Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Sheffield Pen Show

It’s not often that I get to take a look at all the different pens out there, and it’s even rarer that I get chance to look at them all in one place, so it was with some interest that I finally got to one of the regional Pen Shows, and the last one for this year.

Held at the Copthorne Hotel in Sheffield, on the 20th of November, I went with my wife Jude (who also loves pens) and we went over for first thing in the morning. 

First impressions were that it wasn’t huge, but I’ll come to that in a moment, it was three rooms in the conference area of the hotel, with the dividing walls removed to make it into a single room.  There was a presence from the writing equipment society there, a number of traders, both familiar and new, and a few manufacturers making their presence known.

The first stall that I went to was Onoto, which is a brand that I’m not intimately familiar with, but it was an excellent start to the show.  I spoke at length with the director of the company, Feng Li, and one of the engineers who put the pens together.  They’re billed as an all English pen, so the immediate question was...

Is it...?

The response?


But with provisos...

The engineer that I spoke to was very clear about the materials that the pens are made from being from other locations than England, the nibs are Bock, the feeds are Schmidt, and the materials from which the pens are constructed are drawn from wherever they can be found, but the craftsmanship...

All English...

What struck me most was the direct manner of the engineer, here was a man who looked only to make pens, and to make them as best he could, he was both engaging and reasonable in his comments, pointing out that if the best nibs were English, they’d buy English, if the best feeds were English, they’d buy English...

But they’re not.

I handled a few of the pens, no images I fear, couldn’t write while photographing things, but the pens were very well balanced, the design of them seamless, no errors, no blemishes, each one of them made to the highest standards and presented with pride.  This to me was all that is required of someone making pens, the pride in what they’re doing and the desire to make everything better.  They do commissions, and speak honestly when they say that a simple amendment to an existing design will take a few weeks, something wholly new make take several months.  I was impressed by their honesty and their products, many of which I took a photo of so you can get a look at the full range of things.

The second stall was made up of spares and parts for all different types of pens, nothing in particular and everything in general, the stall holder wasn’t much interested in talking to me, but was happy for me to be putting their wares up on the blog, just not discussing them.  This attitude wasn’t uncommon at the fair, and I’ll come to that in a moment, but I didn’t bother with the images and free publicity if they couldn’t be bothered talking to me for more than a half second.

The third stall was the most interesting of all the people I talked to today, a man selling everything from high end pens to things you could use every day without worrying about walking around with a kings ransom in your pocket.  He introduced himself as Ray Walker, a man interested in the use and design of pens, we talked for a short while, and it became quickly apparent that he is very much a man who enjoys the use of pens, rather than just the selling of them, he gave me a number of contacts, recommended several fairs to visit, both for purchase and for use, and talked to me about what he liked most in pens.  He deals with the very top end of pens, and carries out both repairs and valuations.  He, of all the people at the show, was the one that I felt I had most in common with, and to that end, I’m including all his contact details at the end of the piece.

The other parts of the show had a variety of things on sale, varying from spares and bits to very, very expensive pens (the comment made was “Are you sure they haven’t misplaced the decimal point...?”), pen cases, notebooks, and more inks than you could shake a stick at. 

Particular case in point to the northumbrian pen company and their excellent stand of cases.

I spoke to Pure/Niche pens while I was there, good stand, doing more trade than everyone else as a result of their prices having the decimal point in the place where most could afford it.  We discussed the monopoly on noodlers inks that they have and how they were planning on increasing their range and product lines, and we found that we also shared a love of writing in general.  

Very approachable and knowledgeable, many interesting stories of inks and the people that make them (ask him about hunting sharks in canoes...), and made me certain to buy more from them than I had in the past, good suppliers are hard to come by, interesting and friendly ones even harder, so this was one to keep.

And that brings me to the last part of the show review, and perhaps the most disappointing of all the things that I encountered whilst I was there. 

The attitude of many of the traders there...

If you weren’t there to buy, you weren’t there, and while I understand that, and I understand that the show is there to make a profit, I also understand that if you don’t have a good shop front, no one’s going to spend money with you.  If you aren’t willing to talk to anyone, you’re not likely to sell that 2k pen that’s sitting there, and it could be that a lot of the traders figured that there wasn’t anything to be done there, because most people don’t wander in off the street with a suitcase of notes wanting to buy a pen, but you never know...

And this too was something encountered with some of the people at the show, pens were very much a bragging item, not something to be written with, not something to be used every day, but something to be carried in a case and shown off as a means of how much wealth you have.  

Those without the pens to be in the club, weren’t welcome in the club, when I was taking notes with the Lamy I take everywhere, I could have pulled out a turd and had less revulsion I suspect...

Ah...A Lamy...clearly can’t afford a real pen...

Or certainly that was how I felt by the time I got out of the hall.
So I got at least one of these...

I have to say that for me, this is the exact wrong reason for having a pen, and having walked around the entire hall, I found more people interested in putting pens in cases and displaying them than actually writing with them, so I think it may just be that we were from different worlds.  I’ll be doing another pen show at some point in the future, and chances are they’ll know I’ll be coming, but that won’t make any difference to me, I’ll seek out the people like Onoto and Ray Walker, who have the same interests as me and don’t mind talking to everyone.

And that’s why there’s a lot of photos of the pens on offer, and no contact details for any of them...

But those that did talk to us...?

Northumbrian Pen Company,  Good range of pens and accessories, best cases of the whole show

Onoto Pen Company, Beautiful pens and within the price range of those without swiss accounts, will take commissions, very friendly.

Ray Walker,  Excellent range of pens from every day carry to antiques in cases, very knowledgeable and approachable, recommended as a contact point into the world of higher end pens.


  1. I have attended many pen shows in USA, no other countries. I can understand your comments but they do not reflect my experiences. Most (not all) US pen show sellers will talk to anyone about anything. A show is a social experience. We all learn from each other & maybe do some business or not. On repeat visits I meet up with some old friends & make some new ones on both sides of the table. I do not know a better way to spend a day focused on our passion, pens. I believe you will learn to enjoy the shows the more you attend.

    1. And I would hope that that will be the way that things go at the next show that I go to, thanks for the encouragement.

  2. In my experience the standoffish are there, but they are a minority. Except when things are really busy a lot of pen sellers do enjoy a chat and have huge resources of information to put at your disposal. After a number of pen shows I know which tables to head for!