They say you never forget your first time… well, mine was in a Holiday Inn. It was hot, loud, and there were hundreds of people in the room.
I’m talking about the London Writing Equipment Show, obviously.
In the end it was a great day out and I’m glad I made the journey. But it was an absolute whirlwind, and I’m left with a rather chaotic series of impressions — so here are some bullet points for you.
The venue was good, and well located… but it was hot, busy, and very very crowded, from the moment I got there (about 11.15am) until I left (about 2pm). I was glad I brought water, left the jacket at home, and carried only a small shoulder bag. It was tough to get down some of the aisles and I was conscious about blocking the busier tables.
There were probably ten thousand pens in the room, 80% of them vintage — lots of Parkers and Shaeffers. I found it helped me to ignore the vintage pens almost completely, and pick out a few things I wanted to focus on. Interestingly, there wasn’t much in the way of accessories, even ink. William Hannah was there, and I saw some Leuchtturm paper, but it was pretty much all pens.
The tables I stopped in front of were all very friendly, and it was only my general nervousness that stopped me from picking up and inspecting more pens and asking more questions. As it was, I made a bit of small-talk with some other visitors and even let one guy try my Pelikan M805 at the Niche Pens stand. There were probably 20+ people in the room that I knew from Facebook and Instagram, but I didn’t end up meeting any of them… another time, maybe!
I had a few stands that I definitely wanted to check out:
Pelikan/Pure/Niche Pens: I wanted to see the white M400 in the flesh, and the M600. Both felt way too small and insubstantial — I’m definitely sticking to the 800 and 1000.
Conid: I was most excited about having a look at a Bulkfiller. As it was, they arrived late, had all their pens behind glass, and when I asked to see a Minimalistica I was handed one without a nib installed. I liked the overall feel and the Delrin felt great, but the capping was awful. That and the high price actually put me off quite a bit.
Auroras and OMASs: I’ve been thinking a lot about Italian pens. I had the chance to handle a few different Auroras and some second-hand OMASs. They all had long, comfortable sections and pretty designs, but they also felt very light, even insubstantial. Quenched my desire somewhat.
Twiss pens. I really like what John does in the community and his reputation is well deserved. He had a good selection of his own pens in all kinds of materials, as well as a few Sailors by the looks of it. Unfortunately in person I really didn’t find the pens appealing.
All of that sounds pretty negative, right? Quite the contrary! It really helped me to see all these pens that have wonderful reviews and look great online… and actually pick them up and realise I don’t like them. Saves me a hell of a lot of money and heartbreak, doesn’t it?!
A couple of pens REALLY stole my heart, though. I stopped at one small table, run by a German lady with minimal stock: a few Lamys, a few Viscontis, and a few Graf von Faber Castells. I stopped to look mainly because they seemed to be the only Grafs at the show. As it happens, I fell in love, utterly in love, with the Graf Intuition Platino. So comfortable, gorgeous, substantial. And a real bargain: £350 versus Cult Pens price of £695. Wow. The only reason I didn’t pull the trigger — aside from not wanting to sleep on the sofa for a week — was that it is a converter filler, albeit a clever one.
She also had the Visconti Homo Sapiens Steel Age. I’d handled the Bronze Age over at the Write Here stand and loved it, particularly the lava material. But it was the Steel that I wanted. And after a trip to the cash machine, it was mine. Completely unplanned, but that’s another grail pen ticked off the list.
A quick aside:
I found the pricing in general a little confusing and unhelpful. A lot of sellers didn’t mark their prices, on either new or old pens. Others marked very clearly and even sorted their stock by price. And there was a real variety of prices on stuff that could be easily compared, such as ink. I got a bottle of Aurora for 10 quid, saving me about 2; but I saw Sailor ink at about 18 a bottle, which I seem to remember being about 2 more than the usual online price. Some retailers were very upfront about offering a show discount — Pelikan Pens, for instance, had amazing prices, 25–35% cheaper than their usual prices and I think the lowest around. I was really impressed. Naturally, most of the stalls focused on more premium pens, but I did see some entry-level stuff too.
Anyway, with a bottle of Noodler’s Tiananmen, Sailor Kin-Mokusei, Diamine Teal and Aurora Blue/Black in my bag — along with the Visconti, obviously — I felt my work was done and that it was time to go. In truth, having blown my budget and bought a grail pen, I was feeling a bit lightheaded and giddy, and needed some fresh air.
So, all that was left was to lurk on Instagram and Facebook to see how much better everyone else had done than me, while I trekked home… and then to do my swatches!
I’ll definitely go next time… hopefully, to pick up that Graf (!), but maybe also to take advantage of some of the many tables I didn’t even check in at: John Sorowka for nib work, some calligraphers, and pen storage cases, to name but a few.
And now: resting my sore feet! See you next year…