Pen Show Tips – For Everyone!

We’ve been to a lot of pen shows. We’ve seen a lot happen at pen shows, so we have a couple of pen show tips to share! We hope you’ll find them useful, especially if you’re about to attend your first pen show ever.

Pen Show Tips

Back in 2012, we wrote a post about getting your feet wet at a pen show. Many of those still apply. FOUR YEARS later, and that’s a lot of pen shows, let’s revisit that, and add some more tips!

Pen Show Tips

  1. Wear comfy shoes – Yes, comfort over fashion for days of walking, standing, and ogling. Your feet will thank you. (Your wallet will not.)
  2. Wear a name tag – put your full name on there, and your online user name, if that’s what you’re more commonly known as!
  3. Prepare before the show, and work with that plan – do some research before you go. Ah yes, it’s like being back in school, but much, much better. Maybe you need to read a few reviews before you narrow down the pen you want to just a few choices, maybe you want to check out some swabs online of an ink – that kind of research. You can also check out who else will be at the show, so you know who you want to say hi to! (Ahem!) What interests you? Are you looking for a certain nib? A certain ink? Do you need to pick between a Sailor 1911 Standard and a Sailor 1911 Large? Are you looking for one particular finish in one particular pen? Make a list, so even if you get overwhelmed by all the magic, you won’t forget what you need to get done.
  4. Nib work – If you need nib work done, drop your pens off  or make sure to sign up at your nib worker first.
  5. Avoid large bags – no big purses or anything really bulky. Not only will it be crowded, but you can hamper your own enjoyment by having to make sure your bag doesn’t crash into a table of vintage pens that cost more than my car.
  6. If you have kids, bring them! Or nieces, nephews, best friend’s kids, any little ones who may have an interest in pens. Help them stick to the next tip:
  7. When in doubt, ask! You’ll never have a problem if you ask a dealer to see a pen.  Ask to take it out of the case, and if you don’t know if it is a slip/friction fit cap or a screw cap, ask.  Unless the particular model has a screw on barrel (cartridge/convertor or eyedropper, for example), never attempt to take a pen apart.  Some dealers have fully restored pens, some don’t, some have a mixture of the two.  Some pens with lever boxes (Waterman and Eclipse, among many) can be damaged if you try to lift the lever to feel for the presence of a sac and all that’s there is a hardened, ossified sac.  Ask to try.  Ask before you dip the pen, and never expect to fully ink the pen.  Most dealers will only allow you to dip the nib.  Yes, I know, you can’t really get a true idea of how the pen flows ink to the nib this way, but to clean every pen after a show because they were all inked is not some people’s idea of a good time.  Ask for the price.  Many pens are not marked so you may not know the difference between a $50 pen and a $1500 one.
  8. Be gentle. – Many dealers will be happy to show you a rare pen as long as you ask and are gentle.  Be careful if you post the cap.  As a general rule on vintage pens at a show I do not.  Remember, many of these pens are 50, 60, 70, 100+ years old.  They are fragile, and a broken pen results in a bad experience for everybody.
  9. Bring a loupe to look at the pens and nibs you’re interested in.
  10. Bring an empty pen case or two – you’ll need somewhere to put your pen purchases, and if you buy vintage pens (or used pens) that don’t have boxes, you’ll want to keep them safe.
  11. Bring a bottle of ink – A small bottle of Waterman Serenity Blue, for example – something basic and washable, in case you need to dip a pen and there’s no ink handy. It might also come in handy in case you want to try a friend’s pen at the bar later.
  12. Bring a notebook – If you dip pens, you can keep a log of what you have tested, so if you are considering a few pens, you can study your writing samples (what? Doesn’t everyone do that?). You can also use it to swab some inks you’d like.
  13. Bring a small ink cloth – accidents happen.
  14. Bring some heavy duty, empty Ziploc bags – perfect for storing your ink purchases and traveling with if you have a suitcase. If anything breaks, it’ll be safer.
  15. Know what you’re looking for – If you’re looking for vintage parts, have an idea of what you’re looking for. If you have a part you need to replace, bring the part.
  16. Don’t be afraid to buy a parts tray or a parts pen – if you need one part on a pen and it’s at a good price, don’t be afraid to get it.
  17. Public days are busy days. – If you have the option and can manage it, the early trader days are worth it. Public days are more hectic and busy. Vendors will be more busy, and there will be more people.  If you can make it to the show on one of the non-public days, you’ll likely have a better chance of getting some real face time with people.  They won’t be as rushed, and you will likely learn more. For some, the more relaxed atmosphere and the prospect of finding pens before the general public gets to them is well worth the extra fee.
  18. Stay hydrated. Believe it or not, pen shows can drain your energy. Also, your favorite vendor likes donuts. And coffee. Just kidding. Sort of.
  19. Stick around at night – hang out in the bar, meet some pen people. You don’t have to drink. Have a soda, chat with like-minded folks, and make some (we promise) truly awesome friends.
  20. Bring cash. If you’re on a budget, bring the amount you don’t want to go over. If you’re ready to splurge, bring lots of it. Some might accept credit cards, but you don’t want to be stuck, having found your ultimate pen, and not being able to get it. (In addition, the ATMs might run out of money.)

Do you have any go-to pen show tips? What do you stick to? Share your knowledge with us in the comments below!

List of US Pen Shows

Ink it up!
Brian & Lisa


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  • Miguel

    Thanks for the tips. For nib work, should the pen be inked or not?

    • Brian & Lisa

      If you are having an issue with the pen (skips, hard starts, etc.) best to bring the pen inked so you can show what the problem is. If you are going to have a nib ground, you can bring it empty. If you have a nib you like that you are duplicating, bring that inked as an example. All nib workers are prepared to dump your ink if they need to, so don’t be upset if you have a hard to find or discontinued ink and they flush it out. 🙂

  • RonB

    Is haggling expected or frowned upon with the prices on pens?

    • Brian & Lisa

      As long as one is always polite, there is never a problem asking, “Is this your best price on this pen”, or “What is your best price?”. If the dealer is firm then that’s what it is. There is almost always room on vintage pens or used modern, but new modern is likely to be standard price, the advantage being you can see it in person and hold it before making a decision.

  • Inventory your purchases before leaving your hotel room, and check and recheck before you leave for the last time! (Says the woman who left two bottles of Akkerman ink in her hotel room. Got ’em back thanks to awesome hotel staff, but still.)

  • Matt Rose

    Bring as much money as you can afford to spend… And then bring a little more. Trust me. You will be happy you did!

    • Brian & Lisa

      When I was going to shows solely as a buyer, my rule was to budget for the show, double it and then add a little more. Only once did I ever come home with money.

  • Dave Busse

    Thanks for the tips, it is really appreciated as I will be attending my first show in Atlanta this April. See you there.

  • Glenn Higley

    Thanks for the excellent tips. I only had a few hours at the OH show last year and felt rushed and cheated out of the full experience. This year I’ll go for 3 days and expect to really enjoy myself. Part of that will be seeing the 2 of you again. Looking forward to it. : )