Chicago Pen Show 2016 Recap

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?

2016 Chicago Pen Show album on Flickr

Posted on May 5, 2016 and filed under Pen Shows.

Maruman Mnemosyne N195 Spiral Notebook Review

(Jeff Abbott is a regular contributor at The Pen Addict. You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution and Twitter.)

The Maruman Mnemosyne N195 Special Memo Notepad, like its other Mnemosyne siblings, is a notebook that easily makes the cut for replacing your standard Moleskine notebook. Sure, it's spiral-bound, but you'll probably be able to forgive that once you try the paper.

I've always enjoyed the N196, which is the same format as this notebook except that the spiral binding is on top. While that's a great format for some purposes, I also enjoy using a side bound notebook as well.

It's easy to compare this notebook to the top-bound brother because they're very similar. The sizes are a bit different, where the side-bound notebook is A5 and the top-bound is B6, and the former has 80 pages instead of 50 like the top-bound book. But, the same paper is used in both, which is the real star.

The N195 is an example of a "perfect notebook" for my use. I love the A5 size pages for most purposes, and it's one of the biggest things I consider when looking for a new general purpose notebook. This one fits the bill nicely with dimensions of 6 x 8.25 inches and 7mm ruling. The ruling spacing hits a sweet spot for me. It's not too small, but it still works well with my small-medium writing style.


The Mnemosyne N195 is built well for being a soft cover spiral-bound book. The wire binding is strong and resilient against bending in loaded bags. The fact that it's a twin spiral also keeps the pages more secure from tearing out, which is helpful with perforated pages. It always irritates me when a page tears out from the binding instead of tearing at the perforation. I've never had that problem with this notebook.

The covers are pliable, but still sturdy. They're the perfect weight for protecting the pages inside a bag, but probably can't defend it from more distressing situations. The cover features the black, minimalistic design as every other Mnemosyne notebook, save for the single gold "Mnemosyne" in the top-right corner of the front cover. Even this branding is small compared to the overall size of the cover. The back cover has a small SKU sticker that is easy to remove. The inside cover has a yellow sheet that features some more branding, including the Mnemosyne tagline, "The ancient Greek goddess of memory," which is a great name for a notebook.


The paper in the Mnemosyne notebooks is exceptional. It's not extremely thin like Tomoe River paper, but it is supple. Some papers have a certain amount of tooth, while others are made to be smooth like glass. Mnemosyne leans heavily toward the "smooth like glass" side of the scale. It's an absolute pleasure to write on.

It handles all types of pens and inks with ease, and dries fairly quickly. The pages aren't numbered, and each page has a section at the top for Date, number, and title. I don't normally use this section, but it's a nice thing to include.

The lines are spaced at 7mm in a light gray dotted pattern. They're very well done and seem to blend into the background when using vibrant inks. There are 80 sheets in the notebook, and each one is micro-perforated.


This notebook is one of my all-time favorites in this spiral-bound A5 category. There are a lot of contenders, but this one takes the cake every time. And, it even beats out a lot of glue- or cloth-bound notebooks as well. Sometimes you just want a good spiral notebook, and the Mnemosyne N195 Special Memo Notepad is an excellent choice.

The N195 is just under $10 at JetPens, which is a great value for this exceptional little notebook.

(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)

Posted on May 4, 2016 and filed under Maruman, Notebook Reviews.

Kaweco Denim Pouch Winners

My apologies for the delay in picking the winners of the Kaweco Denim Pouch giveaway - the Chicago Pen Show wiped me out! It was so much fun, and I'll have more on it for sure, but for now here are the winners:

Congrats Emily and Stan! Contact Me with your shipping address and color choice I'll get the pouch on the way.

Thank you to everyone who entered, and thanks to JetPens for providing the goods!

Posted on May 3, 2016 and filed under Kaweco.

Signal and Noise – on Trolling Pen Reviewers

(Dave Rea is an engineer and die-hard pen-thusiast from upstate NY, and the developer of @getindxd. His addiction dates back to middle-school quests for pens that could vanquish the dreaded lefty smudge-palm. He succumbed to fountain pens and Field Notes after discovering this blog in 2012; you can find him on Twitter @mtbkrdave.)

Trolling has become a bit of a trending topic in the online pen community of late. We’ve seen thoughtful, well-reasoned posts on the topic from a pair of PhDs: Stephen BRE Brown and Jonathon Deans. Brad discussed it with Azizah Asgarali on a recent PenAddict podcast episode. It also came up in the most recent episode of Dowdy and the Doctor – an excellent short(er)-form podcast for Pen Addict members.

