CHINESE PEN NEWS YOU NEED TO KNOW | APR. 2018

I had a brilliant spring break recently in China.

For the stationery part, I spent several days in Shanghai, revisiting the companies and pen people. I shared my stationery experience in the West with them, caught up with new trends they observed, and most importantly, played a lot with the latest or even prototype pens from brands like PenBBS, Moonman and Live in You.

I was also privileged enough to be accompanied by one of my readers, Nicholas, for the most of this field trip. Nicholas is the co-founder of the Australia based retailer Deskbandit, and I learned a lot from him about the ink and paper from Japan.
So, after putting myself into the practitioner’s shoes, I hope this month’s news piece could also be more meaty to you, too!


1. Live in You finally named some Future pens

The Live in You Future series has a visual design brilliant enough to be a table decoration. However, the typical Live in You naming scheme that I was quite fond of (i.e., the names in MiTu series) didn’t show up until two weeks ago when the second batch of pens showed up.

Four names were released:

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拉克玫瑰 / Lakh Rose

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雪野 / Snowy Wilderness
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普罗旺斯 / Provence
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珊瑚海 / Coral Sea

The latter two are made from resin, while the first two are acrylic pens, according to Eason, the business owner of Live in You. Currently, only the Snowy Wilderness is available, and Eason told me the next batch would surface soon.

By the way, I did ask Eason why he runs such a small production for the Future pens. He told me that since he has become an investor of the factories that made these pens, he now has the bargaining power to do a small production each time, and by doing this he could implement better QC and design each batch.

2. Green Wing Sung Extravaganza

I paid a visit to Mr. Zhang who runs the Green Stationery in Shanghai and has been designing amazing 6xx Wing Sung pens in the recent years. We talked a lot, and some of the facts I confirmed excites me, even he seems to be less aware of the influence of his decision. So let me introduce you to the wild expansion of Green Wing Sung’s products.

2.1 A Spring-loaded Draw Filler 601, with Cap Jewel!

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When the prototypes of PenBBS Draw Filler first surfaced, I wrongly took it as its answer to the Vacumatic. However, it turned out that since it functions without the help of a diaphragm, the new filling system is more similar to a Draw Filler from Edison.

However, while the PenBBS’s reiteration of this system still has not faced the mass market, Green Wing Sung updated the 601 line with a Draw Filler option on a whim and just marketed it as a “Piston Filler Model (活塞式).”

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On the Taobao listing, the new system is categorized as a Piston Filler/活塞式

Even when I was setting in Mr. Zhang’s office and astonished by the filling magic, Mr. Zhang was still at ease: “We made a piston version of the 601 recently, and we add a white jewel to the screw”.

From a factual standpoint, the filling system is not a knockoff of the Draw Filler from Edison, but more superior than that. Similar to Brian’s approach to innovating, Mr. Zhang replaced the diaphragm in the Vacumatic/Pump filler with a double shot of piston rings. However, what Mr. Zhang differs from Brian here is that he keeps the spring loaded in the Vacumatic/Pump filler, enabling the piston unit to reset automatically every time you push the knob.

For Edison’s Draw Filler, you must fill it up with two hands since you have to pull the piston unit out from the barrel in each stroke you make, but here in the newest Wing Sung 601, I have found the filling part of using this pen become an exquisite enjoyment.
However, I still think the company could have done a better job naming this mechanism. If I were Mr. Zhang, I would call it an “Auto Draw Filler.”

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Edison’s Draw Filler | gif credit to the company

Like any other 601 pens, the Auto Draw Filler (please let me indulge myself here) 601 comes with both steel and gold nib options, and various body types, from solid color ones to ink-window ones, are all available with reasonable price tags. Currently they are listing on the same 601 pen pages as other pump/vacumatic fillers.

2.2 A Mandarin Yellow Limited Edition 601 for Diehard Fans

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If you can remember, the Wing Sung 601 faced a horrific quality crisis when it was rushed to meet the world last December. Hairline cracking and lousy tolerance were the most common issues. Later edition did solve most of the problems, but it is hard to deny that the early adopters who bought into Wing Sung’s commitment into the revival of Vacumatic Filler had a hard time.

