Bob Johnson has consistently managed to produce the biggest and the best pen show in the world with dealers and collectors gathering from around the world. Many attendees are repeat regulars who have attended for many years and their presence is a statement to those who have yet to come. The show is a nice blend of vintage pens and new production pens with major retailers and manufacturers exhibiting and often unveiling new year Limited Edition models. DC is a convenient East Coast location, it’s easy to travel with direct flights from Europe, South America, and Asia. If you have ever said to yourself “I wish I could make the DC Pen Show”, try for next year.
Hotel and airfare rates are a bargain in August, this could be easier than you think. The earliest sell-out of hotel rooms and exhibit tables occurred this year, with a waiting list up to the last day for any cancellations…and there were none. The DC Pen Show is one that is well worth the travel…and with new faces every year it seems to generate more anticipation with each show. When new faces, dealers, and products need to be offered to the public…it’s the D.C. Pen Show that seems to be the pen show of choice.
The Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Vienna, VA, right across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. was a magnet this week with some early arrivals settling in on Tuesday. They come early, those who simply can’t wait for the trading action and those who take the opportunity for sightseeing. It was not the usually hot and steamy August, rather it was mild and pleasant so the days were very comfortable. The Sheraton Premiere is a great pen show hotel with huge rooms for pre-show trading, easy access to anything one needs and most importantly everyone on the hotel staff was terrific.
Thursday, up at 3 am, a limo at 4, airport by 4:45, I waltz through security in 3 minutes then a power nap for 2 hours. I arrived early at DC, not so much for the pen action, rather I was consulting with a few first-time exhibitors and came to assist them with show preparations. We spent many months of very detailed planning to cover every day, coordinating many suppliers, every event from arrival to departure and after, now it was almost “Showtime!” By afternoon I saw the early trading room was really one half of the ballroom and quite full with about 50 tables, some traders were already set up in the hallways. It was all I could do to dive into the melee, the poking with searching eyes on open pen cases.
I spot a Hawaiian shirt and a red cap, sure enough, my old friend Will Thorpe. Subtle in the crowd but big as life to those that know him and Will was happy as Antonios Banderas on a Paso pony to be there. Most dealers today are vintage traders with the new pen dealers setting up on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the day and evening was pretty busy tending to business so my pen hunting had to wait for the next day. That afternoon and evening I helped Nakaya organize their products and work show orientation with their translators. It really did not work, it was a special honor and I enjoyed every minute as every package was carefully unwrapped and explained. At one point I sat on the floor with the Wajima artists showing me how to paint bamboo leaves on an ebonite tile with urushi paint. Not too bad I think, I happily received polite applause for my effort and was very pleased.
The Nakaya Fountain Pen Company team arrived earlier on Tuesday. Nakaya had such a success at the recent Chicago Pen Show that Mr. Nakata decided shortly after he must attend DC. Tuesday was for touring DC and the Museums, Wednesday and Thurs for training with the hired translators and getting to know the hotel. Mr. Nakata’s first wish was to meet Nakaya customers and be sure they were happy, making nib adjustments if needed. I arrived Thursday to assist them with a myriad of these details from hiring the team of translators who blended beautifully with the Nakaya team. If you were there you would not even know who they were. Mr. Ed Sumoto, Brian Yang, and Tom Logan were brilliant as to how quickly they were able to learn about Nakaya products and the pen business. We were very happy they were able to assist and they are now permanent Nakaya fans.
Mr. Watanabe, Master Nib Maker was kept busy from Friday, custom shaping nibs for the hands of new and old customers. Mr. Matsubara sat at his lathe shaping ebonite caps and barrels. Using his own lathe shipped from Japan he made it appear very easy cutting and shaping ebonite rods as ribbon shavings fell into piles on the side. You can see in the photo album his trusty leather belt-driven lathe that has served him for almost 50 years. The ebonite rod is placed in the wooden mandrel with a hardwood collar which is simply hit with his hand to lock in and remove. Simple tools such as this have produced museum-quality Japanese products for centuries. Watching this made it appear as if I was stepping back into early Edo history. Visitors were invited to autograph the side of Mr. Matsubara’s cabinet, which gave him great pleasure, this is like a badge of honor he will proudly display in his shop.
