The Hero 616–manufactured, supposedly, by Hero in Shanghai–is a notorious and inexpensive copy of the Parker 51. In many ways, it is the prototypical 51 copy and it can be had for as low as $1.50 shipped, as of this writing.
They look the part, of course, but they are much, much cheaper. When the Parker 51 was introduced in 1941, the base model MSRP was $12.50–a little over $250, adjusted for inflation. So they look alike, but they are not really comparable.
Obviously, anyone who likes the Parker 51 aesthetic but wants something less expensive should go out and grab a 616 right now, right?
No. Not so fast.
The issue isn’t with the Hero 616 itself–they are actually relatively decent fountain pens, for the price, and fill a niche in a world where one is concerned about loss, theft, or the average coworker unintentionally mashing a $400 nib back into a gold nugget.
The problem is getting a good, authentic 616.
First, counterfeits abound. These fake 616 pens are generally very poor quality and not worth the money, no matter the price. Seriously, the pens the bank hand-out for free are better. That’s not to say you cannot coerce them into working, but they’re a knock-off knock-off, so don’t expect much.
Second, Hero’s quality control is a atrocious. Even if you find an authentic one, you will have to disassemble the pen and put it together correctly as the nib, feed, collector, and hood are usually sloppily tossed together and the pen probably won’t work all that great. To be fair, the company is producing a pen that can be shipped 7,000 miles for a buck and half so corners are being cut, but the pen is a little bit more expensive when you account for a jeweler’s loupe, shellac or thread sealant, and the time and skill necessary to assemble your pen if you want one that does what it is supposed to do. Assuming that you can skip the disassembly step because the hood is oriented at least pretty close, it’s likely that the pen will randomly run dry, skip, won’t fill properly, and will otherwise fail at being a fountain pen because the nib-feed-collector assembly is out of whack.
Third and probably related to number one and two, not all Heros are alike. I don’t know if this is because they are made in different factories with different equipment or if sellers package counterfeits with authentic pens or pens intended for export and those intended China’s domestic market are being mixed-up somewhere or if there are different lots made with different parts in circulation. I honestly have no idea.
Consider my two 616s. Both are marked Hero 616 (英雄616). None of the parts are interchangeable including the nibs and caps except the feed and collector. They’re not even the same length. A few points about the green pen:
- The sac protector/pressure bar isn’t polished and is sharp.
- The characters on the filler are stamped into the metal and feel rough and crappy.
- The arrow clip is blobby and weird looking.
- The trim rings are rough to the touch and stick out past the section and body.
- The nib is a folded steel nib with a square profile.
- The 英雄 characters on the nib–which aren’t visible when it’s put together, of course–are incompletely stamped into the metal.
- The striations on the cap are pronounced. It kind of feels like a nail file, actually.
- The threads between the section and the body are functional, but loose and sloppy.
Compare this to my black Hero 616:
- The sac protector/pressure bar on the filler is highly polished.
- The characters on the filler are crisply engraved.
- The details on the arrow clip are well defined.
- The trim rings around the ink window do not stick out and are smooth.
- The nib is folded steel, too, but is well tuned. Actually, it’s probably the nicest P51-style folded steel nibs I’ve used.
- The 英雄 characters are engraved on the nib, not stamped. Again, this isn’t visible unless it’s disassembled.
- The striations on the cap are tastefully engraved and smooth to the touch, creating more of a satin finish rather than a stripped one.
- The threads between the section and body are precise.
- The clutch cap works and is a close approximation of what the P51 clutch cap feels like.
Maybe one is a counterfeit, but these came in the same blister pack. These pens are not the same. There is no way these were produced on the same machinery. I don’t know which one is authentic, if they both are, or if they are both fake. It’s a mystery. I definitely like the black one more, though. That said, excluding pens that were obviously fake, I’ve had ten Hero 616s pass through my hands. Of those, one was my rough green pen, seven were like my rough green pen, one was like my good black 616 but cracked out of the box, and one was my nice 616. Bear in mind, all of them needed work to function properly–full tear-down, thorough cleaning, alignment of the feed, nib, and collector, and reassembly with alignment of the hood and nib before shellacking the hood in place, with minor nib adjustments as necessary. Also keep in mind that these pens are cheap and not all of them will survive surgery.
Sure, the pens are only a couple bucks. That value doesn’t look as great once one factors the supplies, skills, and time needed to get these pens running especially compared to the competition that has sprang-up in China over the last couple of years.
Personally, my recommendations to a newbie looking for a P51-esque pen, from most recommended to least, are:
- Sorry, I have to be that guy: bite the bullet and save your money for a Parker 51. Parker did it best and they made millions of 51s. Restored, user-grade examples come-up on ebay, Etsy, and elsewhere all the time for $90-$150.
- The Wing Sung 601. It costs more than a 616, but that’s because it’s a better pen.
- The Jinhao 51a isn’t so much a copy of a P51 as a homage. They don’t cost that much more than a 616. Plus they come in cool acrylics or in wood!
- If you buy a Hero, buy it from a trusted seller on eBay or Amazon or whatever. You can get it cheaper from shady sellers, but consider a couple extra bucks cheap insurance.
I love hooded nibs and the Parker 51 aesthetic so I have all of them, but the Hero 616 was my first. I didn’t know that getting a good, working example of a 616 was going to be a tremendous pain in my ass. I wouldn’t mess with them, knowing what I know now, nor would I recommend the pen unless one has some reason to want to accumulate a desk drawer full of broken mystery pens in search for one that doesn’t suck.
- Dirt cheap.
- Can be made to write well.
- Holds a lot of ink.
- Semi-disposable–you won’t miss it if you lose it.
- I think it’s fun to tinker around with them.
- You’ll have to fix it out of the box. Plan on it.
- Tons of counterfeits/crappy versions. Hard to get the real deal.
- A lot of headache for a ho-hum pen.
- Friction-fit cap (or a close approximation of a clutch cap, if you’re lucky).
- Hooded nib available in any nib grade you like as long it’s extra fine.
- Integrated aerometric filler. Ink capacity 1.2mL.
- Capped: about 140mm
- Uncapped: about 127mm
- Posted: about 147mm
- Total: 16 grams
- Pen: 9 grams
- Cap: 7 grams.
- Total: 16 grams
- Section diameter: 8-11mm.