2022 Pen Show Recap & What’s Next for 2023
(Kimberly (she/her) took the express train down the fountain pen/stationery rabbit hole and doesn't want to be rescued. She can be found on Instagram @allthehobbies because there really are many, many hobbies!.)
I was fortunate enough to attend 10 pen shows in 2022 and thought I’d try to distill 10 recaps’ into a single TLDR article (yeah, I’m skeptical about the length too, lol). As you may recall, I decided to make a “report card” for the 2022 pen shows so I could more easily compare them which helps you make informed decisions about future shows you may want to attend.
As a reminder, the 10 categories are Size, Location, Hotel, Tickets, Classes, Nib Workers, Overall Vibe, Food, After Hours, and Other. If you want more info on the individual shows, you can search for 2022 show recaps. I’ll go through each category, pick my favorites and any notable mentions and in the end, I will crown my top 3 shows.
I’ve said it before that Size is a bit of an unfair category since larger doesn’t always mean bigger and smaller doesn’t mean bad. That being said, if you’re looking for a lot of vendors and attendees in a big venue, then DC and SF are your two biggest shows. But if you want a less intimidating experience, I highly recommend Philly, Colorado and Baltimore.
Bigger: DC and SF Smaller: Philly, Baltimore, Colorado
Another highly subjective category is location, since a city may be more interesting to me but less interesting to you, or easier to travel to, etc. For me, #1 is a no-brainer with the SF Pen Show. Yes, it’s my home show so it’s easy to travel to, but there are so many things to do/eat/see in the Bay Area that it’s tough to compete. #2 would be DC for similar reasons.
Honorable Mentions: LA, Chicago
I mostly ignore actual hotel rooms and instead focus on the hotel’s proximity to airports, common areas, layout for the show as well as cost.
- SF - fairly close to the airport, lots of vendor areas and classrooms as well
- CHI - Cool atrium area for post-show hangouts, too bad it’s a bit far from airports and Chicago itself
Honorable Mentions: BWI and Dallas had good space at good rates (though others did too)
Dishonorable Mention: DC - Take this with a grain of salt since they had major renovations at the hotel this year, resulting in a disjointed experience for after hours, not to mention, a small area for food/bar, reception and also not the best location for vendors who were situated downstairs.
Prices ranged from $5 per person to as much as $65 for a one day, but overall, prices were around $20-25/day, and weekend passes were an added value too. Some shows added a VIP package which included other bonuses like special lanyard, extra shopping time, etc.
Honorable Mentions: Dallas, BWI
Dishonorable Mention: LA If you could only go to LA for one day but not on the one public day (Sunday), you’d have to fork over a whopping $65. BUT, their rate for Sunday is a very reasonable $10.
I love the number and variety of classes offered at both SF and STL this year and wished show organizers would arrange more classes and seminars.
Honorable Mentions: BWI, CHI
All the shows I attended had at least 1 nib worker and one show had as many as 9?! There was definitely demand for nib workers in 2022 as the pandemic had people piling up their pens waiting for grinds and tunes.
- DC (9)
- BWI (8) - though I could argue that 8 may have been too many given the size of the show
- SF (7)
Crowded? Chill? Frantic? Shopper’s paradise? Friendly? Every show has a different feel to it and there are days where I’m all about the madness and shopping and other times when I want a more relaxed experience so I have time to talk to vendors and friends.
- SF - Not a surprise that this show is often called “The Fun Pen Show” and I definitely have a lot of fun here, whether it’s shopping or hanging out with friends during after hours.
- BWI - A well-run, medium-sized show that has a little bit of everything including a “share the wealth” table and a fun after-hours scene.
Honorable Mention - CO - This may be a small show but it is easy to feel the sense of community here!
Closely tied with hotel location, food is high on my list of priorities for pen shows! Hard to beat Chicago and LA with its variety of options within a short walk across the way!
- Chicago, LA (tie)
- SF and Philly (tie)
By far my favorite part of pen shows, the After Hours scene is not to be missed at some of these shows! If you were there, you know how much fun was had!
- SF - I rarely “close down” a late night hang, let alone two nights in a row. Gotta train more for this year’s show!
- BWI - Lots of fun with friends, lots of places to hang out.
Honorable Mentions: STL and CO
Dishonorable Mention: ATL - Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast hanging out with friends in Atlanta. I did not, however, have a blast getting the lights turned out with 15 seconds of notice before midnight and nowhere to go afterwards.
I don’t even know how to compare this one because “Other” means different things for different shows! No surprise, I had a blast at SF because of all the vendors, attendees, activities before, during and after show hours. But did any other show besides Colorado, have a falconer and Owlfred Hitchcock?!? And what other show has a whisk(e)y tasting? Or does any other show have just ONE public day and make their vendors move every day?
- SF (you know I was gonna say this)
- Chicago - I don’t like whisk(e)y but it’s always a blast to watch and folks are sharing snacks too! And the Thursday night pizza party is always fun!
Honorable mention - CO - Great show for lots of reasons but Owlfred takes the cake!
Dishonorable mention - LA - Please don’t make me rehash why.
As a reminder, here’s the final report card for my 2022 pen shows:
0-50 Oof, do not attend
51-70 Show is alright
70-80 Show is solid
80-90 Show is pretty darned good!
91-100 REALLY good show and not to be missed
Do the scores accurately depict my favorites? For the most part, yes, but as I’ve said many times before, the scores are very subjective and some “low” scores are due to smaller size which does not mean it’s a bad show. I have thought about what it would take for a show to get a score of 100 and it is pretty darn impossible for any of these shows to get there without a significant change like different hotel or location or size. That said, most of the shows out there are solid shows and I will always say that a “not great show” is still better than “no show”.
So what were my top 3 shows?
- SF - No surprise to anyone, SF was my favorite show. So much so that I’ve already decided not to work that show so I can enjoy it even more.
- BWI - Really tough call but I always have such a fun time at this show! It’s a great size, a lot of my friends go to this show due to its proximity to DC, and it’s really conducive to quality time during and after show hours.
- CHI/PHI/DC - To be honest, I’m not sure how to pick #3 since so many shows are within mere points of each other, so I picked the shows that I had the most fun at.
Honorable Mentions: CO and STL
Even though LA was a standout disappointment for me in 2022, I still had a great time and found a lot of cool pens and products. I am VERY curious to see how it will play out in 2023 as the LA Show organizer was unable to secure a hotel and different organizers have stepped in to produce the California Pen Show in its place for 2023. It will be interesting to see how the show does in 2023 and what will happen to either/both shows in 2024.
For 2023, I will continue to do pen show recaps but will not be using the report card system unless it is a show I did not review in 2022 or if there was something significantly different that changes what I said about it last year. Hope you’ve enjoyed my recaps and report cards last year and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store! I hope to see you at a pen show this year! Until then, stay inky, my friends!