Pen Show Survival Checklist

Pen shows are magical events where pen enthusiasts, collectors, brands, and dealers congregate to share our collective excitement for the humble pen.

For the uninitiated, the first pen show, especially if it’s a huge one like the DC Pen Supershow, can be a daunting, overwhelming experience. Since I’ve been to several over the years, both as an attendee and as an exhibitor, I’d like to offer my experience to help any first-timers out there. Even if you’ve been to a couple of shows, perhaps my tips and checklist will encourage you to explore something new at your next show.

Pen Show Checklist (Essentials)

  • Comfortable, cushioned shoes
  • Your pens
  • Cash
  • A budget
  • A pen wishlist
  • A snack & bottle of water

Pen Show Checklist (Optional)

  • Stickers / business cards
  • A notebook to test inks / try pens
  • A room at the hotel 
  • An appointment with a nib meister

Comfortable, Cushioned Shoes

Believe it or not, pen shows are all-day affairs. They are often scheduled from the morning (usually 9 or 10am) to 5p or 6p in the afternoon. Plus, don’t forget some after-dark socializing at the hotel bar. 

Once you get started browsing and chatting, hours slip by without much notice. Having the appropriate footwear to walk around and on your feet all day is “a must.” Cushioned insoles, comfortable socks, and adequate arch support.

You could take it to that extra level and train your body for long-distance walking by following a couch-to-5k training program. It’s unnecessary, but it’ll make being on your feet all day more bearable.

Your Pens

What’s a pen show without pens?

True, a pen show is typically a place where one goes to buy new pens. Yet, pen enthusiasts typically bring their pens to show and share with others they meet. Some might bring them with the intent to sell or trade. Others just want to show off their latest acquisition or their most precious grail pen.

Another more practical reason to bring your pen is to have it repaired or the nib ground by a nib specialist at the show. Just make sure to book an appointment with the nibmeister of choice before arriving at the show. If it’s a busy show, they can be booked all day long!


Cash is still king! Sure, most vendors these days will take cards or other digital wallets (Paypal, Venmo, cashapp, Apple Pay, etc) but you can usually get a better deal with good ol’ cash. After all, most of the folks you’re dealing with are old-fashioned Luddites who aren’t the quickest to embrace new technologies. Plus, the vendor usually has to pay about 3-4% to swipe your card. So, paying by cash might give you a little leverage to ask for a discount.


Let’s be realistic - we can’t buy all the pens. I know we want to, but it’s just not feasible.

Yet, we might be tempted to spend beyond our means. So, set a budget for yourself and stick to it. Perhaps you have a fountain pen “kitty” set aside for such occasions. Or, you have discretionary funds that are usually for going out to dinner. Whatever amount of money you have to work with, that’s your non-negotiable upper limit.

Pen Wishlist

You’ll find plenty of unexpected pen treasures when browsing a show. There will be pens you never thought existed. For example, I found a Lara Croft Tomb Raider Waterman Phileas pen at the Long Island Pen Show. Weird!

Aside from the delightful surprises you’ll encounter, you’ll want to make a wishlist of pens you want to see, hold, and possibly test. 

Make a list of pens with their average prices beforehand so you know what to look for and whether you’re getting a good deal or not.

Snack and Bottle of Water

For the same reason you’d want to have comfortable shoes, you’d also want to bring some water and a snack with you to a pen show. Pen shows are a lot of walking, a lot of conversing, and a lot of drooling over pens. You might forget that lunchtime passed. The show venue might not have convenient water stations (or, more likely, would charge a lot for just a bottle of water), so it’s better to be prepared with your 2-go H2O.

Stickers / Business Cards

At pen shows, you’ll meet a lot of like-minded pen enthusiasts. Perhaps you’ll make some new friends and people you’ll want to follow on pen forums or social media. If you’d like to make a great impression, hand them a sticker with your user handle or social media profile. Business cards are a bit more formal, but still appreciated, especially if you’re looking to network. For casual meetups, offering a sticker is a fun way to “stick out” in people’s minds.

Notebooks To Test Inks / Try Pens

Pen shows are one of the few places where you can sample and test a wide variety of pens and inks. Some shows have ink testing tables with dozens, if not hundreds of inks to try. To keep track of all your sampling, bring your notebook or paper of choice that you usually use with your fountain pens. It’s like trying on a pair of shoes, you can see if a particular pen or ink is a good fit for your preferred paper.

In 2023, I brought my journal and had a few folks sign it, like a roaming guestbook, I suppose. 

Room at the Hotel

I’ve done pen shows both ways - I’ve traveled up to 4 hours one way (8 hours round trip) to spend the day at the DC Pen Show, and I’ve stayed at the hotel for DC and Philly on multiple occasions. Staying overnight at the hotel (be sure to book the special pen show rate) is a more fun, social experience. You can go to dinner with your pen pals, attend a “pens after dark” social gathering, or have drinks at the bar with veterans of the pen show circuit. Most pen shows are a weekend experience, so if you stay at the hotel, you can get up the next day and enjoy the show again!

Appointment with a Nib Meister

Do you have a nib that you’d like to customize? Maybe have it ground to a cursive italic or architect nib? Or, is there a nib that could use a small adjustment to get it just “write?” Most pen shows have at least a couple of nib meisters in attendance for such requests. Their skills are always in high demand. So, if you have a nib that you’d like to have worked on, be sure to get on that nib meister’s wait list before arriving at the show, if possible. Appointments tend to be booked quickly, especially on the busiest days, which tend to be Saturdays.

Hopefully, this checklist will be handy for your future visit to a pen show this year. If you’d like to find a pen show nearest you, there are a few websites that update the schedule, which I’ll list below:

Pen Show Schedule from The Well Appointed Desk

Pen Show Schedule from Pen Collectors of America

Each pen show usually has a dedicated website with details on locations, exhibitors, events, and dates. Hey, maybe we’ll see each other at a show sometime. If we do, feel free to say “hi!”