On Sunday 4th February I attended the first pen show on the UK calendar at the Doubletree Hilton on the outskirts of Bristol. It was also my first pen show, but the coincidence was mainly one of geography as this one is nearest to home. Despite having read reports of last year’s London pen show and various US pen shows, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect out here in the provinces. Luckily I didn’t have to brave things by myself as I managed to persuade my friend, Phil, to tag along. For us newbies, safety in numbers seemed like a good idea.
We managed to arrive not long after things got going so we had a good chance to scout out the stands before the crowds arrived. There was mainly a mixture of retailers and dealers, the Writing Equipment Society, plus renowned UK pen maker Adrian Twiss. I probably should have thought more about what I’d need to write up my trip and taken more note of who else was there, but I’ll plead a novice lack of forethought and feeling like the kid who has been handed the keys to the sweet shop.
Despite there being plenty of pens to drool over, I managed to be restrained and not buy any. I did let the nice people from Pocket Notebooks (in the process of becoming Nero’s Notes) persuade me to buy a Nock Brasstown in the latest fetching shade of orange. I also took a punt on a Life Schopfer notebook. The team were really engaging and we spent a bit of time comparing notes on Japanese stationery and the quest for the perfect notebook. I haven’t previously bought much from these guys, but I will certainly be sending more of my money their way in future.
My overall impression was that everyone was friendly and happy to talk pens, but as Phil put it “there’s not a lot of cash changing hands”. There certainly seemed to be lots of conversations between dealers, but not a lot of buying or selling going on. Maybe this is how pen shows work, with punters poring over pens without much intention of buying. Alternatively, maybe dealers get a little too attached to the pens they acquire and are not entirely unhappy if no-one buys their precious stock. We managed several laps of the room, partly in the hope that if we went round enough times, prices might miraculously come down. Sadly they stood resolutely firm.
Among the retailers there were a variety of offers to be had, although not all of them worked out to be as generous as they first seemed. Given that most people can easily check internet prices from their phones, some of the “offers” did seem a bit cheeky.
Although I didn’t go so far as to buy a pen, I did manage to answer a few questions that I’ve been pondering about possible future purchases.
Pilot Vanishing Point – thanks, but no thanks
Despite its clever design and a nib that everyone raves about, the Pilot Vanishing Point is not for me. The positioning of its clip and my grip are just not compatible. Now I know this I can (sadly) move on.
Sailor Professional Gear – yes please
I’ve been pondering whether to add Sailor to my list and the chance to handle a few confirmed that this would be a good thing. The Professional Gear wins out over the 1911, and although I normally prefer rhodium to gold trim, I was rather taken with the limited edition Earth with its gold finishing. Want one!
Pelikans – to join the flock or not?
My other big unknown was about Pelikan pens. It seems that you’re not allowed to be serious about fountain pens without owning one (or more). I’ve been curious about the M400 White Tortoise for a while, but hadn’t seen one for real. I did find a used one at the show, but it was £300! Considering you can still buy them new for under £200 I thought this was a tad excessive.
My main learning point was that when it comes to Pelikans, size matters. You can find plenty of opinion out there that the M40X is a bit on the small side, and I find myself agreeing with that sentiment. The M60X and M80X are a bit more like it, though.
The M600 falls by the wayside once aesthetics are taken into account as I’m not a huge fan of Pelikan’s stock colours or the current limited edition White Transparent. The M80X ranges – now we’re getting somewhere. I could be seriously tempted by the Stresemann and/or the Ocean Swirl. Both look orders of magnitude better in the flesh than they do in photos. Somehow they manage to be both more striking and more subtle at the same time. I did see one M800 Brown Tortoise. Now that is truly a beautiful pen. Sadly, well out of my price range any time soon.
Is that it?
I enjoyed my trip to Bristol and I suspect this won’t be my last pen show. At the same time I don’t think I’m going to be rushing round the UK ticking off the rest of them. One thing is clear. If I’m serious about buying a pen, then I know I’ll need to go with a much bigger budget. Time to get saving…