There’s been a lot of talk about the sorts of trolling that pen reviewers experience. There’s been plenty of theories on why these commenters might be slinging their particular brand of vitriol. There’s no shortage of thoughts on how reviewers should respond. But for all this good discussion, there’s been precious little guidance for how we – the mostly-silent majority – ought to address trolling on our favorite pen blogs, YouTube channels, subreddits or forums.

I’ve got a proposal for us…

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

In electronics (my day job), we’ve got a term called signal-to-noise ratio, or SNR. If “noise” is all the random energy a circuit doesn’t care about, then “signal” is what it’s looking for. The “signal strength bars” on our cell phones are one familiar instance: More bars = Better SNR.

To the content creators of the pen community there’s plenty of “noise”, and precious little “signal”: those times when the audience actively engages. While “noise” can be just about anything unrelated, the “signal” is the feedback: comments, likes, favorites, thumbs (up or down), retweets, subtweets; the list goes on.

The problem, as The Oatmeal so wonderfully illustrated, is that negative feedback can be much a louder signal than supportive voices, and in a very noisy environment, the loudest signal might be the only one that makes an impression. Ever have a microwave oven blitz your WiFi connection? Then you’ve experienced this too.

Tipping the Scales

Let’s face it: trolling isn’t going away any time soon. So long as our favorite pen reviewers continue to work hard creating content for us, they’re likely to be on the receiving end of some occasional negative attention. We also know that troll-shaming doesn’t work, and in many cases even makes things worse. Even the most well-established platforms struggle, endlessly-controversially, with how to deal with harassment.

So what can we, as a community, do to change the balance of power? I believe the answer is to change the signal-to-noise ratio – to turn up the volume on the positive feedback, constructive criticism, and all-around support we send to those we follow. There’s almost zero downside to doing so. If not feeding the trolls is our status-quo, we need to drown them.

To do this requires a conscious shift from passive consumption of content to active engagement. Given our shared interest in “the analog tools we love so dearly”, reviews likely evoke some reaction in us – be it enthusiasm, desire, appreciation, wonder, zeal, or myriad others. We ought to share these reactions with the reviewers we follow! Even if our reaction to the product or the review is critical, it’s worth sharing in a constructive way – because even these additions to the conversation let the reviewer know you came, you saw, and you cared enough to react.

Case in Point

Let’s take a look at an example – a well-trafficked review of the TWSBI Vac Mini by Matt Armstrong on his Pen Habit YouTube channel this past January:

In about two months, Matt’s video has been viewed over eleven thousand times – but only about 2% of those viewers left a thumbs-up, and only six-tenths of a percent left a comment (supportive or otherwise). Of the comments, only 1 or 2 border on negativity. Yet Matt has been on the receiving end of enough trolling that he went on hiatus back in 2014 (the 173 supportive comments on that post aren’t lost on me, either!).

I hope that the the SNR of the feedback Matt receives has improved since he returned from that break; if this video’s comments are any indication, it has.

Still, the numbers leave plenty of room for improvement: as an audience bloc, we have the leverage to significantly increase the amount of appreciation our community’s content creators experience.

Remember Not to Hold Back

If you’re like me (and the vast majority of Internet consumers) you read posts, watch videos and listen to podcasts, and – absent a specific question, complaint or reaction – you probably don’t engage much. In light of the trolling we’ve been hearing about, I’ve been actively trying to hit the “thumbs-up” button and its siblings on various platforms more frequently. Even if I’m just one in eleven-thousand, I want to actively contribute to whatever small stream of thanks the audience provides for the hard work that invariably goes into creating good content.

I also believe in putting our money where our mouths are: the stationery community enjoys a nearly-endless stream of content, much of which discusses some pretty expensive products. If a review gives you the confidence to pull the trigger on a pen that costs $50, or $150, or $500, is contributing a relative pittance to the reviewer an undue burden? That’s up to each member of the audience to decide, and not all creators have the infrastructure in place for this, but it’s certainly another way to remind them that we appreciate their hard work.

Ultimately, though, changing the signal-to-noise ratio doesn’t have to cost a penny. Just remember to use whatever mechanisms a given platform offers to engage with the creators you follow. Whether you dole out subscriptions, likes, comments, faves or upvotes, don’t hold back. That small gesture, multiplied by the numbers our community wields, might just have the power to push trolling down into the noise.

Posted on May 2, 2016 and filed under Guest Post.