On Sunday, I attended my first pen show ever, Scriptus 2017 here in Toronto, and boy, was it an experience. Never in my life would I have imagined a day where I would attend an event that is solely filled with fountain pens, pencils, inks, notebooks, etc! Let alone find myself on a lineup behind about 50 people at 10.30am on a Sunday, waiting to purchase a limited edition bottle of brown ink. Yep. How the mighty have fallen.
When I first heard about the event (back in August, I believe, when I was still a fairly new and “closet” fountain pen user), I marked it on my calender as a reminder. Since it was to be held on a Sunday morning, I figured I would probably just pop by in the afternoon to “check things out”. However, when October kicked in, I was browsing the FPN forums when someone mentioned the event and the organizer mentioned that there will be lineup before opening time for the limited edition ink so one should plan to be there early.
Eh? “Limited edition”? I can hear the “限定商品” resounding in my head (sorry, I used to be a collector of other things in the past). Ok, I’m so there. Fine, I’ll just go early.
As the day approached, I did some googling to see what these “pen shows” were about because I just honestly did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t want to end up awkwardly meandearing in a room with old, crusty men sneering at me for touching their precious antique collection when I can’t afford to breathe on them, let alone leave my fingerprints on them. I do apologize to the community for this stereotype but that was the picture when the word “collectors” come into my mind! Or those aloof ’luxury’ MontBlanc stores you see in the airports where you need to wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from the glitter and glare of all the shiny things.
Anyway, my research led me mostly to Youtube videos who seem to have nothing but heaping praises about the community. The major point brought up was about the community being generally split between vintage collectors and everyday “modern” users (who have no qualms about using a never inked vintage pen) and that the larger part of the community in that city would define the tone of the event. This observation could also be representative of the U.S pen scene only and may not translate across the border. Since I’m not familiar with the local pen community nor actively seeking them out, it remained difficult for me to determine what I would expect on the day of the event.
Around this time, I had already joined the PenAddict Slack channel. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to avoid the social part of the community but since I had Slack installed at work, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have something on the side to read during the really slow, quiet days. And boy, everyone seems super nice and helpful in there. In short, nothing I’ve seen so far seems to detract from the fact that it is a really great community!
On the day of the event, I totally forgot that the TTC had shut down the subway lines for several stops along my line. I ended up having to hop on a bus for part of the trip and definitely did not factor in the delay in my plans. Oh well, what would the extra fifteen minutes matter, right? It’s 10am on a Sunday morning … the floor was probably deserted.
I used to live around the area where the event was held (Toronto Reference Library) so I knew the shortest route from the TTC to get there. I didn’t realize the library was closed today and just opened for the event. There were no signs both inside the entrance (other than a piece of paper stuck on the glass door) or outside the building indicating that something was taking place inside the building. Anyone who would have attended this event must have heard about it either by word of mouth (from vendors or friends) or followed the pen community news in some form.
There were several couples in front of me entering the building and since the library was deserted, there’s perhaps a handful of people wandering the halls trying to make their way to the room where the event was held. Okay, so far so good - no crowds, that’s a plus. I can’t imagine there’s that many people at this hour anyway.
Well, that was until I arrived at the event room, because never in my imagination would I have expected to be greeted by something like this…
The picture above was taken while I was in line to purchase the ink, which was approximately 23 minutes after the official show opening time. When I arrived, the usher announced that I could go in immediately or line up here (which started outside the doors) to purchase the limited edition ink. So I joined the line and had plenty of time to observe the packs of people walking on the floor. I’m completely mind-boggled by the amount of people that were there. Where on earth did they come from?! It’s not even half an hour after the opening time… were they really here just for pens, ink and paper? We have people from all ages here, from the elderly looking all the way to young children running around! In general, I would say most of the attendees were primarily in the 30-50s. Wow.
