In today’s episode, we will have a special guest who has been tearing up the pen show scene and expanding his reputation as a nib grinder and shop owner. Please welcome Kirk Speer.
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38. Kirk Speer Revisited
[00:00:00] John: Welcome to episode 38 of stationery orbit where we're all here to learn more about creative letter writing. I'm your host John West, and I'm joined by our co-host Evan Harris. And in today's episode, we have a special guest who has been tearing up the pen show scene and expanding his reputation as a nib grinder and shop owner.
Please welcome Kirk Speer
[00:00:20] Kirk: Hello. Thank you.
[00:00:22] John: It's a pleasure to have you back. It's Ben just shy of a year since I had you on the show. Going to be fun to catch up with you?
[00:00:27] Kirk: It's amazing how fast time moves.
[00:00:29] Evan: Does time really exist anymore.
[00:00:33] John: No, not after last year. It doesn't. Yeah. W and especially for Kirk's the busiest man in the business out there as far as I've been able to see. So time flies when you're having.
[00:00:42] Kirk: That's true. That's definitely true.
[00:00:47] John: on the same general bent of that you have been doing a lot of pen shop events, as well as penshows. How was the turnout been for some of those.
[00:00:56] Kirk: The turnout has been pretty good. I, I [00:01:00] didn't do a whole lot of shows before the pandemic started, but I'm seeing quite a few pretty good turnout for the shows. I just did a, just wrapped up San Francisco had a relatively decent turnout.
I think it was probably a little bit smaller than years past but overall it was a pretty strong turnout for both vendors in and shoppers customers, that were looking to get, nib work done and also find their newest pen or stationery or paper.
[00:01:29] John: Yeah. Yeah. It's understandable that San Fran would be a little smaller than in years past, but I understood that it was still a pretty lively and eventful show for them.
[00:01:41] Kirk: I th I think the organizers did a, an excellent job of running it and keeping, trying to help everybody stay a distance and everything for the show they did the mask requirement. And I think that helped ease a lot of people's minds and incoming
[00:01:57] John: So with all of your travels, do you have [00:02:00] any fond memories from some of your trips?
[00:02:03] Kirk: Yeah. Yeah. Recently in Houston that I was able to meet with a customer who offered me a sailor king of pen Realo, which is something that my grill lists. So I was, excited about that opportunity. And then similarly, also in Houston a long time customer of mine stumbled upon me being in the Houston shop and, was excited that he had got to finally meet me.
And there's some people there. Were there with me and they didn't let it down when he was, he made exclamation, like I was someone famous and they tease me about that for her, for awhile. But, it's always great to meet the customers behind the, my orders, I built myself my business online first.
And very few people have I gotten the meet up until more recently. Really cool to meet these people and put faces to the pen and the handwriting and everything else. And it's just, I'm really blessed about that.
[00:02:58] John: , that's very cool. And I've actually [00:03:00] done the reverse of a lot of it. I've done a lot of my business with you after meeting you in person. So that one's a little bit of an interesting one, but yeah, go on from there. Getting the the star treatment before, too long, we'll be doing the don't you know who this is.
[00:03:15] Kirk: Yeah,
[00:03:17] John: Yup. With the the pen shows, you had mentioned the thing with the masks at the San Francisco Pancho, but what else do you think is becoming the new normal.
[00:03:27] Kirk: I, I think it is, We're going to be settle in for our, for a lower turnout. Overall, I, I think until we get the Delta virus version settled out or a resolution to that, I think We're going to see a little bit less turnout.
The the interesting thing is that those that do turn out , I think they're a little bit more serious about buying the products that are being offered out there. I think that, I think if you're perceiving that it's a risk to go to Pen, show them you're going there with more purpose.
If I could say that. So I think that, definitely the [00:04:00] people going are investing in the businesses that are there. So I think it's a positive in that regard for both the both the customer and the vendor.
[00:04:07] John: That's cool. It's definitely something that as I was going through a lot of stuff during the pandemic, I was making a point of. Going to certain stores going to certain restaurants that I was supporting, the people that I wanted to survive through the pandemic. And I'd imagine that's a common thing.
And nowadays I think.
[00:04:31] Kirk: Yeah, definitely. If it weren't for people doing those kinds of things and then consciously, seeking me out and others out there that I think a lot of us would be in a much more danger. Right now of closing our businesses. So we definitely appreciate the, when people look out for the small guy and try to consciously choose to support us, we try to have Amazon type pricing, sometimes it's just not possible.
