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A trip to DC Fountain Pen Super Show
I didn't know I was going to break my bank at DC
It had been a year since I was back on the East Coast, specifically Virginia and Washington DC. Last Wednesday, I woke up early and took the 5.5-hour plane ride from Seattle to DC for the annual DC Fountain Pen Super Show.
This is the second year that I’m traveling to this pen show for work. I knew I was going to have fun working the pen show, but I did not expect that I will be swept away in the frenzy of stationery shopping too! I came away from the show with an unexpected haul, but I love every single piece of it.
Pre-game stationery store tour in DC
For weeks, I’ve been looking forward to this DC trip as a quick reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. When I travel, I typically plan my days around food, stationery stores, and unique experiences that I can document in my journals. The last time I visited Washington, DC was around 2016. There were many special stationery stores and boutiques that had since opened after I moved to the West Coast. Since I get an extra day for local research before the actual show event, I made it a goal to visit Jenni Bick (Dupont Circle) and Penny Post (Alexandria), as well as enjoy a relaxing afternoon poking around bakeries and cafes for some cafe journaling time.
On our free day, we started the morning with a fresh cup of joe from Tatte Bakery, my favorite cafe from when I used to live in Boston. The sting of nostalgia was a welcoming way to start my adventure on the East Coast for the weekend. Christina ordered the shakshuka, while I dug into my grilled peach on ricotta on sourdough bread. Of course, a photo wouldn’t be fun without a TRAVELER’S notebook or a colorful Hobonichi next to it. I felt like I’m the photographer that takes the “in-the-wild” photos of Hobonichi’s yearly line-up release. It's funny how much of a kick we get out of pairing our favorite stationery with daily activities such as breakfast.
Both Jenni Bick and Penny Post were spectacular stationery stores in the city. Jenni Bick had a variety of writing instruments as well as leather-bound journals and notebooks. Penny Post has a more colorful decor that features stationery alongside decorative goods. Both stores had a good selection of cards and local maker goods. My favorite thing to do is to pick out whimsical stickers or illustrated postcards. They became more memorable keepsakes of the city I visit. Washington, DC is especially known for its spring season and Cherry Blossoms, and I love that both stores feature the motif generously.
We also ventured from stationery stores to pen boutiques, specifically, Farhney’s Pens is just two blocks away from the White House. The huge green fountain pen hanging above its door caught my eye immediately. The decor inside felt prim and proper as its exterior facade. Although the store features high-end fountain pens, my eyes were drawn to the special Retro 51 Cherry Blossom edition pens. The store had been creating special editions every spring for 17 years.
This year, the limited edition pens feature Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial. I don’t care much about US Presidents, but I love how the pens look like a mini museum, with brass-like etching and copper-green colors. Cherry blossoms are splattered around the pen, as well as on the finial. Although I don’t typically use roller ball, I convinced my colleague to purchase this special pen together as a souvenir for this trip.
We spent a nice chunk of the afternoon walking around Georgetown. This area is known for its cupcakes and cobblestoned streets. It is a charming neighborhood that seems to tell a story around each corner and street. We picked up huge chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery and ended the day with delicious cupcakes and matcha from Baked and Wired.
Finally, the Super Show begins
DC Fountain Pen Super Show always has the reputation of being the largest show. It attracts vendors from the East Coast and European regions. Last year’s DC pen show felt a bit hectic, with the constant fear of COVID looming over vendors and participants. In 2022, the event hotel was also under renovation, lacking in space and amenities. However, I had fond memories of that show because it was one where we didn’t have any managers around, and we had free reins on how we wanted to run our booth and what we want to do afterward for dinner. This year, I’m excited to be back, and the show felt like it went through an upgrade and is bigger and busier than ever.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the weather, it was cool and breezy, not muggy and humid. My colleague and I each had a table to ourselves. Over the course of three days, we had our little safe bubble behind the table while the crowd swarmed through the aisles. However, being short-staffed meant that we didn’t get any breaks at all. I scarfed down lunch on both Friday and Saturday around 3 PM.
I knew that if I wanted to get any experience of the show, I’ll need to sneak away during the early hours before the door opens. Even with the limited time I had, I still got quite the haul.
