Pens & The Post: Add paper & it’s a perfect family party!

[Erin Blasco] The “Pens & The Post” family day at the National Postal Museum on Saturday, May 29, attracted hundreds of enthusiasts of all ages and stages of penmanship. The Pen Collectors of America partnered with the museum to produce the event. Here are a handful of highlights.

Whole families stood in line to watch calligrapher Deborah Basil pen their names in fancy Copperplate style. While waiting, one gentleman decided to temporarily change his last name so it would begin with an F. “I really like how the F looks capitalized,” he said. “Me, too,” smiled Deborah, “and they’re so fun to write.”

At the “Mail & Morale” table, presenters Jim Rouse and Tadas Osmolskis shared the fascinating story of Victory Mail, a type of World War II correspondence designed to speed mail to the troops while taking up minimum space and weight. Rouse and Osmolskis pointed out the importance of the “military clip,” a special pen-cap attachment that conformed to military uniform regulations. After looking at World War II-era pens and ephemera, both kids and adults were inspired to write letters to contemporary American military members. Patriotically, many wrote on V-Mail forms! Over 60 handwritten letters will be included in care packages sent to the troops via Operation Gratitude, many of them written with pens decades older than the authors.

From a distance, the “Paper Trail” table looked like another opportunity to try out different pens. But the fun here was all in the feel. The writing surfaces (generously provided by Mohawk Fine Papers) offered a wide range of textures, and all the papers were eco-friendly. From super-glossy to supple, from smooth to rough (which I initially described as “grabby”), each paper had its own personality and its own relationship with the pen and ink. Handwriting specialist Nan Jay Barchowsky presided over the table, dispensing handwriting tips, paper and pen history, and advice about the best type of paper for various situations, from resumés to thank-you notes.

At “Fahrney’s Pen Petting Zoo,” kids and adults alike loved assembling colorful pens (to take home) and trying out modern fountain pens of the variety you might find in the pocket of a doctor or lawyer — not in the hands of a 9-year-old. The Fahrney’s folks, who typically interact with a totally different clientele, were tickled by the antics of their young pen samplers. One staffer, watching a very young lady concentrate, exclaimed, “Granted, she is mostly making Ws and swirls, but she’s going to have great handwriting when she grows up!”

The “Think Ink” table presented a rainbow of resplendent, vintage inks. When I complimented one young man on the red ink he was using to write his name in his very best handwriting, he emphatically corrected me, saying, “It’s not just red. It’s habañero!” John Bosley, proprietor of the site, displayed an apothecary-full of beautiful vintage ink bottles, from Waterman’s Aztec Brown (1928) to Sheaffer’s Skrip Peacock Blue (1950).

The ink stains on our hands are (finally) starting to fade, but fond memories of a fun festival and successful new partnership with the Pen Collectors of America are long lasting.

Erin Blasco is the Public Programs coordinator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, where she plans workshops, lectures, festivals and more, all to share the joy of postal history and philately with diverse audiences. Photos courtesy Erin Blasco and the National Postal Museum.

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Comments (4)

  1. Posted by Linda Edquist on 06.4.10 at 11:19 am

    This event was incredible fun and informative. I never would have believed that there are 5000 members in the Pen Collectors of America and the ones that attended loved sharing their passion for pens. I was also suprised just how engaged the kids that attended were in all the activities. Watching them try to write with a fountain pen brought back fond memories of writing with my turquoise ink fountain pens ~ years ago.

    A family came from Iowa whose son 14 year old son makes beautiful pens! Two young winners of a penmanship contest attended ~ and their pensmanship put mine to shame. And did you know that there is a writing clinic for adults who need to improve their writing?

    This is worth repeating someday so those who missed it this time can be sure to experience this wonderful educational and fun program

  2. Posted by Allison Wickens on 06.4.10 at 4:21 pm

    I had the opportunity to attend this program and work at one of the stations. As a Postal Museum employee, it was a great experience to learn from the Pen Collectors, ink & paper experts. The inter-generational nature of the activities were most inspiring as I saw kids & adults enjoying and learning something new throughout the museum.

  3. Posted by ania on 06.7.10 at 11:08 am

    How I wish I’d been there – especially to get to try out all the ink pens and get to test various paper surfaces…

  4. Posted by Erin on 06.17.10 at 8:01 am

    Hi! Erin here from the Postal Museum. Thanks so much, Felt & Wire, for helping introduce the world to Pens & the Post. I *finally* posted about the day on the Postal Museum’s blog:

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