Philadelphia Pen Show, in writing

[Comic artist Dre stops by a com-pen-dium of penthusiasts to get an inkling of the industry behind fine pen-making. — the Artblog editors]

Everyone knows the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”. At the Philadelphia Pen Show, which was held on Jan. 16-18 at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, there were pens that matched the craftsmanship of a fine swordsmith. The show, organized by the Baltimore-based pen company Bertram’s Inkwell, celebrates the fountain pen, a handy tool that replaced the dip pen in the late 1800s. It also celebrates the pen’s accessories–ink, cartridges, converters, and pocket protectors, and provides calligraphy workshops to enthusiasts.

While I have been a fountain pen enthusiast and collector for years, this was my first experience attending the Philadelphia Pen Show. I enjoy practicing my calligraphy and I use fountain and dip pens.

I became more interested in writing by hand after reading the handwritten book “What It Is” by the great cartoonist Lynda Barry and seeing her lecture at different events. She stresses the benefits of writing by hand, such as improved memory and increased creativity.

The write stuff

John Greco, GW Pens.

One of the most unusual pen displays was by John Greco of GW Pens from Pitman, NJ. An artisan pen-maker, Greco creates pens that can be classified as steampunk art. One steampunk-style pen he had was made of metal, in a shape resembling a rifle bullet and gears. One of the pens rotated on a glowing pedestal on his table. 

Mike’s Pen Turning Z.

Artisan Mike Schmitt of MikesPenTurningZ presented a great variety of custom wooden fountain and rollerball pens. He and his wife traveled from Claremont, NH to exhibit.

Fonts of knowledge

Thomas Harvey of The Pen Guardian.

The Pen Guardian, Thomas Harvey’s Harrisburg, PA enterprise, sells handmade leather pocket protectors and pen cases. The leather in the pen cases comes from Lancaster County.

Two people
Richard and Evelyn of Rich-Beau-Tiques.

Traveling from West Virginia, Richard Vacca and his lovely partner Evelyn of Rich-Beau-Tiques showed vintage pens and accessories. I bought a pack of rare gold nibs for my dip pens. I hope that he writes a book about pens so the world can tap into his vast knowledge of the history and development of pens.

Gargantuan Pen at Pens of Dist-Ink-tion.

Another out-of-towner, Carl Seidl of Pens of Dist-Ink-tion from Lakeland, FL, displayed one gargantuan pen with a huge true gold nib!

Resources to draw from

All this pen-gawking can make your mouth water. To give visitors a bit of sweetness, chef Brandon Lee of the Modern Chocolatier was at the show with his eclectic, original, modern chocolate recipes–including tobacco-vanilla and bourbon.

The Philadelphia Calligrapher’s Society had brochures filled with information about upcoming calligraphy workshops and exhibits. They also offered a list of exhibits of recent acquisitions of Pennsylvania German Fraktur (a style of lettering and type of folk art) at a handful of venues, which include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mercer Museum, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

Two local reasons for pen enthusiasts to be excited: The PMA opens the exhibition, Drawn With Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection on Feb. 1, 2015, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania hosts a series of programs in its Pen To Paper Program Series.

Anderson Pens’ display.

The Philadelphia Pen Show illuminated how tightly knit the fountain pen community is. Everyone showing was helpful, and would point visitors to other exhibitors’ tables when they knew that their competitors might have what visitors were searching for.

Along with my gold nibs from Rich-Beau-Tiques, I picked up some pen converters and cartridges from Anderson Pens of Wisconsin. I feel drawn to return to this show in the following years;  it has stirred up my interest in visiting pen shows in other nearby cities. I hope that people who belong to younger generations begin to embrace traditional ways of writing as a craft, an art, and a form of expression.

Leaving with a few pen accessories.

Dre Grigoropol is a Philly-based artist, cartoonist, writer, blogger, and musician. You can follow Dre’s work at, and on Twitter @DretimeComics. Photographs by Dre.