You often hear people saying: “It was good, but it could have been great” when discussing a recent pen show (or any other large public event, for that matter). What’s less common is attending a pen show that should have been “good,” or maybe even “meh,” but turned out to be fabulous. This year’s Baltimore Pen Show was one such event.
On paper, everything pointed to Baltimore being just an ”ok” show. The weekend started with snow and the Sunday forecasts were even nastier, which ordinarily translates into low turnout. The show was also set in a single ballroom, which typically signals a smaller show with fewer vendors. Finally, the Baltimore Pen Show is the second (and smaller) of two shows in the greater Baltimore-Washington area, with the other show being the “Supershow” held in August, which is a hard act to follow.
None of this mattered. Organizer Bert Oser and his team, led by Corinne, did an exceptional job coordinating the weekend, and the entire show went off without a hitch. (And if there were any “hitches,” they weren’t visible to attendees or vendors.) So what made Baltimore such a good pen show?
Hotel and Location. Sure, it’s hard to get excited about an airport Marriott, but it’s also nice to have a shuttle running to/from the Airport, reducing transit time and expense for people coming in from out of town, which is especially important if you have dicey weather. Better yet, this hotel was well-ventilated with good air conditioning, so the ballroom wasn’t 1000 degrees, and the bar setup was pretty good with tables and a secondary sports bar attached to the hotel that stayed open later after the lobby bar closed. I’d definitely attend a show at this hotel again.
Ballroom Setup. Despite my initial hesitation, the single ballroom turned out to be one of the best things about this show. Baltimore isn’t the largest show in terms of number of vendors or attendees, but the mix and quality of the vendors was exceptional. More on that below. The ballroom was bright and easy to navigate, with wide aisles and plenty of room behind and between tables.
Events. Show organizer/promoter/hype-master Corinne described this show as “Pen Camp,” and it definitely had that vibe. All three days featured classes and workshops, with events at night. On Friday night, Brad Dowdy of The Pen Addict featured a “Meet the Makers” panel; Saturday night featured the obligatory “Pen Shows after Dark” meet and greet/show and tell in a commandeered conference room that we almost - but not quite - got tossed out of; and Sunday was your typical laid-back final day where vendors got a chance to breath and walk the show for themselves.
Friendly Attitude Among Vendors and Attendees. Baltimore had none of the near-hostility that can develop at larger, more crowded, and less well-managed shows like the D.C. Supershow and the L.A. Pen Show, which I wrote separately about last week. From what I could tell, everyone had a great time, and I had better conversations at this show than I’ve had in a long time, not to mention getting to try a ton of pens. Just check out the video from the “Pen Shows After Dark” meetup and spy all those pens on the table, just waiting to be shared!
So What Did I See?
As I noted above, the Baltimore Show usually features a good mix of different vendors, both vintage and modern, as well as both custom and production-line writing instruments. This year’s list of exhibitors was OUTSTANDING, and included:
For custom and “small-batch” makers, Kanilea Pen Company, Carolina Pen Company (Jonathon Brooks), Desiderata Pens, Woodshed Pen Company, Herbert Pen Company, Additive Pens, Franklin-Christoph, and Ryan Krusac Studios.
For Nib Workers and Pen Restorers, Richard Binder, Ron Zorn, Martin Ferguson, Nibs on Point (JC Ament), and JJ Lax Pen Co. (who also had Yoshi Nakama pens in stock, and no, I still haven’t picked one up).
FInally, the Baltimore show featured a number of local specialty shops, including Write Notepads, The Queen’s Ink, Drama Mama Bookshop, and Jinji Chocolate. It added a great local flair to what was already a top-notch show. I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of people, but I didn’t have much time to walk the entire show (plus I’m forgetful), so apologies in advance!
So What Did I Bring Home?
Baltimore wasn’t a huge show shopping-wise, but I did bring back a couple of interesting pens that you all will see up on the blog in the near future. In terms of pens, I purchased one of the “Double Helix” eyedroppers from Additive Pens, which I’m excited about reviewing. I also picked up a Parker 51 “Fantasy” by Nik Pang, which incorporates a classic Parker 51 nib and aerometric filling mechanism into a new body and cap. Finally, I took home a Spoke Pen Prototype and few bottles of ink from Vanness that I’ve been meaning to try.
Takeaways and Final Thoughts on the Baltimore Pen Show
I definitely plan to come back to the Baltimore Pen Show next year. It might actually have become my favorite overall show on the circuit, though I’ve heard that the Philadelphia Pen Show has a similar vibe and I’m going to make a point of attending. Next stop for me is the Arkansas Pen Show in Little Rock next weekend, followed by Atlanta at the beginning of April. Then I’ll need a break…. until D.C.!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. Many thanks to Mike and Lisa Vanness for letting me tag along and work the Vanness table this weekend!