[00:04:57] John: Oh, absolutely. And there's a [00:05:00] difference in the way you guys curate your shops and how. The there's an intention that goes into what you carry, why you carry it and Amazon, and it's just, whoever can get up. A stock number is going to put something up there and it might not be curated and it's definitely not going to be something that they may not even know what they're selling.
They may have no idea how a fountain pen works and, but they're out there selling fountain pens by the dozens. Yeah, definitely. I've definitely shifted my shopping away from Amazon due to the, those exact same things of trying to get into shops that are more curated.
[00:05:40] Evan: Yeah.
[00:05:40] John: So I want to go back to some of the stuff with the pen shows since you're a newbie on pen shows.
What has been your favorite part of the penshows?
[00:05:48] Kirk: It really goes back to the meeting that people that's the highlight for me, I love getting to meet and put a face to the people that you know, that have been supporting me all this time. . then this and meeting [00:06:00] new customers and it's, it's amazing that you can actually see, whenever I finish a custom grinder or repair knit for somebody, and even though they have a mask on, you can tell in their eyes the joy that they have from being able to now write with their pen again or to have an experience with a new nib that just excites them and, That's just an amazing feeling.
So I, I really enjoy that part of it. And of course the other cool thing about penshows is getting to see all the new pens that are coming out and all the vintage pens that are out there that you know, that you'd never seen before. And,
[00:06:34] Evan: okay.
[00:06:34] Kirk: Amazing pens and and then, there's also new people always coming out with new products and new services and, it's, it's exciting to be there and to see that.
[00:06:46] John: So I keep calling you one of the hardest working guys in the business. I got to ask, where are you burning the candle on both ends and hitting the pen show after that?
[00:06:54] Kirk: I sure was, I didn't hit him too hard, but I, I definitely did participate in, hung out, and [00:07:00] actually that was another cool thing. And in Washington, DC, I got to meet long time guy that I've been a big admirer of it and Mark Baucus and got this speak with him at the after dark events and share some of our experiences and, it's really neat to see how like-minded we are in some ways.
And then in other ways, how we have different ideas and it's just such a. Those are honored to really meet him. And then so many other people that I got to, be more intimate with as far as who they are as a person and what they're doing and the behind the scenes of what they're, what's going on behind the nib work or the pen sales.
[00:07:38] John: Yeah. That's one thing I love about the pencommunity as a whole is just how. Open we are to each other. I understand that there's going to be certain amounts of competition for certain things, but it, that kind of thing doesn't seem to affect personal relationships. So that's really cool that you got to meet them.
And it's a nice to see [00:08:00] that. You're fanboying a little bit with another nib grinder. So that's really cool.
[00:08:04] Kirk: Yeah, for sure
[00:08:05] John: we had touched on it a little bit before but wanted to see how penrealm has been doing over the last year.
[00:08:11] Kirk: I been pretty good. There's been a lot of ups and downs, I before, when I spoke at the last thing I had quit my job my full-time job in March of 2020. So just before COVID and it was, a little bit of a sinking feeling for several months there and I really, I got to give credit to Dromgool's that they gave me a lifeline and putting on a show in Dallas and then, having such great success, both for them and for me there spurred them on to inviting me to more shows.
And now I'm going to Houston on about a monthly basis every month, every six weeks. That's been a great Yeah, collaboration between us. That's been a tremendous help to both both Dromgool's and myself and the customers that that go there, are able to get, that service without the long wait.
And it's, when you're getting a custom grind, it's a little bit more [00:09:00] personalized service when you get it can get it right there in front of you. So that's, that's just been a great thing. Yeah, I've been
[00:09:06] Kirk: Growing in a lot of ways, trying to, trying to find, aside from being in them grinder, what other things can I provide and offer and do to help others.
One of the things that came up and, one of the things I realized that there was not a lot of buck nib availability, and I thought that. Makes a good nib once it's properly tuned in. And so I pursued a distributorship with them. And so I started doing that. And then, and I reached out to some of the custom makers to let them know that I was doing that.
And then, as w as we may or may not know that, Jowo nibs have had this cracked housing issue of late and that, so the timing of that seems to have been almost perfect and that it,
And that I can provide a different option for these custom makers that, are otherwise a little bit stranded with not being able to have a reliable product.