Thus, Shanghai Junlai, the Taobao store of Green Stationery, announced last month that it would thank early customers of the 601 by mailing them a yellow 601 for free. The announcement didn’t come with a picture of this limited edition, but I did manage to get one shortly before the Spring break, and I must say it is in a breathtaking Mandarin Yellow! Besides the rich yellow body, the pen in concern also features a combination of gold-plated steel nib, filling knob, center band, and arrow clip.

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More specifically, this edition is only made for customers ordered the problematic first batch between 12/25/2017 to 12/29/2017 and didn’t end up asking a full refund from Junlai, according to the announcement. To make this gifting work, customers who meet this requirement should ask the customer service people from the store to redeem this offer and pay for an item called 1-RMB shipment fee, in case there is any change of mailing address. This compensation offer is valid for half a year from 03/23/2018.
Each Taobao ID is eligible for only one pen, and only a total of 500 yellow 601 pens are available.

By the way, if you didn’t buy the first batch, but did end up buying some later version via Junlai’s Taobao store between 12/30/2017 to 3/24/2018, the company would be glad to give you a 10 RMB discount for each of the new 601 pens you buy, as long as you keep the numbers below the numbers you purchased during that period. Moreover, for both of the two groups of 601 buyers mentioned above, the company announced it was also willing to mail you upgraded feed units as many as your purchase numbers, still for free.

2.3 The Standard 601 Upgrades Tracker

The announcement above also reveals a significant upgrade of the whole current 601 line, including the yellow LE and the Auto Draw Filler. The company claims that it almost redesigned the entire package of this model, with better plastics, new parts, and drastically improved details.

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The highlights could be summarized in the above picture. The best part of this upgrades, in my opinion, is the looks of the ink windows. While the cleanness and sharpness of the new windows still cannot emulate the level achieved by the original Wing Sung 201 (from the 50s), they are at least useable, or even pleasant to see. With improved plastics, the border of the windows in this version also become more opaque than the first version, making a clear-cut viewing experience.

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From left: the 601 windows version before and after upgrade, a vintage Wing Sung 201
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From left: the cap edge of the 601, before and after this upgrade

Other upgrades contain the trimming of the edge of the cap, a new feed unit with more clear fins, better position for the inner cap, etc. The only issue to be aware of is that the store decided to stock both older and upgraded versions of the ink-window version at least for this moment to consume the older stock, which could add another layer of communication barrier for international order.

To sum up, I am super happy to see the evolution of the 601 pens going on there. The upgrade really brings the design to the next level of maturity and the new filling system is an unexpected gift to the pendom. As for the yellow LE and discount campaign? An open love letter to its supporters, for sure.

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Click the picture to view the 601 with 12k nib
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Click the picture to view the 601 with steel nib

2.4 The 626: Wing Sung Balance

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Wing Sung by Green 626 compared with Sheaffer Balance
From Right: Sheaffer’s modern Balance, Wing Sung 626

But the news from Green Wing Sung doesn’t stop at 601. The Wing Sung Balance (official name 626) in rumor finally debuted for a short period of time last week. According to Mr. Zhang, this is a homage work to the Sheaffer’s Balance in the 90s. From the nib shape down to the white dot, the 626 strikes a great similarity with the revived Balance. It also takes advantages of the celluloid as its base material.

Only 150 pieces of pens were released to the market and interestingly, just like a carbon-copy from the 601 playbook, most of this first batch turned out to be loaded with small problems. Now the 626 is off the market again.

The pricing for the steel nib models is 118 RMB for each, and 298 RMB for a gold nib one, making it a capable rival for the PenBBS lines. According to the listing pictures I got from the company, the gold nib 626 is actually using vintage nib from the original Wing Sung/Lucky pens, and there are two styles available. But I think the real deal for the 626’s nib is that the company curated an M nib on launch, making it a promising candidate to write western words.

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The 626 has been facing a huge backlash from the pen communities in China. In the Baidu’s Fountain pen forum, the community moderator there already banned (yes, ban!) users from discussing this model. And in PenBBS, the only unboxing post of the 626 has become a hot mess of criticism and debate that even covers grand topics like the US-Sino trade war. Even the webmaster of the PenBBS himself has joined the army to criticize the 626’s bad engineering.

