A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My trip to the L.A. Pen Show

I can't believe it's taken me so long to get this post up!

I went to the L.A. Pen Show Sunday and had a blast. I had never been to a pen show before, but I sure plan on going to more. There were some fun highlights, a disappointment or two, and some lessons learned to make my next pen show even better.

People Highlights

The first highlight had nothing to do with pens, oddly enough. I saw my favorite radio host, Dennis Prager, walking around and checking out pens. Would love to sit down for a beer with that guy.

One of the first tables I stopped at happened to be for The Write Shoppe in Annapolis, Maryland. Quite a coincidence, considering I went to school there (Canoe U) and I wasn't expecting to see a shopkeeper come all that way.

I was able to keep my promise to Karen of Exaclair to say hello on her behalf to Sam and Frank at the Pendemonium table.

I met Speedy of TWSBI. Impossible not to like him right away.

I had a chat with Brian Gray of Edison Pen Company (another nice guy) about the merits of steel nibs. (See his article, In Praise of Steel Nibs.)

Product Highlights

I'm still a relative pen newbie, so I'm sure there were a lot of fascinating things I overlooked. And what caught my attention might be mundane to a lot of people.

It was nice to see some products up close that I had previously seen only on the internet. In fact, the one pen I bought (that's right, just one!) caught my attention at the show because it looked so sharp, whereas it really hadn't done anything for me when I saw it on the website. That pen is the Monteverde Prima fountain pen, which I bought in the brown stripe pattern. I haven't found a picture online yet, including any at the Monteverde website, that does it justice.

It was also fun to discover new products. For example, I thought the Rosetta North Star and Rosetta Magellan were quite nice. Probably would have bought a North Star if I had not bought the Prima.

At the higher end of the spectrum, the fountain pen that really caught my eye was another one I hadn't seen anywhere before, including online: the Diplomat Excellence Rhomb. Love at first sight for me, but a little pricey for an impulse buy: $275 with a steel nib. It's on my wish list now. I know looks aren't everything, but they don't hurt.

The temptation of the day was the Visconti Homo Sapiens. I've been drooling over that one for a while, and a vendor offered it for only $395. (Are they selling that poorly? Retail is $595!)

Oh, then there was this novelty:

Quite a deal . . . if you like the ink!

If, for some odd reason, this picture does not satisfy your curiosity about the show, try Brian Gray's photo gallery and this FPN thread (that link also courtesy of Brian).


The show was not without its disappointments. It would have been nice if the show handed out a map or at least a list of exhibitors. Finding what you wanted was a little tough (but I would have browsed everything anyway). Also, there was very little in the way of pen-related products. For example, I looked for a loupe, without success (there were a few, but not the kind I was looking for).  I was also hoping for more stationery, but there were only a few displays, and they consisted mostly of the Rhodia and Clairefontaine products I'm already familiar with.

Now I want to go to the National Stationery Show. I'm beginning to think that's my last hope for locating some masculine stationery. Unfortunately, I can't justify a trip to New York just for the show. Anyone out that way need some California legal advice that would benefit from a face-to-face meeting?

Lessons Learned

I've got to brush up on vintage fountain pens. There was table after table of vintage pens, which I didn't spend much time at because there are so many contemporary pens I'm interested in. This means I missed out on about half the show.

Next year, I'm going earlier. This year, I only spent about four hours there. I was able to keep it that short because I wasn't checking out the vintage pens and I wasn't really shopping for a pen (but I bought one anyway). Next year, I'll probably be doing both, and I'll need more time.

See you there next year!



  1. Masculine stationery in a pinch: Toss a few sheets of Clairefontaine Triomphe A5 in an inkjet printer. In word processing program set page size to A5. Select copyright-free graphic (scales of justice, inkwell and quill, or if all else fails, initials), drag graphic to appropriate corner, size to suit, print.

    The result is amazing on the CF paper as long as the graphic is good quality.

