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!