Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Handmade wood-barreled pens

This past weekend, I attended the 17th Annual Washington D.C. Collectible Fountain Pen Supershow in Tysons Corner, Virginia, at the Sheraton Premier. I'm not an avid pen collector, but the friend who invited me along is. I wasn't sure what to expect, but knowing her propensity for pens and penmakers whose names mean nothing to me--Parker 51s, Viscount, Swisher, Libelle, Tibaloi, Airline International--I had a sneaking suspicion I was in for a treat. In short: This is not your trading-Bics-on-the-playground gathering. These folks are serious.

L: Pens by Argentine artist and silversmith Juan Carlos Pallarols
R: A barrel being handpainted in watercolor

The Washington D.C. Collectible Fountain Pen Supershow is the largest in the world and brings together buyers, sellers, retailers, distributors, artisans, and collectors from all over the world. I met handcrafted penmakers from California and Argentina, Maryland and Italy. The range and variety of pens, not to mention some of the prices, were astounding! I met a retired police officer who refurbishes 1930s and 1940s Parker Golden Arrow Vacumatic Fountain Pens and turns them into ballpoints. I saw promotional pens for oil companies that included a cap of oil and garland pens whose tops featured corporate logos from days long gone by.

A colorful assortment of pens by Libelle of New York.
The barrels of the pens in the bottom right corner are made of leather!

L: Just a small, infinitesimal sampling of the wares available. And these aren't even the nicest pens!
R: Buyers and sellers hawk their vast pen collections. Easily 40% of exhibitors were Joe and Mary Public
selling pens from their personal collections. The remaining 60% were retailers (40%), distributors (10%),
and artisans (10%).

Not surprisingly, collectors of pens have their own special jokes. Case in point, one pen seller took an interest in my camera and wanted to know how it performs. I told him about this blog and then gave him my business card. Ironically, I didn't have a pen on me. (I was like a person dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean. There I was at the largest pen show in the world and I didn't have a pen on me. How sad is that?! But I digress...) So, I said, without thinking, "Do you have a pen?" I caught myself and then said, "I'll bet you get that all the time, don't you? Really unoriginal, huh?" To which the man graciously replied, "Oh yes, I have many pens. The question isn't incorrect, it just isn't accurate. The accurate question is 'Do you have a pen that writes?'"

The pens I bought: a replica of a blue crayon and a wallet-size ball point.
Small potatoes compared to what could be had at this pen show.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Droll. Pen humor at its best. All in all, I had a great time. And I even bought two pens: a pen made to look like a crayon and a teeny, tiny, itty-bitty pen about the width of a business card. If you ever have a chance to attend a pen show, do it. It's a lot of fun!

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 08/08


Virginia said...

Great photos today. You gave us the whole pen experience. As a former teacher you know I would have jumped at the chance to have a Crayola pen. I remember my first fountain pen in elementary school. NO , I did not write with a quill! Very interesting post today.

Wayne said...

I'd go to a show like that. Sounds like a laugh riot. Seriously, I have always appreciated nice the craftsmanship of fancy fountain pens. The only one I own is just a cheapy.

Erik said...

My mother-in-law is a jeweler and one of my favorite things at her store is pens made from the wood left behind after the destruction of old baseball stadiums. For example, today I picked up a nice pen made from the remnants of Cincinnati's old Crosley Field.

marley said...

Well, I've learnt something today. Who would ever have thought pens could be so interesting?! I loved the photos and the thought of you asking for a pen made me laugh! If you had of had a Bic you might have been thrown out of the show :)

babooshka said...

An education aswell as a wonderful virtual tour. I would definitely frequent this place. Reminds me of the local art shop, and I vertually live in there.

D.C. Confidential said...

VJ: Thanks! I wanted to buy a fountain pen, but I'm woefully ignorant about what constitutes a good pen. Once I've got that figured out, though, I think I'll be off and running!

Wayne: It was a lot more fun than I expected! If you enjoy good craftsmanship, you would have loved this show!

Erik: What a cool use of wood from special places! I'll bet those pens fetch a pretty penny or two. But then, you can't really put a price on nostalgia, can you?

Marley: I suspect you're right: I'd have been touched out on my ear for heresy if I'd pulled out a Bic or PaperMate or some other such common, office supply store pen. Oh, the horror! LOL!

Babooshka: Being at the pen show was like watching kids in a candy store! You'd have thought it was Christmas. Which is, I'm sure, how you feel when you're at the art store!

Maya said...


I'll bet you are attaching that little pen to your business cards from now on?

Dusty Lens said...

I'm always looking for a pen when in similar situations. I keep one in my camera bag. A perfect photo op, I need to get out more for these shows.

Moo mini cards are perfect to hand out in situations like this. On the front of the card is your photo, on the back, your blog name, blog address, email address, and anything eles. $25 for 100 cards.

d.c. confidential said...

Maya: Pens can definitely be fun. Only problem with my teeny tiny pen? I forgot to ask about refills.

Rob: I always have a pen in my camera bag, too, but I left it in the car that day. I've checked out Moo cards and really like them. I need to get some for my photography and for the new resume writing business I'm about to launch.

Professor said...

These are great photos and this event sounds like it was LOTS of fun as well and interesting and unique!

I have to say I have a love affair with office supplies and pens run neck and neck for the top spot (tied with post-it notes!) I once dated a guy who gave me a goodie bag full of office supplies- including my favorite pens- and he said I was more excited over that then the dozen roses he gave me... go figure! I think this would've been a great day!

And I LOVE your crayon pens! Now, those are COOL!

(Yes, I'm a geeky teacher...) I wish I could've been there!

D.C. Confidential said...

Prof: The friend I went with to this show has a similar love affair with pens and post-it notes! She elevates Staples and Office Depot by calling them "the Pen Store"! Cracks me up. She'd probably be happier with pens and post-it notes than flowers, too!

The Artful Eye said...

Pens!?! I'm addicted to writing implements. I love the crayola pen too. I love writing with fountain pens and the smell of ink. I'm sick.

D.C. Confidential said...

Andrea: Love of pens is not a sign of sickness. It is a manifestation of intellect and an appreciation for the handwritten word. :-)