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Old Guard, New Guard and a Pen Show Novice

...and the conversations that caused me to start a[nother] blog...

This post (a long one!) has bubbled up mostly in response to the Pen Addict podcast #194 and the Reverenced Writing post Letter to the Pen Addict Community.

Though a pen show novice, I am not unfamiliar with trade shows overall. I've had the pleasure of attending a variety of them since I opened my own dollhouse & miniature shop at the age of 16 (and fought for entry, to be able to spend money on stocking that store when the show "rules" stated I couldn't attend until I turned 18! I know a bit about being the 'new guard').

From the small shows, to attending the Hannover Messe (enormous... nay, ginormous!) when I was an exchange student in Germany, they all have their charms and pitfalls. I've been a vendor at a few as well.

Dan and I decided at the last minute to go to the Ohio Pen Show near Columbus, Ohio in Fall '15 (it was held in Dublin, OH, to be precise). Not a horrible drive for us and we were curious about what we would find at what would be perhaps a moderate sized show as an introduction to the community.

Ohio pen show = kids in candy shop!

We had a great time and were just a little overwhelmed by the number of pens, and varieties of ink, you could reach out and touch! Reading pen blogs & forums, watching video reviews of them, listening to podcasts, we shudder at the size and crush of people encountered at ones in D.C., LA, Atlanta. Not sure we ever want to do those (Dan is pretty much an introvert, and I appear to fall into the fairly recently acknowledged omnivert category... leaning more toward intro ;). We lucked out entirely in our decision to show up on Friday. It was wonderful.

Passions engender opinion: Becoming well know and respected can eventually carry the weight of being looked to as the arbiter of... taste, quality, and worthiness of something (a movie, a pen, a designer bag). It leads some followers to bask in the knowledge that they have gotten something someone, whom a lot of people know and look up to, enjoys and recommends.

Given the little I know of the conditions at the LA pen show... grumpy old guy (or gal) or not, that show sounds like it would try the patience of Saints. We went into our first pen show pretty much blind. No idea what to expect, but hoping we might be able to see some of the pens we were curious about up close.

We thoroughly enjoyed buying ink from Vanness, got a Parker tuned just beautifully for Dan at Indy-Pen-Dance, and I got to wander amazing assortments of flex nibs. Sadly, we only found a few pens with larger diameter sections - but I'll save that for another post. There were opinionated old guard, yes, but overall the show was full of people ready to share information and discuss modern and vintage.

Passions and perceived knowledge: ...can engender even more opinion and sometimes hardened stances. I mentioned a pen that has a Bock nib while at the show and got a dismissive put down of the nibs from one vendor. I tend to take reviews and recommendations into account, but truly try to look for the most glowing, the most displeased, and few in between, to calibrate before making my own decision about a pen/nib/ink. My Bock nibs are just fine, not the best, not the worst. Do I want or need any more in any specific pens? Probably not. But they are just fine in the ones I already have.

Now, I'm not the "new guard" here given how long I've been a fountain and dip pen user, but Dan definitely is. The thing is, the talk around this seems to be trying to put this in two buckets - and only two, though purportedly not age related - but nothing is really that cut-and-dried.

Dan was the one who first found the Pen Addict podcast. The information sponge that he is, he was doing his info gathering and evaluation as he tried to narrow down just what he was going to try in the fountain pen world. He stopped listening for a while, before he went back to it and ultimately introduced me to it (they are usually about perfect length for our daily commute).  Why did he stop? All new pens, never a vintage (which I have, and of which he has found some that appeal to him), same brands, same gushing over the same custom maker. It's why I rarely go to Reddit for the repeated "I got a Lamy 2000, I got a Vista, I got a Metropolitan, I got a Safari..." gushing.

To be sure, many of these modern pen companies are coming out with newer models, iterations that are ripe to be compared and explored. We have TWSBI pens (2 each, at the moment - with no breakage issues on any of the 4 since acquiring them). I love mine - a mini and an Eco.

Dan got the Lamy 2000 and I have a couple of Vista's. The Safari I acquired for Dan fell short of either of us liking it enough to use. Don't get me wrong. It's great that it's not just a bunch of 50-80 year olds only using vintage fountain pens, both for the industry as a whole and for us old guard who like trying new things and finding things that might rock just as much some of our vintage loves.

Tastes absolutely vary, and vary wildly: for those who like vintage, modern or both. The type of research, review and discussion that is most useful, be you old guard or new, is when you are comparing like quantities & qualities to get an idea of the standards you can build on. This is present in all of the usual sources, blogs, podcasts, etc. to some extent: How wet does the pen write?; is the F really F or more like M or EF for a particular brand? People still need to experiment and make their own mistakes. They need to take a few chances to sort out what might work best for them despite what the latest, greatest revered reviewer is gushing over. (btw, the pencil guys seemed to sort this out before the pen guys... 😉

I really enjoy the Pen Addict podcast. Some of the things they gush over, I see it, get it, and might want one of. Much of what they gush over, and have done so more than once... meh... not so much. I don't ever really want a Pilot Metropolitan pen. Doesn't mean it's not the right first pen for someone. The focus can be a little narrowly defined at times there.

You will always have a comfort zone that is yours and yours alone. There will always be something else out there you didn't know about, despite the digital age, with seemingly infinite information, pictures and videos. If you don't happen to see it until it "becomes a thing" you might be on the price ascent or even apex side of the issue. That can be prohibitive for old or new guard (there will be major gaps in my Waterman collection until people finally tire of flex or wet noodle, and prices aren't stupidly astronomical... if that ever happens ;).

For some it's natural to be a continuous information sponge and keep seeking the knowledge of others to apply to personal decisions. For others, it seems, they get set on a path or an object and no one will shake them from that being the best and only. It's just the way it seems to work.

Seeking info from the grumpy pen guy instead of coming off as know-it-all and totally focused on modern pens may not ever make him less grumpy about the new guard. Personalities are what they are. Being aware of it is the first step to making informed decisions about your own comfort zone and being okay with not liking the expensive pen everyone else does, being fine with gushing about a expensive pencil, or being willing to branch out and try a vintage when all you have experienced are modern pens.



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