Getting to Know Philip Akin: Behind the Scenes of Toronto Scriptus Pen Show + A Few Vintage Pens
Happy Friday! I'm hoping to start a new series called "Getting to Know," where I chat a bit with folks who hang around the pen world, and this is the first instalment, right in time for the Scriptus Toronto Pen Show! It's happening Sunday, November 1st, and I can't wait. I had the great pleasure of visiting Philip Akin, an organizer of the upcoming Scriptus Toronto Pen Show, to chat about vintage pens & the secret ins & outs of the show, and meet his friendly black cats - I didn't get their names, which is a pretty good indication that my reporting skills need some work. When Jil McIntosh came to our shop for Pen World, she just pulled out her laptop and tapped away, and poof - a beautiful article. I think I need a tape recorder next time.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say we already kind of like Philip around here - he lives and works around the corner from us, and pops by every once in a while to say hello, although he mostly says hello to Jon, since it's Jon in the shop most of the time. He also came to our Vintage Pen Market back in the summer, with trays and trays of vintage pens. Last week, I cornered Philip into inviting me into his home so I could take a closer look at all of his vintage pens, ask him prying questions about his personal life, and try to get all the juicy bits of the behind the scenes of the Scriptus Toronto Pen Show. Chatting with Philip was great - he's easy-going and funny and filled with random bits of information. I found out about how he got into pens, what pens he's using now (the dark blue Bayard and Corinthian in the photo below), antique shopping, chatted about our shop moving to his neck of the woods, and commiserated about the Canadian dollar. Even though Jon was waiting with a sleeping baby Caleb in the stroller out on the porch, I stayed quite a bit longer than I anticipated, and could have stayed longer even than that, except we needed to get back to open up the shop. Because I am now looking at non-sensical "notes" and relying on my trusty memory, most of what follows is a nutshell version of Philip's more polished and definitely better-spoken side of the chat. And also, you know, a bit of my own charm peppered generously about.
In "real life," Philip is a founding member and the artistic director of the Obsidian Theatre Company, a company that focuses primarily on the works of highly acclaimed Black playwrights, 15 years strong. Philip is an actor and director and does all sorts of important stuff, but - and maybe it's my teaching background - what I loved the most about his company is that they dedicate a portion of their resources to their well-established (and paid!) mentoring and apprenticeship program for emerging Black artists. Jon and I have talked a bit about creating opportunities for youth to work in our shop, but we're not yet in the right place for that. But how great and how important it is in this age that Obsidian is supporting and encouraging and facilitating opportunities for youth particularly in the arena of the arts, creating a chance for these talented young folks to begin a career in theatre. Philip is also a pen guy. He came to our Vintage Pen Market in August with a truckload of pens that he's restored himself. He was kind enough to let me take a look at some of his beauties, which are contained in chests and chests and drawers and tables. He was lucky I had to hold onto my camera, otherwise I might have had some pens in my pockets on the way out.
Onto the pen show. Before last year's Scriptus pen show, there were several show-less years, mainly because there was no one to champion its cause - and put in the man hours to bring it all together. Philip, together with David Armstrong, revived the Toronto pen show last year, and with the show's overwhelming success, is back at it again for this upcoming show, on November 1st. You can check out some pictures from last year's show here. Here are a few interesting things I found out about Scriptus from Philip:
- The's show's free admission is intentional and not without some planning. One of the things Philip spoke most enthusiastically about was the demographic of people attending the show: people of all ages, and strong numbers on the younger side of things, attended 2014's show. Philip describes this as a huge part of running the show on a community-based model as opposed to a for-profit model. If you're attending the show, know that the raffle is what makes it possible for the show to pay for all the costs involved in it, so take a good look at all of the prizes - including ours! A Platinum 3776 with a Music Nib, of course my favourite nib.
- It's at the Toronto Reference Library - I am a huge supporter of the public library. Apparently there is a "Toronto Library Passport" that is still in production stages, but the point of it is to encourage people to visit all of the 100 library branches. I gasped when I saw this, because maybe three or four years ago, I tried to convince Jon to come with me to visit all of the libraries in the city. I think I made it around 35 before I gave up, but of course that's because I didn't have this perfect and handy Passport Tool to assist me in my adventures. Passport aside, it's something unusual in the pen show world that Scriptus is located in the heart of the city, rather than out by an airport hotel. Scriptus is accessible by public transit, and surrounded by thousands and thousands of free books (although, at the Reference Library, I think you can only access most of them in the library because they're reference books). If you're coming from out of town to the show, it's perfect for you to be able to step out and enjoy a bit of the city.
- Last year's Scriptus pen show ended up some with spilled ink on the carpets - don't we all know that too well. No magic potion would remove it, so the library had to replace a few carpet tiles, and now, Scriptus is pre-emptively providing each ink-containing table with a floor mat. #fountainpenproblems
- Venue costs: tables are free, but you have to pay to rent tablecloths.