The Chicago Pen Show May 1-3, 2009

The Chicago Pen Show is always the first weekend in May.  It is the oldest and one of the largest international pen shows held annually at the Weston O’Hare Hotel minutes away from the airport.  Collectors start arriving Wednesday, the last week of April, to do as much pre-show buying, selling, and trading as they possibly can.  The Western O’Hare is well suited for a large international show- free shuttle service to the hotel every twenty minutes or so; friendly hotel staff; spacious, comfortable, and nicely furnished rooms; and a very large ball room and surrounding areas for exhibitors and show goers. Special show rates of $139 per night and the excellent hotel food and nearby restaurants are added pluses.  

As I mentioned, a great deal of activity occurs in the few days before the show.  This show always has exhibitors who get there early to trade amongst themselves and with weekend traders.  Otherwise, the show is open to the public on Sunday. 

For Steve Parsons and me, the flight from Albany, NY and the shuttle to the hotel was seamless–a miracle in light of the ‘Swine Flu’ outbreak that was just unfolding.  We arrived mid afternoon on Friday, but as I unpacked I noticed that the number of attendees was lower than previous years, no doubt due to the flu and the bad economy.  Despite lower attendance, plenty of exhibitors, artisan pen makers, calligraphers, manufacturers and representatives, and pen book authors were present. As I am now offering pens in the quarterly, I walked around the room and immediately found plenty of good pens to buy: Sheaffer Snorkels, Parker Duofolds, Vacumatics, and 51s, and a few exotic pens for the next issue.  The show offers a good mix of vintage and new pens. 

The Chicago Pen Show has many attractions, including free seminars by notables of the hobby.  But year after year, the most notable feature of this show is its auction.  Though I often prefer not to attend, most collectors feel otherwise and I was told many pens sold at buyer’s prices. There were also a few show stoppers, including a red baby Waterman which sold in excess of $5,000 and a Parker Aztec which went for more than 20K.

The Chicago Pen Show experience encompasses much more than pens. Collectors go to have a good time, meet new people, and to renew old acquaintances.  Each year, Steve and I count on seeing Nicholas Ayo and several other friends who attend one or at most two shows a year.  At the end of the day, we make dinner plans and gather in one of the hotel’s comfortable meeting areas.  Since smoking is banned inside buildings, the hotel accommodates people in a comfortable heated lounge area outside the hotel, a favorite informal gathering spot for many of us. This year, a few research scientists from the hotel’s American Diabetes Association convention joined us after dinner for drinks and conversation well into the night. Even research scientists like nice pens and we learned a little about the research they were doing in return.  

If you are wondering what it is like to attend a major pen show, try Chicago next year.  Make it a long weekend- a mini-vacation- and see if meeting like minded people and actually touching the pens you want to buy aren’t even better than internet chat rooms and eBay.  If you have pens that no longer interest you, bring them to trade or sell.  Be sure to do your homework in advance and have an idea of their worth. Go to connect with other collectors and to meet the authors, repair persons, and pen artisans, and personalities you’ve heard about.  Make diner plans and hang out for informal conversations in the lounge area.  Many of the people you have heard about will be there and are very chatty.  Special thanks go to Mike Fultz, Don Lavin, and Daniel Zazov who, again, made this year’s show a very enjoyable experience.