I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to visit a pen show for a while now. As luck would have it, the Los Angeles International Pen Show is hosted just a short drive down the freeway.
LA Pen Show Basics
The LA Pen show has been an annual event since 1989 and is one of only two pen shows on the west coast. The expo takes place at the Manhattan Beach Marriot and is open to the public for only the final day of the show with tickets available at Seven dollars and can be purchased on site. If you want to spend more time at the show, “Trader” registration is available for $55 if you register early. Trader registration gives you access to the show for all four days starting on Thursday, so you can really take your time and visit each table without having to push through crowds. If you aren’t able to register early, or you are looking for one specific item, the seven dollar general admission on Sunday is enough to get in, push through, and see everything in an afternoon.
Boots on the Ground Reporting
If you have ever been to a convention like San Diego Comic Con, Wonder-Con, or any of the comic expos, you’re well prepared for the Los Angeles Pen Show. It’s on the smaller side, taking up only the Ballroom of the Marriott, and the surrounding hallway, and the staff is very efficient at processing ticket sales at the front door. I arrived at around 10:30 to a line that was stretched across the lobby and down the hall all the way to the parking elevators. As a veteran of SDCC’s infamous Hall H line, I wasn’t worried about having to wait, but the line moved pretty steadily and I was in the show by 11:00.
Fresh through the admission gate, you’re dropped into the hall surrounding the ballroom. This area seems to be devoted mainly to the more contemporary vendors. Karas Kustoms, Vanness Pens, and many other retailers selling new pens, inks, and accessories line the perimeter with full displays of their products. It is very common to see testing stations set up so you can try before you buy.
Once you enter the main show floor, it’s like stepping into a completely different show. The ballroom is packed with both smaller private vendors as well as online retailers like Nibs.com and Anderson Pens. The vendor tables are tightly organized to maximize the display space, creating a sea of vintage and high end pens, replacement parts, repair tools, inks, and more. One table even had a crate of old ink bottles in various levels of degradation. I really had to stop myself from buying a few of those, maybe next time.
Having prepared a list and budget before the show, I was in and out in about two and a half hours having found most of what I was looking for and staying under budget. VERY uncharacteristic of me when it comes to conventions, but what can I say, I’ve matured. My list was fairly short. I wanted to pick up some KWZ ink from Vanness, a FountainK from Karas Kustoms, check out prices on some TWSBI 580s, and look for anyone selling custom pre-ground nibs. I ended up with an olive FountainK with a brass section and the EF nib. Vanness had a huge variety of ink available, but I stuck to my original objective of KWZ Honey ink, but added in a couple Lamy cartridges and one NockCo Dot-Dash pads. Inside the main hall, I pulled a wild card and bought some Scribe’s Ink. I hadn’t heard of the brand before, but their Cabernet Savignon ink looked great. I’m currently testing it in the Metropolitan converter to see how it holds in the pen. I also grabbed a small TWSBI notebook, since I’ve been meaning to test the paper.
I didn’t end up picking up another TWSBI this time. Since I already have two ECOs, and just picked up the FountainK, another TWSBI would just be overkill. If there was anyone there selling individual nibs with custom grinds, I didn’t see them. I did, however, spend a few minutes watching The Nibsmith work. His corner spot right next to the Vanness booth allowed for a somewhat quiet work space, and he looked deep in concentration while working with several different sheets of Micro-Mesh (I assume) and various other tools. It was pretty interesting to watch, but I didn’t want to hover too long. Next time I’ll have to commit to a plan sooner, and schedule some table time for a custom grind.
What’s This Really About?
A typical convention or expo in the pop-culture world is all about exclusives. Sure, some people go to find vintage toys, but nine times out of ten, people are walking out of San Diego with that little “Exclusive” sticker on their statue or action figure. My impression of this pen show is the polar opposite. I didn’t see anything that would be considered an “exclusive” to this show. This is the place for collectors and enthusiasts. Everything I purchased can be purchased just as easily online, maybe at slightly higher prices or shipping costs, but still, not exclusive to the show. The main draw of a show like this, I feel, is really the community. A year ago I had no idea this community existed. Six months ago I found out that Pen Shows are a thing. Las weekend, I felt like I was part of a community spanning generations. I was in line with a gentleman in his 80’s who has been attending the show for over a decade, as well as a guy younger than me who was also attending for the first time. As an introvert, I find it difficult to open up when discussing even my favorite subjects with strangers, but we spoke about TWSBIs and Viscontis and Karas Kustoms pens. Then we went our separate ways to experience the show in our own ways.
So, was it worth it?
That is the question I set out to answer with this platform. In short, yes. The LA Pen Show is worth the price of admission IF you’re within driving distance. As I mentioned before, unless you’re a fan of the super rare vintage stuff, you can get everything I saw at this show online or locally (if you’re lucky.) What really makes the show worth attending is getting to meet the people who know every piece of information about these pens, who sell them, and who make them for a living. It’s about walking through the hall and talking to people who all have a shared interest in the act of writing. And it’s about taking in the history on these tools, and being able to see the evolution right in front of you.
I think everyone reading this should go to a pen show at least once, and the Los Angeles International Pen Show is well worth the ticket price.
Special thanks to the Vanness Pens, the guys from Karas Kustoms, and The Pen Addict Brad Dowdy for making the trek to the West Coast and for being so friendly and helpful on the last day of a busy show. Thanks Folks, it was a pleasure!
Karas Kustoms – American Made machined pens
Vanness Pens – Huge variety of Pens and hard-to-find Inks
The Pen Addict – My Go-To source for news and reviews from the
Anderson Pens – Also had a great showing, and made this helpful list of shows.