Shanghai HERO Pen Factory’s Type-100 fountain pen, aka the Hero 100, is, of course, the most famous and influential product ever made by Chinese pen industry. Deriving from the Parker 61, 51, this model has withstood the shifting of fountain pen market through the years without significant changes in structure and style and is still in huge demand in the domestic market of China, with a huge fan base within the pen community there. Designed for the Chinese market, the Hero 100 seldom get its name across the West, but it is still good enough to be caught by the radar of pen connoisseurs such as Richard Binder. Binder picked up this pen when he was dipping back into the contemporary pens years ago, and he highly appraised its durability, design, and improved details.
“God bless those Chinese innovators. “
—-Comment regarding Hero 100 from Don Fluckinger
Much has been written about this pen, but most of the details and intriguing ones are written in Chinese. Therefore, I want to open a whole new series of blog posts here, trying to give the western stationery lovers a holistic picture of this astonishing writing instrument. Today I shall start with three brief reviews of my three Hero 100s.
Shanghai Hero Pen Factory started the project of ‘Hero 100’ in the 1960s in the hope to surpass Parker’s hooded pens, after years of producing ‘100 Hero’ fountain pens, a flagship (and flawed) pen modeled mostly on the Parker 51. The engineers at this state-owned factory came up with a design that was a hybrid of Parker 51, 61, 21 and some innovative in-house ideas of sealing the whole package using a proprietary screwing mechanism. It got a satiating, streamlined profile, a legit 14k nib that gives out the proper amount of reaction for writing Chinese, along with a complicated and air-tight Aerometric filling system that is anti-disassembly.
My first Hero 100 was a whole steel one, a Flighter if I use the western jargon of pens, and it takes me 4 years to understand its legacy and beauty. The first time I saw this pen, I was still in high school and was only trying to find a pen with an exotic profile and well-received brand. The owner of that pen show presented me with a whole steel Hero 100 to me, bragging about its 14-kt gold nib and its reasonable pricing. But by that time, I knew no deep understanding about fountain pen, and I was declined by this pen in the first glimpse:
“I don’t like it, it reminds me of the pens when I was in elementary school.”
The shape of that pen was so iconic that it reminded me awfully a lot of the Hero 616, a notorious instrument that many Chinese students during their tedious years of writing and recitation during elementary education. In the end, I opted for an entry level Parker Sonnet, with a bluffing gold trim and gold-plated steel nib. I missed a good pen only because I was fed up with the shape of that hooded nib and streamlined shape, cause I knew nothing about the entire legacy derived from Parker 51.
Then I went to the college, having the first time in my life began to dig into the internet to spend my spare money on a fountain pen before the first final exams. I spent a lot of time playing with LAMY Safari, Al-star, but then the next summer I was literally shocked by a blog post by a Taobao seller that reviews the most common seen versions of Hero 100. Suddenly it came to me that the stories behind the fountain pens which I once abandoned were much richer and significant than I thought.
Ironically, the first Hero 100 I ordered was a fake one.
I was trying to save some yuan at that time due to the limitedness of my overall budget, and I ended up having a Hero 100 that has no tipping material. Its nib just appeared to be in the same gold color from the body to the tipping point, and this gold color could be easily scratched out with a razor, revealing the cheap metal underneath–apparently, it was a copycat.
More ironically, the first genuine Hero 100 I had a jaw-dropping level of bad quality, making the fraudulent one I bought more like a real one. All the classic defects of a true Hero 100, based on the online posts, have been fulfilled by this pen. The nib, although a well-polished gold one, was not aligned with the central line of the hood; the pen cap has an unfinished edge that can cut through everything; the clip was floppy and loose, and the resin used in the section broke down after several months of usage.
But mind you the price tag of this Hero 100 Flighter: 230 in Chinese yuan, or roughly 35 US dollars at that time. From every standpoint, its value position is sound for no one could offer a 14k gold nib at a price so friendly at that point. Despite all the complaints I put regarding its quality control, this pen is actually well designed and writes comfortably as long as the section is not broken, thanks to its over-engineered filling system and its squared grinding of the tipping material. Therefore, this first Hero 100 accompanied me a lot, and I changed its broken hoods twice during my days with it, using the special tools manufactured by the seller.
But that Hero 100 was not the only Hero 100 you can but, nor it was the best Hero 100 in the world. During the long-lasting production of this model, Hero Pen Factory produced lots of variants, with differentiated nib widths, color pattern, caps and most importantly, the level of precision and quality.
Based on my knowledge, there is three era when Hero produces the top-notch classic Type-100 fountain pens:
1. The initial years after the invention of the Type-100, in the late 60s and 70s. At that time the Factory used the gold-filled body, rainbow-pattern cap in the high-end models of this pen, mimicking the classic way Parker curated the 51/61, and there was also a wide range of nib width to choose, ranging from XF to B.
2. The early 90s. At this time, due to the economic reform of China and the public-enlisting of the Hero Corporation, the workers at the Factory was quite inspired and charged with passion, resulting in another climax of product quality and innovation. The color range of the pen at this time was still full, as you can see in the picture. The gold plated body work replaces the gold-filled one in the high-end models, but it still looks great thanks to its thickness and wave-like engravement. Models with XF-size nib were still in production during this era, though in limited numbers.
