“Always Listen to Your Mother”: I Go to the San Francisco Pen Show

vintage Pelikan fountain pen

That is a pen.

I am starting out with a giant pen — Actual Pen Content — because after my inattention to pens at the DC Show, I vowed to be more on my game at the San Francisco Show.

That sounds so good! So of course it’s totally untrue. I said no such thing. And that pen hasn’t been within 2,000 miles of the San Francisco Pen Show. But it’s a pen.

And I did pick up a smattering of Actual Pen Content from the San Francisco show, which I will put at the very end, for loyal readers or those wasting time at work. Others, feel free to skip ahead.

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Ink Review: Platinum Blue-Black

Platinum Blue-Black

Platinum Blue-Black. This is a blue-black ink, but with the emphasis on “blue.” It’s not a traditional gray- or green-leaning blue black; instead it’s more of a dark blue. Platinum Blue-Black performs well on regular paper; it’s attractive; and it’s water-resistant. Best of all, it’s very easy to clean from a pen.

Why doesn’t everyone use this ink?

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A Peek at the Sailor Professional Gear Shooting Star of Jonuma and the Sailor Medium-Fine Nib

Sailor Shooting Star of Jonuma fountain pen

So here’s my “I know I said I wasn’t going to buy any more new pens” new pen. This is the Sailor Shooting Star of Jonuma, from a retailer in Japan. It’s a full-size Sailor Professional Gear in a transparent, sparkling blue-green, with white end caps that remind me of pencil erasers, and a medium-fine nib. It’s gorgeous, and I couldn’t resist.

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I Go to the DC Pen Show: the World’s Worst Pen Show Photo Essay

I was just in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC for a week, which means I was in DC during the world famous DC Supershow. Though I was there to see family and friends, I did manage to sneak away to the show for a short time Saturday afternoon.

Like a real blogger, I shall now share my impressions of the show. Huge, and packed.

It was quite an experience. Amazing crowds. Of course I knew that DC was the biggest show. And I’m not a novice: I’ve been to pen shows for years; I help run a big pen show. But the DC Show in person still surprised me. Now, I was there only about ninety minutes on a public day, but it was mind-boggling.

I confess, however, that I am a total pen show failure: I took no photos. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to take photos. I was just trying to experience the show, find people I knew, and take it all in.

But here is a pen show photo that we can pretend was taken in DC:

2016 Chicago Pen Show fountain pens for sale

Look, pens.

So what did I see at the show besides a sea of humanity? I saw people I knew, which was great. And the usual pens, inks, cases and paper. I saw Kanilea, who won an impressive-looking award from the readers of Pen World magazine. They had only a handful of Hanauma Bay pens left for sale by late Saturday afternoon. Hugh’s going to be busy before San Francisco.

I saw Dan Smith, and he had a tray of Sailor Professional Gear Oceans, which drew many admirers, including me. I also saw a Sailor Professional Gear in a woody sort of finish at the Andersons table, which I also really like. Those were the two I would have bought, if I could have.

My one quest to purchase something ended in failure because neither Vanness nor Dromgoole’s had the new J. Herbin ink. I think I forgot to check at Andersons because I was talking, and I was looking at Sailors. The pens.

Jonathon Brooks continues to make really creative and beautiful urushi pens. His other pens had almost fully sold out by the time I got there. I should have photographed the urushi pens.

Oh, I saw the new metal black-and-silver-stripe Pelikan M805. It was a little … unexciting, perhaps? Another large black-and-silver-stripe Pelikan, except with thinner stripes. It’s business-like, though.

Well, in lieu of the pen photos I didn’t take, how about some vacation snaps? Everyone loves those! (said no one, ever).

So this is a statue in Philadelphia.


I have no idea why I took this. I think the statue is Benjamin Franklin. Honestly, I was standing fairly far away. There was a thin ribbon of shade where I was, and I wasn’t giving up that shade to walk 200 feet in the blazing sun just to read a name on a statue.

Assume it’s Franklin. He’s all over Philadelphia. Along with heat stroke, probably. The temperature while we were there was in the high 80s or low 90s. But at least the humidity was, too.

Ah well, despite its terrible summer weather, Philadelphia is a fun city and I had a great time visiting. Philly gets an A. We saw some historical things. We saw the Liberty Bell — in passing, though a window, because there was a long line for it, in the hot sun. I did go into Congress Hall, the home of the US Congress from 1790 to 1800. And I lingered there. The former American History major in me absolutely loved it. Also, it was air-conditioned.

