DC Pen Show 2023 - A Return to Form

In my 7 years of attending the DC Pen Show, I have never seen it as packed as I saw this weekend. The DC Pen Show calls itself the “Fountain Pen Supershow”, and for the first time in a really, really long time, I think it actually lived up to that moniker. There’s still room for it to grow and evolve, but maybe there’s something to this pen show thing after all.

First, a little background: the DC Pen Show has had some truly fascinating growing pains over these past seven years. Right after I attended my first show, they found they had outgrown their old hotel, and moved to the Marriott Falls Church Fairview Park, where they’ve been since 2017. Then, just as it seemed as though they had started to move through the growing pains of a new hotel, COVID disrupted the entire pen show scene with all of the delicacy of a sledgehammer to the noggin. And last year, the Marriott started some heinous renovations that severely limited after hours hangouts, and spread the show over two floors of the hotel.

So, as show time drew closer, we all kept a wary eye. “What do you mean, ‘the whole hotel is sold out?’” “Now that the renovations are done, will there still be the downstairs ballroom? What about hangout space?” I am pleased to report that, while there’s still room for improvement, our fears were mostly unfounded. The Fountain Pen Supershow is, after a few of missteps, pretty super again.

I was working for the Vanness table again, as I have for the past few years, and while I consider it a pretty busy table, I’ve NEVER seen crowds like what we all had this past weekend. I knew something was up when quick chats with other vendors on Friday afternoon all seemed to be some variation of “did Friday feel super busy to you too?” Saturday was absolutely mobbed. At one point, I’m pretty sure I was five people deep just in folks waiting to checkout, and we ended up disassembling our paper displays by Sunday morning, simply because there wasn’t anything left to put in them! The vast majority of vendors I talked to all agreed: this was either the best show they’ve ever had in terms of sales, or in the top three. And while I don’t know the specific numbers for Lisa (I’m just a hired gun, after all!), I know I’ve never worked as hard at a pen show, that’s for sure.

And speaking of vendors, it wasn’t just a huge number of attendees at the show. I heard a number thrown around of more than 400 tables spread across THREE ballrooms, and I’d believe it. Tons of indie makers with wide displays of swirly acrylic, some old and new faces in the pen storage options, and a veritable ocean of ink. A personal highlight was the Kobe Nagasawa table, who brought their exclusive Sailor pens, as well as a gorgeous custom 3776 that found its way home with me. Whatever your shopping fancy, the show had you set.

While I didn’t have time to check any out, I was quite surprised by the number of seminars and workshops that the show had as well. There were plenty of the usual suspects, but also some talks that broke the mold a bit, like the bag workshop from Mike Matteson. Historically, this has been kind of a weak point for the DC show, so it was awesome to see a wide variety of options. If I had to nitpick anything, it’s that I’m finding out about these cool classes AFTER the show, but  that’s partially on me, since I had already assumed I wouldn’t be able to attend any.

After hours, the show was a great time, too! The hotel bar suffered from a lack of well, any acoustic design, making it cacophonous, but people eventually spread out more into the lobby and back into the old bar area, making the later nights a little more bearable.

A shot into the bar scene

Honestly, while I don’t know that there is such as thing as a “perfect pen show”, I think the DC Pen Show got the closest to the platonic ideal of East Coast show as they could. Complaints I heard were minor (spread out ballrooms, cramped aisles), and I haven’t even heard of any major thefts, which is quite the relief. After all these years, I think the DC Pen Show finally had a real hit on their hands. I certainly had a blast, and I can’t wait until next year already! Once my feet and voice recover, that is.

A quick haul pic

Also, just to make sure I catch a few other early show recaps:

April from Penguin Post
Joe from The Gentleman Stationer