A week ago, it looked unlikely that I would make it to the Eastern Pen Show (Cambridge) on Sunday, 4th March, as snow and freezing temperatures had caused disruption to transport. Fortunately, this cleared just in time and a good rail service to Cambridge was running.
This was my first visit to the Cambridge pen show and I was much looking forward to it. Arriving early, I had time to walk from the station to the venue, the Doubletree Hilton Hotel, on the River Cam. This proved to be a good decision as those travelling by car were delayed by road closures and diversions for the Cambridge Half Marathon.
The enjoyment of the day was as much down to the people, as the pens. First, I was pleased to find Marisa (@illustriouscactus on Instagram) and Faisal, two members from our monthly London UK Fountain Pen Club gatherings, as we waited in the lounge for the show to open. Also I had arranged to meet Jon (@jonr1971 on Instagram) and he introduced me to two of his Instagram friends, @fountainpensandink and @theclumsypenman. Jon later guided me as to the features of some Montegrappa pens which we saw at the show.
The venue was excellent, a bright, spacious ground floor room with rows of tables on three sides, and more down the middle, which lent itself to doing “laps”.
In prime position was Sarj Minhas, with several tables of enticing vintage and modern pens. Immediately, a green Sheaffer (a Crest, I believe) on his table caught my eye, as I already have the matching ball-point which I use daily. The fountain pen has a distinctive conical bi-colour nib in 18k gold. This proved irresistible and I thought it best to pick it up at my first pass, rather than risk losing out. Sarj also showed me some beautiful Sheaffer Balances, which will be added to the “wish list” as the price seemed a bit too high just for an impulse buy. While at Sarj’s tables it was good to examine some Urushi lacquer pens and an Arco pen which hitherto I had seen only on the internet.
I had not planned to hunt for anything in particular although I was hoping that the vendor of my London Pen Show “mystery pen”, would be there so that I could buy another! He was. I learned that he is John Twiss of Twiss Pens (twisspens.co.uk) and that the blue and clear demonstrator eyedropper pen that I had bought at the London Show, (see blog post: Wanted: an identity for this pen. ) from his supplier is deliberatly left unbranded. John also sells his own handmade pens and produces these at his Nottinghamshire studio. I bought another of the eye-dropper pens as I liked the last one so much and also picked up a gorgeous purple and black cartridge/converter pen with a size 6 nib for my wife (purple being her colour).
Having now attended the London pen show several years running, I now recognise many of the vendors and I enjoyed talking again to Graham Jasper (of Penestates) who had helped me to select one of his Parker 51 Aerometrics a few shows ago, and Kirit Dal who is a dealer for Aurora. I handled a beautiful Aurora 88 Mineralis demonstrator, but reluctantly put it down again and decided to content myself with a bottle of Robert Oster Aqua ink, at a show price of £10.00.
John Hall of “Write Here” showed me a Scribo fountain pen and told me about the brand. Trying the smooth, wet nib was a revelation. Again, this would have to wait for another occasion but I did not leave his table before buying a bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, a beautiful magenta ink.
Next at the table of The Hamilton Pen Company, (Nigel Simpson-Stern) I was shown a Pilot Falcon, which I had seen online but was yet to handle. I have harboured an urge to pick up a Pilot (so to speak) and have tried the Custom 823 and the Custom 74 at our pen club gatherings and been impressed by the feel of the gold nibs. The Falcon is different and has a rather uniquely shaped flexible nib. The models for sale were of lacquer over a steel body and therefore heavier than the resin versions and also featured the interesting, large capacity, CON 70 push-button vacuum converter. With my resistance weakening, I chose the metal Falcon in black with a Soft Fine nib and was excited to try it out. I later spotted Marisa again and she kindly allowed me to dip my new Falcon in a blob of wet ink which she made, in her notebook. The smooth, fine, wet flexible nib was wonderful.
At the same table I bought another ink, the Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red, which I have wanted for a long time, having enjoyed their Cobalt Blue and Moss Green very much. Oh, and I could not resist a leather three-pen case and chose the red one.
My final pen purchase of the show was a little green vintage Parker Junior Duofold with a broad, 14k gold nib and aero filler. Why? Because this is a close equivalent to the pen that my mother bought me in 1970, to take to my new boarding school and which I lost within the first few weeks. It was my first quality fountain pen and I remember to this day, the sales lady telling me that gold nibs give more expression to your handwriting. I was fascinated, although rather puzzled, knowing that the tipping material was not gold and so why did gold nibs matter? It was to be many more years before I began to appreciate the delights of line variation and inks that shade.
Outside the show I met Jon and his two friends again, for coffee in the hotel lounge where we had a very enjoyable time trying each other’s pens, and sharing our pen stories and experiences.
All in all, I had a great show. It was somewhat smaller and quieter than the London pen show in October but considerably less crowded. The relaxed atmosphere was perhaps more conducive to some memorable conversations and purchases.