Maki-e artists from the city of Wajima who decorate Nakaya pens attended also, demonstrating their skill at brush painting and maki-e-gold decoration. Visitors were invited to paint and also sprinkle the gold dust. I hand-painted one ebonite tile for practice, drawing bamboo leaves and Mr. Daiku added my personal kanji. The Wajima artists were Mr. Daiku who was accompanied by his wife Yoshiko and Mr. Kimio Wakashima. Ms Arisa Sato is assistant to Mr. Watanabe and Ms Nahomi Kusakabe is Nakaya Vice President. Mr. Shinichi Yoshida is in charge of Nakaya Design and Development. A very enthusiastic young man, Shinichi tells me “my goal is to make Nakaya products the very best possible.” Many new products are in development right now and I can say they will be outstanding, soon to be unveiled. Nakaya’s display was four tables displaying magnificent works of maki-e products such as small incense holders, leather and wood pen rests, Yatate pen carriers, and desk weights. I could not resist the tamenuri business card holder which perfectly matches my first tamenuri pen.
It almost seemed as if Japanese arts were the sub-theme of the show. I happen to appreciate maki-e and Japanese arts so I am very keen on the designs and materials. Take a look at who has produced Japanese arts designs or maki-e on their pens. Certainly, Sailor, Pilot and Nakaya, Krone with the Sun Tzu Art of War, Visconti today and as early as the Shunga series several years ago, Pelikan, Parker Asian market LE’s, Andy Lambrou’s Classic Pens on Duofold’s, Loiminchay, and DaniTrio pens are outstanding and reasonable. Fahrney’s Pens even commissioned Sailor for a 75th Anniversary pen called Cherry Blossom. David Ushkow specializes in Japanese and maki-e pens, his table is literally a small museum. It is always a wonderful experience talking to David, I make it a point to learn from him at every show. Walking a large pen show such as DC is an outstanding opportunity to see the mother lode of variety, and they’re sure is something for everyone.
Bernard Lyn from DaniTrio came to his first DC Pen Show. Bernard recently published his outstanding new book Maki-e, art for the soul explaining the arts, the artists, the tools, techniques, and history. Bernard brought some of his own maki-e collection, a beautiful display of very unusual designs, very unlike what I was expecting. His new DaniTrio eyedropper pens are stunning. I was drawn to the black maki-e. This is a raised design of satin black galloping horses on satin black barrels. The only other pen I ever saw like this was a Nakaya black dragon on satin black ebonite. Some day…someday that will be in my pocket. These handsome full-size eyedroppers with traditional Japanese ink shut-off design may be one of the next trends among pen manufacturers.
Honored Guest Geoffrey S. Parker was invited to attend. Geoffrey exhibited the Parker Pen Co. aircraft models along with a great laptop slide show of vintage Parker family archive images. He displayed the entire fleet including the WWII Spitfire GEO S. PARKER and the P51B Mustang “PARKER 51”. Aviation and Parker aircraft have long been a long-time hobby to both of us, so we were very happy to bring this to DC. The display was set up in the lobby so there was a nice crowd of visitors. It’s amazing how many people were drawn to the display, I met an A300 Airbus pilot, several WWII vets and I was soon in the thick of “war stories”. Geoffrey happily autographed many posters of the P51B Mustang as gifts and really impressed everyone with his knowledge and anecdotes of Parker’s family history and aircraft. Geoff has actually traveled in some of the Parker DC3s many years ago with his family so he had some great stories to relate, such as traveling from Janesville to Florida with his pet parrot cackling and whistling like crazy all the way.
Honored Guests of the show Juan Carlos Pallarols, his wife Milta, and son Adrian attended from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a sterling silver lover…I can say they are a sensation, to say the least. This name may not be familiar to many in the pen collecting community, however in the craft of silverwork the Pallarols comes from the oldest continuous family operation of silversmiths in the world, originating in Barcelona, Spain 250 years ago. Only a few things have changed from founder Vicente’s times. Presently, Juan Carlos uses some tools kept for more than 250 years, some were actually used at this show. Juan Carlos is teaching his son, Adrián, who works by his side. This way of working as a silversmith makes Pallarols workshop one of the most famous around the world. Pallarols is now producing custom order sterling pens for DuPont and at this show, several pen manufacturers expressed interest in collaboration with Pallarols.
Honored Guest Yukio Nagahara came from Japan representing Sailor pens and adjusted nibs for customers. Trained by his famous father, they are legends in Japan and now worldwide as creators and Master Nib Designers. In Japan, there is one word for the Master, it is “Kamisama” and everyone knows there is only one person honored with that name and it is Nagahara. Dick Egolf and Michael Masuyama of Luxury Brands USA are the U.S. distributors for Sailor and showcased their entire line of representation. Mary Burke is associated as Director of New Market Development in the U.S. for Conway Stewart pens.
