The greater Nashville, Tennessee area has a lot to recommend it, but one thing it doesn’t have is a great pen store. Sure, there are a couple places that carry a limited selection of fountain pens and a few bottled inks, but if you want a richer, pen show-like experience, and to be able to speak with someone who is highly knowledgeable about the various brands (or just fountain pens in general), you’re looking at a bit of a drive.
But not too far. The two largest brick-and-mortar stores close to me are Artlite Pens in Atlanta and Vanness Pens in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Both are within a 5-6 hr drive, which if you live in the South counts as “relatively close.” We’re used to driving down here.)
Family-owned since 1938, Vanness is getting ready to celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. Vanness has become known in the online pen community primarily for their absolutely massive ink selection, which they maintain is the largest in-store selection anywhere. They’ve been at the forefront of importing “house brand” inks from other pens shops around the world: Vanness was the first U.S. retailer to stock the full range of Akkerman (the Netherlands), Bungubox (Japan), Kobe (Japan), Kyoto TAG (Japan), KWZ, and Pen BBS. I can easily say that I’ve never seen that much ink in one place, even at a pen show, since vendors don’t bring their entire stock on the road.
What I wasn’t prepared for was Vanness's large pen selection. Brands include Lamy, Pilot, Platinum, Conway Stewart, Faber-Castell, Kaweco, Pineider, and more. Mike, Lisa, and their staff are highly knowledgeable about older and vintage pens as well, and may even have some new old stock in the back. Just ask if there's something particular you are looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, online retail is great. It allows those of us without a local pen shop to have access to all of these great products that we know and love, but for things like pens, inks, and stationery, all of which have a strong tactile/visual component, there’s no true substitute for a great brick-and-mortar pen store. Being able to “try before you buy” has a lot of value, and it’s a much more relaxed experience than the sometimes rushed, pressured atmosphere at a crowded pen show. Vanness even has a long table in the middle of the store for testing pens and inks, or just socializing.
In short, I’m coming back to Little Rock to visit Vanness again, probably for the Arkansas Pen Show in March unless my work schedule interferes. While Arkansas is a smaller show with fewer vendors than a larger event like the L.A. Pen Show or the D.C. Fountain Pen “Supershow”, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit the Vanness store and take advantage of their selection and expertise.
So what did I pick up on my trip? A few things. I’ve previously posted pictures of my Conway Stewart Series 100 in Honey Noire, but I also took home a Faber-Castell Loom in Gunmetal (a pen that I’ve heard a lot about but never reviewed), a new old stock Sheaffer Legacy II, a Kaweco Perkeo, and a Platinum Preppy. Lisa also sent me back with some ink and paper samples, of course, so look for many more reviews to come on the blog in 2018.
Disclaimer: Vanness is a paid sponsor of this blog, though this post is not a paid advertisement and reflects my honest opinion about Vanness and my experience in the store. A huge thanks to Lisa and Mike for hosting me this past weekend!