South West Pen Show

by Stuart Lennon

"All right my lover?"

The Bristol accent is warm and smiley. Well, it is if you were born and bred there, like I was. "It's gurt smart, right."

Clare had nursed us down the snowy roads from Andover to our second appearance at the South West Pen Show, on the outskirts of Bristol. Seasoned veterans that we are, we hadn't arrived early, nor with five times too much stuff. Setup took fifteen minutes, and we took full advantage of the "exhibitors limitless coffee before ten" option.

I couldn't tell you how many people came through the doors, but the 'rush' was probably 11am through to 1:30pm. The afternoon was quieter. 

As last year, we met some lovely customers. Faces were matched to avatars, names to handles and promptly forgotten again. This is the curse of the pen show, which is a curious cross-over between the real and virtual world. What you want to do, is sit and chat with like-minded people; argue the merits of thin paper versus coated paper while sipping a coffee, or supping a pint. What you have to do, is stand awkwardly at a table, trying not to get in everybody’s way and promise to catch-up ‘on social’.

The majority of stall holders at the show are vintage pen dealers. Specialists with enormous wells of knowledge and box upon box of pens. Prices range from cheap as chips to loadsamoney. Onoto are there, as is John Twiss, if you want to meet the maker. William Hannah is a regular, with his beautiful binders and modular system.

The shows are well-organised and well-run. Entry is charged - and I believe, discounted for those who become members of the Writing Equipment Society. Now, if you are looking for the perfect Parker Duofold, or your grail pen, entry fees are not a problem. Likewise, if you’d like to talk Sailor with experts, a pen show is a great investment. However, if you are on the edge of an analogue habit, then paying for entry, passing through gatekeepers can be intimidating. This is where its a conundrum for us. We make sales at a show, but not enough to cover the cost of Clare and I being there. That was true when I lived around the corner - now that BA is a part of my commute, it’s even more the case.

For the shows to work for us commercially, we need footfall, we need the space to do some presentations, to welcome new people to the analogue world. We need a different kind of pen show.

Maybe we should make one.