Yesterday I went to the first Orlando Pen Show. It was my first pen show, too, and I had a great time. I went with my friend The Artist, who is not into fountain pens but was happy to go with me. She lives in another state but was visiting family in the next town over from me, so I drove to where she was staying yesterday morning and we had an excellent sushi lunch before making our way to Orlando.

I had arranged to meet Brad Dowdy, the man behind The Pen Addict site and podcast. When the Artist and I arrived we didn’t see him, so we started looking at the tables in the main room. Y’all. There were so many pens. Gorgeous pens. Most of which were out of my price range.

But I’d expected that. My goal for the show was to see a bunch of cool pens in person, and decide whether or not I liked them enough to get them used. Yes, if I’d run across an amazing deal on something I really wanted, I would have bought it. But I found the show helped me narrow down what I’m willing to spend money on.

Like, there’s one model of Sailor (I think the Pro Gear?) that only comes in black with silver furniture. There are like 15 nib options, all of which are 14k or 21k gold. People buy the pen for the nibs, which write fantastically. But it’s kind of boring-looking, and the barrel feels like plastic. The cost — over $300 — is all in the nib. And I don’t want a boring pen, when I can get pens that write nicely for much less. Hell, I can get 14K nib pens for much less. Both my budget and my conscience wouldn’t let me spend that much on a pen even if I loved it. Which is why I usually buy my nicer pens used.

The used pen market is great. If you know where to look, there are tons of pen collectors who buy a pen, try it out, decide they don’t love it, and sell it on for much less than what they paid for it. It’s crazy when you’re talking about a $300 pen, but they do it, and it greatly benefits people like me who couldn’t afford a Sailor Pro Gear without selling a kidney. I’ve even bought pens with slight cosmetic damage before, for ridiculously low prices, because I don’t care about small scratches. (Cracks are bad. Scratches are fine.)

Vintage pens tend to be much cheaper, particularly ones that were mass-produced before ballpoints became a thing. Unfortunately, most vintage pens are on the smaller side, and I have giant hands. The smallest pen I have that I use regularly is my Parker 45 Flighter, and I wouldn’t try writing a novel with it.

Back to the show. The Artist and I took our time wandering around the room, looking at everything. I was tempted by many indie makers’ pens, but (thankfully for my wallet) most of their pens don’t post, and I don’t buy pens I can’t post. (I like the extra length of a posted pen, plus I’m not going to lose the cap that way.) They were gorgeous, though.

At 3:00 there was a drawing for door prizes. We didn’t win anything. Shame. I would have loved to have that $800 Visconti. Heh.

At 4:00 I had an appointment for a nib grind with Kirk Speer. I had been interested in the nib grinding process ever since I heard about it on The Pen Addict. A grinder can take a good pen and make it amazing. Kirk was great. I had considered a needlepoint grind for my Lamy 2000 (a birthday present from last year, thanks again Mom). But Kirk let me try out some other grinds, with sample pens he had on the table. I fell in love with the smooth italic grind. The cool thing about getting it done in person (as opposed to mailing the pen to him) is that I was able to try it, tell him I wanted a slight change, and have him alter it on the spot. Which I did; when I moved the pen in a certain direction, it felt like the nib was going to tear the paper. He smoothed that bit out for me and it was perfect. I already loved this pen. Now it’s my favorite.

We found Brad right after I’d finished with Kirk. Brad is just as nice in person as he seems on the podcast. He didn’t have to walk all over the show with me, finding the pens I wanted to try. But he did. He also let me and The Artist try the ones he had on him. I fell in love with his full-size Schon pen, as well as his Sailor Pro Gear Mini (not the Slim, I don’t think; I couldn’t find a pic of the exact one Brad had). I will look for them used at some point. We spent at least half an hour hanging out, with and without The Artist (who went off and bought stuff on her own for a while).

My friends and I were at the show for about 3 hours. I was exhausted by the end. It’s been decades since I attended any kind of show or convention. (All of those were comics-related, back in my 20s.)

My only impulse purchase — the only money I spent at the show besides the scheduled nib grind — was on some antique “penny pens.” They are just a nib with a rod attached, wrapped in cardboard. The dip pens — considered the first disposable pens — were made by Warren’s in the 1890s and left in the corner of an old building in North Manchester, Indiana. The pens were rediscovered, and they’re now being sold as a 4-pack for $20. The Artist and I split a pack.

Two slim black cardboard pens with silver nibs.
Black pens' labels.
Pen labels.

The nibs are very fine, even the stub nib. I fell in love with them, they were crazy cheap, and I had to own some even if I’ll never use them.

I think $10 may be the smallest amount any pen nerd has impule-spent at a pen show. I should get a reward for self-discipline. Say, an expensive pen…

Categories: Stationery

1 Comment

The Artist · September 13, 2022 at 10:38 am

Upon first trying the Penny Pens, I thought, “oh no, these are so scratchy, Grayson won’t like them.” But the Falcon nib (the better of the two) smoothed out a bit after a paragraph. SmoothER, anyway. Like you, though, I don’t like thin pens, and my hand cramped up after trying both of these Penny pens. But I still love them!

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