Monday, May 16, 2005

Stationary Stationery

Teresa and I have returned absolutely exhausted from our foray to the National Stationery Show, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, from May 15th through the 18th. Swollen feet and aching muscles attest to the fact that no mere humans can get through more than a third of the floor space in the course of one day (approximately 275,00 square feet in total).

As with our trip to the show last year, we decided to drive from home base in Allentown, PA to Far Hills, NJ and catch a train from there (planning to switch to another train in Summit, which goes directly to Penn Station in the city). Just like last year, Far Hills was pretty much closed down for a major bike race in the area. Unlike last year, the police wouldn't let us sneak through to the train station! Consequently we drove on to Summit directly, and hopped the rails there. With a bit of waiting for our train on both the outbound and return trip, it took us just about 3 hours each way.

The National Stationery Show is a huge affair, with somewhere in the vicinity of 1,400 exhibitors -- many with quite large booths, and expected attendance of 14,000 buyers (which, if my enhanced mathematical abilities are properly honed, equals about 10 buyers per vendor!). This isn't a show open to the general public, but rather to buyers such as yours truly. In my case, I'm looking for that special new writing instrument or desk accessory, such as I found last year with the Acura Dragon & Serpent overlay pens, or a great source for NOS (new, old stock) Sheaffer pens -- as I found 6 or 7 years ago, when I attended my first show.

It's largely a huge 'meet and greet' within the stationery industry (the vast majority of exhibitors deal directly with stationery, cards, office accessories, etc.). Those that supply writing instruments directly are rather few -- and unfortunately for my barking dogs -- far between. Orders can be taken at the show, but as a rule, merchandise doesn't actually change hands there. Rather, the usual encounter involves the obtaining of a product catalog and price sheet in exchange for a business card. I often wonder about the value of those collected business cards though, as I received my first 'follow-up' call from one company I'd visited last year...just this past Thursday!

Upon first arrival (while Teresa scooted away to spend a few hours in Chinatown), I went to visit my friends at YAFA -- importer of Delta, Nettuno, Parafernalia, etc. and manufacturer of Monteverde pens. They always have the same corner booth each year -- one of the larger and nicest at the show -- and it gave me a chance to see some of the new models from each company they represent, as well as a few prototypes (including a fountain pen version of the Revolution!). It was also a chance to renew ties with Jerry Greenberg and Michael Gordon (president and vice-president of YAFA), as well as put a face to voices previously only heard on the telephone, such as the much abused (by me) Dot Stern ("Dot, what's my tracking number?!"..."Dot, where's my backorder?!"...Dot, what do you mean it doesn't come in a fountain pen version?!!!!!").

Moving on, in search of the 'next great find' I found myself spending time at the booth of a new pen company from Hong Kong (whose name I'll keep to myself for awhile, thank you very much) and was deep in discussion with the owner (through a lovely young woman translator, as my Cantonese is as good as the owner's English), when I was tapped on the arm by Maryann and Steve Zucker of Empire Pens. They're wonderful people, famous these days for being the importers of Signum pens from Italy, as well as for originating and hosting the New York Pen Show, held in September. I quickly let them know that I'd just signed an exclusive deal with this new pen manufacturer and that even if I couldn't speak Cantonese, my wife could! Knowing me as the charlatan that I am, they ignored that, and Maryann proceeded to ask me if I could guess how much they'd had to pay for parking across the street for the day. I hazarded "Twenty-five dollars?", to which Maryann replied "Fifty!".

After we both railed for a bit about the obvious cessation of the latest 'Welcome to New York' campaign -- with Maryann pledging a heated missive to Mayor Bloomberg (on really nice stationery, no doubt) -- I took my leave to proceed down the next endless aisle.

I stopped at the booths of a number of the better known manufacturers, such as Visconti, Laban, Retro 51, Conklin, Recife, etc. and had the pleasure of sitting down and 'speaking' with the owner of Stipula, from Italy. I've long admired many of their innovative designs (the 'Iris' pen of a number of years ago comes to mind), and he took great pleasure in showing me some of his newest 'safety pen' designs, with retractable nibs, which were really gorgeous. As he spoke little English, and I no Italian ("Cosa Nostra" didn't seem to go over too well), we communicated by hand gestures, a few understandable phrases '14K', '18K', 'loupe' (I had to borrow his, to examine the nibs), cartridge/converter, and a mutual enthusiasm for the pens themselves.

Eventually, his beautiful young woman translator returned, and I was able to get down to the important essentials, such as nib variations offered, retail prices, servicing of defective merchandise, and the possibility of my visiting the translator back in Florence (remember, Teresa was still in Chinatown, and who knows what she was doing).

Regretfully moving on I did come across a new pen that caught my fancy, which I may well carry in the coming weeks. It's a ballpoint -- not my usual writing instrument of choice -- but of a quite innovative design. It has a roll of paper wrapped inside the barrel, so that one is never at a loss for something to write with -- or on! The paper can be blank on both sides, and easily torn off after writing a note, or an imprinted roll with calendar, daily to-do list or address book on one side is also available, and the paper easily retracts back into the pen if retaining the information is important. It's one of those 'Why didn't someone -- perhaps even me -- think of that before?' experiences, and the company has it's patent granted or pending in more than 40 countries.

Teresa eventually returned from Dim Sum land, and I took her back to the Hong Kong manufacturer for some more detailed discussions in Cantonese (I once tried to show off my language skills to a table of Chinese women at a pen show, by pointing across to the His Nibs table which Teresa was manning, and confidently informed them that she was my 'husband' -- more bizarre looks you couldn't imagine).

While there at the 'Hong Kong booth', my sleeve was again tugged upon, this time by Patrick Chu of Loiminchay Pens, who just wanted to say "Hi", while he was "...scoping out the competition". Patrick doesn't have competition for the unique pens that he creates!

Anyway, a fun day was had by all, I had other adventures over the course of 4 or 5 grueling hours that might bear repeating, but my feet are now demanding that they be elevated above my head, and I'm not presently limber enough to continue using a keyboard whilst engaged in
ancient yogic practices of bodily inversion.

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