Monday, October 1, 2012

Leadhead's Tread: Michigan Pen Show

"Why do you want to go there?"

When I heard that in response to my comment that I was going to the Michigan Pen Show, I knew that I was going to start my report off with a heartfelt apology, on behalf of my people, for the way many of my fellow Ohioans behave around this time of the year when it comes to our northern neighbors.

See, I’m used to people asking me why I’d want to make a road trip to spend a weekend playing with pens and pencils. But that’s not what this guy was getting at. He wanted to know why I would choose to go to Michigan, home state of the Michigan Wolverines, since I am both an Ohioan and an Ohio State alumnus – after all, what right-thinking Buckeye would do such a thing?

Yeah. And I’m the one that needs to get a life, right?

So before I get started with my show report proper, I’ve got a neat story about the Ohio-Michigan rivalry that’s largely forgotten: how it started.  It had nothing to do with a gridiron battle, but it did involve a battle of another sort. Ever hear of the Toledo War?

In 1787, Congress (that’s the Congress under the Articles of Confederation – the current United States Constitution was enacted that year but had not yet been ratified) enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which defined a large area of land called the Northwest Territory and provided that no less than three and no more than five states would be created out of it. Ohio, along with Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota, were all carved out of the Northwest Territory.

Part of the Northwest Ordinance provided that the north-south border of three of these states – what are now Ohio, Michigan and Indiana – would be an east-west line intersecting the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Ohio was the first state admitted out of the Northwest Territory, joining the Union in 1803, and included within its boundaries from the earliest days was the Port of Miami, an important commercial port on the western edge of Lake Erie which is today known as Toledo.

Now it’s time to get out your map and take a close look at it. Is Toledo south of the southern tip of Lake Michigan? No, it absolutely is not. By all rights, under the Northwest Ordinance, it should be Toledo, Michigan.

It’s easy to understand how the mistake happened. Not only was it extremely difficult at the time to draw a straight line a couple hundred miles long through dense woods, no one was really sure in 1803 exactly where the southern tip of Lake Michigan was.

Whether it was an honest mistake or not, it didn’t help matters that in 1816, when the United States Government sought to clarify Ohio’s northern boundary, the U.S. Surveyor General was Edward Tiffin, a former governor of Ohio (and the man for whom Tiffin, Ohio is named), and the resulting survey found – surprise, surprise – that Toledo is in Ohio.

By 1835, when Michigan applied for statehood, improved knowledge of geography made it perfectly clear that the bustling port of Toledo was in Michigan, and of course Michigan wanted it – Ohio’s "dibs" notwithstanding. Both Ohio and Michigan raised militias in preparation for a border war, and both Ohio and Michigan passed laws making it treasonous to pledge allegiance to the other. The conflict was only averted in 1836 when Congress made Michigan a deal: give up Toledo, and we’ll give you (1) statehood and (2) the Upper Peninsula.

So whenever Buckeyes and Wolverines prepare to settle their differences, whether it be on the football field, a basketball court, or in a misguided display of "school spirit" between fans of opposing teams in a bar, just remember that no matter what happens, it will never be Toledo, Michigan if Ohio loses, and if we play double or nothing and Ohio wins, it still won’t be Sault Ste Marie, Ohio.

And yes, I did willingly venture across the once-disputed "Toledo strip," bearing nothing but a truckload of pens and pencils and the usual desire to reconnect with old friends and make a few new ones!

The Michigan show is different from the other ones I’ve attended this year. It is truly a club show, organized and put on by volunteers on a not-for-profit (in fact, little-bit-of-a-loss) basis. The ringleader of the bunch (show organizer) is Lih-Tah Wong, shown here multitasking as gatekeeper, communications director and possible ebay surfer:


The Michigan show is a very small and intimate affair, about a quarter the size of Baltimore but there were plenty of familiar faces in the crowd. Here’s a shot of the room, taken from behind Paul Erano’s table in the back corner:


The show began Friday afternoon and only ran thrugh Saturday, and it was held at The Met Hotel in Troy, Michigan. As far as hotels go, The Met appears to be barely hanging on during the tough times in the area. While the rooms were clean, comfortable and very cheap ($59 a night!), amenities were very limited – as just one example, there are not even cups or coffee makers in the rooms!  And while there are two restaurant/bars on site, both are closed indefinitely, with one being open only in the morning to serve a continental breakfast in the mornings.

But while the hotel left a lot to be desired, the show itself was wonderful.  People were coming in off the street were drawn in, and believe it or not, I sold more copies of The Catalogue in one day here than I did the entire weekend at the DC show! What’s more, since it's a club show, there's a lot more spirited trading than usual, and somehow in this tiny gathering of fellow pen and pencil lovers I managed to fill up a case with new finds:











My best find from the weekend falls into the "when in Rome" variety:


More on this great Laughlin set later. All in all, this tiny show reminded me of the joke about the two pen collectors stranded by themselves on a desert island – they both made a fortune. So the Michigan pen show was a great experience I’ll be sure to repeat next year.

And I’ll keep my Ohio passport handy, just in case the border dispute flares up again!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Michigander, alumnus of the University of Michigan, and show attendee, I forgive my Buckeye neighbor for the transgressions of his state - welcome to the show.

However, I don't forgive you for walking out of Michigan with the Laughlins - just because you found them before me is no excuse!