Mr. Zhang told me last night that under such pressure the white dot on the 626 would be transformed into a gold plated one for the following batch.

My reckoning on the 626 is that as long as Mr. Zhang can surpass the quality of the Sheaffer’s attempt to revive the originalBalance in the end, he’d be fine. What’s your take on this uncanny move of Green Wing Sung?

3. Fuliwen is Back!

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Fuliwen seems to be missing in our discussion for a long time, but with its latest model, the Fuliwen 016, I can say it is back in the game.

Retailing at 130 RMB, the type 016 fountain pen certainly is a gain giver. Four classic acrylic materials consist the whole lineup, a different approach compared to the PenBBS’s offerings. Among them, the red and white one really catches my eyes. The faceted body was machined in a way to bring out an nuanced reflection and seems to be well balanced, too. A metal medallion with a big F was struck into the flat end of the pen cap, making the pen more Fuliwen-ish. Another extra is the metal thread within the nib section, a relatively rare feature for an acrylic pen like this.

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Overall the package looks promising, however, the pen would only ship after April 8th, making me missing the opportunity to see it in China. There is also one uncertain point for this pen—its nib unit. It is a proprietary Fuliwen nib with an ordinary Chinese feed, and I am not sure about the actual performance of this setting. Typically a Fuliwen nib unit is picky about ink and writes without a clear character, even on their flagship model.

The good news here is that Fuliwen offers many options for the looks of the stainless steel nib. You can choose from a silver one, gold plated one, or a bi-color one for your purchase. Then a 14k Fuliwen gold nib is always available if you want to have a softer writing experience.

Currently the 016 is only available through Bobby the eBay seller, somehow under a confusing listing name.

4. Delike Delivers Two Submarines

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Usually to cast and polish a cylinder shape pen cap you need to rotate the base material in a high speed, if not using injection molding. The clip is usually inserted or attached later. But this time Delike debuted two models that share a cap design that is hard to figure out—a machined brass cap that has a long ridge built in.

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Orange and Black Celluloid Submarines

The first one, called Submarine, has a shape very similar to the Moonman M1, but uses a more upscale barrel material instead. The company claimed the celluloid models in this line are using the celluloid imported from Italy from HERO’s old stock.

Delike Submarine Frank Underwater 03

The second one, called Fashion, still shares the same Submarine style cap, but the metal furniture certainly runs further in the direction of oriental aesthetic. A beefed up version of the original M1’s design?

I really wish the ridge could pop up and double as a clip when I push the top end, but at least it is clear that even for a company like Delike has got some idea to make original designs.

5. The PenBBS 349 and 350

Although there are still no news about the plunger filler and (auto?) draw filler yet, two new PenBBS pens emerged last month.

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The 349’s iconic metal thread section

Penbbs 349 FrankUnderwater

The 349 is a large acrylic pen that looks similar to the 309, but with more tapered ends and bigger dimensions. The substantial difference between the two is that the 349 has a metal thread section rather than a machined acrylic one. Early customer reports showed that this metal thread gives the 349 a slightly different weight distribution. But the review from Chris reveals other design choices have compromised the whole package, such as the Pilot/Namiki-alike clip and its easy-to-crack cap edge.

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Photo Credit: Benny’s Etsy Store

The 350 is an industrial looking aluminum pen that comes with amazing colors. The so-called core member of the PenBBS brand, Benny, launched this one even a little bit earlier than Taobao listings on her Etsy Store.

The general design really resonates with the Namisu Ixion, with a long octagon shape cap and one slim clean barrel.(I am really curious about the webmaster’s reasoning behind emulating another emerging brand.) This cap stops the pen from rolling around well. I was lucky enough to grab one from Shanghai Jingdian, the major distributor of the PenBBS products. I was first surprised by the delicate branding on 350’s flat top, This level of accuracy and sharpness was made possible through the etching processing, according to the technical staff from Jingdian.

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Amazing details here!
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A Cooper version of the PenBBS 350

The PenBBS store shows that this model was designed to be used in hot summer days, and a hefty cooper version has been added recently. But the another differentiator for the 350 is a complementary nib unit—not another F or EF nib, but a roller-ball nib unit that could be fed with the same fountain pen converter. The company reminds the users to use ink with less saturation and density when switching to this roller-ball tip.