So for me, able to give them that and provide that opportunity for them has [00:10:00] been been a great benefit to me and the, hopefully that all the makers that are partaking in that, that are seeing a better opportunity in their sales.
[00:10:08] John: Yeah. And that was actually something that I've availed myself of. Cause I'd seen some of the Bock nibs up earlier and then I was talking with Brad From mythic pens. And he had mentioned that you were working with Bach on the nibs. And so there is just a little bit less availability in a Kirk shop because one of the big Bach number eights has gone to mythic pen so that a bride has a nib for my pen.
[00:10:32] Kirk: Yeah.
[00:10:32] John: With all of the the stuff that you're working on, getting stocked in and everything that one leads into a question that I Evan had for you.
[00:10:39] Evan: Yeah. So what are some of the more potential, the most interesting things that you've gotten in the last year, either grinds and repairs or just new products as well?
[00:10:48] Kirk: For new products I would say that the Kilk pens that I've been bringing in out of a Turkey have been just a phenomenal product. They're handmade in Turkey. And the neat thing about them is that they've [00:11:00] got a weight and a half to them. That's not common amongst resin pens.
And then and then also they do a. These hand engraved Sterling silver bands and roll stops and stuff like that. And which is really nice. Just a nice touch to pens. And then for what's come in, probably the most interesting. As the, somebody sent me a Namiki golden rose to be customized which is a pretty high end pen
and then and then I also did a Namiki Riku bird. Typically when you get up into that level of pen that it's almost not ever getting written with so that they usually don't make it to a nib Meister, but so that's kinda cool. And quite an honor to to see pens at that level , being brought into my shop to be because customized.
[00:11:49] Evan: And if you're getting a pen that nice, if you are going to write with it, you want it to write how you want it.
[00:11:55] Kirk: That's true.
[00:11:56] Evan: The the customization, it's not that much compared to the base price. [00:12:00]
[00:12:01] Kirk: Yeah.
[00:12:01] John: I'm actually glad to hear that there are people bringing pens in like that, because it's going toward this new trend of having less collectors and more users. Like I, I just recently picked up a Murex and I specifically told the person I was buying the Murex from that.
Yeah, the sticker's not staying on it any longer that one's getting inked up and used. And I'd imagine that if he was from the collector mentality, that would probably broke us.
[00:12:26] Kirk: Yeah
[00:12:26] Evan: That's a neat pen.
[00:12:28] John: Yeah, that was that was super lucky. I just happened to click on slack at four in the afternoon and that posting had come up like 20 minutes before. For all of you that are out there that are still on the hunt for a Murex or Myu just keep your fingers crossed. The luck will happen if you keep going.
[00:12:47] Kirk: Yeah.
[00:12:48] Evan: I am a user of all my, I don't have any that are huge collectibles, so I think I need to get some more grinds done. But
[00:12:56] John: happen to know a person.
[00:12:58] Evan: as well, I have one, [00:13:00] the one pen that I have with the grind from you they bought last year. But the other thing is what is one product that you think you would like to be able to carry.
[00:13:09] Kirk: No. I think I would like to carry the next level, for me would probably be like pilot and Namiki and sailor. I want to get into the, these other high-end Japanese quality pens. And then also. I always like, because I'm a small guy I feel for the small guys and that, some kind of rooting for him.
So I, I always want to try to figure out ways to bring in those new items that, nobody else has found yet. And that, that somebody is doing quality work, that I can help promote and bring them to the front. And I think that's always in the back of my mind, what I want to do.
[00:13:43] John: Yeah. So one, one of the things I wanted to ask about, cause I kinda got in and started digging around through your online store before the episode. And so I've got a couple of questions about what you've got in stock, and I see that you had managed a couple of a classic [00:14:00] pens, and I've heard a little bit about classic pens here or there about what to you makes classic pen special.
[00:14:07] Kirk: The cool thing about classic pens, I think is the the way they've they went about, putting these together, they, they hired a guy named Paul Rossi to do a lot of the prototypes and that guy is just a phenomenal craftsman. So some of the work that he's done is just outstanding.
And then and then they also Paired up with a major brands, they were able to get Parker and sailor and Pelican and Shaffer and many others to do special series with them and in partnership with them. And then, and you just don't see a whole lot of that.
I, I know bunga box and sailor and some of those other guys that have, a type
of collaboration, but these ones just kinda. you know, they're they're, they're a whole different animal really, and just, they're just fantastic.
