From destinations around the globe, fountain pen enthusiasts, collectors, brands, store owners, pen makers, and more flock to the ‘show of shows,’ the ‘big one,’ the self-proclaimed ‘super show,’ you know ‘the one.’ That’s right, I am talking about the Washington DC pen show that takes place annually the first weekend of August at the Marriot Fairview in Falls Church, Virginia, located just outside the United States capital.
The DC show is a pen show on steroids. It’s a pen, ink, and paper lovers’ paradise. Three days of wall-to-wall pens from modern to vintage, as well as small independent makers, this show has something for everyone. I attended all three days of the DC show—all day Friday and Saturday, and a small portion of Sunday, since I had an afternoon flight. By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I still feel like I did not get to see it all!
When I first set foot into the grand ballroom of the DC pen show, I was completely overwhelmed with sensory overload and excitement. It was a mixture of seeing so many pens and enthusiasts in one place and prospects of what I might encounter. The ballroom was packed with so many people all in attendance with a common passion, the love of all things fountain pen and fountain pen related. Each of us were present for that perfect find and perhaps the discovery of something new, like a new brand, or something old, like a rare vintage find. With a show as grand as this, anything is possible.
Many mainstream brands were represented by their respected distributors. Kenro Industries had plenty of Esterbrook pens and novelties like notebooks and page holders that was popular with show attendees. On display was the newest edition to the Esterbrook line up, the Camden Northern Lights, which features special Diamoncast pen material by Tim McKenzie. The Esterbrook Candy was there of course, along with the two newest colors of the JR Paradise series, Key Lime and Purple Passion. Kenro also had a healthy display of Aurora pens, Y Studio pens, Otto Hutt pens.
Yafa Brands had their tables lined with an assortment of their popular European brands including Maiora, Diplomat, and Pineider, which featured Dante Del Vecchio’s newest design for Pineider, the Matrix. A huge poster behind Yafa’s main table announced the return of Delta with a large image of the Delta 39+1 limited edition celluloid fountain pen. The Yafa side table had a variety of Monteverde, Conkiln, and Yookers pens, which are very popular with fountain pen consumers.
Luxury Brands also had a pleasing assortment of pens from their brand line-up that included the sophisticated metal pens of Waldmann and a considerable selection of Platinum pens suitable for every budget. The tempting displays for Gioia and Benu pens were enough to make me want one of each pen! Or at least wish I could buy a pen for everyone I knew—if only I were filthy rich!
Coles of London brought their brand line-up to DC including many Visconti pens. It was a treat to see so many beautiful Visconti pens including the newest Matte Black Divina along with every Van Gogh pen all lined up neatly in a row. A nice woman seated next to the Van Gogh pens told me that these pens were calling her name. Oh, how I could relate! Coles also displayed new designs from S.T. Dupont and Visconti that we can expect to see very soon from our favorite retailers. Coles also had a very rare S.T. Dupont pen displayed at their table called The Eagle, which only eight of these pens exist. The retail price for this pen is $30,000 US and was likely the most expensive pen I saw over the weekend. It is quite the substantial pen and would make a bold statement.
Some very popular retailers were also in attendance including Dromgoole’s, my hometown brick and mortar pen shop, and Appelboom, which now has a brick and mortar in Boston. If you are not able to attend the DC show, the next best thing is to visit these retailers in person for an immersive experience. These two stores also offer their selections online if visiting the actual store is not an option. Dromgoole’s ink selection at the show was stellar, in fact, a few times I directed people towards the Dromgoole tables to find their ink solutions. Appelboom’s Leonardo game was strong! I have never seen so many Leonardo pens in one place, it was glorious. If you are a Leonardo fan, Appelboom is one of the few retailers who carry the popular Italian brand. Joost Appelboom was in attendance as well and personally handing stroopwaffles to everyone who approached his table.
Downstairs, below the grand ballroom, several makers were in attendance, including Jonathan Brooks who has collaborated with Leonardo several times by providing his unique resin blanks for limited edition pens. He had several of his pens displayed, but he also brought along his daughter who showed her beautiful pen creations created from pen blanks she designed herself. I also had the pleasure of chatting with several independent makers present including Little Pen Designs, Turnt Pen Company, Lucky Star, Ironfeather Creative, Tesori Italy, and Hardy Penwrights, who I asked several questions about their materials and process. It is a learning experience gaining an understanding regarding how someone gets into making pens and how they do it.
I spoke to Gregory Hardy of Hardy Penwrights about a spectacular display on his table called the Battle of Kings desk set. Hardy put 600 working hours into building this set, which is inspired by the popular show Games of Thrones. As it turns out, he is a huge fan of the show! I was thoroughly impressed by the artistry and details displayed in this desk set.
Galen Leather had a multi-table display filled with their supple leather pen cases and folios. The smell of these products is so divine! Galen brought their leather favorites as well as new leather designs that are so new, they are not on the website yet. This wonderful company makes me feel like family whenever I visit with them. What I love about Galen’s products is that there is something for everyone. Whether you carry 2 pens, 12 pens, 60 pens—there is a case for you. There are even cases for those who like to carry a notebook and pens together.
Finally, I would like to mention some independent brands in attendance that in my opinion are worth keeping your eye on because they are making pens that are unique. I had the pleasure of meeting Ben Walsh of Gravitas pens for the first time in DC. Walsh is the designer and owner of Gravitas Pens based in Dublin, Ireland. Gravitas pens are great quality metal pens that are affordable and range in various sizes from pocket pens to full size pens. Prior to the DC show, I had already seen the buzz online about these pens from other reviewers. Once I saw Gravitas pens in person, I understood what the buzz is about. There is something special about these pens.
Magna Carta, based out of Mumbai, India had some of the most interesting pen designs that I have ever seen. One design that stood out was the Sapphire Grand pen that looks like a pen made from Grandma’s candy dish. It’s a demonstrator pen that has a color coordinated ebonite feed. There were so many unique designs on the Magna Carta table that I wanted one of each design! Keep your eye on this brand because I guarantee Magna Carta will appear on retailer websites in the future.
There is so much to cover from the Washington DC pen show that it would fill up several pages. Everything mentioned in this article was just the highlights through my experience, and I cannot even begin to tell you what a pleasure it was to attend this year. This pen show is the destination pen show that pen lovers everywhere should add to their bucket list. You must go to the DC show at least once or make it an annual trip that will become a tradition. Guaranteed, you will have an excellent time, make new friends (that’s me with John Foye of St. John’s Pens), and discover pens that you never knew you needed.
Huge thanks to the following people for the photos provided for this article:
Brett F. Braley-Palko of Kenro Industries
John Lane of Coles of London
Joost Appelboom of Appelboom Pens
Joe Little of Little Pen Designs
Gregory Hardy of Hardy Penwrights
Ben Walsh and Amy Lee of Gravitas Pens
Hiren Kanakhara of Magna Carta Pens