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The Chicago Pen Show Report!
The lowdown on the 2001 Chicago Pen Show
From the fountain pen of Len Provisor

The oldest and biggest pen show in the U.S. happened May 4-6, but this year with the early arrivals of many collectors the show really began as early as Wed. May 2 for serious and many international collectors.

Early arrivals lounged among the plush chairs in the lounges and lobby, I heard pen cases unzip and the official trading had begun. By Thursday afternoon about 300 collectors had arrived and three executive suites were opened as trading rooms, holding about 50 tables total, so crowded that only half-tables were allowed for each trader. Quickly scanning tables in one room, many would rush to the next to scout for those pens or parts they were looking to complete pens in collections. This was one busy hallway between rooms. I also kept taping up Buddy Guy Blues Night posters every where just to be sure we would have a few bus loads for this event. Strangely, some kept disappearing as souvenirs very quickly.

After a few hours of scouting the goods and making a few purchases I finally settled down to sell a few pens. To my surprise I discovered one of my oversize Wahl mottled brown/olive pens is really a prototype material, and was latched onto by a good friend who is real savvy on Wahl's. Not intending to sell this pen, I was finally given a Chicago-style offer I could not refuse, so I kissed it goodbye, with a tear in the corner of my eye and a huge smile on both our faces.

That evening Judd Perlson hosted a Chicago Pizza Party for those attending, and those pizzas disappeared in typical Chicago fashion…without a trace.

Friday was trading day, using about half of the main ballroom, almost every one of 100 tables were filled with about 80% vintage pen traders, some new pen dealers setting up early to display newest pen releases. I had set up my table quickly, displayed my model Parker "51" Beechcraft airplane, kept the good stuff zipped in my bag under the table then rushed off to scout the tables for a while, feeling like a shark on the prowl. I felt felt like a pen predator. He rules: walk quick, eyeballs darting over every table, mental notes where to return first or later, note which collectors are where in the room, knowing what they look for, you either catch up, follow or lead depending on the prize you seek.

Every time a new arrival entered the room, especially with large boxes, the routine would begin. Slowly trail him to his table, politely stand there while he unloaded, then suddenly everyone would surge forward and the feeding frenzy would begin. This is something to experience, if you know the crowd. Everyone presses very very close, politely grabbing anything they can or hope to get in their fists, asking "How much for this?", then hoping something of value is included. Stepped on toes, elbows in ribs, knees in knee-level areas, it's all part of the occupational hazard. It's fun, once in a while, definitely not for the timid.

After the initial several rounds of the room it was time to settle down to my table and sell some "stuff" so I could buy more "stuff". I took several orders for the Parker "51" Beechcraft, sold a few copies of The Short Stories of Bruce H. Bentzman, which is a great read of short stories, get a copy. My best pens sold right away, parts pens, which are sometimes so-so, but have great parts that others need also sold well. My collection includes many unrepaired "as-found" pens that collectors would rather repair themselves, so I sell at a lower price for fast movement.

My take for the day was a new design Bexley ballpoint/thick lead gravity feed pen. Great concept, push the plunger top and the ballpoint or lead drops out to interchange. Leads come in several colors for highlighting, plus black. I picked up a black Conway Stewart Churchill, finally after waiting several months. What a great heft in the hand, and I'm even tempted to smoke the cigar. I also bought a few books from FPH, you know you can never have too many pen books, my newest was the Rosler/Wallrafen newest Montblanc Collectible Stars, history of pens from 1946 to 1979.

Friday night a Blues Tour was arranged, with a bus load of collectors travelling to downtown Chicago to visit the legendary Buddy Guy's Legends Blues Café www.buddyguys.com . If we were to get seating we had to be there by 7-7:30, only about 115 seats were available. We got lucky, great seats in front of the stage and way back from the megalith speakers, the sound actually penetrating my liver and bladder, but in a nice way.
By sheer coincidence John Mayall (www.johnmayall.com) was performing, who was on a U.S. and World Tour promoting his newest album release. What an incredible piece of luck, John Mayall, from the UK, was an early influence on the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, and many others. Donal was really excited since he's an old groupie from the late 70's having worked with some UK groups as a roadie. Blues guitar and harmonica until almost 2 am. John Mayall is 67 years old, six grandchildren and was non-stop from 10:30 to almost 1:30am. I can't believe what luck we had in seeing this act, and there I was, like a teenage groupie, hugging the stage clutching Mayall posters with my Sanford Sharpie in hand waiting to run up at the end and get his autograph. I did !! Even got some CD's signed and shook his hand. Donal now has the very rare Chicago Pen Show 2001 Blues Night Sharpie used by John Mayall, as a prize pen in his collection. We also met Buddy Guy and he signed posters for all our guests. It was a memorable evening.

Saturday saw more trading in the ballroom and the auction preview of goods lined open for close inspection. More arrivals, the room swelled to over 100 tables, and early admissions from the public kept the room buzzing all day.

