A few weeks ago I went to my first pen show. Senol and I drove down to Redwood City and visited the 2022 San Francisco International Pen Show on a Saturday which was day 2 of 3 of the show. We only had a few hours but it was very interesting and fun (for me at least). But it was also a bit overwhelming.
I was a bit naive about how popular pen shows were, although in hindsight I shouldn’t have been. Pulling up to a hotel with a rapidly filling parking garage structure and seeing a line outside should have reminded me that every niche hobby has tons of fans, and I have enough hobbies that I should have remembered that- cycling, coffee, wine, etc… any show/gathering of any of those would draw a big crowd.
What I was realized later was that different pen shows gather different vendors. There’s a big show in DC each year WashPo story and that draws vendors and attendees not just from the East Coast but from Europe. The SF Show draws a lot of attendees from the entire Bay Area but also a lot of people from Asia.
Most pen fans will go elsewhere to read a recap and see “haul” videos, so I’ll just recap a little bit for friends who don’t know about these types of events. One thing to get out of the way first is that I mentioned above that it was overwhelming. That’s more because of me- I’m still a bit awkward about crowds, so whenever I see a gathering of people, I get on edge a bit. About half to two-thirds of the people there were masked. I’m not sure if that matters or not, but I notice and care for now even though we’re both vaxxed. In addition to the mask factor, I’m still weird about crowds in general. To be fair, most pen folks seem like they trend towards being introverted, so maybe I wasn’t the only one feeling awkward?
So I did know a bit beforehand about what to expect from the vendors and class/events list. We only had a few hours due to a bunch of stuff going on so I didn’t register for any seminars- but it’s nice knowing that’s an option in the future. I had a rough plan to try to focus on finding just a few vendors I was interested in and then treat everything else as a bonus. And I was able to do that.
My pre-game plan was to check in on Schon Dsgn (I have some of his pens), Peyton Street Pens from Santa Cruz, Curnow Leather and notebooks, and to swing by the Franklin Christoph booth to see if they had any of their specialized demo nibs out.
Most of my focus was to check out some pen models in person because sometimes I can’t quite grasp pen sizing off of website measurements or YouTube videos (nice pun- grasp… sorry). I was able to visit all of the above, and yes, I went over budget grabbing notebooks for myself and I did pick up some new pens. Oh, and we definitely wanted to see the Rickshaw Bags table, but that was super popular so we had to time our visit. But we were able to swing by and picked up some pouches.
The bonus table visits were seeing the notebooks from Musubi from Singapore, Odysey Notebooks, trying the nibs from Franklin Christoph for a possible future purchase, talking to the people from Plotter USA and Traveler’s Notebooks, and getting my hands on an oversized Esterbrook Estie.
Other bonuses were:
- running into Figboot-on-Pens (unfortunately as we were both coming out of the bathroom) and I got to talk to him about the LCD Soundsystem show (and I was able to say thanks for a pen I had just gotten from him recently) – His recap video is here
- seeing the Narwhal (now called Nahvalur) and picking up some pens from them, one was a show exclusive
- seeing how nice the vintage pen people were – as in the watch world they are enthusiasts and like to see the older models get restored and get usage in the real world. I’d buy a vintage one in the future
- looking at the craftwork of the boxes from Toyoka Craft (they sold out of all of their stuff at the show apparently as I found out)
- Having Ian Schon recognize my Doxa and talking about watches for a while and also checking out his watch. I realized (weeks later) that I had read articles about him on Hodinkee years ago.
The only regrets I have are that I didn’t pick up any ink. And speaking of inks- I didn’t even try out any of the ink stations that were set up by volunteers(!) so people can actually write and demo various inks in their own notebooks.
But that’s fine, there was enough going on that I knew I would definitely be interested into going to another show.
Senol had maybe seen enough though. She’d rather go to something like the Renegade Craft Fair in SF- coming up in November by the way.