[00:14:53] John: Yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head without that. To me, that was the most impressive thing with classic [00:15:00] pens is that it wasn't one particular maker. It was a whole series of makers. So you have to really pay attention to what you're buying as a classic pen, because if you think the classic pens are just customized collaborations with sailor, you're in for a surprise.
[00:15:17] Kirk: Exactly. Exactly.
[00:15:20] John: So the other one, and I really feel like there's a story behind. But you've got a Kokuyo bobbin maker on your site. What's up with that.
[00:15:29] Kirk: That's a good one. I really, I just in, in trying to be more, more complete offering I came across these kokuyo things and I thought they were the coolest thing ever. So I'm like, you know what, there's a lot of people that do washi tape and stuff like that with their in their notebooks and with their letters and everything else. I am like why not? I didn't see anybody else carrying it right now in the United States. Or at that time. And so I was like I'll bring it in and see what happens, just trying to try to round out and, make a [00:16:00] complete stationery experience at my shop.
[00:16:03] John: I definitely appreciate that. Cause I like Kokuyo products. And when I saw that I was definitely impressed by I said it's, to me, that's the thing that makes shops like yours special is that curation and really looking for stuff that you think your customers are going to appreciate.
And I appreciate it.
[00:16:23] Kirk: Thanks. Yeah. Kokuyo makes some really great products. And in fact, I've got some new paper coming out in in about another month. I'm pretty excited about that too, as especially with the Tomo way river, fiasco that's going on. And I guess I, I'm not totally abreast of all the, all of it's going on there, but it sounds like they're not making the same quality of paper anymore.
I, there a co-create as. Reformulated some new paper and the stuff they sent me, it was pretty exciting. So I'm hoping that it'll be just as exciting for the consumer.
[00:16:55] John: Yeah, no I've said it before and I'll say it again. I got [00:17:00] lucky quote, unquote, lucky that I didn't get bit by the Tomoe river bug. And so that hasn't really impacted me, but as I understand it here toward the end of the year whatever's out in the world, whether or not it's off of the new machine or not will be the last of the original Tomoe river.
That's going to come off of those machines. switching gears a little bit here we actually had a chance to meet in person here a little bit ago for the Colorado Pen Posse meetup. And I noticed that you had been doing some concentrated collection of Urushi pens, and I wanted to see
[00:17:36] Kirk: Yeah.
[00:17:37] John: what. Was fueling that collection.
If there's a particular style of Urushi you like, or what what style of Urushi you care for?
[00:17:48] Kirk: Yeah. So yeah in my collecting, I have a a fairly large collection of pens and I. I think that the Urushi pens to me they have that that level of handmade craftsmanship [00:18:00] that just really appeals to me. I love that I can look at it real closely and inspected and see the flaws and imperfections to me are actually very appealing in the process of those pens. And yeah, I have a few Bokomundoh's now and then as far as the, the cool thing about Urushi and is that The way the material itself is it's a warm material, whereas plastics a coal material.
And I used to always say that, when you're holding the pen it's, you're holding the pen, but whenever you're holding them an Urushi pen, that's like the pen is holding you because that warmth comes back to you. And I just kinda. As a writing instrument that just really makes it more,
I don't know the right word here for but it just becomes one with you.
And if you will, and it just, so I really loved that. And then, I'm terrible at the names of all the techniques that Hiroko uses, but some of them. My favorites are having some of that Raden and then I also really liked the eggshell technique.
And and then really just any color alongside of that, they're all just [00:19:00] phenomenal.
[00:19:01] John: I'm in total agreement with you with the Raden. I must be like part raccoon or something like that because when I'm riding I've got one of the Bokomundoh's that I sent off and got back. And it's my only Bokomundoh but I found myself writing with that pen.
And just stopping every once in a while to rotate it so I can see the rod and it just makes me so happy. And then I go back to writing more happy letter, and
[00:19:27] Kirk: Yeah.
[00:19:28] John: those are, they are they are a treat to get to own something like that.
[00:19:32] Kirk: Yeah, for sure. Yeah.
[00:19:34] Evan: No.
[00:19:34] John: You said that you've got quite a bit of quite a few pens, but I also know that you've got a pretty good. Collection. Do you have any kind of most used ink currently or current favorite ink.
[00:19:46] Kirk: Probably one that kinda stood out. I started carrying a brand called scribe Inc recently, and the, I'm not a big fan of black ink. And I usually, I love blue inks. But the scribe Onyx, which [00:20:00] is a black ink with a gold, it's got a gold sheen to it. And it just, for whatever reason, it's just, I'm just enamored with it.
