After months of anticipation, planning, saving, and more planning, the San Francisco International Pen Show has come and gone in an all-too-brief weekend. With a budget set in my account and a box full of samples from the office in my car, I made the quick six hour road trip from LA to SF. Here is what I saw, and a hint of what I brought back with me.
This was my first visit to the SF Pen Show and my first trip to the region in about a decade. I drove up from LA along the same stretch of 5 Freeway we used to take on family trips to my grandparent’s house, because anyone who has THIS MANY fountain pens has a pretty strong sense of nostalgia.
The convention was hosted at the Pullman San Francisco Bay hotel in Redwood City, and the show floor encompassed the main ballroom, one smaller adjacent room for additional vendors, and the foyer/lobby area between the two. This was already a noticeable improvement in facilities compared to the most recent Los Angeles Pen Show which had attendees traverse through to the back of the hotel, down a staircase, and around a corner just to find the entrance. The show was already off to a great start.
The show floor was a familiar sight; tables placed end-to-end completely covered by pens, inks, notebooks, and all manner of odd-and-ends from a wide range of independent and online vendors. There were more vintage Pelikan and Parker pens at this show than I have ever seen in one place before; dozens of binder cases displaying generations of classic writing tools as far as the eye can see. There were new pen makers, old pen makers, tables with hand-bound notebooks and more than a few familiar faces and trusted online retailers. There were plenty of opportunities to spend money, and oh boy did I spend. More on that later.
One of the most popular attractions at the show (aside from the Franklin-Christoph table) was the several ink testing stations set up throughout the area. run by the Bay Area Pen Posse, these stations give show-goers the opportunity to try hundreds of inks from several manufacturers without having to buy samples or take a chance on a new bottle. Because I am also a poor planer, I didn’t think to bring a designated ink testing notebook to keep things organized. I ended up using last year’s Hobonichi Techo since I had more than a few blank pages of that good good Tomoe River paper just waiting to be used. And because of the ink testing stations, I was able to try out Monteverde’s new “Sweet Life” line of ink, and even bought a two bottles once I was able to make an informed decision. The ink testing stations are a brilliant addition to the show, just make sure you bring something to test on. Otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of the paper scraps. But then again, there was no shortage of notebooks available for purchase at the show. Forgetting an ink book wouldn’t be the end of the world.
One thing I’ve always loved about the convention scene, whether it be SDCC, PAX, or one of the smaller (but still massive) “Comic Cons” that happen around the LA area, is that you can walk into that huge room and immediately know that everyone here likes at least SOME of the same things you do. There’s immediately a common ground between everyone. As a person who often struggles with anxiety of meeting new people or just operating in overwhelmingly crowded spaces, I felt very at ease at this show. The staff was very welcoming, each vendor or exhibitor greeted everyone with a smile, and people were simply… Nice. Even on Saturday, the most crowded day where people are turning and contorting just to get around each other between tables, it never felt like the sardine can that San Diego has turned into over the past decade or so. Did I bump shoulders with people trying to navigate the floor? Sure. Was it a race to see who could politely apologize first after every minor bump? Absolutely. Seriously, this was one of the most polite and cordial convention crowds I have ever experienced.
The Show Within The Show
Aside from providing ample opportunities to part with your hard-earned dollars, the SF Pen Show offers a few instructional seminars lead by independent and respected members of the community. Seminars included subjects like lettering and calligraphy, craft organization, and nib grinding; they all sounded very interesting, though ultimately I didn’t attend any of them. One extra-curricular event I did attend was the live recording of The Pen Addict Podcast episode 373. As a long time listener, and someone who credits that podcast as an inspiration for my own humble blog, it was a delight to see Brad, Myke, and Ana hanging out and talking about pens for a while. During this recording, the hosts also interviewed Hugh and Karol of Kanilea Pen Co., and if you haven’t yet I highly recommend giving that episode a listen.
For those not familiar, Kanilea Pen Co. specializes in beautiful and unique pens with designs and patterns inspired by photographs taken at various locations on the Hawaiian Islands. Hearing their story, the inspiration behind their company, and why they feel so strongly about sharing these functional pieces of artwork with the pen “Ohana” really struck a chord with me. I won’t dive too deep into it here, but Hugh and Karol were kind enough to listen as I shared my thoughts and experiences about the Big Island. A Kanilea Pen is still an aspiration item for me, and it’ll be a while before I get to own one myself, but these two are a shining example of what makes this hobby and industry so great. Take a few minutes to browse their website; you’ll see what I mean.
I’m pretty blown away by my experience with the SF Pen show. Los Angeles may be my home show, but it has some serious work to do if it wants to be on San Francisco’s level. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the show and meeting all sorts of fun and interesting people, I am also lucky enough to have attended in an official capacity on behalf of Pentel of America. HUGE thanks to my boss’ for being receptive to exploring new territories. (I was 100% going to go anyways, but the support is nice.)
Many (MANY) people traveled from far and wide for this show. Some lucky ones are able to call SF their “Home Show.” If you have any inclination to attend a pen show, and you are physically/financially able to do so, the San Francisco International Pen Show is a must-see. This is THE fun pen show.
For more photos from the show and of what I bought, follow me on Instagram