I grew up in Southeast Asia where stationery events weren’t that uncommon, but they were typically really pink and frilly events and packed with young women and teenagers. Huge banners with cartoon characters on them would hang over the walls. That’s why my mind can’t seem to compute this picture I’m witnessing with my eyes.
After I got hold of the inks, I proceeded to check each table out, starting from the smaller end of the room which conveniently was where I had been standing anyway. Right off the bat, on the table near the inks, I met Darrin from Timber Elegance who had some seriously handmade stuff. I surreptiously avoided looking at the hand-turned fountain pens because I really didn’t want to buy anymore steel-nibbed patterned resin barrel fountain pens however pretty they may be. But he had some handmade wooden pen trays for $45 which was something I’ve been looking for to store my pens inside my drawer.
Then I laid my eyes on this letter opener. Seriously, I would have overlooked it but the gentlemen beside me was trying to decide if he wanted to buy it or one of the other design that he held in his hand. I was waiting to pay for the pen tray so I figured I’d take a closer look and instantly adored the pattern variance. I would describe it as ruby colored with a splash of vanilla ice cream (sorry Darrin!).
I debated if I really needed it because it’s a freaking letter opener! How many letters do I get to justify owning it? I only have two pen pals to date. While I may get bills in the mail, I most certainly do not slice them open when I can just tear them open and throw away the envelopes after. Eventually, after an internal debate war, I decided to plunk down the $25 for it. If nothing else, it will serve as a great conversation piece.
Moving on, I wandered around looking at the different vintage pen offerings but not seeing anything that particularly struck my interest. At some point in my hobby, I had decided to limit myself to buying Sailors and Pelikans. Sailors, because I’m in love with their nibs and you simply can’t go wrong with them. Pelikans, because after owning one tortoiseshell-brown barrel, I decided I want them all! :D Every brand wants to release limited editions to keep the money flowing. If I start to consider other brands, it would a rabbit hole I cannot get myself out of so by limiting myself to these two brands, it would be a little easier on the wallet (lies).
Fortunately, this “limitation” helped because there was a serious amount of Parkers being exhibited that day. By knowing exactly what I want, it was easy to weed through all the different offerings. I eventually reached Philip Akin’s table and a quick glance laid my eyes on the Pelikan M800 Renaissance Brown. Okay, take a deep breath here … okay, I need some oxygen here. This pen is actually my holy grail pen. Sure, pen veterans will probably roll their eyes here but to someone who just started the hobby this year, this pen was the one that actually brought the “Pelikan” brand into the periphery of my mini pen collection.
When I first saw it online, I knew I wanted one. However, this pen cost half a grand in the States. At that time, I did not own a single Pelikan in my collection so it was stab in a dark to get one, particularly such an expensive one. After reading about it and about the different pen sizes in the line, I concluded that it was perhaps a touch too large for me and if I wasn’t able to use it on a daily basis, it most certainly does not justify paying the price tag. Eventually, I managed to hold a M400 in my hand while browsing one afternoon at Laywine’s and I figured it couldn’t be worth the price after all if all that’s different was its size (a grave misconception here). Around this time, I came across the M400 Tortoiseshell-Brown at a reasonable price and settled to buy that instead.
Now back to the event, this pen of my dreams laid on a box available for anyone to get their grubby paws on. Mr. Akins was busy having a conversation with someone and didn’t seem concerned at all when I lifted it up (I did try to make some eye contact before doing so but he was really busy). Once I had it in my hands, I knew I had made a grave misconception about the difference between the M400 and M800. There was a distinct heft to the pen that did not exist with the M400, one I would expect at this price tag, and it wasn’t THAT big a pen as I had imagined. Definitely larger than what I was used to but not necessarily unwieldy or awkward when held in hand. The level of covetousness within me sky-rocketed at that point. It was an expensive purchase and not one to be made hastily so I calmly placed it back in the box.
