My whirlwind U.S. Pen Show spring tour is almost at a close, with the Atlanta Pen Show up next for the first weekend of April, and then a long break until D.C. in August. This past weekend I was on the road again, to Little Rock for the Arkansas Pen Show held at the Crowne Plaza Friday through Sunday. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Little Rock without a visit (or two) to the Vanness Pens store!
Vanness Pens Open House
Since I arrived Friday night, I didn’t get to visit the show for the first day, but from what everyone told me, traffic was fairly slow. The Arkansas Pen Show is unique because it is truly a local/regional show, put on by the Arkansas Pen Club in Little Rock, and doesn’t attract as many people from out-of-town. Friday night, however, was what might be one of the best “after-hours” pen show events I’ve attended - an open house at Vanness. The food went quickly - as in it was gone in 20 minutes - but guests lingered until nearly midnight and I ended up working behind the counter helping attendees with their purchases and answering pen-related questions. I can’t emphasize how big and how unique the store is - I’ve never seen this much ink in one place anywhere else!
Saturday at the Arkansas Pen Show
The Arkansas Show occupied two small ballrooms at the hotel. The major retailers in attendance were Vanness (who didn’t bring a full selection to the show given that most people visited for the open houses), Dan Smith of the Nibsmith, Jimmy and Suzanne Dolive of Total Office Products, and Papier Plume. The rest of the show was a mix of vintage dealers and smaller makers, including Shawn Newton, Tactile Turn, Michael Sull, and Ana and Laura from the Well-Appointed Desk (where I picked up an awesome vintage Rolodex and some Col-o-dex cards to fill it up, long with some other stuff I’ll post soon. Cary Yeager of Kenro also made an appearance, with Esterbrooks and the current Aurora and Montegrappa models. Traffic picked up around lunch, and I helped Dan and Kisha Smith at their table for the afternoon. While foot traffic never approached what you would see in Baltimore or Atlanta, from what I could tell most vendors had a decent show, especially considering that the Arkansas Pen Show is one of the less expensive shows to attend.
AND Back to Vanness!
Everyone was exhausted Saturday night, so Lisa proposed that we order in bbq from Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock - highly recommended - and take it back to the store for some #penshowsafterdark. Vanness has two long tables in the middle of the store where people can gather and test pens, inks, and paper, and I used this opportunity to do some shopping. I didn’t go too wild this trip, limiting myself to a pad of Life paper, some Baron Fig Mastermind desk pads, a handful of ink samples, and a pack of the new Blackwing Natural pencils with the extra-firm core. I had the chance to play with a couple of show acquisitions: a Townsend in Pinstripe Acrylic by Shawn Newton and a Tactile Turn Gist 2.0 in Titanium. Shawn had the pinstripe material custom-made for him, and it turned out beautifully. Will Hodges of Tactile Turn has refined the design of the Gist fountain pen, and after talking with Will and handling the various models, I decided to take the plunge. I’ll post a more fulsome review after I’ve had a chance to write with it long term, but Will has made the Gist slightly longer (allowing it to take a standard Schmidt converter), and has replaced the Makrolon model with Delrin, which is a much more durable plastic that should solve the cracking issues that some people had with the first (Kickstarter) version. Delrin pens hold up well - both Conid and Karas Kustoms, among others, have used the material.
Takeaways and Final Thoughts
I drove back to Nashville on Sunday, and while I always enjoy attending pen shows, I’ve done a LOT of travel over the past three months and am glad to be home for the few weeks leading up to Atlanta. Though it was a small show, the Arkansas Pen Show has a LOT of potential to expand. Its central location can draw attendees from several different cities, including Little Rock, Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, and Nashville, and with a little publicity work, this one should be able to grow. It helps that in addition to the show, Little Rock is home to one of the largest and best pen and stationery stores in the U.S.!
Many thanks to all the retailers and attendees whom I met this weekend that made this such a great trip!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. I received a discount on my purchase of some of the products featured in this post.