And not just surviving the pen show, but making the most out of your day, or your weekend, however long you have. Pure "survival" tips are pretty easy, and can be summed up as follows:
- Wear comfortable shoes that will support you through a full day on your feet.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don't forget to eat.
So what's my plan for making the most of my time at the pen show? I've had the opportunity to hone my "technique" over the past few years, and here's how I typically approach things:
- Address Pen Work First. Do I need to get on Mike Masuyama's list to have nibs adjusted? What about other nibmeisters who I might want to work with for the first time, or any vintage pens I have that need restoration? As I mentioned last week, I always check the pen show website to see which of these vendors will be in attendance. The first morning of the least-busy day (usually Friday), I hightail it over to their tables and get my name down on the list. The ability to get into a show early makes the "weekend pass" worth the extra fee, at least in my opinion, if for no other reason than it makes it easier to ensure you can get nib work done.
- Do a Walkthrough of the Entire Show. After I get my name "on the list" for any pen or nib work, I do a quick survey of the entire show by walking through all of the rooms. The purpose of this initial survey is twofold: First, you want to know where all the vendors are located. Second, you want to keep an eye out for various items that tend to go quickly, such as limited edition pens, discontinued inks, and "grail"-type purchases. If you're into buying vintage pens and fixing them up yourself, you'll notice that some vendors set out "bargain bins" of unrestored vintage pens at attractive prices. The ones in nice condition go fast.
- Did You See Any Limited Editions or Items in Short Supply? If so, that's the next step. If something is at all rare, and strikes you as a "must have," then you're in the difficult position of having to make a quick call: Do I spend (potentially all of) my show money early on this purchase, or is it something I'm willing to risk not being there later? That's the pen show game!
- Pick a Room to Start In. Once you've done your initial survey and picked up any "must have" items, you can take a more leisurely approach to the show, especially if you have a long time to wait for your turn at the nib grinder. I tend to go through the show room by room, spending an hour or two in each room really checking out each vendor's wares. I keep a mental list of things that I'm interested in, and note where they are located. If this list gets really long, I'll write it down, but my budget's normally not that big, and I've been more discriminating in my purchases as of late. I repeat this process throughout the day and through the weekend.
- Take a Break Mid-Afternoon. I can't emphasize this enough. Pen shows can be a series of very long days, between getting to the show early in the morning to get your name on the list for nibwork, hanging out in the ballroom waiting for your name to be called, and talking/swapping pens at the hotel bar late into the evening. You can wear yourself out very quickly. Get away from the show for an hour or so to refresh/decompress. I normally try to get "off campus" to grab lunch solo, a trick I learned from work seminars and conferences. This way, you can be sure to save some energy for the after-hours activities. Much of the value in attending a pen show is in the opportunity to meet new people and try pens and inks they bring to the show, and all of this usually happens at night after the show itself closes for the day.
One final note: I work pen shows in a pretty straightforward manner, though I certainly don't stick to this plan like a robot. ALWAYS take time to stop and talk to the vendors and other collectors/shoppers about pens you find interesting. You'll make a lot of new acquaintances and learn a lot about pens.
Because I'm attending the Atlanta Pen Show this weekend, the blog will "go dark" until next week (probably Monday). Expect some detailed recaps and reports from the show, and if you want to follow along live, follow me on Twitter and Instagram (links in the sidebar).
If you missed the first two installments in this series, Volume I discussed reasons why you should consider attending a pen show, and Volume II talked about getting ready for a show. Hopefully you can all put these to good use, and I'll see you in Atlanta this weekend!