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A special replacement nib unit

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Both the 349 and the 350 share the same PenBBS nib unit and converter that we have seen in other models.


Update at 2:00PM ET, 4/21/2018: Added Wing Sung 626 listing pictures from the company. 

10 Replies to “CHINESE PEN NEWS YOU NEED TO KNOW | APR. 2018”

  1. Oooooh. I hadn’t heard about the Submarine. What an interesting design choice to have the cap textured like that.

    I really want Green Wing Sung to slow down and refine their design production process a bit more. It’s a shame they’re like 80% of the way there with exciting new products and revisiting familiar old designs but then seemingly shooting themselves in the foot with the last leg. A real darn shame.

    Although I have two demo 601s, one of each filling mechanism, on the way and was intrigued by the draw filler, I hadn’t heard about the other changes/improvements to the 601 line.

    Thanks for this News edition! Appreciate all the work you’ve put into these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So… It means.. for me there’s no way to get lovely yellow 601… It’s horrible….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. While the yellow one is hard to purchase now, I will try my best to persuade Mr. Zhang to add a Mandarin Yellow 601 with ink windows to the regular lineup in the future!

        Like

    2. Hi, Ann! Good to see you and thanks for your thoughtful inputs again!

      The announcement Green Wing Sung made on their Taobao site was quite obscure even for people who understand Chinese, which makes the communication less useful to its audience (which may also include resellers!). As for the design-production pattern you pointed out, I couldn’t agree more. It is a real shame for them to always fail first before fully delivering the promise. But somehow maybe this pattern may reflex its business strategy–be the first mover in specs and features, even at the cost of quality, and then rebate the early customers with unique offerings and discount? BTW, I wish your 601s be the ones with upgraded features!

      As for the Submarine: Chris already grabs mine and we would probably see a review from him soon!

      Like

  2. The more I see your blog posts, the more I feel like buying one of those Moonman M1 and M2! Now that celluloid Delike Submarine…It joins the list! :p Seeing PenBBS completely rip off Namisu is a bit of a letdown however. The ‘copy western brands’ attitude of many Chinese brands is what originally put me off, it’s sad to see they can’t get their sh*t together and focus on designing their own products (as clearly they CAN make really cool designs if they put some effort into it).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Dries! I am happy to hear that you like the Submarine. Chris grabbed mine this afternoon, and we would probably see a review from him soon!

      I understand your concern over the originalities of many Chinese brands, and I have also been upset by the PenBBS’s ripping off of Namisu, too. It seems that there is not a clear vision or guideline for the most of them. Sometimes brands that always make copycats, such as Delike, could bring out innovative design, whereas occasionally brands with good records, like the PenBBS, suddenly end up in relying heavily on other modern designs without much improvising. So far, the Live in You and Tang FP are the only ones that remain clean, but their voices are too weak to change the mindset of the industry.

      As long as this strange trend is on, it is hard for people in the West not to cast a frosty look to the Chinese brands in the first glance. I hope it won’t take too long for things to change. We shall see.

      Like

  3. The more I see your blog posts, the more I feel like buying one of those Moonman M1 and M2! Now that celluloid Delike Submarine…It joins the list! :p Seeing PenBBS completely rip off Namisu is a bit of a letdown however. The ‘copy western brands’ attitude of many Chinese brands is what originally put me off, it’s sad to see they can’t get their sh*t together and focus on designing their own products (as clearly they CAN make really cool designs if they put some effort into it).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the great article Frank. I only see these pens popping up on Ebay and it’s fun and interesting to learn all the background details and Chinese pen gossip. Those Live in You pens are spectacular. Where would I look for them in the western market?
    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Are the piston/draw filler mechanisms going to be coming out in the solid-color versions of the pen? I find the mechanism much more appealing, but the demonstrator aesthetic on the pen just doesn’t look as beautiful as the solid ones, especially the versions with ink windows.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Is there any way to buy the 601 Mandarin pen? I have bought a 601 dark green and a demonstrator off of Ebay and they are really great pens, equal to the original Parker 51 with my limited experience. Also, is the yellow plastic dense enough to not show ink through as a shadow?

    Thanks,

    Skip Williams

    Like

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