While I've been lucky to attend several pen shows across the country, I am still a rookie in the grand scheme of things. But with each new city and new show I travel to I'm able to add to the knowledge base, and this weekend I learned that the Chicago Pen Show is well on its way back to the upper echelon of pen shows.
I'll always be biased towards the Atlanta Pen Show - it's my home show after all - but with the change in venue and promoter, the Chicago show is without question on my radar for future trips.
The venue, and setup within, plays a big role in having a comfortable event and I'm not sure I could have drawn it up any better. There was one primary ballroom that was large, open, and well lit, and open floor atrium space on the way into that ballroom that was equally as nice, if not nicer. It was something on the order of a 75/25 split of tables in the ballroom and atrium, but having them each only steps away made it feel like one coherent space.
The non-show floor space was equally as nice, with a small Starbucks cafe, restaurant, bar, and plenty of extra tables and seating encircling the atrium. There was nothing that wasn't within eyeshot, including the seminar room. It was all right there and ready to be used.
I arrived early Thursday and was lucky to have Ana Reinert as my guide as we headed into Chicago and hit up Field Notes HQ. Bryan Bedell gave us the tour and we got to chat with Jim Coudal and see the new office space they are building out on the first floor of the same building. We also got all the details on the upcoming Summer release - NOT! They do a great job of keeping everything on lock and building the suspense every quarter, but we did get to see a ton of cool stuff and got some nice swag.
By late Thursday afternoon we were at the hotel to meet our boss for the weekend, Lisa Vanness, and scope out the show setup. We had three tables in the atrium, but since the vendor pizza party was also in the atrium that night we couldn't set up early. No worries though. That gave us plenty of time to mingle, chat with friends old and new, and browse through some of the vendors goods who were set up early.
Friday morning setup went smoothly. With the three of us, plus help from one of Lisa's Arkansas friends (thanks Grayling!), we were able to knock it out before the doors opened to the weekend pass holders. And that was a steady crowd on Friday. Sales were good, the conversation was excellent, and we got our legs under us for what would be a busy day to follow.
Saturday is always the busiest day at a pen show for obvious reasons. We were on our toes from start to finish and had a great time with everyone who stopped by to see everything that Vanness had to offer. I don't think any of us left the table unless we were on a mission to get something done and get back. And that's good. I want to be busy when working for Lisa.
That evening, I hosted a talk with Paul Erano on vintage pens for beginners. We set this up as a conversation-style seminar, but it would have benefitted greatly from structure and focus. We were all over the place and lost track early, which didn’t benefit those who could have used the information the most. We saved it at the end when we were able to set up a show and tell and have some one-on-one time with both Paul’s and David Isaacson’s collection. I got helpful feedback from many attendees and learned a lot on how I can do a better job for everyone in the future.
Sunday was standard Sunday pen show activity, meaning it was quiet for most of the day. There are always one or two bursts of action, but otherwise it was slow paced. That gave us all a chance to get away from the booth for a minute, and for me to buy this:
I had my eye on this Montblanc Noire et Noir Safety Pen since Friday, and when it was still there come Sunday my decision was essentially made for me. It is in excellent shape, and after a little cleaning it works wonderfully. The medium 14k nib has a slight baby’s bottom, but one that it taken care of it will be a regular fixture in the rotation.
I also picked up a Franklin-Christoph Model 45, which is their latest pocket pen model. I didn’t get the chance to grab one in Atlanta but I wasn’t leaving Chicago without this bright blue one. Outside of that, I grabbed a few dozen old wood pencils to play around with, and a few new colors of Bungbox Ink from Vanness Pens. It was a good haul considering it was only two weeks after Atlanta.
If I could sum up the 2016 Chicago Pen Show in one word it would be: Impressive. This was a new venue with new promoters and it went off without a hitch, at least from my point of view. The setup was ideal, the dealer tables were sold out, and the crowd was fantastic. What more can you ask for?