Let’s face it … the D.C. Pen Show is always a bit of a hot mess. It’s a 3-day event with hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees crammed into two hotel ballrooms and a few hallways. Pen shows don’t have the budget of Comic-Con or even major trade shows, so hotels are usually a bit too small and lack amenities that attendees would otherwise be used to, such as ready access to food and beverages.
Yet you still go. Other shows are catching up - San Francisco and Chicago in particular - but D.C. remains the big annual event, and I suspect it will remain so for the immediate future. It’s the only place where you are likely to see brands of all sizes and price points, ranging from Montblanc to Franklin-Christoph to small startups such as Narwhal Pens. Though this year saw a number of notable absences, D.C. is also the show where you can expect to find most of the large pen retailers, high-end vintage dealers, and fountain pen repairmen and nib grinders. Because of this diverse presence, lots of people still attend, regardless of the logistical challenges and bad locations, and the D.C. Pen Show presents one of the best opportunities out there to meet everyone and to catch up with friends. So what were the notable things I saw this year?
Galen Leather. The feel-good story of the weekend was Galen Leather, who attended with a seriously impressive stockpile of inventory, including their leather pen cases, notebook covers, and brass accessories. More on what I purchased below. I’m also happy to announce that Vanness Pens is now the exclusive U.S. retailer for Galen Leather, so you will be able to purchase Galen Leather products from a U.S.-based source, reducing shipping cost and time for those of us in the States!
Matthew Martin Custom Pens. After debuting his pens to much fanfare in Atlanta, veteran knifemaker Matt Martin came to D.C. with a serious stockpile of “The Original,” his machined fountain pen that comes in various designs and materials including titanium, brass, copper, and zirconium. Matt uses a special technique to reduce the weight of the pen, which makes them much more comfortable to use than many heavier machined pens made from brass and copper.
Faber-Castell and Graf von Faber-Castell. For the first time I can remember, representatives of Faber-Castell, USA attended the D.C. Pen Show, and they were a lot of fun to get to know! These two brands, with some of the best nibs on the market, unfortunately tend to go unnoticed at shows, but this year a LOT of people were purchasing Faber-Castell pens, and I picked up my first Graf von Faber-Castell, a now-discontinued Guilloche model.
Straits Pens. Everyone who came looking for unique sizes of Tomoe River paper was directed to Sunny at Straits Pens, who was attending his first D.C. Pen Show. For future reference, Sunny also does nib grinds, and will be attending the San Francisco Pen Show.
Vinta Inks. Some of the biggest draws at the Vanness Pens table this year were inks from Vinta, a new brand out of the Philippines that has both standard and shimmer options. I’m looking forward to testing these out soon. Blue Blood and Sikatuna Sandugo both caught my eye.
It’s amazing how much self-control you can exercise when you’re behind the table all weekend, and the show is so busy that you don’t have time to browse and find anything to buy until Sunday. My one Friday purchase was something I have coveted for a long time: a Writing Box from Galen Leather, and they had at least 20 of them there to choose from. (Seriously, the logistics of moving the volume of product they had at the show was impressive!) On Sunday, I managed to snag two really sweet deals: a Graf von Faber-Castell Guilloche fountain pen from the Faber-Castell distributor that was on clearance, and a Franklin-Christoph Model 20 “Marietta” prototype in a dark green-flecked acrylic. I also took home a bottle of the special show ink, “Supershow Teal” from Monteverde that will be available at retail at some point. It’s a nice color!
Takeaways from this Year’s D.C. Pen Show
The D.C. Pen Show is undergoing some “transition” pains as it recovers from the loss of its long-standing location at the Sheraton Tysons Corner, and new people become more involved in running the show. After a bit of a slow start on Friday, however, Saturday and Sunday were extremely busy and it was back to business as usual for most vendors. The most frustrating thing about this show, to me, doesn’t have to do with the show itself, but rather the location and lack of food and entertainment options within walking distance. This not only hurts the vendors - most of whom don’t want to drive to dinner after having been on their feet for nearly 12 hours - but also the attendees, who lose out on show time, parking spaces, and just an overall better experience. As I’ve mentioned before, taking time out of pen shows - even 20 minutes - to eat, rest, and recover is important, and you don’t have many easy options unless you want to visit the mediocre hotel restaurant and bar.
That said, I will be attending the D.C. Pen Show as long as my friends are, since I go more to socialize and meet readers rather than shop. People have been talking about the “decline of the D.C. Pen Show” for nearly 10 years now, and nothing significant has changed other than moving locations. As I mentioned above, for the time being D.C. is still the biggest event of the year in terms of sheer numbers of vendors, makers, and attendees, and it’s difficult to recapture the spirit of this show elsewhere.
D.C. was the last pen show that I have planned for this year, though I may try to attend San Francisco (unlikely since it’s so close), Dallas, or Ohio as a last-minute trip. If not, I’m looking forward to the Philadelphia and Baltimore Shows in 2020!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. All of the products purchased at the D.C. Pen Show were paid for by me with my own funds, though I did get a slight discount on the Faber-Castell Pen since I was working at the Vanness Pens table.