Hero 616 Jumbo

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Whenever I’ve been scouting around for cheap but good Chinese pens recently, it has been Jinhao that has come most readily to mind. Recently, though, someone suggested the Hero 616 Jumbo. I picked one up for a very reasonable price and here it is: yet another Parker 51 clone – or so it seems. Actually it’s more of a pen than it appears, at 13.9 cm capped. I don’t have a Parker 51 at the moment to compare it with but I suspect that both cap and barrel are longer.  It has the usual “Parker Arrow” and the cap has a faint lined pattern. The green barrel and section are made of what seems to be a reasonably durable plastic. Two rings protrude sufficiently to grip the cap giving firm closure but I wonder how long this will last.
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It has a squeeze type converter which draws a decent supply of ink. This pen has one problem that recurs: on pulling off the cap there is often ink on the section. This is the old problem of a tight, unventilated cap drawing ink from the reservoir when opened. It’s a problem that was solved by the early nineteen hundreds but it seems that Hero need to reinvent the wheel.
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I don’t suppose it would matter with such an inexpensive pen. I could just chalk it up to experience and consign the pen to the bucket. Problem is, it’s an absolutely splendid writer – a real delight to use! I certainly don’t want to throw it away but nor do I want to have ink on my fingers everytime I use it.

I think the answer will be to drill a small hole in the cap to release the vacuum.

Mabie Todd Blackbird 5261

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This Blackbird 5261 is in splendid condition, almost as if it came out of the shop today. Actually, it has been used but perhaps very little. I flushed blue ink out of it. The sac that I removed appeared to have been the original. The chasing is nice and sharp, as are the barrel and cap imprints. The chrome plating on both clip and lever is excellent. It is an adequately sized pen at 12.5 cm. The nib is medium and semiflexible.
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Looking at this pen, I wonder what is the difference between Blackbird and Swan. I know that gold has been saved on the nib of the Blackbird: it’s both shorter and thinner, but otherwise I struggle to see any difference in quality. This pen is very similar to smaller black chased Swan lever fillers of the same period. Set them side-by-side where you can’t see the imprints and you would have difficulty in telling them apart.
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Considering the splendid condition of this pen I suspect that it has been in a box until very recently. You just don’t see 1930s pens as bright and shiny as this if they’ve been kicking around in a drawer.

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Restoration Practices

Here’s an interesting tale and I’ll be glad to hear your comments about what I have to say. I sold a pen recently to a customer who subsequently complained that there was an accumulation of old ink in the section and in the cap.

As most of you will be aware (goodness knows I’ve written about it often enough) I restore conservatively. That means I do no more than is necessary to bring the pen back to working condition and a good appearance. I don’t do reblacking, for instance. I want the pens that I restore to be around for as long as is possible, so I don’t use materials or practices that are deleterious to the pen’s longevity. I don’t soak pens as that can damage all materials. I keep water out of the barrel and cap. Strange as it may seem you can have decades of accumulations of water-based ink in the cap or barrel without any apparent damage but the moment you put water in there the rusting begins. I’ve had enough pens passed to me that have been “restored” by someone else, with rusting internal metal parts. That’s especially bad in the cap because the tiny parts holding a clip can rapidly rust through, which requires a difficult and time-consuming repair and is best avoided. If you get water in there you may imagine that you’ve got it out but you haven’t. The only way to ensure that your customer’s pen is not going to suffer severe problems from rusting is to keep the water out of there.

Now, to the specifics: the pen had good ink flow before it left me and the customer does not complain that the ink flow is inadequate. Nonetheless he has said that the section/feed assembly had an accumulation of old ink. Further, he said that it took use of an ultrasonic cleaner to remove the ink. In answer to that, I don’t routinely drift out the feed and nib. I only do so if there is a blockage and I believe it to be the case that most good restorers follow the same practice. Resetting a nib properly is not a trivial exercise and it should not be done unless there is a reason for it. Secondly, why use such a blunt instrument as an ultrasonic cleaner? If the interior of a section needs cleaned of ink, that’s what cotton buds were made for. They have the benefit of doing a very good job while not exposing black hard rubber to the likelihood of fading from exposure to water. It seems to me that it matters not, in any case, if there is old ink in the section provided the ink flow is good.

Then there’s the cap. As I said above it is my practice to keep water out of the cap, for what I believe to be excellent reasons. If it is essential to remove accumulated ink, such as in the case of the disassembly of a post-war Conway Stewart cap, I would use naphtha which will evaporate completely and leave no wet residue. Normally, I would see no reason to go digging around in the cap. Removing an accumulation of old ink has no benefit, either practical or aesthetic. You’re not aware of its presence unless you shine a light in there, and why would you do that? My customer says his concern is that it can become a problem when new ink condenses inside the cap. I’ve never known that. If the new ink is going to condense inside the cap, surely it will do so whether there’s old ink in there or not? Also, in years of pen restoration, this is the first time that anyone has raised the issue of old ink in the cap with me.

Given how long I’ve been doing this, and with such a high rate of success, it would take a tremendously good argument to make me change my tried and tested practices. However, I would be most interested to hear what you think.

