Pen show etiquette

Pen shows are collegial events.  In some fields of collecting knowledge is shared grudgingly if at all, but by and large pen collectors are quick to welcome interested newcomers and are happy to impart what they know.  Still, the new collector would do well to observe the following pen show customs and conventions:

Though not everyone does so, it is a good idea to ask before picking up a pen.  There are some obvious exceptions (e.g., piles of pens in a bin marked $20 each), but all too often one sees newcomers picking up and manhandling pens they have no intention of buying and of whose value they haven’t a clue. This is not to put down newcomers, and in fact most exhibitors would be happy to show and talk about any pen on the table – if asked.

You will find that many exhibitors do not put price tags on their pens.  Don’t hold back – if you see something of interest, ask how much it is.  One pointer, though: ask the price first, give it the thorough inspection after.  That saves you the task of inspection if the price is too high, and it spares the pen unnecessary handling.  The latter point may not seem of much concern, but many valuable pens are also quite fragile.  If you really want to annoy an exhibitor, pick up his Mandarin Senior and push against its cap lip with your fingernail; ask the price, then put the pen down as if the price is insane.  This is why many exhibitors now keep their better pens behind glass, or no longer put them out at all.

Exhibitors' prices are often flexible, so don't worry about giving offense by making an offer.  On the other hand, don't take offense if the offer is not accepted!

Many exhibitors do not have assistants; when they have to leave their tables, they will cover them up with sheets or dropcloths.  If you see a table so covered, it is very bad form to sit upon it or put down your bags there, as it is all too easy to break items under the covers.  Likewise, do not try to peek under the covers, however tempted you may be.  Theft has been a problem at pen shows, and you do not want to have your interest mistaken for something less benign.  For this reason, you should also refrain from reaching around into glass display cases without first asking permission.

Trading activity at shows can be intense; respect the rhythm of the room.  Dealers may be happy to chat when business is slow, but if a question can wait, hold off while things are buzzing.

If you have pens to sell or trade, be clear and consistent about how you are handling offers.  Many new collectors are unfamiliar with trading etiquette, and end up irritating more experienced collectors while also shortchanging themselves.  One common offense is to ask Collector A to make an offer, then telling Collector B the amount of the offer and letting him buy the pen for a negligible amount  more.  This is why many collectors are reluctant to make an initial offer: experience has taught them that sellers often won't come back. Another offense is to shop a pen all around the trading room, then deciding not to sell after all, leaving everyone frustrated and irked.  If you know a pen has defects, obvious or not, make sure the potential buyer knows about them.  Pen collectors talk, and you don't want to get a reputation for misrepresentation, tacit or otherwise.