Washington DC Pen Show 2003
Trip Report: SuperShow! by Richard Binder
  Article # 361 Article Type: Report

Trip Report: SuperShow!

People who work for themselves frequently end up forgoing vacations when it’s a choice between travel and dinner. But all work and no play makes Richard grind dull nibs, so Barbara proposed driving down to Washington, D.C., for the annual Washington SuperShow, on Tuesday instead of waiting until Thursday. We arrived in the afternoon after lunch and a stop to buy fabric for an addition to Richard’s World Famous Vest Collection, and I had hardly made my way into the lobby to register when along came Sailor USA’s Dick Egolf. I signed in and turned around to fetch our bags, and there was Lee Chait. Lee’s appearance, actually, wasn’t surprising; it’s well known that he usually arrives at show venues at least two months in advance.

Dinner and a failed attempt to connect to the Internet to check mail completed the evening, and Wednesday was another day.

Wednesday was supposed to be dedicated to being tourists, but the first order of business was to check mail. I still couldn’t log in, so I foolishly used the hotel’s so-called “business center,” consisting of one Windows PC with a dial-up connection. That inadequate setup cost me $1.25 per minute! I later called my ISP to get some troubleshooting assistance, and we found that their system had forgotten my dial-up password, thank you very much. They fixed it, and there were no more “business center” junkets. Of course, the hotel is no slouch at slapping on extra charges, and there was a $2.00 hit for every outgoing call...

Having finally gotten the Internet squared away, we hopped the Metro for the Mall, where we first visited the newly-renovated National Botanical Garden. Across the Mall and halfway up to the Washington Monument, we took in a display of seven fabulous diamonds in the same room where the Smithsonian keeps the Hope Diamond. We finished the day with a 3D IMAX film, and then we retreated to the hotel.

On Thursday morning, we visited Sully Plantation, in Chantilly, Virginia, and then came back to the hotel for what we’d all been waiting for, the SuperShow.

I immediately shifted into high gear, and I didn’t surface, basically, until Sunday afternoon. Thursday and Friday were great, and Saturday and Sunday were better! I worked steadily and met an incredible number of people, while Barbara “manned” the other end of the table to answer questions and help plan how best to handle the pens, pens, pens that kept flowing across the table. I have no idea of how many nibs I ground, smoothed, flow-adjusted, or just plain admired.

On Friday evening, Barbara and I shared dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant with Mr and Mrs Penspiration, Richard and Janie Jarvis.

More than any other show, the Washington SuperShow is the ideal opportunity for the Weekend Trader. We were supposed to have about 20 tables, first come first served, on Thursday and about 100 on Friday. My guess is that at least 150 were occupied on Friday. The floor wasn’t a mob scene, but there weren’t a whole lot of empty spaces. A tremendous number of pens changed hands on Friday, and whole lot of ’em passed through my hands. People were hustling and bustling about, but the flow of smiles and friendly chatter never slackened. Actually, everything about this show is friendly. As usual, Bob Johnson bent over backward to make everybody happy and at home, and — at least from where I sat — the show ticked along like a finely-tuned watch.

The hotel even got into the friendly business. They sponsored a cocktail party on Friday, beginning at about 4 in the afternoon. Pen people being pen people, the party pretty much just picked itself up, glass by glass, and migrated back into the ballroom. Barbara was kind enough, after being the recipient of a certain amount of baleful glaring and prodding, to bring me a glass of wine, and I sipped on that while I worked on pens.

I finally got out of the ballroom at about quarter to midnight, the last person out. Barbara, being vastly more sensible than I, had retired hours earlier. That was the night my room key card didn’t work. There was something wrong with the lock on our room door; it wouldn’t self-lock after you opened the door. I had complained and been promised they’d fix it, and I assumed that was why the key didn’t work. But the desk clerk’s new keys wouldn’t work, either, and I had to be let in by a building engineer with a metal key. The batteries in the lock had died.

The malfunctioning lock had been sufficient cause for the desk clerk to buy us Saturday breakfast, and as we were finishing up we were joined by Jerry Jerard for a great ten-minute chat about all kinds of things, even pens now and then. If you don’t know Jerry, you ought to seek him out at the next show you attend. He has boxes of pens on his table, labeled in interesting ways, like “Mostly Chiltons” or “Green” or “Red Stuff.” Don’t let the naïveté of this labeling scheme fool you; Jerry knows what he is doing, and I have a great respect for him. His recent PENnant article on Chiltons is a prized reference.

The mob scene was on Saturday. Friday, which had kept me hopping, was just the warm-up. It’s still a haze, actually, but Barbara did say, at ending time on Saturday, that it looked as if I’d done nearly three times as many as I usually do at home in a day. But at home there are toughies (like the cracked “51” Demi that needs basic restoration but won’t come apart) mixed in with the nib work, so it’s not really a fair comparison.

