Pen shows are back! I’ve never seen so many people look so excited to slowly make their way through a crowded ballroom, even on Saturday at the DC Pen Show! This year was a little different for me, as it was my first time working for Vanness Pens, and it was an absolute blast.

Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost: the mood going into the show was a little weird. COVID-19’s Delta variant is currently running across the US, and cases are climbing all over the place. Thankfully, the DC Pen Show organizers made the early call to require masks, which helped ease concerns somewhat. There was still a bit of uneasiness from a number of the attendees, but I think that’s part of the world we live in right now. On my own end, I am fully vaccinated (and have been since the first moment I was able to get a shot), and made my risk determination as best as I could.

A slightly lower attendance from some of the vendors meant that there was more room in the aisles, which was actually a great change, and not just for social distancing. It’s just refreshing to be able to meander from vendor to vendor with a little less rubbing of shoulders. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of vendors there! Smaller makers, like The Carolina Pen Company, Schon Dsgn, and Ryan Krusac were all in attendance, along with plenty of other purveyors of small-batch pens. A number of the pen show “anchor retailers” were there, like Bittner, Dromgoole’s, and Toys from the Attic, as well as a handful of nib workers. While we were missing a few notable faces, it’s hard to think of any service or retail experience that DC was missing, which was great for attendees!

Friday's ballroom

Speaking of attendees, my spot behind the ink racks at the Vanness tables gave me a really, really fun look into the attendees for this year. It feels like the trends that I had seen in 2019 and early 2020 are continuing nicely: attendees are trending younger and less…stereotypical pen show attendee. The number of younger people that came up looking for something wacky to fill a pen with, or first timers looking for my recommendation on inks was an absolute delight. (Man, just typing that sentence made me feel old.) I talked to whole families that had gotten into pens throughout the pandemic, I watched dads buy a first bottle of ink for their daughters, and a personal favorite, worked with a guy who had been given a detailed shopping list from his wife. He came back on Sunday with new list items, so hopefully he and I pulled it off!

The view from behind the Vanness tables

In the end, that’s what I always have loved about pen shows: the people. New faces, old faces, and close friends coming together and being a little weird about our obsession together. Dinners swapping gossip about this or that pen brand’s newest product, friends stopping by the table to make sure that I had a chance to snag a lunch, or evenings in the bar playing with collections that far exceed my own.

If I do my math right, I’ve been coming to the DC Pen Show for five years now, and it feels like coming home now. Here’s hoping that we can continue to work on our vaccination rates and getting together again for many years to come!


Oh right, the haul! Working behind the ink tables meant that I had ample opportunity to decide on what inks I was looking for, and being two tables down from Pilot USA meant I had urushi on the mind. So, lots of Vinta inks came back with me, along with a TWSBI Go to play with some of the Ancient Charm shimmers. I’m super interested to see how Yafa does with the revival(?) of Tibaldi, so a BB nib with an ebonite feed somehow found its way into my pocket as well. And you’ve gotta have paper for all of that ink to go on, so I stopped by the newcomer Odyssey Notebooks for a wide expanse of Tomoe River. And how could I skip a Gritty shirt?!