July 09, 2015

Pen Shows and Pen Meetings

[Posted on L&P on Aug 28, 29, 2008.]
    Don Lavin wrote, “I would like to comment on your initial pen-collecting timeline as I was there during that period.  You stated that the LA, NY, and DC areas had pen shows followed by Chicago with Mike, Dan and me.  That is not the case.  In 1980 after having been a subscriber to the Cliff Lawrence publication and being an ardent pen collector I decided to try to contact other collectors in the Chicago/Wisc. area.  Using the Lawrence magazine as a starting point and the few contacts I was making I called for a gathering of collectors in 1980.  This enlarged into the Chicago Pen Show which at first was held in my house.  We soon outgrew the space as the first of the pen dealers began displaying pens for sale which took up a lot of room.  The first dealer was the Allen family from Minnesota and Carl Morton a local collector.  Up to then we basically traded pens amongst ourselves.
    “During this period of time I was not in a partnership but as the numbers grew and the space became limited I needed to expand into another space.  I had met Mike Fultz and he suggested using his Victorian home in Chicago.  From Mike’s house we moved to the Villa Modern motel in my neighborhood which was where I first met Keith Zaransky as a very young dealer.  Also during this period of time we were holding two get togethers a year—in the spring at the end of April and in the fall around Thanksgiving.  We continued to grow with collectors coming in from Canada and a number of states in the mid-west, east and west which is where we met Bob Tefft and Peter Amis.  By 1985 it was becoming too difficult to hold 2 shows a year so George Fischler and Alex Montgomery asked if they could hold a show in NJ in the fall.  We decided that that would be a great idea so we continued to hold our spring show and NJ held the fall show.
    “By now Dan had come on board so Mike, Dan and I were running the show in Chicago and George and Alex were running the NJ show.  Then Bob and Peter asked about running a show in February so we could get together in the winter in LA.  That was a great idea so now we had a spring, fall and winter show.  So the SCPCC did not come into play until years after the Chicago show and the first of the NJ shows.  When Alex died while rushing to a flea market on a weekend, Stuart Schneider came on board for the NJ show.  Alex’s death prompted Dan, Mike and I to host the first pen auction connected with a show.  The process were given to Alex’s wife but we had so much fun that we continued to hold an auction each and every year until the past few years when health issues and the internet affected consignments etc.
    “Another comment—I would like to apologize for referring to our events as “pen shows”.  In fact they were never shows—they were and are pen collector conventions with bartering, sales and purchases along with educational activities such as workshops and seminars or presentations.  A true show would be a continuous setup over a period of days with fully assigned tables such as antique shows.
    “We had different events each and every part of each day.  I loved pen parts to such an extent that for a period of time, we set aside Saturday afternoon for parts only sales.  While this did not last long as dealers wanted to include complete pens, it was a lot of fun while it lasted.  And then pen parts became an important commodity at every show from that point on.
    “I should also mention that prior to the LA show, Frank Dubiel was holding his own shows in Boston but for geographical reasons, Boston never really became a national show.  It was considered mostly a regional show.
    “If you, or anyone else, would like more info on the pen show history, just ask away and I will try to be of assistance.”

    And I wrote, “Thanks for the early Chicago Pen Show history.  When I stated that the first pen shows were sponsored by the PFC, I was going strictly by what Cliff Lawrence wrote in the early issues of the PFC Newsletter about some of those “First Hotel Pen Shows”.  He said that Fred Krinke in LA, John Cuevas in NY, and George James in DC held meetings in 1978 and 1979 where pens were bought and sold and traded.  And let’s be generous and call all those early get togethers actual pen shows.  No need to apologize for referring to those events as “pen shows”, even though they were and still are, as you said, pen collector conventions.  By the way, I kept all the advertizing and brochures and auction catalogues for all the Chicago Pen shows I attended in the 1990s.  Did you or anyone else keep any of the paper ephemera for those pen shows in the 1980s?
    “I remember the first similar pen-show-get-together that I attended.  It was the Parker Archive visit in Janesville on May 29-30, 1992 that John Mottishaw organized.  It was a small get together, and everyone was staying in the same motel, and at one point we all congregated in a meeting room and spread out our pens, and wandered around and networked and bought and traded pens all evening.
    “Another thing that should be mentioned is that about the time of these early pen shows, Bob Tefft and Peter Amis purchased and saved the Pen Sac Co. equipment.  Most pen collectors, even if they never met Bob or Peter, probably at one time or other bought sacs made by them, or owned a pen that was restored using pen sacs made by their company.  We owe them a great debt of thanks.  Here’s the link to the Pen Sac Co. History.  Please, everyone, chime in with more info on early pen collecting history.”