3. The early 2000s, the last time when the pen Hero produced can meet a consistently high standard of quality. Besides the Flighter, the color range of this model was cut dramatically into 3 colors: red, black, green. The high-end models with wave pattern gold-plated body work discontinued, along with the XF or B size nib ones. The only models with gold trim were the plastic ones with gold plated clip and back jewel.
Shortly after having my first oversize western pen, a Pelikan M1000, I realized that deep in mind I still want to get my hands wet of more Hero 100 made in different eras. My first Hero 100 was made in the year 2012; therefore it belongs to none of the three groups above. Since then, the Hero 100 has become a regular item I keep an eye on across the Taobao and forums.
My second Hero 100 was a high-end model in teal color, with a gold-plated cap in the wave pattern.
It belongs to the second group of the high-quality Hero 100. It costs a lot, but it pays the moment I inked it up and give it a drive in my tiny dormitory room: I literally gasped in amazement after drawing some random lines on the paper. The smoothness and magnitude of feedback I got from this nib were unlike any Chinese pen or LAMYs I was using at that time. Everything in this pen is seriously constructed, assembled and tuned together harmoniously. No more misalignment, no more floppy clip and the edge of the cap was rounded cautiously. Most importantly, no more cracking hood even after nearly 3 years of use. Those teal color plastic made in the 90s did prove to be more durable than its modern black counterpart, not to mention how much better it looks and touches than the latter.
For a long time, I carry this pen along with my M1000 everywhere I go. When I need to take rapid notes or leave beautiful Chinese signature, I will use this Hero 100. I do worried about what if one day I got up and find a cracking in the hood, but thanks to my experience with my first Hero 100, I have already some spare parts in preparation for that.
Having tasted the magic of the well-made version, I decided to buy more, and that decision resulted in a green Hero 100 made in the year 2002.
It costs slightly less than 1993 one, but the result was somehow disappointing: the clip was wobbling right and left like crazy, the nib was not well positioned, and the grinding style fall short to provide a richness of touching paper. It took me a lot of time and extra money to fix those problems by reassembling the pen myself and changed some malfunctioning parts with new-bought components from other sellers.
The feeling of writing with this pen was not bad in the end, but still far from reaching the same level of the teal color Hero 100. Therefore, when a friend of mine expressed some interest in this pen to use it as a daily writer, I passed it to her as a gift.
Before I get in possession of my fourth Hero 100, I happened to play with a whole bunch of newly made Hero 100s when I was at MORE Studio in Shanghai, working on its fountain pen project. But none of them can surpass the teal color one. I even paid three visits to the Shanghai Hero Pen Factory to talk with its leadership over the issue of co-branding a new variant of Hero 100 pen, since my boss and I were superfans of the stories behind the Type-100 fountain pen. The general manager of the Factory at that time was quite happy to see me carrying a 1993 Hero 100 during the conversation. The bad news was the fact that he revealed the fact that the current strategy of the Type-100 fountain pen was ‘to compete with steel nib pens from Pilot and Safari with gold nib while charging the same.’
The cooperation with the Factory suspended, and we opted for other options. As for me, I was in a long time mental lost, for to me the leadership of the Factory was not genuinely interested in sustaining the flagship and premium status of the Type-100 fountain pen; instead, they treat it as an entry-level gold pen for an amateur. The future of this model is not promising, in a word.
Therefore, when I have encountered a post from a Chinese pen seller selling a 1970s dark gray Hero 100 fountain pen with XF nib, I paid the 200 plus in US dollars instantly to the seller. I know this sounds crazy when compared to the basic price of this pen, but after working on this pen for some while at my last job, I simply don’t want to miss this opportunity.
This fourth Hero 100 pen came with an original box from the 1970s, with instructions written both in Chinese and English, and a bilingual sticker denoting the width of the nib, XF. Clearly, it was one of the exporting version of Hero 100 at that time.
The thick gray body remains shining and seamless after years of stocking while being rigorously asymmetric, all of which eclipsed the plastic used by Parker for 61, a parent of Hero 100 that has continually been haunted and loomed by the shrinkage of plastic. Since some prominent Chinese pen collectors claimed that the Hero 100s from the early 70s are the only Hero 100 that can surpass the Parker 51, it may be even safe to say here that the resin used here is no more inferior than the 51s’.
The brushed steel cap was also showing off the craftsmanship of that era: with precisely engraved branding and origins, the ending edge of the cap barrel also got a treatment of crush-in to avoid being a sharp blaze to the user. Under the protection of the cap, there is a hooded nib in the size of XF, exquisite. The dry test and visual inspection show the line it writes is probably even narrower than the already notoriously fine nib from a Japanese EF pen. Producing a smooth EF/XF nib always take extra efforts and risk, and Hero opts for canceling this nib width after its last peak in the 90s.
One interesting anecdote here is the way the instruction manual implying its over-engineered structure under the simplistic body: it just forbid any DIY or self-maintenance efforts tried by its customers. The upside is that if you got a perfectly assembled one, you could write with it for years without worrying about the lubrication of piston or the airtight issue cause this Aerometric system is utterly unbreakable. The downside is that you must to keep using it since it would be a nightmare if you got too much ink dry out inside. An alert here: if you have to open the pen, that will be another story which is agitating, time-taking and also, of extreme risk.
This pen is in NOS condition, which is extremely a rare thing to find now; therefore I just can’t make up my mind to ink up this jade-like art piece. Maybe I will use this pen when I witness Hero reiterate a new variant of Type-100 fountain pen with comparable quality in the coming days.