My first stop is visiting Toru-san from Toyooka Craft. Actually, he found me early on Friday to hand-deliver a box that I custom ordered months before. I chose the Hinoki white wood 8-pen box with two layers. One drawer has a soft pink lining, while the second one is in olive color. This is how I imagined my favorite aesthetic (cherry blossoms) in a pen box! He brought with him many other beautiful pen cases. I only wish I lived closer so I can carry home one of the larger furniture-like pieces. Maybe one day I will own a 100-pen box too.
Another goal of mine is to find a pen body to fit a specially engraved nib I purchased from Pen Realm at the Pacific Northwest Pen Show. I wanted something in the green and blue color scheme that matches the vibe of PNW. On Saturday morning, I stopped by Dave Dollar’s custom pens and found the perfect pen. I actually got to know Dave’s wife Judith first! I met her in past year’s shows as well as at Edmond’s Sketcher Fest because she is an avid urban sketcher. Her postcards for sale at the table reeled me in, and the pen was an easy hook, line, and sinker. I chose a watery swirl pen body called “Atlantis” by Turnt Pen Co. On the finial of the pen, Dave embedded an “ike”, an Eisenhower dollar. Wow, I’m continuing the presidential theme this week.
My third largest purchase came from Schon DSGN, whose meticulously engineered pens always blow the crowd away. The first thing I wanted from his table was the special Luer syringe pen cleaning tool. I rushed to his table on Friday noon when there was a lull for lunch. This magical device was engineered to mimic cartridge tubes of various brands so you can easily use a syringe to flush out the nib when cleaning. I picked up syringes of all three specifications: Sailor, Pilot, and Jowo.
I returned to Ian Schon’s table on Sunday morning, thinking I’ll just stop to chat. Turns out, stopping to chat at any table is a dangerous thing at a pen show. I walked away with ANOTHER pen, an anodized aluminum Green Salmon Splash fountain pen. Hello, cherry blossom and matcha aesthetic again!
Just walking through the walkways and glimpsing at vendor tables is enough to enable me to buy things. I peeked at Nagasawa’s table full of pens and found that the coveted Kobe Gradation banana-esque vanishing point is back in stock! After playing with Pilot’s Vanishing Point demonstrator, I can’t help but ended up ordering the pen online. I’m glad work kept me behind my own table for the majority of the show.
It was such a treat to meet friendly faces at pen shows, especially locals whom I can only see when coming to this region. I revisited vendors I discovered for the first time last year, as well as other sellers who also travel around to many shows.
DC Pen Show really is a testament that despite stationery and pens being a niche hobby, the community is still quite large and vibrant. I wish I could give a more comprehensive review of the show in general and cover all 119 brands that graced the show. I’ll instead recommend The Pen Addict as a great alternative to learn more about this show and the overarching community.
Eat, Laugh, Love Stationery
My colleague Christina eats vegan, so we had extra fun discovering vegan-friendly spots and venturing out of my usual food comfort zone. We ended up finding a bunch of amazing food places that I would’ve easily passed by if I was just traveling by myself. We had amazing falafel bowls, vegetarian pho loaded with tofu and vegan fishcakes, cupcakes, Thai food, and more.
It was hard to say goodbye, but I miss my dog Cookie so much just from being away for five days. The flight delay on the way home felt like an eternity. I watched Luca, Encanto, and Wakanda Forever. Funny story, my seatmate happens to be a customer who came to our table. She whipped out her Mont Blanc to write in her notebook while in the air…big mistake. We had a laugh while cleaning up fountain pen ink frantically.
Cookie welcomed me enthusiastically when I got home. He cuddled me in bed and didn’t give me any space to move for the entire night. I’m glad I took Monday off to recoup and write up this account while everything is still fresh in my mind. I don’t know if we’ll go to DC Fountain Pen Super Show again next year, but I thoroughly enjoyed it this time.
Until next time, happy journaling!
P.S. Still fangirling over Seventeen this week, so here’s “Fallin’ Flower”, one of their Japanese songs. I guess it’s almost Fall now.
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