Chicago Pen Show 2016

by Sunita

As readers of this blog know, I’m a fountain pen user from way back. But I’ve never been to a pen show, and I didn’t even know they existed until the wonders of the internet enlightened me. This year I discovered that the Chicago show coincided with the weekend after the end of classes, so TheHusband and I decided to combine a quick holiday with attending our first show.

Neither one of us are pen collectors per se; we both have more pens that we can use in our regular rotation, which makes me, at least, anxious that I’m not treating them properly. We have old but not vintage pens, valuable but not “collector” pens. You get the idea. But I’d been having trouble with one of my nibs, and pen shows have highly skilled nibmeisters on the premises. Plus, all those pens. So off we went.

We were staying in the city near Lake Michigan and the pen show was held in the northwestern suburbs. Since we couldn’t leave home until Saturday morning, we spent the rest of the day we arrived in the city and then drove out to the pen show on Sunday. We got there around noon and bought daily passes. We were immediately drawn to the Franklin-Christoph table (more about that in a bit). I’d read about these pens but seeing them in person was much more satisfying, and they had the full range of nibs available for testing.

We wandered into the main room, which was about the size of a ballroom, and were immediately overwhelmed. So many pens. If you’re a Parker fan you have tables and tables to choose from, but all the brands were well represented. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming to newbie visitors. I chatted with one vintage pen collector/seller, who listened to my description of my faulty nib and thought it was just in need of a simple adjustment. He kindly pointed me to the nibmeister present, Linda Kennedy, whose named I recognized from the Fountain Pen Network website. I wandered over and put my name on her list.

When it was my turn, Linda looked at my pen and asked me some searching questions about how it was being used (had anyone else written with it, etc.). Then she had me write a few words so she could see my style. At first when she asked me if I rotated my nib, i.e., if I wrote with the nib turned toward me, I said no, but then I thought about it and realized I probably did do that, and especially with that particular nib. It also made me realize why I had to have my Montblanc nib repaired. I had no idea I wrote like that, but I could remember the feeling. This article by legendary nibmeister Richard Binder gives you an idea of the different ways writers hold their pens.

Linda worked on the nib and when she was done, it wrote like a dream. While she was working I wrote with one of her signature nib grinds, the Daily Italic, and she told us about how she came to design it. I decided one of my less used pens, a pocket-sized Cross, would be perfect to have modified into that nib. So I signed in again (nibmeisters use sign-in sheets to create a customer work list) and wandered around the hall looking at vintage Pelikans and lots and lots of Parkers.

Meanwhile, Linda fixed one of TheH’s Pelikans, which had become scratchy and uncomfortable. When she was done with that, I sat down with her again to have my Daily Italic ground and he wandered back to the Franklin-Christoph table. I was determined that he should have a new pen and F-C had these beautiful Mike Masuyama nibs, which their in-house nibmeister would then tweak to the buyer’s individual style. It just goes to show that we share a brain, because I would have bought one too, and I didn’t even push him toward that table; he went of his own accord. Really!

TheH returned with his F-C Pocket 20 in vintage green (no clip) just as Linda was finishing my Cross. So he has a new pen and I have two like-new nibs. I kind of covet his F-C, but I’ll get my own Masuyama nib in due time.

Nibmeisters are like any other talented artisans: their work carries their own particular stamp. All three of our nibs are different and they’re all high quality and gorgeous to write with.

I’m really glad I’m not a collector, though. It would be so easy to pick up a Pelikan and/or a Parker from the 1940s/1950s. The great thing about fountain pens is that if they can be reconditioned, they can work regardless of age, and you can always get them tuned to your specifications. And the prices for nib work are ridiculously low given the amount of expertise involved.

Also, did I mention that you can test every ink you can imagine? There are these stations set up with dozens of pens holding inks from Diamine, Private Reserve, Pilot, etc. etc. etc. I wanted to buy everything.

So. Much. Fun. If you ever have a chance to go to a pen show, take it. Just budget beforehand because it’s really easy to get carried away, whether you’re a collector or not.

We didn’t take photos at the pen show, but the husband of the lovely lady (hi Audrey!) who was at the Franklin-Christoph table has a photo-heavy blog post that shows many of the highlights. Go visit!