I nearly didn’t make it to the London Pen Show this year. After being in my calendar for months, a family situation threatened to derail plans. But I made it — and it was a great show.
What was different this year?
Well, for me, it was having my six-year-old daughter along. Crazy idea? Well, maybe. Having hundreds of old duffers standing around tables of vintage pens talking shop is hardly a fun day out for a high-energy kid. But I’m pleased to say with the right preparation, and suitable expectations on my part, she did absolutely fantastically. I’ve rarely been more proud of my polite, curious little girl. Not least because she jumped out of bed before 7am on a Sunday to make her dad happy.
Another big change for me this year was coming by car. This was partly to make things easier for mini-me — we blasted down the M4 for an hour playing songs from the Greatest Showman soundtrack, and she was happy (hell, I was too — it’s an amazing singalong soundtrack!). But actually I found driving much easier than coming by train, and with little traffic and plenty of parking in Bloomsbury it wasn’t the ordeal I was expecting.
But let’s get down to the show itself.
We were there before 9.30am, and were pretty much first in with the £15 earlybird tickets and a walletfull of cash from the nearby ATM.
Ian Williamson was kind enough to give my daughter not only a Parker Jotter ballpoint but also a Jinhao, and she was over the moon. So that was a result before even getting in the door!
The earlybird ticket was absolutely worth it. Last year the show felt like a scrum; at 9.30 I could move freely around the space and talk to the vendors without any shoulder-barging. I also got some fabulous bargains that would’ve been long-gone by 10.30 general admission.
First stop was Stilograph Corsani, an unexpected exhibitor. I’ve long lusted after their limited edition Viscontis, and this year they also had the Leonardo pens I’ve been eyeing for a couple of months at Izods. A beautiful display, but I passed to check out the rest of the show.
At the end of the main corridor is a big setup of bargain pens that, on the show plan, are marked as Lime Internet. Last year they were selling Conklin Crescent-fillers for £10. This year I managed to be the “sumgai” and get a Visconti Van Gogh for £50, as well as bottles of Edelstein Ruby and Montblanc Burgundy Red for £8 each. My daughter got another free pen, too.
By this point I was feeling pretty excited. Barely ten minutes into the show and I’d already scored one of the pens from my pre-show wishlist, at a price I was not expecting.
I checked out some amazing bargains at Hamilton Pens on various Grafs, Deltas and the like, but passed and moved on Write Here at the end of the next corridor. They too had some good show prices, including on their exclusive Scribo models. I was really tempted, but they are budget-busting pens for me. Expect a review on United Inkdom later in the year, and possibly a review of the Lamy Imporium too — a pen that John and I agree is criminally underrated.
Into the main hall and I made a beeline for Regina Martini’s little table. She did me a fantastic deal on my Graf Intuition and Visconti Homo Sapiens, and I was angling for a Classic. As I hoped, she did me a fantastic price on a Pernambucco model, and that was pen two ticked off my wishlist, and my budget fully exhausted.
Facing Regina’s table was Izods, represented by Roy. I’ve bought from Roy in the past and his selection of Montblancs is astonishing. The Shaw Limited Edition is quite possibly the most beautiful pen I’ve ever seen, and it’s even better in person than in Izods’ great photos.
Roy and I had a chat about the Leonardo pens (he’s the exclusive UK stockist) and the Nettuno pens, which are I think a bit more of an acquired taste, as well as more expensive. I left with a couple of bottles of Krishna Inks — I chose Sea & Storm, my daughter picked Autumn.
Round the corner to Pure Pens, where I typically pick up a few bottles of ink. I bought another bottle of Cadwaladr, which turns out to be the single most popular item they sell. I hope my glowing review contributed! This year I also bought Noodlers Air Corp Blue Black, which is simply a sublime teal-black, and I would have bought more Noodlers and KWZ but the inks I wanted were out of stock.
I stopped in to say hi to Jon and his new PenSharing venture — a well-stocked table and a welcoming face. I was reluctant to drop off the Fantasia that I had borrowed through the site, but I’m glad of the opportunity to enjoy it. The doors had yet to open for general admission, and I’m sure Jon signed up lots of new users to the site today.
And that, I’m afraid, was about all my daughter could stand. I got her a toxic green Lamy Safari with 1.1 stub for 30 quid (ouch), and caught a fleeting glance at “one man pen show” Sarj’s table as I walked past, which included a number of Ryan Krusac’s pens. A missed opportunity, but probably out of my price range!
I also missed John Twiss, the Writing Desk, William Hannah, Onoto, Yard-o-Led, and a million vintage-pen dealers. But with two pens for me, four pens for my daughter, and five bottles of ink, all by about 10.30am… I was feeling pretty successful.
We retired to the hotel cafe where my daughter used her cuteness to get free chocolate (on top of shortbread and hot chocolate… it was a good morning for her) and checked out our haul. It was pretty clear that the free Jotter was my daughter’s favourite item of the day, because she spent the next hour drawing with it! Oh well, you can lead a horse to water…
Needless to say, those three addicts blew my purchases out of the water. Rupert bought his own Fantasia in a gorgeous dark green that my daughter dubbed ‘snakeskin’. Gary had picked up another Onoto and a Twiss. And Dave… well, Dave had not only bought a celluloid Leonardo, but an utterly insane Danitrio.
It’s early days in terms of using the purchases, but I am already thrilled to bits with the Graf Classic and Air Corp Blue black. The Graf has a wet fine that’s almost an architect grind, and Air Corp shades like a beast. The Visconti needs a nib tune, but is a beauty and a bargain. Utterly chuffed.
There’s talk that the show will be back in London in the Spring, going to a twice-yearly cadence. I can’t wait.