Here in London, our Pen Show took place on Sunday, 9 October 2022, held again at the spacious Novotel London West, Hammersmith. I have been attending pen shows now for 9 years and still find them a bit overwhelming and a challenge to make the most of the day.
What makes for a good pen show experience? It helps to go with a list of anything in particular that you want to buy and cash for your budgeted spending, although it is equally enjoyable to go with an open mind and to see what catches your eye. This year I hoped to find another Titanium nib unit with ebonite feed, in a Bock fitting. Previously I had bought one with a Jowo fitting, which I had installed in my Opus 88 Demonstrator to good effect. I also hoped to take a look at an Onoto Scholar in the flesh. I hoped that the Semikolon Grand Voyage journals would again be available. Finally, I planned to take a look at some vintage Parkers. Spending enough, but not too much money, and wisely, helps avoid being left with regrets.
Of course, it is the wonderful people of the fountain pen community that make the day special. This year I met in real life for the first time, Pamela of pamalisonknits.com attending her first pen show. Also, from Instagram, @amuse.bouch8 was here with her family, and Phil of @theinkscribe. There were the regulars, penultimatedave, Gary of dapprman https://dappr.net/ and Jon of https://www.pensharing.com/ with his Pensharing table, signing up new members. I met many of the well-known dealers – John Foye, John Hall of Write Here, John Twiss, Vince Coates, Dennis (of Den’s Pens) and Kirit Dal at whose Aurora table I tried a Talentum with a medium nib.
My wife came too. She made her purchases early, finding a handsome Diplomat (Excellence, brown guilloche rollerball), plus a Troika fineliner and a few Troika tool pens (ballpoint pens with screw drivers, ruler and spirit level) that she chose for gifts. Soon after, she discovered some colourful Semikolon twist action ball pens in matching colour plastic boxes and chose a selection of them, telling me excitedly “I have spent £80.00!” The game was on!
I went to find Vince, to ask about a Titanium nib unit. I bought one, in a Medium with red feed. It did not fit in the Campo Marzio Ambassador which I had planned to put it in, but I hoped it might fit in something else at home.
We went to see the Onoto table, manned by Feng Li and James Boddy, Shirley and Emma. I was yet to own an Onoto pen but had long admired the Magna Classic, reputed to have one of the best stainless steel nibs around (or a gold nib if you wish to upgrade). I was able to handle both the Magna and the recently introduced Scholar, which is similar in shape but slightly smaller but which comes with the same number 7, bicolour stainless steel nib that you would receive on the Magna. Onoto were offering the Scholar at a tempting show price of £150.00 reduced from the usual £195.00. I was hooked. With a choice of red, yellow, navy blue or black, I chose navy blue and with a medium nib. Rather stupidly, I passed up the splendid, sumptuous leather Onoto pen roll pouch included in the price, to have a simpler flat leather pen case which I could more see myself using.
Happily, I was able to buy another Semikolon journal (reviewed here in my last post) which I will greatly enjoy using.
During the day I had many interesting conversations with the friendly dealers. I saw some lovely Conway Stewart pens from Bespoke British Pens, of Emsworth. I saw the 20mm square rods from which their pens are turned, on a lathe. The Churchill is the most popular. I wondered if in years to come, people would buy pens called the Johnson, or the Truss. Don’t answer that.
Derek at Stonecott Fine Writing showed me the Venustas carbon fibre pen with a Titanium nib. It looked like no other pen. I met, for the first time, Emy of Pen Venture. At his table I handled a marvellous Leonardo Mosaico with a size 8 gold nib, exclusive to the show and for £500.00 I think, but well outside my comfort zone for an impulse purchase. A lady at Sparks Nibs had a table of pieces showing me the various stages in making a fountain pen nib.
I browsed at Graham Jasper’s table of vintage Parker pens. I was tempted by the elegant Parker 51 in black with a gold cap, of which there were half a dozen or so examples, with prices not shown but ranging from £60.00 to £200.00, he said. I would have needed to inspect them all to check the nib and the aerometric filler, as well as the general condition of the caps and barrel, which showed differing degrees of wear as expected from these elderly pens. There was a bit too much choice and I could foresee that after this exercise, I would have chosen the one that was the highest price and so I moved on, this time.
After a very enjoyable day of meeting friends and browsing the tables, it was time to go. On a last walk round the tables, I found more trays of vintage Parker pens, but marked as either £40.00, £20.00 or finally, a miscellaneous box in which every item was £10.00. Here, I bought a little Parker 17 Lady, with a hooded nib, in dark green with gold furniture. The nib looked promising, and I could see myself enjoying it.
Back at home, I tried the Titanium nib in a succession of pens but could not find any that it would fit, so far. I will enjoy paginating the Semikolon journal. I knew that the Onoto Scholar fountain pen would be perfect and left that to try last. Surprisingly I found that it was the Parker 17 Lady that I was most eager to examine and which was to dominate my evening.
I soon spotted a large chip in the cap, just below the finial. However, when unscrewing the green plastic finial, I found that I could position the pocket clip in front of this, and also that when the finial was screwed in, there was no daylight showing from the chip and so hopefully it would still be reasonably airtight (not counting the deliberate hole found in the side of the cap). There were scratches on the barrel and cap. I then found that some of these were actually cracks, but I still clung to the hope that these were cosmetic only. The nib unit and aerometric, squeeze-bar filler were in good usable condition. I filled and wrote with the pen. The nib was a smooth, soft juicy broad.
Using the pen, I noticed an increasing amount of ink on my fingers. It transpired that the section, or shell over the nib unit was not only scratched but cracked and that ink was leaking out from the shell. By this time, I had already had my £10.00 worth of enjoyment and education from the pen. My wife suggested putting it in the bin. I could not bring myself to do so. No one can bear to see a broken Lady. I pondered filling the pen by first unscrewing the nib and filler unit from the shell. This did not seem very practical but I decided to keep the pen and perhaps find another Lady or some spare components at a pen show to rebuild her some day.
And so finally to the Scholar. This was predictably excellent. The steel nib was faultless and the pen felt very comfortable. You even get a brass tubing liner to add weight to the barrel, which is an optional extra on the Magna. Yes, the Magna at double the price would have been a little bit longer and broader, but then I have that size covered already by my recent Tibaldi N.60. I was no scholar myself but coincidentally the silver and the gold colours of the steel nib, and the gold coloured finial, clip and cap ring, next to the navy blue are reminiscent of my school uniform colours at the Reading Blue Coat School in the 1970s. I am thrilled with this beauty.
A few days after the show, I learned from Onoto that I was one of several lucky runner-up winners of a Coffee Dusting Stencil with the Onoto logo, so that was good!
With hindsight, I should have taken a little more care in choosing the Parker and spent a bit more money there to buy a pen without so many issues. I could also have passed up the Titanium nib after finding that it was not the right fit for my Campo Marzio. At least I stopped myself from buying any more ink. It takes years of practice to make the best use of a pen show and I am not quite there yet.