Outside the show, you could still see pens and pen people wall to wall all weekend long — in the bar, in the restaurant, all over the lobby, outside the entrance, it was as if pens had simply taken over the whole hotel. (In fact, they sort of did. All the public space in the lobby and two ballrooms, including the biggest one, was pen territory.) Everywhere you turned there was somebody you knew. I can remember seeing Rick Horne, Lee Chait again and again, Joel Hamilton and Sherrell Tyree, Bert Heiserman, Jim Hickman, Warren Granek, Bernadette Landolf, Deb Kinney, Len Provisor, John Mottishaw, Bill Weakley, Paul Erano, Roger Cromwell and Victor Chen and Bob Leeds, Ross McKinney, Jerry Jerard, Chuck Swisher and Chun Lee and Chun’s family (daughter Monica made a point of coming over to my table to say hello), David Isaacson, Ron Zorn, David and Mary Jane Moak, AnnMarie Houtaniemi, Mort Epstein, Rick Propas, Jimmy Dolive, Sam and Frank Fiorella, Sue Wirth, Lisa Hanes (whose first words to me were “Have you eaten?”), Tim Pierson, Louie and Howard Kaplan, Maryann and Steve Zucker, Amy Lane, Jake Leventhal, even a surprise visit by Jimmie Cockburn! I know I’ve left out half of the people I know, but that’s all my glazed-over brain will disgorge.

After they booted us out at 5 p.m. on Saturday, we joined Steve Herman and his wife, the actress Joan Grant, for a wonderful, relaxing chat in the bar. (A martini helps with the relaxation, too...) Steve, in case you don’t recognize the name immediately, is an occasional noter (and far more frequent lurker) here, and it is he who crafted that wonderful PWI article about me. He and Joan are more than just pen people, they’re among our dearest friends, and it was a real joy to have time here with them. Joan reminded me that I repaired a Jade Duofold pencil for her a while back, thanking me once again.

Later we moved to a different table, where we chatted (not pen stuff, real-life chatter) with Joel and Sherrell, John Mottishaw, AnnMarie, and Rick Propas. One of the things we really appreciate about pen people is that they all seem so broadly knowledgeable and downright interesting. At a nearby table we saw Lisa Hanes, David Isaacson, Richard and Janie Jarvis, and several others whose faces I couldn’t see. This is one of the best things about pen shows in general and this one in particular — you simply can’t beat the after-show camaraderie with a stick. Eventually Joel drifted over to that other table, Sherell and I fell into tech talk about Morrison Patriots and Conklin vacuum fillers, and finally John got up and said he had to eat and doggonnit, the hotel’s buffet was going to have to be good enough, and that’s when Barbara and I departed for Panera.

Saturday ws Rick Horne’s birthday, and Sunday morning Bob Johnson made Rick come back to his table so we could all applaud him. And get some cake.

Ron Zorn had his stoplight going at the far side of the room. (Actually, he and David Isaacson were set up just through the open archway into the smaller ballroom.) Ron came over early Saturday, before the crowds were let in, and we had a nice chat. About halfway through the afternoon, a client brought to my table a button-filler Canadian Duofold that I’d worked on for him a while back. He hadn’t realized how hard you have to press the button and had disassembled the pen hoping to fix it. I sent him across to Ron to have the sac shellacked back on, and then I put the pen back together. I wasn’t going to take that poor pen home and make it sit in the queue for six weeks!

At some point, Joel Hamilton hurried up to my table with a set of nib pliers in his hand. He said he’d seen them on Jerry Jerard’s table, and he knew I didn’t have a set. Now I have them, and that’s cool, but the real significance of this episode is in how it exemplifies the way pen people look out for each other. Thanks, Joel!

One other thing I do remember is that Kram was there with his family, and his daughter was proudly talking about her new eyedropper and making plans about where to fill it. This boy is bringing up his kids right, they’re both well capable of using any fountain pen, and I’d quite frankly be willing to trust them to handle my pens in perfect safety.

An old family friend showed up Sunday afternoon, and as he as about to take a tour of the room he asked if there was anything I wanted. I told him I’d come for a really good Eversharp 64, but there weren’t any of those, so maybe he could find me a nice WASP Clipper. Didn’t have to be silver, didn’t have to be oversize. He brought back a black Vacuum-Fil Clipper in lovely condition - a touch of brassing on the band but otherwise very pretty indeed. And the price was very sweet! Nothing astonishing, but a very nice pen and one that I’ll enjoy using. Vacuum-Fils are so cool anyway with their huge ink capacity, fill it on New Year’s Day and use it all year.

And that is something of a metaphor here. Get charged up at the DC SuperShow, and you can go a whole year before the next one. Miss it, and, well, you missed out.

Text © 2003 Richard F. Binder. Photos © 2003 Len Provisor.

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