In honor of the fast-approaching Atlanta Pen Show (which I will be attending!), I thought I would do a series of posts on pen shows in general, how to prepare for them, and how to make the most of them once you are there. The organizers of the Atlanta Show are expecting a large crowd, including many first-time attendees, so some posts like these seem timely.
What Is a Pen Show?
I'd best describe a pen show as a somewhat offbeat combination of a hobby convention (think Comic-Con for stationery geeks), a traditional trade show, a swap-meet for collectors, and a pop-up market. These shows are held in various cities around the country most of the year, with the first show being held in Philadelphia in January and the last show currently scheduled for Columbus, Ohio in November. "The Circuit" then takes a break for the holidays.
Where Do Pen Shows Take Place?
The majority of shows take place at hotels, typically close to a major airport. Airport hotels offer relatively inexpensive lodging, and hotel ballrooms provide lots of open space that allows the vendors to set up tables to show their wares while still giving people enough space to move around (well, normally).
Pen shows draw a broad mix of enthusiasts, including both vintage pen collectors and people who just love using pens, plus retailers, makers, and product distributors. Based on my own experience at shows, I would say the following three groups make up most of the crowd:
- Pen collectors looking to sell/trade vintage pens and modern limited editions;
- Consumers who attend shows to shop; and
- Retailers, manufacturers, and brand representatives, who want to come meet with each other (and their customers) in person.
Of course this list isn't exclusive. Nearly everyone who shows up is a member of the broader, like-minded and largely internet-based pen community. Pen shows cater to anyone who wants to meet up in person, hang out and talk pens.
Why Attend a Pen Show?
Why might you want to attend a pen show? If you answer "yes" to one or more of the following questions, then it could be worth your while to attend.
- Do you want to learn more about vintage pens and writing instruments? You can learn a lot from books and pen forums, but nothing beats a hands-on education.
- Do you have few (if any) brick-and-mortar stores near you, where you can test pens and ink in person and "try before you buy?" More and more pen shows are hosting "ink testing tables", where you can test out an assortment of ink brands (and then go buy the ink at the show).
- Are you becoming more and more tempted by more expensive pens, but remain uncomfortable buying online, sight unseen?
- Do you want to attend a seminar on the "how to's" of pen repair and calligraphy?
- Do you simply want to meet other people interested in the same things you are?
If any of these questions piques your interest, it may be worth taking a trip to a pen show. As I mentioned, I will be attending the 2016 Atlanta Pen Show from April 15-17, 2016. For those of you who follow the Pen Addict Podcast, there should be quite a gathering over the weekend. If you're anywhere near Atlanta (or have the ability to jump in the car or get on a plane for a quick getaway), this is as good an opportunity as any for a great first pen show experience.
Gratuitous Shots of Past Pen Show Loot
And, of course, the best part of going to a pen show: what you can buy there! More on that in the coming week...