INK !! This was ink heaven and rivers of color were flowing. The lobby had about 6 tables with every imaginable color from Private Reserve, Herbin, Diamine, Noodler, and every other pen maker brand. Every bottle was open and capless ( so they don’t walk away ! ) Clairfontaine test pads of papers were donated by Karen Doherty, VP of Exaclair, the U.S. distributor of Herbin inks, Clairfontaine, QuoVadis, and other high-quality stationery products. Dip pens were donated by Pandemonium. Visitors used Q-Tips to create their own ink samplers, and amazingly I did not see a single overturned bottle. I wondered who had all those caps and how they were going to figure out which belong to which !!
Friday morning dealers were streaming into the showroom by 8 am, the tables are first-come-first-serve and wall tables were preferred. By 9 am the room was full of dealers and plenty of early buyers some with pretty serious looks on their faces. This was a time to move quickly and try to get to those treasures before your good buddy. I really had a great pleasure, in particular, watching the Nakaya and Pallarols exhibits. From their first nervous anticipation of the crowds, seeing their eagerness to explain and show their products, then finally settling into the comfortable routine of knowing they were simply talking the same language to friends about their mutual love of pens and pen products.
The Friday evening Welcome Reception. Promptly at 7 pm, I was happy to introduce the honored guests of the show, Nakaya, Geoffrey S. Parker, the Pallarols, and Nagahara. This event was sponsored by Stylus magazine and Pentrace. Representing Stylus magazine were Publisher Gary George, Jon Messer, Associate Publisher, and Nancy Olson, Editorial Director. Yours truly representing Donal Higgins and Pentrace. People filled the lobby reception area mingling and meeting the Honored Guests which made them very happy. I guess I was not surprised, as honored as the crowd was to meet the special guests, the moment the pizza was brought out, there was an instant vacuum as the line formed and 360 pieces of assorted pepperoni and cheese slices disappeared in 14 minutes. Momentarily the room was a little quieter as the food was consumed, washed down with wine, beer, and soft drinks. Lips “smack” and not to waste a moment…back to the sport of pens, the crescendo builds again and it was either back into the trading room or everyone split off into groups and adventured out to local dinners. Dominos just loves it when the pen show comes to town.
Saturday morning, bright and early everyone finds assigned tables. I find a temporary glitch…my table next to Nakaya and Andy Lambrou is occupied by the table with huge coffee pots. Ok, at least I won’t have far to go for my morning java jolt. Andy is not smiling, he’s so serious, and I’m laughing trying to figure out how to keep it close by. In about 2 minutes the coffee was moved, I insisted “not too far” and we were set up in business. Good crowd, actually a terrific crowd with 800 people streaming into the show in the first 3 hours. Bob tells me this is a new record !! And, they were not all tire kickers, I heard great reports from many who had their best show ever simply on Saturday visitors. The crowd was thick all day, I hardly had time to leave my table and roam the aisles. Watching Nakaya I saw lines forming behind the chairs for visitors, not only to look and test the pens but also watching the Wajima artists. Mr. Nakata was constantly on the move from one end to the other meeting and greeting customers and new friends. Nakata had a very good idea with a large card printed on the table with common phrases in English and Japanese, so customers could either speak pen-show Japanese or just point to the right words for nib and pen adjustments.
In the main lobby leading to the showroom, the exhibitors were the Pen Show theme pen manufacturer Delta with Jerry Greenberg who was passing out his free Delta Maori Indigenous Peoples ink bottles to the first 200 visitors each day. The David Oscarson display is a compact glass-enclosed chest of stunning sterling silver and enamel. Jim Newman of Newman’s Pens, entirely made of crushed pearls are also unique to themselves, no one produces anything like this. Co-sponsors Glen and Susan Bowen from Pen World were handing out complimentary copies of Pen World and InSync magazines. They also sponsored an Ink Survey awarding prizes of inks and subscriptions. Jon Messer and Nancy Olson from Stylus magazine had loads of free International Watch and Stylus magazines. Stylophiles magazine was also represented by Bill Riepl, with his new bride Mary Burke stationed at Luxury Brands exhibit as Sailor’s new Director of Market Development in the U.S. Patrick Chu from Loiminchay was showing the new Olympiad Collection and you just have to see Jade in person to really be impressed. White and green jade under lights will glow as if full of life, incredibly beautiful and incredibly expensive. Rob Rosenberg displayed new Conklin pens, including a new model in all satin gold-filled cap and barrel with gems stones. I saw the first prototype, as yet unnamed. Bert and Alice Heiserman from Pen Haven with Louis Wolfy, huge display with one of the largest vintage selections of the show. Bert is expanding his new pen shop again and he just remodeled it a year ago. Fahrney’s Pens with Chris Sullivan is always the primary attraction in DC, as well as Bertram’s Inkwell, the best-known name in the DC area.
