress from year one to year two. For disclosure purposes, I am involved in a bit of the planning and coordinating of the St. Louis pen show. Living in Mexico, MO the St. Louis show is my home show and I am a member of the St. Louis pen club (affectionately called SLAPME). I helped to coordinate the auction for this year's show, while also setting up as a vendor for the first time.
Since I didn't want to miss a minute of the show activities, my family and I left the house Thursday morning with the intent to arrive by 11:00 am, the scheduled time for the trader tables to open up. Honestly, if I am being objective there wasn't a whole lot that happened during the trader day. The tables were set up in a side room that wasn't extremely visible, and only a few of the vendors set up anything in the room. This was a little disappointing because at the Chicago show the trader day was the most productive day for me as a buyer. Also, despite the hotel advertising that early check-in was available, my room was not ready until almost 3:00 pm. Still, I had a good time visiting with the other vendors, show organizers, and friends. I even made my first "official" sale as a vendor: a yellow striped Arnold pen for $15! Hey, it was a start. Thursday evening I spent some time with the family exploring the sites of St. Louis (actually, just shopping at the mall).
Friday morning was officially the start of the show. Set-up for vendors took place between 7-11:00 am, with the show beginning promptly at 11:00. Before set-up, I went down to the hotel lobby for some breakfast. One of the things that I enjoy the most about pen shows (one of the things that everyone enjoys most about pen shows) is the people. Since my family was still sleeping in the hotel room, I was invited to join a table of other pen show attendees for breakfast. At my table were Ana from the Well-appointed desk, Jessi from the Vintage Pen Shop, a couple of other people that I didn't know, and Alan, one of the other organizers for the show. I enjoyed listening as everyone talked about the pen show circuit and the differences and similarities between all of the shows. As they talked and drank their coffee, it made me wish that I could attend more shows throughout the year (I limit myself to only three shows a year).
Following breakfast, I was able to set up my table and wait for the show to begin. Although the show was not scheduled to begin until 11:00am, anyone who has attended a pen show before can tell you that people begin to "graze" around the tables long before then. In the hotel where the show is located, there are two main hallways that lead to different ballrooms. The hallways and ballrooms are both lined with booths and vendors. As organizers of the show, we have found that the set-up of the two rooms, and the hallways with their dim lighting, is not ideal ,and next year the show will be held at a different hotel. My table was located in the left hallway seated between a lady who was selling homemade jewelry and two awesome kids who were selling pen wraps in order to earn enough money to purchase a Chromebook (the kids belonged to Ken, another organizer of the show, and I was happy to share my table with them). Sales were a little slow on Friday, but did pick up for me right before the close of the day.
After the close of the show, several of us went out to a sushi restaurant that was located in the plaza. I hate sushi, however, the fellowship is always great and the restaurant had teriyaki steak and rice as an alternative. Have I mentioned before that one of the main reasons to attend a pen show is the people? The service was a little slower than expected (not their fault, it was a busy place), so by the time that I got my food I had 7 minutes to inhale my steak and return to the Skylight lounge for the auction preview.
Friday evening was the auction. It was fun. I had never coordinated an auction before, which Roger, from the Chicago Pen Show, kindly observed. Still, I was happy with the way the auction ran. There are certainly some things that I will improve upon if I have the opportunity to coordinate it again.
My table on Saturday was similar to Friday. I had heard that the crowds would pick up more on Saturday, however, I didn't find this to be the case. Still, I made a few decent sales which made me happy as I closed out the day. Up until Saturday evening, I still hadn't gotten around to see much of the show floor. I never realized how isolated vendors were and how little opportunity they had to look at the other tables. After the close of the show, I went out to dinner with my wife, and then hung around in the hotel lobby to socialize until around midnight (again, the people). This was an awesome time, as we all showed off our show purchases and pen collections, and had a really good time. Let me stress again, pen people are some of the nicest people in the world! When I attended my first show, I can remember how intimidating it was to plug-in and talk with a group of people that already seemed to know one another and be friends. However, if you are planning to attend your first show, take the time to hang out, pull up a chair, and plug in. 99% of the time you will amazed at how welcoming our community can be (plus, you will get to see and most likely use some awesome pens).
Sunday was more of a wrap up day for me. I sold a few of my cheaper pens, but mostly I socialized with others and made my way around the show floor. I stocked up on some paper products, purchasing an awesome A5 travelers notebook from Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork. Some of my other purchased for the weekend included a Sheaffer Snorkel collection with a case (I still need a few colors), and a Conklin Green and Bronze student pen. This was the first show that I actually sold more than I bought. Still, I was happy with my purchases and certainly didn't come home empty-handed.
When we arrived home on Sunday evening, the entire family was exhausted and ready for bed!
Overall, the show was a great time. Being only the second year of the show, I think that we are still getting our "sea legs" underneath us. We are figuring out what works and makes for an efficient show in St. Louis, and what will make our show unique as we move forward. If you have never been to a show, try to find one and attend. You will not be disappointed.
Helping out with the St. Louis Pen Show certainly has its perks. For example, I was recently able to secure a bottle of the exclusive ink that will only be available to purchase at the 2019 show! The show ink is limited in quantity with only 150 bottles made. The 2018 show ink sold out relatively quick, and I would not expect anything less to happen with this year's ink.
