A Survival Guide to Pen Shows
If you saw our Top Pen-Related Resolutions for 2017 post, you may remember that Resolution #7 is to attend one Pen Show. Why was this on the list? Because Pen Shows are the BEST way to connect with many, many other pen lovers in person and grow your knowledge of the hobby. Also, if you are not lucky enough to have a physical pen store close by, Pen Shows give you the chance to see a pen or ink in person before deciding to purchase. Another bonus is being able to talk in person with the knowledgeable people standing behind the tables!
I will admit, I have never been to a Pen Show! I have my eyes set on Chicago in May 2017 so I can cross Attend One Pen Show off my Resolutions list. But if I’ve never been to a pen show, why am I writing a post about a Pen Show Survival Guide? Because I’m fortunate enough to work with Brian and Lisa Anderson who have quite a bit of Pen Show experience. I sat down with Brian and Lisa and picked their brains as to how best prepare for my first pen show. As to not be selfish, I’m sharing their top Pen Show tips with you today!
1. Streamline your outfit.
We’ll start from the bottom up. Please wear comfortable shoes! Avoid anything with heels, even if they are low and chunky. You will be on your feet and walking around pretty much all day. This is your first chance at experiencing a Pen Show! You don’t want your focus to be on your sore feet, but instead on the beautiful pens and inks that surround you! For clothes, avoid anything bulky because if you go to the show on a busy day, the venue will be very full and you want to be able to slide through the crowd with minimal effort.
2. Be careful with purses, backpacks and wallets.
This point ties into which type of bag or purse or backpack you should bring. Try to avoid any backpacks as they can get you caught up in the crowd. You’ll spend more time saying “sorry” to everyone you bump into with your bag and less time saying “Yes, I will take that pen!” to your favorite vendors. We recommend a cross body smaller purse or bag if possible. You can slide the bag part in front of you when you’re walking and you don’t have to worry about always having to set the bag down as you dig through it.
Also, out of respect for the products and the vendors, don’t drop or set your purse on the vendor table on top of pens, as this could break or damage them. Gentlemen, keep your wallet or cash in your front pants pocket, not the back. While theft is not rampant at pen shows, it does occasionally happen.
3. Have a plan, and stick to it…as best as possible!
Pen Shows have been described to me as a deep sea of all things pens, papers and inks. After just looking at pictures from Pen Shows I can tell you, there are honestly SO MANY pens! Before you head to a pen show, put together a plan or list of what you want to see and do. Do you have pens on your “To Buy” list already? Have you read a review of a pen or ink online that intrigued you? Want to try a different nib style? The day will fly by and you want to make sure you have seen and tried everything you wanted to. However, we are all human and there will be things you see at a Pen Show that will catch your eye. It’s OK, go ahead and check it out, even if it wasn’t on your original list! And when you’re done, refer back to your list to keep you on track.
To make life easier, Anderson Pens offers a “Pick Up At Pen Show” option when you purchase on our website. If you have your heart set on a specific pen, just purchase it at andersonpens.com before the show (normally we recommend a week before so we can ensure it makes it into a packed box for the show!). Simply pick it up from Anderson Pens’ table at the show. This guarantees you’ll get what you want and saves you time from browsing the table and paying there.
Also, if you plan to have the nib on your pen modified by one of the many talented nib gurus, sign up for their wait list AS SOON AS YOU GET THERE. Trust us, the lists grow to a couple of pages deep per day for some nib workers, and if you shop first, and then get around to the nib person, you may not be able to have your pen worked on at all, let alone that day. Sign up first, then shop until you are called for your turn.
4. Plan to learn.
This one is pretty easy for any of us newer members to the pen lifestyle as almost everything we see and hear will be new to us. However, even if you are a veteran pen collector, it is almost guaranteed you will learn at least one new piece of information at a pen show. Even Brian and Lisa admit they learn something new at almost every pen show they attend (which is 13-15 shows a year!). One example of learning something new is if you find a pen you love and ask how much it is, but don’t agree with the pricing of the pen. Ask (in a nice way!) why the pen is priced at $X. There might be a back story to that specific pen or a special quality of the material used you never would have known about if you hadn’t asked!
5. It’s the People.
Everyone should be able to use a name badge. Remember to put your full name on your badge AND any FPN, Pentrace, blog or social media username. It is very possible a vendor won’t recognize your username, but will know your full name the instant they see it, or vice versa. Be sure to grab a business card from every vendor you visit! It doesn’t hurt to write a quick note on the back of the card if you discussed a specific pen with this vendor. This way, when you get home, you’ll know exactly who you were talking with and what you were talking about.
Be the first to say hi! There might be vendors present who are there to just be there, with friends. Walk up, say hi and don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Ask about their pens for sale, where they are from, what their collecting focus is, etc.
6. Schedule Pen Show Meetups
If you have made friends with other pen lovers via social media, announce beforehand that you are planning on attending a certain Pen Show. Plan meetups with your new friends before you even step foot in the Pen Show. Again, the day/weekend will fly by and you want to make sure you see every pen and ink you want to but also meet up with every person you want to see! Who knows, maybe you’ll find someone to carpool with or share a hotel room with! This means more money for pens!