Adrian Pallarols with his mother Milta and his father Juan Carlos who was working on a beautiful sterling pen barrel, using his 200-year-old tools. Chuck Swisher had a huge display with his staff, and he was proudly displaying his newest lineup of Conway Stewart pens. Famous for his Southern smile, Chuck looked calm but was non-stop all weekend. New pen dealers surrounded the room, Maryann and Steve Zucker were there with Kim Sosin to display Signum pens. Maryann was so busy I hardly saw her and Steve together, so here’s an image of Steve and Kim. Richard and Barbara Binder were swamped. The lines formed as soon as they were set up and I rarely saw anything but the top of his head. Norman Haase and his wife were a popular table, Gary and Myrna Lehrer had their minty restored vintage pens, literally a traveling museum, and a walking history book. Ross McKinney and the Triangle Pen Club were a huge help to Bob Johnson and everyone came by to say hello.
Sam Fiorella of course had the biggest of everything you need for writing with a special edition run of Diamine inks, tons of Clairfontaine and Rhodia papers and journals, books, and everything pen-papers-inks you can think of. Sam announced the new book on Parker “51” by David Shepherd will be released at the London Pen Show in October and also at the Ohio Pen Show in November. She is taking pre-publication orders now let her know if want to reserve a copy. I’m sure this book will sell out quickly. My friend Miroslav Tischler, author of the book on Penkala pens was there, coming from Zagreb, Croatia. The country of Croatia will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Penkala in 2006 so Miro’s new Penkala book edition will be printed along with a special Penkala replica I have designed for the event.
What would a pen show be without Joel Hamilton and Sherrell Tyree? The gems from New Mexico are good friends and we were happy to see them. Terry Mawhorter, promoter of the Ohio and Raleigh Pen Shows was there. Of all things, he showed me a Raleigh Pen Co ink blotter, so guess what one of the show giveaways will be for Raleigh 2005? Legendary master craftsman pen repair person Rick Horne sat with another pen legend, 84-year-old Abe Schwartz. Abe flew B17s in the thick of things in ’44, participating in the single largest sortie of B-17s and P51 Mustangs in history. Besides pens, talk to Rick Horne about restoring vintage cars, his other long-time passion. From Israel Zilibi Moshe attended, fortunately, able to arrange his schedule as DC is a prime event he loves to attend. Vintage pens are pretty hard to find in Israel so he was here on a serious mission to find a few nice pens.
Susan Wirth, the only person with convenient standing height writing tables displayed hundreds of pens, every one inked and ready for testing in every imaginable nib size. No one is more patient and determined to get a customer the right pen and Susan is a walking encyclopedia of pen knowledge. Do you like desk pen bases? Paul Sameth always displays his collection at the show, and they are outstanding. The photos show only a small part, and these beauties are the ones for sale. Desk bases are getting harder to find, especially the nice ones with cast metal figures such as elephants, golfers, and horses. Lately, the only sources I find are on eBay and they go very quickly, but I still find some beauties there. I’ve suggested to pen makers for years to produce them again, and just maybe we will see some really nice new-vintage designs soon.
A very beautiful new line of pens is Taccia International. Owner Shu-Jen Lin attended with her young son and daughter. They were very near my table so I was able to study and appreciate the beautiful materials. Brilliant colors, gold nibs, a great crushed ice pattern that was quickly sold, and some Japanese lacquer design pens.
Tamara Stoneburner from the Washington Calligraphy Guild was demonstrating her calligraphy style on Saturday. If you ever have a chance, just sit and watch a calligrapher. It is almost a Zen experience. I find I hold my breath and concentrate with her as she forms every stroke. Watching the creation is a beautiful experience. I especially liked her gold calligraphy on dark blue papers. Mr. Nakata was so impressed he gave me some special Japanese paper scrolls after the show to have her create appropriate quotations.
So another great DC show has come and gone. Every moment was a wonderful experience. Every table had either a new friend or an old friend, a new story to tell, some history to learn, and always new knowledge that was shared. Of 200 exhibitors I could not mention everyone, hopefully, we’ll have more reports from others to fill in some blanks and share some stories. I look forward to next year and am quite amazed by show host Bob Johnson, his sister Barbara and his family that manage to present such a wonderful show. I just spoke with Bob on Thursday after the show. The show takes almost a year to prepare and it even takes a few days after to wrap it all up.
Hope to see you next year at DC, in the meantime, happy trails spread the word on the pleasures of pen and ink and write someone a nice long letter.
Some submitted photos were provided by courtesy of Jim Mamoulides of PenHero, Jay Pulli, and Elaine of Pentrace.