Up until the later '90s, nearly all vintage pen and pencil activity converged at pen shows. The combined effect of online trading and the colonization of shows by new pen sellers, however, has radically altered the picture. While shows are still major gathering-points for traders of vintage writing equipment, the amount of fresh material on offer has dropped precipitously, as has the transaction volume. Senior collectors who used to attend virtually every pen event have become much more selective, and dealers are following suit. Nonetheless, pen shows still offer the newcomer an unparalleled opportunity to view and handle a wide range of vintage pens and pencils. Furthermore, collectors and dealers will often speak more freely and candidly in person than online, which can be of inestimable importance in judging what advice to trust and what to discount. Note that many local clubs now hold regular meetings that are essentially small shows with a predominantly vintage focus.
Pen shows began in the USA, and American shows are still the biggest and most numerous. Oldest and one of the best for vintage collectors remains Chicago (May), with Los Angeles (Feb) being the other long-established biggie. Washington DC (August) is the largest overall. Columbus, OH (Nov) may not be as big, but for vintage material it punches well above its weight. The San Francisco show is a very popular event which has grown rapidly, noting that much of its activity revolves around users and modern pens. Outside of the USA, the London show has for many years been the prime event. In total number of tables, it is small by US show standards, but since nearly all those tables are completely devoted to vintage writing equipment, the show ranks high indeed on amount and variety of material on offer. The Madrid show, in November, gives London a run for its money. It runs for three days, not just one, and draws sellers from across Europe. There are decidedly more modern pens at Madrid than at London.
We have posted two articles on what to expect at your first pen show in our FAQ section, under
Collecting. Also recommended are our blog posts < ahref="http://vintagepensblog.blogspot.com/2016/06/pen-show-frictions-part-1-retail.html">here, which discuss the history and dynamics of pen shows in rather more depth.