7. Public Days are BUSY.
The first day or so of the show, which are the trader days are not as busy. Public days are Saturdays and Sundays, if the show runs the full weekend. If you can make it to the show on a non-public day, it is more likely you’ll be able to have a longer conversation with the vendors. There won’t be as long of a line and the vendors won’t be as rushed. I’ve been told these days can come at a premium and the ticket price for entry can be significantly more than the Public days. You really have to weigh the pros and cons. Pros: more relaxed atmosphere, quality time with the vendors, browsing all of the pens and inks before others have a chance to check them out. Cons: ticket prices can be higher, meaning you will have slightly less money for pens.
8. When in doubt, ASK.
This ties into my example for #3 Plan to Learn. Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer questions. If you want to see a pen, ask. If you aren’t sure how to uncap the pen, ask. Ask before you dip the pen(if that is allowed), and know going in that it is highly unlikely the pen is fully inked. Vendors bring A LOT of pens to shows, and it would be close to impossible to thoroughly clean each and every pen after arriving back home.
If you don’t see a price on the pen (which is very likely since many pens at shows are not marked with a price), ask. If you would like to see a rare pen, ask. But be very careful!! Don’t be offended if a pen is under glass, probably the vendors are just taking extra steps to ensure their pens stay in great condition for you. Brian and Lisa recommend not posting the cap on vintage pens at shows. These pens are fragile and it’s best to use extreme measures of caution with them.
9. Bring your kids!
If you’re a parent or grandparent, it’s likely you have tried to introduce the love of pens to your children or grandchildren. If this attempt has been successful, and they share your interest in pens, bring them along to a show! Many shows have Pens For Kids presentations sponsored by the Pen Collectors of America. The PCA also has scavenger hunts for the kids and free cartridge fountain pens are given away. Always make sure your children follow rule #6 and ask before touching anything. I’m a mom, so I know this is hard.
If you think your child will have a hard time being around beautiful pens and not touching everything, it might be best to keep them busy with the activities for children and away from the vendor tables. Or wait until they are a little older before they experience their first Pen Show. My daughter is 5 and while she loves using my pens, she won’t be joining me in Chicago…this year.
10. Cash, Check or Charge?
This one is probably obvious. Unless you have the absolute best self-control and purely want to experience a pen show just to meet people and “window” shop, you need to bring money. Brian and Lisa shared with me that many dealers only accept cash. It is becoming more common for dealers to take credit cards, but always bring cash just in case. There will be dealers who are pen collectors like yourself and who do not run a business. They are there to sell a couple of pens to buy other pens, all with cash. Most vendors do not accept checks. If you plan on using a card, Brian and Lisa highly recommend calling your card company, especially American Express to notify them you will be attending a show.
11. A Note about Credit Cards
Bless the credit card company’s heart for making sure your card number hasn’t been stolen, but it will be a huge headache for yourself if you buy a pen at one table, go to buy another pen at a different table and AMEX has shut down your card. Why does this happen? Well, one vendor might be from Georgia, and the other from Wisconsin, leaving AMEX to believe your card number has physically been used in Georgia and minutes later in Wisconsin. It’s best to make a quick phone call before you head to the show and avoid any hassle while you’re there.
12. Budget (and do your homework).
Remember way back in Tip #2 when I recommended you make a list of what you want to buy? Research those items before you go to the pen show so you have an idea of how much they should cost. This is especially important if your list includes rare items that can range in price. Know what you have to spend and prioritize your list so you stay within that budget. It’s best to have a little slush fund because there will be something new you’ve never seen before that you have to have! If you hit your budget, this is where the business cards you grabbed come in handy. Once you are able to purchase the pen you had your eye on, get out the vendor’s card and give them a call!
Pen Shows are Worth It!
You might be wondering why I even want to travel to a Pen Show this year since I have all the goodies from Anderson Pens just a few steps away from my desk. Two things: the people and the atmosphere! I’ve communicated via email with several people in the pen world and this is an opportunity to meet them in person, which is something I am looking forward to very much! If you’ve made a few pen friends on social media you would love to meet in person or even if you haven’t but want to meet others who enjoy the same thing you do, head to a pen show!
As for the atmosphere, when I’m in the Anderson Pens store, and I witness someone excitedly pick out new ink or talk to Dave, Chris, Brian or Lisa about a specific pen, it’s amazing to watch! That’s just one interaction. At pen shows there are many more of these interactions happening one after the other for 3-4 days straight. Think about how you feel when you get a new pen in the mail or from a store. This is one giant room of that excited energy! Is there anything better than that?
Click here and check out Resolution #7 for a list of the Pen Shows Anderson Pens will be at.
Which pen show(s) do you plan on attending this year? Will it be your first or are you a pen show veteran?
Ink It Up!
A big thanks to Cary at Fountain Pen Day for the generous use of his pictures. Brian and Lisa rarely have a chance to escape their tables to take pictures or to shop. We appreciate the use of the pics for our blog post!!