Then I laid my eyes on a vintage Pelikan 400 Tortoishell-Brown in his collection! And priced at $125! I immediately took a closer look and its external appearance was fairly scratched up, nor did it have the original nib (bummer!). That explained the price tag. However, when I test dipped it, the nib exhibited some flex and also had a really fine point! Finer than any modern Pelikan EF, that’s for sure. But the barrel was so much love!
While I desired to collect all the tortoiseshell patterned pens from Pelikan, it wasn’t something I actively seek out to buy. I guess that was the charm of a pen show - I could just browse around and hope to find something that I was keeping an eye out that falls within my price range. Since I was primarily interested in the barrel per say, I decided to buy it. And it’s a purchase I do not regret at all since the nib is a joy to play with. I just hope to one day be able to identify the make of the nib.
While paying for the pen, I took the opportunity to ask him about the Renaissance Brown. He quoted me a price that was significantly cheaper than what I would have expected (especially since there will be no tax on top of the price). I may be able to purchase it from an online European dealer at a slightly cheaper price but the duties and taxes when it arrives in Canada would have exceeded this price he quoted. Similarly, there was a retailer on the floor who sold the same pen and had it listed $300 more (this, of course, includes warranty from an authorized Canadian retailer). In short, I have much to think about but didn’t want to jump head-in too early in the show. Secretly, I also hoped that someone would purchase it before me, hence eliminating the option.
Meanwhile, I moved on to the rest of the show. I picked up some Robert Oster inks, of which I had a pre-made list on hand though I eventually grabbed an extra color because they had a 3-for-$50 deal. I visited every table that had vintage pens but I never did find another Pelikan on them. There was a seller from the U.S who had some but they were priced in USD and were the green-striped barrels of which I already owned one. So I moved on.
Then there was a serious line-up that obstructed my path at some point so I asked them what they were lining up for. Apparently, it was a line up for Wonderpens.ca - wow, seriously? On other tables, people just swarm around it. Apparently it’s a different deal here. I’ll admit they have some seriously wicked stuff on their tables. I even spied some ブングボックス inks on their table - that must be the “new stuff” they had mentioned on their blog, and the Franklin-Christoph prototype pens. I have so much inks these days, I’ve decided not to consider any more of these Japanese ones, especially since I’m planning a trip to Japan next year. I’m also stocked to the brim on notebook paper and already blew my fountain pen budget for the month before even attending the event (hey, it’s held on the third last day of the month, okay? What did you expect?). In short, I didn’t want to look at their table because the less I know about their offerings, the safer my wallet would be.
Now a couple of nights before, I was seriously considering buying a TWSBI 580 AL in turquoise. I currently own a silver 580 Mini which had taken some serious abuse (including dropping off the table twice) and as time passed, I’m starting to shy away from “pocket sized” pens. It’s one of the pens I use in the office and since I write in occasional spurts, the act of repeatedly having to post the pen after uncapping it was starting to grate on me. While I enjoyed the design of the pen and its functionality but it was time to graduate to a full size version. Naturally, if I’m going to buy one, it’s gotta be in a limited edition color!
The problem was, the turquoise version was released earlier this year and most retailers no longer have it in stock. The various online stores that do have it were either marking it up in price or located in another country where importing it would be costly. I wasn’t that desperate to buy one at the inflated price. It still grates me that I was right in front of a bunch of them when I was shopping in Singapore earlier this year and did not have the foresight to purchase one then.
Back to the event, I finally ended up at Stylo.ca’s table and while casually browsing their offerings, my eyes instantly snagged on a TWSBI 580 AL in turquoise! It was the only one among the regular silver versions. I immediately grabbed it - gosh, I do adore the color - and asked them for the price. I was quote $85, which was just slightly over the regular price that Wonderpens.ca would have sold it for. But it was the exact color I wanted it and no tax to boot! Had I bought it when it first came out, I wouldn’t have been able to get it at this price so this was a reasonable deal. It did come with a M nib so I asked if they would exchange it for … a stub? :D Haha, even the salesperson looked dubious at that, so I suggested an EF otherwise. All the silver ones had EFs so we exchanged for that. Woot, can’t believe I managed to snag a turquoise after all this time and at a decent price too!