In the 30 hours we spent in Philly, we had dinner with my best friend from grade school, and I had coffee with a wonderful pen pal, who had two pens, which I did not think to photograph for you. And I had a wonderful dinner at a tiny ramen restaurant, which I now think about every day, which is perfectly normal, I’m sure.

I also spent a happy hour in a small museum called the ICA Philadelphia, which had delicious pastries, air-conditioning, and art. My favorite work was an installation by a British artist named Jade Montserrat, hand-drawn in charcoal along a very long, two-story hallway. Here’s a tiny piece of it.

Jade Montserrat installation ICA University of Pennsylvania

And a closeup of an even tinier piece.

Jade Montserrat installation ICA University of Pennsylvania

Then we went to Baltimore, where we had lunch with another old friend, which was lovely. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was very nice. There were no pens to not photograph.

We got to spent more than three days in DC, where we had lunch with one of my closest friends in life, who happened to be there with his family. Such a great time. (Ballpoints only.)

DC is very hot in August, too. Like, eleventy million degrees hot. Like, Philadelphia hot. Although Lisa Vanness told me that it is nothing compared to Arkansas hot. So this trip I realized that I can no longer complain about Chicago weather.

No matter the weather, I always love DC. There’s so much to do, and very nice people and good restaurants. Unfortunately, we ate a lot of vacation food — things like fancy cupcakes from a cupcake store and fancy ice cream from a “milk bar.” I am not exactly complaining. But I now need new pants.

I took one photo in DC. Here it is:

P-Funk Mothershpi

That, of course, is the Mothership, from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. I was delighted to see this in the Smithsonian’s tremendous National Museum of African American History and Culture. The music wing was joyous. The history wing was wonderful and wrenching. “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

Then we came back home. It was pouring, and had been for hours. The freeway through the city was jammed. Flash flood warnings were going off on all our phones. But it’s always a beautiful sight. Home.

Chicago traffic

ZOMG Who Wants to Win the Sailor Professional Gear Ocean?

You do! And no, joke, you can! I practically tripped across a giveaway that Dan Smith, aka The Nibsmith, just started for the Professional Gear Slim in Ocean. It’s a beautiful pen! Dan said I could enter, so I did, but don’t worry, I never win anything. But I hope one of you do.

Apparently you can enter at this link but also on all forms of social media, like Twitter, where I follow Dan. But also maybe even on a whole bunch of other social media. Even Facebook, which I won’t touch because it’s horrible and evil — but then, if you’re already on it, go for it. What’s one more day on there, when you might win a free pen?!

Best part: I learned by entering that Dan has a heretofore unknown appreciation for Archer, which I think I may have corrupted him into. Now, if I can only get him into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, my work on this earth will be complete.

The Platinum 3776 Century Kumpoo

Platinum #3776 Century Kumpoo

Anyone who knows me knows I am a serious person. “Maturity” is my watchword and motto, perhaps even my raison d’être. You’ll note that I just slipped effortlessly into French there. Like me, the French are not-frivolous.

Thus, when Platinum named its latest fountain pen the Kumpoo, I did not go around whispering “Kumpooooooo” and then giggling. I did not immediately begin craving Kung Pao Tofu. I did not text my friend Dan the word “Kumpoo” followed by three or four 🤣 emoji in a row.

No, I did not. I said something mature and serious like, “I looked that up, and it means ‘balmy breeze,’ which is an apt name, because the color makes me think of a balmy breeze by the glinting turquoise sea. In my spiritual home, France.”

Because I am an adult. The rest of you disappoint me.

Platinum #3776 Century Kumpoo

And now it turns out, I really like the Kumpoo. Not (only) because of its name. It turns out to be a nifty, and surprisingly nice-looking pen. How do I know this? My friend Dan, of “Dan Smith, the Nibsmith,” sent me his last Kumpoo to play with. I have to send it back, though, because he’s keeping it for himself. And he’s all sold out. Pooh.

Platinum has limited the Kumpoo to 2,500 pens, available with three nibs only: UEF (ultra-extra-fine), F (fine) and SM (soft medium). Apparently the UEF were only available in very small numbers, especially in the US, and are already sold out. This particular Kumpoo has a soft medium nib on it, which actually is great with me, because I’ve never used one. Platinum lists the SM nib as an “overseas exclusive,” so presumably it’s not available in Japan.

I inked the Kumpoo with Papier Plume Lake Michigan Summer, which is the perfect color.