Mabie Todd Swan 400

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I’m not sure of the date of the Swan 400 but I would guess that it is one of the later eyedropper-filler pens as it has the wonderful ladder feed. Around 100 years old, then. This one is as black and shiny as the day it was made but there are some surface scratches which are hard to explain. At first I thought it might be that an accommodation clip had been fitted, as these often scratch the surface but as the scratches go round the cap that doesn’t work. Perhaps it was stored in a drawer with something sharp.
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Anyway, this is the pen as it came to me. I haven’t even cleaned the nib. The only thing I did was to put some ink in it and write-test it. It’s a fine with quite a bit of flex. This is quite a long pen at 14.2 cm capped. It has a professional personalisation, “JM Wilson”. Who could that be? Current JM Wilsons include a lawyer, an author, a racehorse trainer, an artist and a tattooist but it’s unlikely to be any of them. The JM Wilson who owned this pen must be pushing up the daisies. I found one candidate, Canon James Maurice Wilson, 1836 to 1931, librarian of Worcester Cathedral, who was also a mathematician, astronomer, historian, theologian, educational reformer, and philanthropist. Now that’s the kind of guy I hope owned this pen!
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The Swan 400 has just about everything going for it. Okay, it’s not a self filler but on the other hand it holds much more ink than any self filler does. It has the ladder feed and a great nib. Being made of black hard rubber it weighs practically nothing and will have just enough heft to be noticeable when it’s full of ink. The grip is excellent and the balance is perfect – what more could any pen give?
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I’ve had one or two of these pens before but they are not common. Perhaps this is because they were introduced towards the end of the life of the eyedropper pen, as sac fillers came in. Anyway, it’s a wonderful pen. Grab one if you see one.

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Jinhao X750

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The JINHAO X750 has been much commented on of late and seems to be well received, for the most part. I decided to have a look at one myself and found it was cheap beyond cheap! I bought mine from Amazon for a ridiculous £2.99 and I believe you can find them even cheaper in eBay. Coming from Japan, delivery took about three weeks.
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This one is described as the “black, night sky” pattern. It’s quite attractive, with tiny sparkly inserts in the black paint. Some Jinhaos are heavy, others are light. This is one of the former at 38 g. It’s not the heaviest pen around but it’s too heavy for me, particularly posted. It’s quite well-balanced, though. It’s also quite big at 14.3 cm capped.
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It has the usual Jinhao metalwork, chrome-plated clip, cap ring and a small accent ring at the base of the barrel. The pen clicks shut and does so very well. Unlike many Chinese pens, it doesn’t take a great effort to separate cap and barrel. Once you’ve done so, you’re presented with a matte black section, a final chrome plated ring and a very large nib. The nib is inscribed with the Jinhao logo of two men in a chariot, the word “Jinhao” and the legend “18 K GP”. The latter, I think is nonsense. Whatever it’s plated with is silver coloured and it certainly isn’t gold, not even white gold. Pull the other one, Jinhao.
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When it comes to writing, despite my asking for a fine, I’ve been given a medium, which is not especially to my taste. Allowing for that it writes extremely well. No skipping or hard starting and the line is consistent. I need to try it over a few more days to be absolutely sure that there is no later hard starting but so far I’m very pleased with it.
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As I’ve said before, I can’t imagine how they turn out decent, basic pens at this price. Ours not to question why, just take advantage of it if you need a very sturdy, workaday pen. This one even comes with a converter.

Moving on to another subject, these last few days of the run-up to Christmas are a quiet period. Presents have been bought and the money has been spent. I’ve already restocked the sales website and I can get on with other things. I’d been doing manual backups for years and I decided to take a new approach. I bought the Genie Backup Manager so that I could do incremental backups rather than wasting disk space doing them manually as I had been doing. Also, as my previous backup media had run out, I bought 2×1 TB external disks which should last me for a while, even allowing for double backups. In addition, I had been saving my pen photographs in the GIF file type for some reason I have long forgotten. I used the excellent Fast Stone Image Viewer to convert them all to JPG, reducing their size considerably. I am aware of the potential for loss of detail in photos that are opened and closed frequently in the JPG format, but these are for archive and are likely be opened only very infrequently, if at all.

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Pens, pens, pens galore
Swan, Waterman, and a few more
Pens to write with, pens to keep
At a good price, some very cheap!

Conway Stewart Dinkie 550

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Conway Stewart Dinkies are in a class of their own. The older, rarer ones can fetch a high price but the 550s from the post-war period don’t sell all that well here. I’ve noticed from some of the pen discussion boards that they sell at a higher price overseas, particularly America.

They are jewel-like little pens and pencils. Though they are at the margin of what is comfortable to write with, many are actually tremendous writers, often with some flexibility.
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There seems always to have been a place in the market for small pens. Conway Stewart produced the Dandy, which is small but not so small as the Dinkie. Other companies like National Security/Rosemary sold competitive little pens, which may have been made for them by Conway Stewart. Wahl Eversharp produced exceptionally small pen and pencil sets.  Mabie Todd made short versions of their Swans but they have good girth and useful length when posted. Nobody makes quite such small pens today. The Kaweco Sport is short but posted it’s almost a normal sized pen so it isn’t quite comparable to the Dinkie.

So what was that all about? Many of those which have passed through my hands have been gifts from men to women and from parents to daughters. This example has an inscription showing that it is a gift from a husband to his young wife. They seem to have been particularly intended for women, then. In a way, it’s part of the all-pervasive low-level sexism of the time, and seemed to imply that women should have pretty, little versions of normal sized things. Were they intended to be used or were they just for looking at? The Dinkie is perfectly adequate for taking occasional notes but I’m sure that it would induce hand-strain if used to write pages.
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I confess that though their usefulness is limited I like the Dinkies. They usually appear as pen and pencil sets in the original, very decorative boxes. They are made to the same high quality as Conway Stewart applied to the larger pens in those days. And, of course, because there is such a variety of them, they are ideal to collect.

Sexism or no, I was delighted when my husband gave me a Dinkie set some years ago. I fluttered my eyelashes and fainted dead away in an appropriately ladylike fashion.