Monday, January 14, 2013

Leadhead's Tread: Philadelphia Pen Show

"You should go to Philly."

This was the year I decided I’d heard this just too many times, from just too many people, who all have said this in the same tone you’d use to lecture someone on the virtues of going to visit your mother. I finally made the pilgrimage this past weekend, and of course I found that all those people who lectured me that I should be there were right.

The Ohio Show is the last big event of the collecting year, kind of like pencil Christmas or something. The Philadelphia Pen Show, held in January each year, is a sort of a Happy Pencil New Year, the kickoff party for the beginning of the collecting year (and the similarities to a New Years’ bash don’t end there – there were quite a few hangovers in the room Sunday morning, too).

Bert Oser of Bertram’s’ Inkwell runs the Philly show, as he does the Baltimore and San Francisco shows. The venue was the Philadelphia Sheraton Downtown Hotel, a hotel which was really very nice overall, with comfortable rooms, a great breakfast buffet and overall pleasant staff. About the only complaint I heard was that the service in the bar area was slow, particularly for lunch, but those complaints apparently did not fall upon deaf ears, as the service was greatly improved on Sunday. The pen show "special rate" was only five bucks less than what was available through Travelocity, so with the discounted hotel-plus-airfare package, the discounts made it cheaper to fly in for the weekend than the gas would have cost me to drive there.

The hotel is in a nice part of downtown, within walking distance of a great Irish pub and the Chinatown district, so after the show ended (and before our communion of scotch and cigars) there were plenty of places nearby to get some great food.

The show itself was in two large, adjacent ballrooms connected by passageways at either end. Here’s the first room during Saturday’s busy time:

and the second room was just as big:

It was a good call leaving plenty of room for walking in between rows of tables. Even during the peak of the activity, you could still get around the room easily. I didn’t hear too many complaints about the crowds being too light or stingy, which is pretty good considering that this is the most expensive show out of the ones I have attended (between the room and the cost of tables). I did hear a couple of people say that it was busier in the room near the entrance than it was in the "back room," but I didn’t notice that – besides, who would finish walking through one out of two rooms and say to themselves, "Well, that’s enough for me . . . time to go home now"?

About half of the vendors were selling vintage stuff, with the other half selling or distributing newly manufactured inventory. High end vintage stuff didn’t appear to sell as much as the new pens, but Richard Fernandez said that if there were less shoppers than expected, those who were shopping were serious about spending their money. I know I sure wasn’t shy!

For the first time this year, the Philly show included a pen auction, featuring a familiar cast (almost a reprise of the Raleigh Show auction last June) with Gary Garner wielding the hammer, Lisa Anderson, Terry Mawhorter and I shuffling the paperwork and packaging the items, Rick Krantz debuting as bouncer and the shapely Joe Nemecek strutting his stuff down the runway.

There were about a hundred lots offered, and while the majority of lots had reserves, nearly all of the reserved items that received bids sold. The two items I ended up buying, for example, were a red oversized Conklin Endura pencil,which met reserve at only $25, and a leather covered Eversharp pencil, which I was amazed to see meet the reserve at $20. And I didn’t even plan to bid on these! On the other hand, the reason I got a bidder number in the first place (a red Parker vest pocket pencil I was eyeing to complete the Parker bridge set I bought from Joe at DC last year) had a reserve nearly twice my high bid. Joe said I should have bought it anyway, but I passed on that one.

Gary started the bidding pretty high on a lot of the reserve items, probably to keep the auction moving, but that resulted in quite a few passes. My experience was probably typical among those bidding – there were a lot of great bargains, but there were a few disappointing reserves. The star of the auction was a Waterman doll pen, which sold for $1,900.00.

And now for the pencils – this was a larger show (probably about two thirds the size of Ohio), and with so many of my friends there and so much good stuff around, I had no trouble fillng up an entire folder with new finds and even had a few things in the pocket of my hoodie by the time I left for the airport. Here’s the haul:

But wait . . . there’s more. The real highlight of my trip to Philadelphia started with a phone call I received about a week ago from Arthur Cox, who found me through my website and called to ask if I was interested in looking at a bunch of early Eagle Pencil Company items he was thinking about selling. Turned out he lives in New Jersey and was planning to attend the Philly show, so late Saturday morning, in the hallway outside the show, we got together and he showed off a really amazing bunch of stuff, most of which I’ve never seen. The negotiation was short and friendly, and I bought the entire bunch:

You’ll see a lot more of these in the weeks ahead.

Packing my gym bag for the ride home with all this stuff was a challenge, because without a checked bag I hadn’t considered the physical volume of all this booty. It was nice that the TSA workers at Philly International were good-natured (now there’s a rarity). Sure, I was expecting to be questioned about the unusual contents of my carryon bag. But I didn’t expect them to ask questions about why I was carrying all these pencils just out of curiosity! To top it off, the man in front of me in line heard them quizzing me and stopped me after we cleared security to tell me all about the trench pen he had inherited from his grandfather dated 1917.

All in all it was just a great experience, but flying in January has its ups and downs, literally. Even though it was unusually warm in Philadelphia this weekend, the fog that rolled in Sunday got thicker and thicker, and just half an hour before my shuttle was to take me back to the airport, I received the automated call from United informing me that my flight home was canceled. That’s my only regret from the show - that in my haste to scramble off to the airport, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my friends.

But five hours later, as I’m writing this report on a plane bound for Chicago rather than Cleveland (in the hopes there’s a plane there to get me back to Columbus), even this seems like just a minor bump in the road. As my annual calendar of "must attend" events continues to grow, now my own voice now joins everyone else’s: I’ve got to go to Philly next year.


Unknown said...


I'm glad the blog is back! I look forward to future postings and to seeing at future shows.

Greg Proctor

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great time Jon. I think I have sworn off scotch forever. Deb was not happy, and I never did make it back to the show to say Hello or goodbye to everyone. I had a great time, nice to meet you. See you in Baltimore!


Leigh said...

Great haul! And thanks for the pictures.

Harry Shubin said...

1 - glad the blog is back!
2 - glad to have seen you at the show!
You're right - Philly is a must-not-miss event. And you missed the mini Eversharp 5th Avenue pencil in gray (thank goodness!)
Next up - Baltimore??