And I've been really enjoying writing with that. Ink is probably my favorite black cake that I've ever come across at this point.
[00:20:15] John: Nice. Yeah, I agree with you. I'm definitely not a black ink person, but the right black ink is something that you almost feel like you're falling into a hole when you look at it. Those are the, at least those are my favorite.
[00:20:27] Kirk: Yeah. Totally caught me by surprise because I, I started writing with it and I didn't expect, maybe it's going to be black and that's about it. And it just kinda blew me away.
[00:20:36] John: So one of the things that we wanted to talk about today, and I'm going to do this one before we get to the last question of the day, we've got a special piece of news that came around here, not that long ago. And I think this is really cool that we're going to get a chance to talk about this, but. Esterbrook has been working with nib grinders in terms of bringing [00:21:00] in new grinds and specialty grinds into their Esterbrook lineup. And Kirk has managed to land a spot in that rotation and is going to be providing Esterbrook with their next custom nib. Kirk, would you like to talk about what this next nib is going to be in how this one came?
[00:21:20] Kirk: Yeah. Basically ,I have some. Good friends in higher places nowadays. And Esterbrook s been looking for the next guy or gal and to do their their next custom nib and and Some friends of mine in Houston and in Texas in particular we're talking with Ryan and Kary and brought up my name.
And I went down to the Miami show and met with Kary and I showed him some of my work and what was going on and he was pretty excited and impressed with it. So we picked out a nib and that's a little bit of a secret right now. It's going to be more on the needle point scale of things.
As you may know, Gina has the journaler, which is on the cursive italic stub variant. And [00:22:00] then the scribe nib from Josh lax which is more on the architect variants. So it kinda, I wanted to try to come up with something That the cut across that pattern into something different.
And so we're looking at something on the needle point spectrum and yeah, that's a, that's forthcoming in the future, so I'm really excited about that.
[00:22:18] John: Yeah, I'm really excited about. Yeah that's really cool that you're getting a chance to do that. And like you said, that is definitely something very different than some of their previous offerings. So that's a really exciting, you're beginning to do that. So I'm going to get you with one last question then we'll get you out of here.
So my last question, and you've probably already seen this one before, but we'll ask this one again, just because it's been almost a year. Since I talked to you last, what has been your favorite purchase stationery or not in the last six months?
[00:22:49] Kirk: I think, as I said, the last time, I, if it's not stationery, I typically don't buy it. But this year has been the year of grails for me. So I probably the [00:23:00] surprise grail that I was able to acquire, it was the Mont Blanca Agatha Christie. And I've just, I got it and I linked it up and it just writes so wonderfully.
It's just, I've, I have such a large collection of pens that I typically don't Reinke a pen. I just, I rotate them and this one I've been consistently in my ink pen pile for a while now. I'm just blown away by every part. Yes.
[00:23:24] John: No, that's very cool. Oh really neat pen. What did he do? Ink it up with. I'm curious.
[00:23:30] Kirk: I did the first time I linked it up with was a Lammy petrol blue. Which is a really nice dark greenish blue, I guess it's not blue. Petrol blue is petrol, but it's got a, more of a greenish black, but, and then I, when I recently changed up to I have one of the last bottles of the Dutch masters, Israel, sea blue from Ackerman.
That's another favorite of mine in the blue spectrum. So I've been rethinking it with that last couple of times.
[00:23:58] John: Well, I'm glad [00:24:00] that you got a chance to pick up another grail pen I've got a. Actually, I've got a grail pen sitting in your shop right now, but I don't quite have the money now. we're going to have to wait on that a little bit, but thank you so much, Kurt for coming on today.
It has been a real pleasure to talk with you again and again for anyone that might've missed it along the way. Kirk is the. Proprietor of penrealm.com. He does a online pen sales, stationery sales, as well as nib grinds. You can find him at pen shows now, as well as I guess a reoccurring position down at Dromgool's doing grinds down there.
And as I've said this before, if you can go and actually sit in front of a nib grinder, when you are getting a custom grind, Do that, because it really makes a difference for both you and for them. So I highly encouraged that. And so everyone get out there and go see Kirk. And we'll see you again in two weeks.
Be proud of your snail mail.[00:25:00]
[00:25:00] Kirk: Thank you.