    Don Lavin wrote, “I recall that in the late 70’s some California collectors held meetings.  I also remember that in the mid or late 70’s they tried to have a pen show in New York with the legendary John Cuevas and they stopped after one get together.  What I heard was that the various collectors did not get along all that well.  Go figure.
    “When I refer to our early shows, or conventions, I am referring to the days when we invited dealers and collectors from other states and from Canada and Italy.  Max Steidman had relatives in Chicago and learned about us and started coming in twice a year, and then he brought other Canadians with him.  The Italians and some of the Brazilians found our show due to business or conventions in Chicago which brought them into our community.  Then they went back home, told their friends and voila—international attendance with France and England providing additional attendees.
    “As for early show material I believe that my archives go back to 1984 with notices which were sent out to pen collectors and schedules of activities.  I will try to locate them.  I have all of the auction catalogs somewhere.  I am going through my paper material these days and will try to isolate materials for putting up here if you are interested.
    “I can also relate that the first people to meet with me in 1979 or 1980 included Harvey Rabinowitz, who still sets up in Chicago, Pat Peterson, the only woman collector we knew for years and who now is a full time professional graphologist, Chet Nichols, who has since died, Richard Bitterman, who still sets up in Chicago every other year or two and Tom Mornier, who is now an antiques dealer in Vegas.  So we then all went out to enlist others to expand our group and it grew really fast.
    “One thing to note—while we had meetings on a regular basis, over lunch in the loop in particular, we never ever organized a Chicago Pen Club.  We did not want politics to get involved.  We did not want officers, directors voting, etc.  We were all one big happy family for many years.  Some of my fondest memories were of lunches in the loop with Glen Bowen, Dan Zazove, Mike Fultz, Pete Barron, Harry Bouras and others.  We would have show and tells and talk pens throughout the lunch.  Now with everyone having moved on, some have passed away, others have moved from the city and others just no longer work close to other collectors, those gatherings are few and far between.
    “If you or anyone else has any questions about the early days, feel free to ask away.  Oh, one last comment on the early LA days.  I once called Cliff Lawrence and when he answered the phone and heard my voice he immediately went into a tirade about how some of the California collectors were starting to meet with one another and believe it or not, this really upset him.  He felt that they would cut him out of the commercial link, and that they would start trading and dealing only with one another.  That is the last thing he wanted.
    “While Cliff was probably off the wall with the Chicago shows, we did extend invitations to him for years in order to honor him.  He never accepted any invitations and to my knowledge, he never attended any pen shows.”

    David Nishimura wrote, “Some random additions to this very worthwhile thread (thanks, George, for starting it off).  Before my time, but Johnny Cuevas was a hugely important figure for New York City collecting.  Others will have to fill in his story, but I know enough to know it deserves amplification.
    “I think Don is right in differentiating between pen shows and pen meetings.  Obviously, there will be shades of grey here, but the significance of the first pen shows may get lost when one doesn’t try to draw a line between informal get-togethers at collectors’ houses and larger events at rented or borrowed venues.
    “For the publications list, please add Stilomania, the journal of the Accademia Italiana della Penna Stilografica.  Letizia Jacopini was the driving force behind much of it, though her father Giuseppe was the original pen collector in the family and I believe the main founder of the Accademia.  The Accademia sponsored the first national pen shows in Italy, starting in 1991, in Grosseto.  I was there.  Their shows were small by American standards, but quite ambitious in terms of integrating modern penmakers into a promotion of fountain pens old and new—and were invariably held in beautiful historic buildings, not in hotels.
    “Some mention should be made of the impact of Ebay on pen collecting.  Note that Ebay started in 1995, not 1997.  In the USA, it was in 1997 that Ebay began to make its influence felt on the pen market.  1998 was the year a flood of new collectors showed up on Ebay, bidding up fairly common items to ridiculous levels.  That insured that a matching flood of new sellers appeared, quickly balancing supply and demand and, for the most part, putting online and offline pricing on the same level.  Over the next couple of years, the supply of pens coming to market through general antiques dealers steadily dried up as the flow increasingly went to Ebay.  The same pattern played itself out in the UK several years later.  This is actually a huge topic on its own, about which I have a rather lengthy article in the works.
    “My website, Vintage Pens, was launched in January of 1997.  So were the sites of the Battersea Pen Home and John Mottishaw.  Jonathan Steinberg’s site was up shortly before mine.  [Vince Fatica’s site was another early one.]
    “Periodization is a necessary evil in historiography.  Even with our little pen history, we have to deal with a multitude of overlapping and interacting developments, many of them cyclical.  One thing I’ve noted, and written about, on many occasions, is that the rise of online collecting happened to coincide with the aging of the previous generation of collectors.  This meant that many of the mainstays of pen collecting were becoming less active just as a large number of new collectors were coming on the scene—newcomers who otherwise would have become part of the established collecting community quickly at pen shows, but who instead ended up forming online communities overwhelmingly dominated by other newcomers.  To put it bluntly, the torch was dropped.  The field has slowly but steadily been making good the fumble, but there has been a real and unfortunate loss—which this thread may do something, belatedly, to repair.”