    Otherwise I think you'll be looking at lots and lots of Japanese kittycat stationery.

  2. @Speck - oh, and thanks for the inkjet on Triomphe tip . . . I've got plenty of Triomphe lying around to try that with.

  3. This is awesome. I love that ink jug! $100 per gallon is pretty damn cheap.

    I wish you'd shared more impressions about Speedy. Did you discuss any pen stuff with him? Is he coming out with new stuff?

  4. Brian Gray's "In Praise of Steel Nibs" is a gem. He suggested modern alloys, I think, as one explanation for the modern steel nib's high quality. I'll guess modern manufacturing techniques, statistical process control, etc., although I've never seen the inside of a nib plant. Masculine stationery? Dang! I've been looking for plain--I mean plain, no decorative element--sheets and envelopes, heavyweight, high quality. No luck. I use postcards, and plain-vanilla unlined Mead paper, Mead envelopes. I'm a newbie, too, and one of my grumbles is that pens 'n' stationery were probably a lot easier when you could go to a stationer. Except for folks in our largest cities, I think we have to trust to online. Jack/Youngstown

  5. @Anonymous/Jack,

    You shoul try Clairefontaine Triomphe or G. Lalo Verge de France stationery. The former comes in plain white and ruled versions and has a very smooth finish, great for fountain pens. The G Lalo has a laid finish, so its toothier but handles the ink just as well; it comes in several colors, but with no other ornamentation. Both are available from Goulet Pens and other online vendors.

    Crane 100% cotton lettersheets are also great and easy to find online.(This is also toothy.)

  6. Thanks, NBE. I've eyeballed premium stationery online, and was never sure whether I was going to get satinization, micro-deckling, tissue-paper lining, etc., stuff I didn't want.

    BTW--Canson, the paper company, manufactures books of plain postcard-sized stock on heavyweight (300 gsm) art paper. Looks good, and I'm guessing home-printer customization is possible. Sort of an upmarket version of the USPS plain postcard. Jack/Youngstown

  7. I rechecked the online stuff. Crane and Original Crown Mill do seem to have some plain paper and correspondence card stock. (Swisher Pens is one source.) I'd thrown up my hands earlier because most offerings do seem to be embellished/decorated, etc.

    I've done a little voluntarist/activist work. It's not business, and not exactly personal.
    People appreciate the short "Thanks for the radio interview, etc." note. People do notice upmarket stationery, even if it's at the "seems to be extraordinary stuff, but I don't know why" level.

    I agree (I think) w/ Speck above. Pick the wrong stationery and you may end up "signaling" stuff you didn't think you were "signaling". Jack/Youngstown

  8. Speck, thanks! But "The Art of Manliness" gig sounds a lot like rehashed "Esquire" mags from the 1960s. Every schmuck with a little folding money starts thinking he has digs on Fifth Avenue and in Belgravia.

    I'm a semi-retired tech writer and ad dude. I need enough stationery to tell people I give hoot, but no more than that. I personally am okay with paper embellishment, but I'm not the guy or gal I send a note to. You want to move 'em, not freak 'em out. Jack/Youngstown

  9. Oops! Anonymous Jack, that link was not meant as a reply to your comment. Sorry for the confusion.

    It was for Note Booker as another option in his suitable masculine stationery search.

    No, a stringer of fish wouldn't be my first choice for stationery embellishment if I were a guy.

    I agree with Note Booker, try Clairefontaine Triomphe. Fifty sheets of A5 paper for $5.00 USD isn't too bad on the wallet considering the great quality. You can also buy the matching envelopes separately so you don't get hung with a bunch of envelopes; 25 for $5.00 USD.

  10. Thanks to all for the tips! Jack/Youngstown

  11. I took the plunge. Crane correspondence cards (SKU CC3111?) from an outfit called On Paper in Columbus, Ohio. www.onpaper.com. They also stock G. Lalo. Jack/Youngstown