Next, I passed by Sean Grosse whose table was super busy. I brought my grandpa’s Sheaffer PFM III today to be restored and was looking around for someone to do it so I was hoping to stop by his table. For all the newbies to pen shows out there, apparently you have to take a number and wait in line if you wish to engage in their services. Naturally, I didn’t know that so I figured I’d circle back later when there were less people.
The raffle table was next. To be honest, there wasn’t anything on the table that I was particular interested in. However, I must admit that I did enjoy my time so far and would like to contribute my portion of “an entrance fee” by investing in the raffle tickets. I just selected some random ones with a fountain pen (hey, if I could get a fountain pen out of it, why not?) and dropped my tickets in.
Moving on, I stopped by CoHobbiyist’s table. I had discovered them online some time back when I was looking up Tomoe River notebooks and found them carrying the Tarako Design branded ones. They also carried the A5 shitajiki’s with guide lines that I needed for writing on blank paper. This was something I’ve been trying to find in Canada as shitajiki’s are very Japanese in nature and even those sold online were typically blank plastic sheets. Since I couldn’t justify paying for the online shipping, I was quite happy to see that they had a table at the event and picked up a notebook and the said shitajiki, as well as a bottle of Papier Plume ink. They were also the only company I knew that charged HST that day. Oh well.
This pretty much sums up most of my adventures visiting the various tables in the event. There were of course many other retailers at the event, most of which I just gave a cursory glance of their wares because I was simply not interested in Aurora’s, or Montegrappa’s, or Montblanc’s, or Parkers, or [insert other well-known brands here].
At this point, I circled back to Sean Grosse’s table hoping to have him take a look at my grandpa’s Sheaffer pen. There was no one at the table so I approached him when he grunted that I need to take a number as there is a line-up. Geez, okay - would have been grateful if you had put up a sign or something for us noobs new to the process. So I took a number and realized there was a really long queue ahead. I waited for a bit but seeing that there were at least 15 people ahead of me and I had already gone around the room twice, I decided to seek out David Armstrong’s table instead. I simply wasn’t that desperate to hang around for the next two hours or so, and if my grandpa’s pen have been in storage for 20 years, I’m sure it can stand to be stored for another year.
So I circled back to the entrance area and engaged Mr. Armstrong in a conversation. I had passed his table earlier hoping to ask him if he could take a look at the pen but he was busy entertaining customers so I chose to wait till I could get his attention. I finally found him freed from the stream of customers and presented him with the pen for his opinion. He took a look at it and fiddled with it and then described the snorkel mechanism to me as well as the details of the restoration work involved. We had a pleasant conversation and he said we can meet up in a few weeks at Green Beanery to get it done. Sounds like a solid deal, especially since he’s local, so we went through the administrative work and I handed the pen over. Nice and clean.
At this point, I was ready to leave. The Renaissance Brown was still in the back of my mind so I hopped back to table to see if it was still there. “Unfortunately”, it was still there (sigh!) so I asked Mr. Akins what nib size it was because in my excitement before, I didn’t bother asking about it. He said it was broad nib which was excellent, because I really wanted an EF nib. He explained that he brought in a broad nib because with a broad nib, you could have it ground to whatever nib size you wanted. Makes perfect sense, but for a fountain pen newbie user like me, and after seeing Sean Grosse’s line up (there didn’t seem to be any other nibmeister around who was providing on-site services that day), it just didn’t seem like a great deal for me anymore. So I said farewell to that pen and headed out after that.
And that was my first pen show ever. To sum it up, it was a fun experience. Definitely not how I had envisioned it would be so I’m really glad it was a pleasant surprise. I also spent more money than I had originally budgeted for the trip. But all in all, they were pretty decent deals so I’m happy and definitely can’t wait for Scriptus 2018!