Jim and I scheduled our vacation around the London Pen Show this year. For those unfamiliar with it, the London Pen Show is a one-day pen show, held this year at the Novotel London West. I understand that in previous years, it’s been at a different location.
We were eager to meet different makers and experience different shops; and we certainly did. This show had a drastically different exhibitor list than the U.S. shows we’ve been to.
The show was held within the hotel’s “Champagne Suite” which is four smaller rooms opened up to form one large space.
The registration desk was just inside the suite. While there was a line right when the show opened at 9:00, it moved quickly.
I was impressed that despite the early start for a one-day show, all of the vendors were fully set up and ready.
The show had a calm atmosphere, rather than the frenzied excitement I’d expected from a one-day show — like we experienced at Scriptus. Vendors were mostly relaxed and willing to chat and joke. I also noticed that they did not employ the anti-theft measures that are becoming so prevalent at U.S. shows. I hope they continue to be unneeded for many years to come.
Unfortunately, as seems to be the norm, the hotel was unprepared. The restaurant was closed — perhaps it’s only open for dinner? — so everyone ate at the bar, which was not staffed to handle so many food orders.
There were signs throughout the main hotel floor pointing people to the show, and the entrance line moved quickly. There wasn’t a map posted at the show, but there was one available on the UK Pen Shows website. I didn’t notice any obvious volunteers — beyond, perhaps, those at the registration table — but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any.
Paid attendees received a neon green paper wristband and a nice UK Pen Shows bag.
I don’t believe the show had any classes or seminars. And neither Jim nor I discussed the behind-the-scenes planning or organization. The vendors were generally relaxed and happy, so I’m guessing all was well.
The layout was nearly perfect. It was very roomy, with enough space for wheelchairs to easily traverse. The left side was a bit more spacious than the right.
Because the resting tables and nibmeisters were on the right side, it became more crowded and significantly warmer. Spacing out the nibmeisters in future shows would likely avoid bottlenecks and even temperatures.
The current location has space for the show to grow. The left side could easily fit another row without becoming cramped, and there were a few other areas where a table or two could be added.
The selection was varied, but not in the way I’m used to. There were very few large manufacturers present on their own — like the Italian or German brands. Instead, the show was mostly small businesses, indie makers, and vintage sellers. There was a smattering of nibmeisters and repair folks, and few pen-adjacent vendors.
At £5, the show is pretty cheap. However, an early-bird ticket — which gets you in one hour early — is an extra £5! While that isn’t horrid in and of itself, It seems odd to double the price for an extra hour. Plus side, they had a free hot beverage stand inside run by Izod.
I didn’t explore all of the hotel entrances and exits, so I can’t be 100% certain it’s easily accessible, but I did see several persons in wheelchairs navigating the show without problems. It’s highly likely that no real thought was given to accessibility when planning the show. I didn’t see any sign of obvious accommodations — e.g. a quiet room or extra chairs for those with walking difficulties.
Because of the relaxed atmosphere, it never got very loud. The volume was at a comfortable level the entire time we were there.
The lighting on either side of the show was great, but it was rather dim right in the middle. This could be a pro or a con. On the pro side, someone needing calm could put on headphones and sit along the wall in the area to decompress. On the con side, it was difficult to see details at vendor tables, and anything dropped on the floor could be hard to find, depending on the color.
The only accessibility problem I saw was how some of the cables were run. The weren’t taped down to virtually flat, and therefore were easy to trip over. While I don’t think a wheelchair would have had a problem, someone with a walker — or someone clumsy like me — probably would have.
Overall Score: 4.25 / 5
Organization: Without knowing anything about the vendor-side of the show organization, I don’t feel comfortable scoring it.
Layout: 4.5 / 5 – It could have been a bit better balanced to avoid the temperature increase on the right side, but otherwise, it was lovely.
Price: 4.5 / 5 – The base price is great, but double the cost for one hour early admittance seems a bit steep.
Selection: 4 / 5 – I wish there was a greater variety of non-pen items, especially paper and ink, but, since it’s only a one-day show, I can understand how those heavier/bulkier items are difficult to bring.
Accessibility: 4 / 5 – I’m guessing it’s down to pure chance that the show was as accessible as it was.
Have you been to a London Pen Show? Would you like to go? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.