Commonwealth Pen Show 2018

Query: How do you SAVE money by going to a pen show?

Answer: By going to a pen show instead of a knife show.

In a weird coincidence the Commonwealth Pen Show and the Northeast Cutlery Collector’s Show were on the same day. With my schedule I couldn’t go to both, and since the NCCA has a show scheduled in November, I decided to go to my first pen show. My uncle and my son came too. We all had some goals.

For me I wanted an M90, a limited edition Vanishing Point, or a Parker 51. For my son, he wanted a clear (demonstrator) fountain pen. For my uncle he wanted a few nibs tuned, especially his zoom nib.

The show itself was held in Somerville which is a suburb of Boston (or, if you are from Beantown, a suburb of Cambridge, which is a suburb of Boston). The organizers chose a decent Holiday Inn for the show, good location, free parking, and a nice-ish hotel. We were crammed into a tiny room while another event with about 1/20th the people had a larger room. Hopefully that can change next year.

Upon arrival there was a long time of people waiting to get in. The show’s start time was 9 AM, but we arrived at 9:04 to a line. I assumed it was because of a slow money taker (it was $8 a person, regardless of age). In fact the money taker was plenty fast, but we all got wrist bands (good idea), a pin, and a free bottle of Noodler’s Ink. In all, it was great package. One tip I would recommend is that the package come with a bag. I was not about to go all fishing vest at my first show but no one seemed to have bags, so there was a lot of stuff crammed in my pockets by the time we left.

First up my uncle got a zoom nib reground into something more traditional. There were three nib repair folks there, two that did full regrinds and one that did adjustments. Richard Binder was there, but he had not yet arrived by the time we got into the show. My uncle decided go with JJ Lax Pen Co.

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The process was fascinating, as Joshua seemed to move with machine-like precision in tiny incremental steps. After about twenty minutes of testing and grinding, the pen was finished and end result was a smooth clean line somewhere between a fine and medium, which is what my uncle asked for.

While the grinding was going on my son and I found a very nice pair of retailers that had put together starter fountain pen kits for kids. The kit itself included a Chinese-made demonstrator pen, a composition book, and a bottle of Noodler’s Ink in blue or black. My son chose blue.

After that we all wandered over to Ian Schon’s table where he had an array of Schon Design pens. Ian was very nice and we chatted about a bunch of stuff, including the King of Pen himself, Brad Dowdy.

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After some debate, my son picked out a beautiful aluminum blue, gold, and black pen with a clip. He has since not let it out of his site. In fact, the first night he had it it was on his nightstand as he fell asleep.

With that purchase made, we ventured over to the table occupied by Nikola Pang of Entropy Ink, where he had an array of beautiful handmade nib holders.

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Here Nick is showing off a beautiful nib of his own design. It was about an inch and half wide and produced (in his skilled hands) a wide variety of lines from thin blades of blue to brushstrokes. I had never seen anything like it, and based on the oohs from the crowd most people hadn’t either.

In the end I found something I was looking for—a beautiful Parker 51 Demi. It was in practically LNIB condition and came with a warranty. It was expensive $175, but given the condition and the size, I didn’t really think much about it. Gary Lehrer of GoPens sold me the Parker 51. I realize that it was a bit high for what it was, but honestly vintage pens are so daunting and buying one over the internet seems even more difficult, so I don’t really care if I paid $25 too much. I’d probably spend that sending stuff back and forth for condition or performance reasons.

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I realize that it was a bit high for what it was, but honestly vintage pens are so daunting and buying one over the internet seems even more difficult, so I don’t really care if I paid $25 too much. I’d probably spend that sending stuff back and forth for condition or performance reasons.

All three of us scored and all three of us came away happy. Overall, it was a good experience. They need a big space next year—the room across the hall would be plenty. I also liked the vibe quite a bit, very welcoming and everyone was friendly. Its not that knife shows are full of grumps, though there can be a few um…stodgy…um folks. Either way, knife shows are not as outwardly friendly. Perhaps it is because people view knives as weapons and stigmatize carriers, whereas no one thinks pens are weird or dangerous (well, maybe weird…). Whatever the reason, even at my first show I felt welcome. It was also less beardy, tattoo-y, and had, whaddyaknow, women.

There was a heavy emphasis on vintage pens. Trying to find a Vanishing Point was virtually impossible. There were more Parker 51s than VPs, which is weird. I also thought there were a lot of similar displays and retailers. One table was hard to distinguish from another table, with a few exceptions (nibmeisters, ink and paper folks…). I was also surprised that there were so few custom makers. I guess the custom thing is relatively new, whereas in knives, the entire market came from custom knives. I am also pleased that even expensive stuff wasn’t that crazy. Sure you could drop $2,000 on a super rare Parker 51, but there was no equivalent to a nihonto blade or a Loveless Subhilt, which I have seen a few times at an NCCA show.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show and I will definitely go back next year.