The Baltimore Pen Show was this past weekend, and I officially have a favorite pen show. Over the past few years, I’ve hit a decent number of pen shows on the East Coast, and Baltimore is a firm favorite now. When I went last year, I was still fairly new to pen shows in general, as well as the fountain pen hobby, so I was still feeling out just what this pen stuff was all about. But now that I have additional perspective, I can see the care that goes into the planning of Baltimore, and just how great of a show it is. Despite all the other stuff going on (more on that later), I had an absolute blast at the show.
This year was at a new venue, the Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, which is smack dab in the middle of downtown. I live just outside of Baltimore, so it was a quick drive in to the show for me. Not quite as quick as last year, which was only about five minutes from my house, but still not bad. Being downtown makes a lot more food and hangout options available to show attendees, but it does bring its own challenges. For example, parking last year was free, this year was $30 a day. That’s on par for downtown Baltimore, but it can take away from your show budget a bit, especially if you’re there for all three days.
There were definitely more vendors this year. The show floor itself was great, nice and spacious, and broken up into two rooms. Almost every show I’ve been too lately has been two rooms, so that’s not a big deal to me, but I know that does bother some people. I think that’s just a byproduct of growing larger. Not every table was full all of the days, but there was still more than enough room for everyone.
The Baltimore Pen Show had some unique vendors this year as well. Maryland hosts a suprising number of pen-related makers, folks who I’ve never seen at any other show. Write Notepads had a table, and Organic Studios debuted an ink and had a table of their own. There were also a few other smaller vendors that showed up here and there from in Baltimore, which was neat to see. It’s always nice when the locals have a good representation at their own show. And of course, the usual suspects were out in force, too.
And for the first time, I got to experience life on the other side of the table. The guys over at Story Supply Co asked if I would be willing to help out at their table some this weekend, and I was happy to agree. They’re great guys and good friends, and I figured that if I was behind a table, it was harder to spend money! That almost worked, except that I could see the Vanness Pens table from our spot, which lead to a lot of ink purchases.
A shot from behind the table
I bought a ton of ink from Vanness, mostly because it’s so much easier to get a chance to see a swab in person, and to talk it over, and not to have to worry about shipping a glass bottle through the postal service. I also picked up a Franklin-Christoph Model 20 prototype in a neat swirl blue, and had Jim put a Medium SIG nib on it, which is just one of my favorite nib types out there. But the shopping was kind of secondary for the weekend.
The weekend haul
But these days, pen shows have really become about the people for me. It’s so easy to feel like a bit of an oddball when you’re all the way down the pen rabbit hole, and a weekend filled with people who share your passion is a big part of why it’s so great to go to pen shows. And the great people were there in spades.
Each night of the show, there was some sort of after hours event specifically designed to get you face to face with other pen lovers, to help you learn about new topics, or just to play with pens. The pen mixer hosted by Brad from The Pen Addict and Lisa Vanness on Friday night was great, and the “official” Pen Show After Dark hosted by Kenro on Saturday was really just an excuse to steal a few tables and play with pens and ink. I saw pens I never even thought I’d touch, talked ink and nibs, and just had a great time at each of the events.
Pen shows after dark
And that was just what I needed. On Friday morning, we lost power at my house from the crazy windstorm that blew through, and that power stayed off until Sunday afternoon. I haven’t talked about it much on here, but I have a five month old daughter now, so letting her and my wife just sit in a cold house wasn’t really an option. So, they came and stayed in the show hotel. All that going on definitely added a bunch of stress, and yet the compassion and kindness from folks at the show helped alleviate that in a big way. As an unexpected benefit, that meant that my wife and daughter got to come and see the show floor multiple times, and Edith was a big hit.
Edith seeing her first pen show
When I started going to pen shows, there were online acquaintances that I met face to face. I’d introduce myself by my handle, shake a hand, share some niceties, and then kind of go separate ways. These days, though, going to a pen show is about seeing friends new and (relatively) old. Hugs are exchanged, life is discussed, and real friendship is shared. I met up with people that I had only just sent letters to during InCoWriMo, and hung out with friends that I met all the way back at my first pen show.
It’s why Baltimore has skyrocketed to my favorite show by far. DC is great shopping, and Atlanta has a great “family” feel to it, but Baltimore is “my” show. Friends from far and wide come to my city and we play with pens, ink, and paper. What more could you ask for? I can’t wait for the next one.