Pen shows are back, and better than ever

It’s been a long time since my last London Pen Show, back in October 2019. So when I parked up at the venue yesterday, I was a little apprehensive. The world had changed, of course, but so have I — gone are my days of splashing cash on lots of pens. Would I still find a pen show exciting, or like a kind of torture? And gone are my days of regular pen meets — would I remember how to talk to people?!

Actually, I had a great morning. I was on-site from about 8.30am until 10:45am, which was enough time to peruse most of the tables and have a few chats with acquaintances old and new. In fact, overall, “old and new” sums up the show for me. Here are my top takeaways.

A new venue

This year the show moved to the Novotel in Hammersmith, and I have to say it was a huge step up from the old venue. The organisers had spaced the tables wide apart, the aircon was functioning, and overall the space was clean and well-lit. Thumbs up.

The spectre of covid was still hanging (metaphorically) in the air, and as well as the spacious layout there was sanitiser on many tables, and most everyone was masked up, myself included. While it got in the way of communication a little — and fogged up my glasses — I was pleased that most people were putting safety first even after ‘freedom day’.

New exhibitors

I remember way back to my first pen show in 2017 feeling like it was a bit of a car boot sale of vintage pens. There were hardly any inks or paper on show, every table was cash only. There were no prices listed. It was a bit intimidating in some respects.

This year couldn’t have been more different. Although there were still some vintage tables…

… modern mass-market retail had a much larger chunk of the space.

Show veterans Write Here (above), Pure Pens and Stonecott (below) were joined by UK giants Cult Pens for the first time, and Pens Plus from Oxford made a surprise appearance, bringing new Montblancs, Montegrappas and similar stock (albeit at RRP). Brands and makers were represented by Onoto, Dens Pens, Aurora, Twiss Pens and The Good Blue, and probably others I didn’t spot.

Although some regular attendees were either missing or hadn’t set up by the time I left — the Writing Desk, William Hannah, Izods, and all the European vendors like Regina Martini, for example — the new attendees meant the tables didn’t feel empty at all.

The end result of this is that there were tons of inks, paper, cases, and other stationery products to suit all budgets, from a much more diverse range of modern brands. If you’ve had your eye on a potential purchase but not been able to see it in person, consider the pen show a place to browse it all in one place.

A thriving community

I saw lots of familiar faces, both behind the stands and in the crowd — and what a crowd. More than 450 tickets were pre-sold, which I think indicates a real pent-up community demand for this kind of show.

Penultimate Dave was there videoing everything, and I bumped into London Fountain Pens, Rupert Arzeian, and several folks from Facebook. John Foy and his family had an expansive table with his incredible arco and Leonardo assortment.

Nib technician Noah Maasarani had a table for the first time, and Jon was there with the now well-established Pensharing.

Although I’m terrible at small talk, I think I probably spent more time saying hello to people than looking at pens.

It may just be my perspective, but I felt the attendee mix was less “male, pale and stale” than it used to be. I saw a couple of kids, plenty of women, younger people in their 20s and 30s, and people from different ethnic backgrounds. The pen show felt much more like scrolling through my Instagram feed in terms of representation. This, I can’t stress strongly enough, is an amazing thing for a healthy community.

Personal highlights and haul

I only purchased from two stands, as it happens (and both cashless!). I hit up Derek at Stonecott for a couple more Venvstas inks to add to my collection, first, along with some brush pens for the artistic daughter…

Then I bought a pile from Cult Pens, including five inks from new-to-me Hungarian ink brand Pennonia

a new made-in-the-UK notebook from Stamford

another Nespresso Caran d’Ache 849 ballpoint to replace one I lost….

and highlight of all, I assembled a unique Kaweco Sport in my custom grey-and-orange colour scheme.

But that doesn’t mean my wallet was entirely safe on my walk around.

I was tempted by the new Auroras…

And at the Write Here table, the new Mariana Scribo gave me a wow moment…

I also had the chance to handle the new anniversary Sailor, which proved to me the value of hands-on time. It was so much bigger than I expected.

Overall I spent less than £200, although I was tempted by a deal on the ‘arco’ Pineider and if I’d heard about some of the killer prices on Vanishing Points I probably would have cracked and bought one of those, too. But for me there were definitely fewer ‘door-buster’ bargains on show this year, which perhaps reflects the shift to more of a retail model. The pen-show prices at places like Pure Pens and Cult Pens were along the lines of a 10% discount off their usual prices.

I spent about the last 45 minutes of the show talking to Sunil and co from the Good Blue, who have loaned me their new UK-made CNC-machined flex pen.

Sunil is clearly a man with a plan, and he waxed lyrical about his philosophy of sustainable sourcing and engineering advances, in between sales. It’s great to see new brands, and such enthusiasm, being injected into the community.

Realistically I could happily have spent another couple of hours touring the tables to really do the show justice. I didn’t check out Noah’s nibs, or Den’s custom pens, or even get to the Onoto table. I didn’t get a chance to hunt for Nakayas or even a cheeky Geha. And I certainly didn’t get to check out the cafe to compare purchases.

So I’ll end where I began: I had a great time, and I’m filled with confidence for the future of our UK community. The show was busy, vendors were taking orders, and there was a truly healthy diversity on show, both in terms of attendees and the products on tables.

What was your experience? And what was your haul?!?!

5 thoughts on “Pen shows are back, and better than ever

  1. Pingback: Looking back at old flames, with ever-widening eyes… | UK fountain pens

  2. A great read – very nicely done! It sounds like you found a few tables that I missed. Also I forgot to take any photographs there, amidst all the excitement. Enjoy your new inks and notebook.

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  3. Great read! So glad things r slowly getting back to normal in the uk. We’ll probably live in perpetual lockdowns for the next 20yrs… one polite feedback re the article: diversity is fine but not at the expense of being derogatory towards another. Comments like “male, pale and stale” aren’t really fair. One wouldn’t react the same if it was “young black female” written there instead, right? Sorry to be a stick….
    Anyway, I’m soooooo looking forward to Melbourne or Sydney show news! Fingers crossed I can attend this yr. It’ll be my first!!

    Like

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