    And I wrote, “Don, please dig out your early pen show material, and put some of it online.  
I recently corresponded with Harvey Rabinowitz, and he mentioned that he still has his PFC general membership card, member #32, way back when Cliff still issued membership numbers.  I’ll post the list of Lifetime Members soon.
    “When Len Provisor interviewed Cliff Lawrence for The Pennant article a while ago, he asked if Cliff had any materials left over from the PFC.  He said he did not have a thing.  Everything, including all his back copies, ads, and literature was either dumped, sold, or given to his members.  Remarkably, he has nothing left, he claims.  Steve Braun posted that he was a fairly prominent antique toy collector for many years, but has since divested himself of nearly all of the toys, and now collected pens.  In a move opposite to that, Cliff now sells Lionel trains on Ebay for his main income.  I’ll post something that someone else wrote about Cliff Lawrence.”

    David Nishimura wrote that “others will have to fill in his story, but I know enough to know 
it deserves amplification”.
    And I wrote, “And that’s it exactly.  That’s the whole point of this thread.  I know some of the stories, and only from my point of view, and that is far from the whole truth.  Everyone, from the experts and veterans down to the newest researchers and collectors, has to dare to jump in and give his or her own version of the stories, that is, if they have the pertinent information.  Everyone brings their own special expertise to the table.  Everyone will have to fill in the whole with his or her own story.  I’ll post something that someone else wrote about Johnny Cuevas.
    “Thanks for the correction about Stilomania.  I thought that Penna was the only Italian pen magazine.  And when I stated that Ebay started in 1997, I was using the date of the first update listed in “The Wayback Machine”.  But I realize now that Wayback didn’t start collecting information until 1997.  I see the copyright date at the bottom of the Ebay homepage now.  I look forward to your lengthy article on the topic.
    “Periodization is totally unnatural, but as you say, a necessary evil.  I agree with you about dropping the torch.  The pen field needs to converge the old and the new collectors, but the effort has to come from both sides of handing-off the torch.”
    David Nishimura replied, “My involvement with the Italian pen scene by and large stopped somewhere around 1996.  This was mostly due to changes in my personal life, though the downturn in the up-till-then booming Italian economy contributed, as did the disintegration of the Accademia.  I don’t know if it has been formally dissolved, or if it’s just been in permanent suspended animation, but the Accademia is for all intents dead and buried.  The Italian pen collecting scene evolved very differently than in the USA.  Rather than starting as a social phenomenon, collector to collector, vintage pen collecting largely took off via a number of pen shops which sold old as well as new pens—Brunori & Mazza, and Ercolessi, both in Milan, the Casa della Stilografica in Florence, Stefano Germano and Marina Vecchietti in Bologna, Stilo Fetti, Antonio Vannucchi, and Agostino Parascenzo’s shops in Rome, and probably several others that also deserve mention, but which have slipped from my memory.  The relationships were more dealer-to-collector than collector-to-collector, which didn’t change a lot with the advent of the Accademia, which also was sort of a top-down enterprise—which is one reason, I think, factional infighting managed to do it in so easily.  Since then, Italian pen shows have been much smaller and more regional, but that’s a story for others to tell.  As for Letizia, she is doing well, busy raising children and still managing to publish outstanding reference works on Italian pens.  
I expect as her boys get older, we may hear more from her.”

George Kovalenko.