Posters surrounded the room featuring Pentrace.com making our presence known to all, and the formal introduction of Donal's new web design & motion graphics company www.beotek.com, the site is up but still in development. Donal met many dealers and prospects that were very interested in his creativity, which he presented on his laptop.

This was considered a great added value to the show having a needed service available to many pen friends in many different areas of the pen collecting community.

New to the Chicago Show was Marco Parascenzo and Paulo from Novelli www.novelli.it who came in a few weeks earlier to attend a local pipe show.

One old-timer collector came in with some goods to dispose of, which included a Parker Giant in black and pearl !! It was real, had the typical staining for the material, complete with a correct #12 Parker nib. I imagine someone at Janesville decided to see what this would look like in a modern material of the time, dusted off the old tools for the Black Giant and played with the machine lathe during lunch.

The auction was surprisingly lightly attended. Usually there is a crowd of 300-400 in the Hotel auditorium, but I counted less than 200. This immediately told me there were going to be bargains. Overall, the 325 lots were very good, but not the very high end or expensive rare pens usually listed. Among the exceptional items were a Montblanc 124E BHR Masterpiece with reverse engraved roses with OBB nib, sold for $5,000. A Pelikan 1934 #111T "Toledo" piston filler, double gold cap bands, sold for $4,400. A Waterman 2 size combo pen/pencil in Ripple material sold at a bargain price of $500., I secured a Waterman "Music Pen" with double slit nib, original box with papers for a bargain $375. Another remarkable pen I secured was a "Classic" 1962 ballpoint in sterling Cisele with the plunger top made from salvaged space capsule heat shield, the cap band is engraved: "U.S.A. into Space" 20 II 1962, and I remember that day too, what a great addition to my collection of historical pens.

Saturday nite featured an amateur Jam Session, carrying on the theme of the Friday night Blues Tour. Arranged by myself and Blues Babe Sandy Andina, (www.sandyandina.com) a local collector who is also a recording performer. Sandy just released her newest CD Ghosts and Angels, track #9 is Ink and Pen, can you guess how she was influenced? Anyone talented was invited to come and pick up a guitar or jump on stage of the hotel auditorium and perform. We was really professional. We had stage, lights, sound and pitchers of ice water to cool the amps if it got too hot. It was outstanding. Show performer Don Lavin's son Mitch using a Paul Reed Smith guitar (same as Santana's) and his drummer friend Steve Rappaport on a Roland TD-9 drum set, started the gig going with Jake "Hot Lips" Engel (FPH NY) playing one hot harmonica accompanying the duo. Last year Jake got up on stage at Buddy Guy's and they would not let him off until the place closed down…then he kept playing on the sidewalk outside for a while. Sandy Andina was on a Martin 00016 solid spruce Fishman design guitar. Detlef Bittner of Bittner's (www.bittner.com) in Carmel, CA soon joined in and let me tell you they were all really rocking. John Woo from Hawaii cooly walked in, pulled out his guitar pick from his wallet, (he never leaves home without it) put on his sunglasses and joined in, strapping on a borrowed guitar and jamming for about an hour. Next thing I knew Don Lavin jumped up on stage with his daughter Erica and both are dynamite Jazz dancers.

Terry Clark, www.terryclark.com pen collector and professional photographer was on hand at the Jam Session taking some great photos, some I'll even make into posters for myself. We were lucky Terry attended carrying his ever present camera.

Promotional posters for these events featuring an image of Buddy Guy were signed by all the performers as souvenirs, along with prize caps from Buddy Guy's were given to everyone performing. This event was so popular, I hear other pen shows are going to schedule similar events for collector entertainment.

Sunday was a great day also, featuring about 195 tables. A few friends came who had never attended a pen show before. I saw them walk in the door, take a few steps and look around.

Did you ever see a deer caught in headlights? Eyes as wide as dinner plates. After they calmed down, it was the routine of walking the entire show floor a few times, then and only then deciding what to shop for in pens and supplies.

Dean Tweeddale of www.penlovers.com created what will now become a favorite at pen shows, hiring a pretty girl dressd all in white as a 1950's Car Hop, complete with a bright red tray passing out complimentary fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Even Glen Bowen from Pen World magazine commented he thought that was one of the best pen show promotions he ever saw.

The Chicago Pen Show is known for a diversity of new and vintage pens, about a 70/30% split.From now on another feature is going to be how to have some after hours fun, the Jam Session is going to be a regular feature. So, fellow pen collectors and aspiring or balding rock stars, practice your musical talent no matter what it is, and be part of the action next year.

I think everyone attending was very pleased and found satisfaction with the tremendous variety of pens and ephemera. Anything anyone needs in pens, inks or papers, repair tools and supplies could find their needs here.

Most valuable was the advice and knowledge that was shared by the many friends and collectors who join this and other shows many times during the year.


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