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By Susan Wirth
This article appears here through the kind permission of its author, who was known as “The Queen of Ink,” the Godmother of Pen Shows, and the Pen Whisperer, and is sorely missed since her death in 2017.
Susan Wirth at the 2014 Colorado Pen Show
Pen shows are run by individuals, not a national organization. No show organizer does this for the money. Some shows lose money every year. Although there is no codified code of conduct, there are a number of de facto rules that have evolved through the years as pen collecting matured and became better organized. Thus, the rules vary from show to show, but as given here they reflect regional needs and the experience of the organizers.
|tableholder||A person who pays for an assigned space (a table) during some or all of the show; a table usually costs $100.00 or more.|
|weekend trader||A person who pays (generally $25.00 to $70.00) for a pass granting admission and permission to sell pens on days when tables are unassigned, if there are any such days. Weekend traders also gain early admission on days when tables are assigned.|
|early admission||A person who pays a premium to get in early on assigned table days when the dealers are still setting up. Not all shows offer a separate early-admission price; in many cases, the only way to gain early admission is to buy a weekend trader’s pass.|
|public admission||A person who pays a small admission charge, usually $5.00 to $10.00, for admission during the regular show hours on assigned table days.|
Selling Pens: A pen show is not a free-for-all where anyone and everyone can walk in, set up, and sell pens. If you want to find out if you can sell pens at a show without paying for a table, ask the organizer which days tables are unassigned, if any, versus assigned. In order to sell pens at all, you will usually be required to purchase a weekend trader’s pass.
Organizer Needs: The organizer needs to have a certain number of tableholders, weekend traders, and public admissions to make the show work economically; but in addition, these three categories have to be in the right proportion to each other. For example, a show that has only 100 public admissions and 200 tableholders is likely to have a huge decrease in tableholders the next year.
Assigned Tables, 3 Days: Assigned table days are particularly important to tableholders who travel more than 200 miles (325 km) to a show and/or who go to a lot of trouble creating interesting and customer-friendly setups. Having to set up and take down every day can be very wearing. All three days of the New York City show, for example, are assigned, and this was true of several other shows in 2004. A perceived disadvantage could be a lack opportunity to sell pens in the show room unless you pay for a table. (But wait! Read on.)
Assigned Tables, Sunday Only: On the other hand, at some shows, the only assigned table day is Sunday. The other days are unassigned. Most of these one-assigned-day shows have been around for a long time with a huge weekend trader base. Tableholders are busy every day of the show.
However, the Sunday-only policy can have some drawbacks:
For those who are new to pens, Sunday is the only day the admission price seems “affordable,” yet that day isn’t always convenient. And remember: those who are new to pens are very important — they’re the heavy users and collectors of tomorrow.
Sundays can be so mobbed that people can hardly move.
Having unassigned days puts extra pressure on tableholders who usually have to set up and take down every day (and often in a different location).
The show organizer usually ends up paying the same price for space for three days regardless of whether that space is filled by three days of tableholders or two days unassigned and one day assigned.
Having a pen show in New York City is a brave and wonderful effort. But I’ll bet that some of you don’t know that table fees are $300.00 per table. One of the ways to make a show more appealing to tableholders is to ensure that tables are assigned all three days.
Don’t Take It for Granted: Pen shows are a marvelous venue to see thousands of pens and meet dealers and collectors on a one-on-one basis. But don’t ever take your local pen show for granted. Not ever! Every year some are in serious danger of not happening. At this writing, there are only two U.S. shows west of the Mississippi confirmed for 2005: LA and Portland. Dallas (at best) is a one-day show where dealers of new pens are not allowed.
Think Where You Fit in the Picture: Those who buy table space are the core supporters of the show. Many of these people stay in the pen show hotel (even when they live 30 minutes away) in order to take advantage of the pen show activity that goes on 24 hours a day. But in addition to convenience, this is also supporting the show. (Most organizers have a room-night requirement from the hotel. If it’s not met, there can be a huge penalty; when it’s exceeded, the fact can be a bargaining chip for the organizer for the next year.)
Sure. Year after year, Mr. X can buy a weekend trader pass, sell $2000.00 worth of pens, stay at a cheaper motel (or with his in-laws) and make all his purchases on line afterwards according to who has the very cheapest price (after testing the item at a show).
But if everyone had the same “strip-mining” mentality, pen shows would end.
Instead, if you want pen shows to stay around and to give yourself a better experience in the bargain, consider the following options:
If you want to sell pens, buy a table — or even a half table. (Not all shows offer half-table rates. You may need to find someone with whom you can share a table.)
Man your table all three days and don’t read a book or do a crossword at the table — you’ll do better by looking like someone who cares. Try to avoid leaving early. “Just because your big part happens in the first act doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay for the curtain call.” You’re part of a show, get it?!
Stay at the pen show hotel and discover the convenience of being able to go to your room any time you want and come back day or night after a refreshing little cat-nap. If you bring a spouse, you won’t have to be joined at the hip — you can get two room keys. You’ll discover there are usually pen show people in the bar, and you can always bring your case along…
When you find the pen you want, especially if it appeals because of the way it writes, try to buy that very pen rather than trying to get a different one cheaper on line. Identical nibs on identical models don’t always write the same way, and your cheaper purchase may end up costing you a lot more, in both money and annoyance. This is true of all pens, vintage and modern alike.