The ink is made by KWZ and is called, "Meet Me in St. Louis: St. Louis Pen Show 2019 ink," and will be available in their typical 60ml bottle. Unlike last year, which was a bluish/green teal color, the ink for this year is more of a burnt orange. Typically, I am not a fan of orange inks, but the more I write, the more I dig the color selection for this year. Being that this ink is to be released for the St. Louis Pen Show, you may wonder why the color selection isn't a "Cardinal Red" or a "Blues Blue" (side note: GO BLUES! They are playing in the background as I type). The simple answer is that in the fountain pen world, blue and red inks are boring! The creator of this year's ink wanted something fun and something that people would actually use once the show is over.
Having secured the ink, I immediately loaded it into my Visconti Homo Sapien Bronze age pen with a medium nib. The Homo Sapien is not one of my go to pens, however, I couldn't resist the pen-ink color combination. It just seemed like a marriage that was meant to be! For comparison purpose, the show ink looks a little similar to Diamine Ancient Copper. However it is a wetter ink, and I found it to be a little darker to write with. Being a darker orange, Meet Me in St. Louis, is an ink that can be used in the office, daily correspondence or for bullet journaling (I have used it for all of the above.) It is a well behaved ink that flows well throughout the writing session. On Clairefontaine paper, there is no bleed-through or feathering of any kind. It does not have much shading, if any at all; and there is zero sheen to be had. Being one who typically has a vintage pen or two inked up in my monthly rotation, I find sheen to be overrated among ink lovers (sorry/not sorry)!
If you are attending the St. Louis Pen Show, June 21-23rd, be sure to pick up a bottle of this year's ink! It will not be around for long.
Three years ago, I attended my first pen show. I had been collecting fountain pens for awhile, and since I have an obsessive tendency when it comes to my hobbies, I felt like a pen show was the next logical rabbit hole that I needed to jump down. I attended the Chicago Pen Show in May of 2017, and following that moment, my fountain pen hobby would take on a life of it's own. First of all, I began to make the transition away from modern pens and began to explore the wonderful world of vintage. Secondly, I fell in love with the pen show environment and pen community.
Since Chicago was my first show, it still holds a special place in my heart. It is usually the first show of the season for me, and the show that I enjoy more than any other. The Chicago Pen Show 2019 was no exception. Here are a few thoughts and highlights:
1. The hotel was the perfect place to host the pen show: If you have never been to the Chicago show, it is held at the Marriot hotel in Hoffman Estates. The majority of the show takes place in a large ballroom at the back of the hotel. This is where most of the vendors and tables are set up. The room is large, even with 100-plus vendors there is plenty of room to walk up and down the aisles, visit, and check out each table. In conjunction with the main ballroom, several vendors also overflow out into the hotel lobby. This allows more tables to be set up, and helps to disperse the crowds more evenly throughout the day.
2. The show contains a wonderful variety: Unlike some shows that seem to lean toward either vintage, modern, or custom pens, the Chicago show is perhaps the most well-balanced show that I have attended. Granted, I have not attended every pen show in the US; but I have attended enough to appreciate the variety of vendors who are present at the Chicago show. Although I am a vintage collector, I was very tempted throughout the weekend to purchase a custom made pen from one of the amazing custom pen makers. However, I was able to resist the temptation, stayed in my lane, and stuck with what I know.
3. Always attend the trader day on Thursday evening: So the show officially opened to the public on Friday morning at 9 am. However, weekend registrants and exhibitors were able to congregate and informally buy and sell on Thursday evening. This is a wonderful time to meet vendors within the fountain pen community, purchase and trade pens, all in a more relaxed and not so busy environment. Not many modern dealers or small businesses arrive on Thursday evening, but if you are into vintage, and especially if you are looking to sell or trade, arriving on Thursday is the way to go. As a matter a fact, I think I spent half of my budget for the weekend within the first hour that I arrived on Thursday (no regrets)!
4. The show organizers do a wonderful job: Laura, Roger, and Paul do a wonderful job each year coordinating the show, greeting the guest, and planning the schedule. The more I speak with them each year, the more impressed I become with the way that they run the show!
5. The Friday evening auction is fun: Although the pens that were in this year's auction were not as tempting as those in year's past, the auction is still one of my favorite portions of the show. As someone who is helping to coordinate the auction for the St. Louis show, I understand the challenges at making a pen auction successful. The Chicago show always does a wonderful job. It is fun, at times it is goofy, and usually you can even find a pen or two to add to your collection. I picked up two pens this year, however, one is a project pen that just happened to fall into my lap at just the right price.
6. When you attend a show, always socialize: Whether you attend the classes, go to the bar after the show has concluded, or just meander around the sales tables all day long, take the time to speak with people. Pen show people are the best! I have yet to attend a show where I did not feel welcome, did not learn something, and did not make friends within the hobby. The PCA (Pen Collectors of America) table always hosts a pen-related scavenger hunt for kids. I took my daughter around the show to find the items listed in the scavenger hunt (pen sacs, dip pens, lever-filled pen, ect.). My daughter can be kind of shy around those that she doesn't know and so every table that we went to, she was forced to step outside of her comfort zone and speak with the vendor. Finally, I told her that she needed to loosen up, because pen people love to talk. And it's true! If you attend any show, talk to people, ask questions, and have fun.
7. Sales tax at a trade show is stupid: This is by no means any fault of the show. However, this year vendors were required to charge a 10% sales tax by the state of Illinois. I heard a few of the vendors grumble about this change, which is a shame because otherwise it was a great show!
I left Chicago this year with good memories and more than a few pens (picture below). My family was able to make the trip with me and they also enjoyed the weekend. I look forward to returning to Chicago in 2020! But now it is time to gear up for my next pen show, The St. Louis Pen Show in June!