I like the soft medium nib. It’s a Japanese medium, so not super wide. It’s soft and springy. It is not a flex nib — with light pressure you can spread the tines wider, but you won’t get the controlled line variation of a flex nib. It’s just kind of bouncy, in a pleasant way.

I should say this isn’t a stock soft medium nib: Dan modified it by creating a very slight gap between the tines so it would immediately start writing with a light touch. At my pen club meeting we compared this modified SM with a Kumpoo with a stock SM, and Dan’s modification really makes a difference for someone like me who writes with light pressure.

I found the SM nib fun to use. For everyday writing, it’s going to be better for someone else. I’m a person who likes to write very quickly, and messily, so I prefer a normal, or “hard,” nib which flies across the paper. People who like a springy nib, or who tend to write more slowly, or with a lot of pressure, or who want a wetter ink flow, would love the SM nib. I actually think the Platinum soft fine (SF nib) is very good, since there’s less of it, and that’s a stock nib for Platinum.

Platinum #3776 Century Kumpoo

In some ways the SM nib is similar to the Pelikan M200 nib, which is a sort of bouncy steel nib. The Platinum Century SM nib is miles ahead of that nib, however. Now, the Platinum Century SM nib is a 14k gold nib, and the Kumpoo pen costs about $260. So you might say, woah there, apples to oranges. And that is fair. Still, I’d much rather have the Kumpoo than the M200, and not just for the nib. I like the pen a lot better, too.

The Kumpoo is a great size pen, the sort of size that would work for most people. A bit longer than the full-size Sailor Professional Gear, a bit shorter than the Lamy Safari, and wider and longer than the Pelikan M200. The Kumpoo’s balance and weight are good, too. The Kumpoo weighs 25.6 grams capped and filled (comparable to the Pro Gear), and 14.4 grams body only. The body only is a touch light: the full-size Pro Gear weighs about 2 grams more, which for me makes the Pro Gear more comfortable when writing unposted. But I could write with either for long periods of time.

Here’s a photo of the Kumpoo, comparing the size to the Platinum Plaisir and the Lamy Vista.

Platinum #3776 Century Kumpoo size comparison

One nice thing about the Kumpoo is the wavy ridges in the pen body and cap. From marketing photos, I wasn’t sure if I’d like that, but in person, it totally works. It elevates the look over the standard #3776 Century. The color is nice, too.

Now Dan waxed poetically (for Dan) about the light reflecting off those ridges like the facets of a diamond or something. Unfortunately, it’s been rainy or overcast every day here, and marijuana is not legal in Illinois, so I can’t attest to the sort of bedazzling effect that it may have for others. I guess there is a nice glint occasionally but for me it seems to come from the silvery bits inside — the converter and the rhodium nib. With or without mystical gleams of light, however, it’s a very attractive pen.

I’m not even a big fan of teal or turquoise or aquamarine, but I like this one. And it’s the color of the summer, I’ll wager, after also having the privilege to use the Sailor Professional Gear Ocean.

Comparing the Kumpoo and the Ocean is apples to apples, but different apples. The colors are in the same general teal-turquoise family, but the look is very different. The Ocean is darker, greener and more subdued; the Kumpoo is lighter, bluer and shinier. Also the Kumpoo is clear. The Ocean is the one you’d bring to the office; the Kumpoo is the one your teenage daughter wants to steal.

I’ve asked myself, if I could buy one, and only one, which? And it’s not easy, since I like them both. I really think Kumpoo looks great. Plus, since it’s almost sold out everywhere, you don’t get much more time to decide.

And then, I mean, it’s the Kumpoooooooo.

(To others, of course.)

But … I still think … I’d pick the Sailor. First, for the nibs. I just prefer Sailor nibs. And the Ocean can be purchased with any of Sailor’s standard nibs (which technically Platinum doesn’t let dealers do for the Kumpoo). Also, I just think the Ocean is more classic and will wear better in the long run for me. (Unless this is your color. In which case, buy both.)

I have to confess something: since my borrowed Ocean set sail back to Dan, I’ve missed it a bit. And that’s unusual for me, since I don’t really care that much about fountain pens.

Well, maybe one or two. For instance, here’s my Kanilea Hanauma Bay next to the Kumpoo. Because they looked so nice together. And because even if I can’t get every single pen I like, I’m happy to remember I already have some really great ones.

Platinum #3776 Century Kumpoo with Kanilea Hanauma Bay