- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Pen lovers will flock this weekend to see writing utensils of all types, from throwaway Bics to gem-covered pieces selling for $15,000, at the 10th Annual D.C. Pen Super Show at Tysons Corner.

The exhibition is the largest of three national pen shows, with 200 dealers, manufacturers and collectors presenting their pieces, said Bob Johnson, a collector from South Carolina who organizes the show.

Some 1,400 people went to the show last year, with the majority attending on Saturday. But 2000 was considered a relatively slow year, and exhibitors expect larger crowds this year.

"Last year, before the economic downturn everyone keeps talking about, the shows were really miserable," said Jim Rouse, co-owner of Bertram's Inkwell, a local chain with five stores. "At one point we were thinking we weren't going to do shows anymore. But this year they are way up."

Although the show is open to the public, most patrons are what exhibitors call "pen geeks" or "die-hards."

"The real pen guys, you'll show them a new limited edition, you'll say this is a 1997 pen, and they'll tell you how many were made, what three of the top dealers in the country are selling it for, and why the box is red," said Mr. Rouse, laughing.

The pens that Bertram's Inkwell is showing this weekend range from $5 to $14,000.

What makes a pen so expensive?

The Omas 360 is made of titanium and is considered the Rolls-Royce of fountain pens, said Mr. Rouse.

"It's a triangle pen. It was three flat sides to it … they made a very limited amount of those 360s in titanium."

The Omas comes with a DVD that explains how hard it is to make.

There are bargains, too.

"Things we buy a lot of at closeouts and things like that," says Mr. Rouse. "That's good at shows because people are looking for pen deals here. So we have half-off sales and that type of thing."

Pen lovers say writing is an art form made better with the right instrument.

"We like to use the pens," said Boris Rice, a Texas collector who helped organize the D.C. show. "We like to write notes and address envelopes and use the pens daily, like I have been since I was a child, and I'm retired now."

For some pen lovers, the appeal comes from the romance, said Mr. Rouse.

"Shelby Foote uses a dip pen to write his manuscripts," said Mr. Rouse of the Civil War author and historian.

Pens are also a fashion statement, he said, from "doctors and lawyers and even gangsters."

"In today's society you're limited as to what jewelry you can wear as a guy," he says. "You usually have a nice watch on, maybe if you're a bit avant-garde, a gold chain on the wrist, or something, a decent-looking ring, and a good pen."

Jerry Greenberg of Yafa Pens, a manufacturer from California, is showing pens ranging from $65 to $15,000.

The top end is a pen decorated with diamonds, rubies and sapphires and with gold and platinum. One of only 14, it is shaped like a saxophone. "So it's like a piece of art, but instead of hanging it on the wall you have it as a pen," said Mr. Greenberg.

One pen at the Yafa stand is a high-end Delta piece made in honor of the Alfa Romeo sports car.

"We made a pen that has the Alfa Romeo front grill, the shield, it's on the pen itself," said Mr. Greenberg. "It has the checked flag on the pen that is made of sterling silver, and it's really, really beautiful."

The roller-ball version costs $215, while the fountain pen goes for $365.

The pen business has grown steadily in the 25 years that Mr. Greenberg has worked in it. In the past decade, writing utensils have come back in vogue, as they were at the start of the 20th Century.

The D.C. pen show can be a very profitable weekend for exhibitors who not only show off, but sell their products.

"The numbers can be quite astonishing for a short period of time," said Mr. Rouse.

He said sales at the show can run 10 times that of a regular store.

"You get, in a concentrated area the size of a ballroom, every major dealer of new pens in the United States, every major dealer of antique pens," Mr. Rouse said.

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