Hero 616

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.caps_compare

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.
Filler differences.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The Wing Sung 601. It costs more than a 616, but that’s because it’s a better pen.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  • Length:
    • Capped: about 140mm
    • Uncapped: about 127mm
    • Posted: about 147mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 16 grams
      • Pen: 9 grams
      • Cap: 7 grams.
  • Section diameter: 8-11mm.

616s compared to Parker 51, capped.


Sheaffer 500 “Dolphin”

A little background on this pen: in the 60’s, Sheaffer wanted to make a lower-budget line of pens that capitalized on the popular Imperial line. They had semi-hooded nibs that looked like inlaid nibs. The pens from the line were eventually nicknamed dolphins, likely originating from the weird, bulbous sections. The least expensive pen in this budget line is the cartridge 500.

That said, this weird pen is pretty sentimental to me.

I found it in an antique shop after I took the NCLEX–the licensure exam for nurses in the United States. It was new old stock, in box, with a matching mechanical pencil. It was one of the first times that I’d seen a fountain pen in a store and I’d just passed a big milestone in my life, so I bought it.

I fell in love with the streamlined look of hooded and semi-hooded pens because of this goofy little pen. The aesthetic doesn’t work for everyone, but I love them. I have a sub collection of pens with hooded nibs because I found this pen. It was my first vintage pen, too.

It may have been a budget pen in its time, but the 500 writes like an expensive one. The nib is fine and maybe unhallmarked palladium-silver–mine doesn’t attract a magnet, but the nibs weren’t marked on these cheap pens. The pen itself is small–right around 12cm uncapped–and very light. The metal slip cap works and isn’t too heavy, so the pen can be used posted, although it’s long enough to be used unposted, too. The whole thing feels cheap, though

It’s filled with a cartridge only. Modern Sheaffer cartridges work just fine for this, but modern converters will not fit in the pen (I tried). I suppose one might be able to convert it to an eyedropper. I have no idea if vintage Sheaffer squeeze converters would fit but those sell for about the same or more than these pens, so that’s not exactly an economical solution. The good news is that Sheaffer cartridges are all over the place and not terribly expensive. The ink is okay, too (except black–I hate Sheaffer Black) and the cartridges hold-up to reuse pretty well if one wants to refill them, as I usually do.

The 500 series pens are still relatively easy to find used, if one is interested. The street price is $55-75 as of this writing. I like this pen, but I would not pay $50 for it and I sure as hell wouldn’t pay $75 for it–$50 is in the Esterbrook J range and $75 can buy a user-grade Parker 51 (if one shops around), both of which are arguably better vintage pens.

The pencil is a pencil and it functions as expected.


  • Writes really well. Smooth steel/maybe palladium silver nib.
  • Still relatively available.
  • Interesting Aesthetic.


  • Cartridge only.
  • Feels like a cheap pen, even if it writes well.
  • Interesting Aesthetic.

My verdict: mine is sentimental to me, but overall I’d stay away unless one finds an example at a good price, collects Sheaffers, or likes the unconventional look.

Capped, with Safari for size comparison

Posted, with Safari for size comparison

Unposted, with Safari for size comparison

With Matching pencil. Cartridges only.

It’s pretty obvious that manufacturers of the day were emulating the style of the Parker 51.


Edison Nouveau Premiere

I bought my first Edison NP as a college graduation gift to myself and opted for the 18k gold nib option. Is the 18k nib worth the up charge on Edison pens? Maybe. The surface of the gold nibs are more highly polished and look nicer but they do not perform that much better than the steel nibs and they certainly aren’t flexible.  Gold nibs reputedly feel different when writing because they are slightly bouncy or springy compared to steel nibs. That isn’t always true but seems to be the case with Edison’s nibs, made by JoWo in Germany.

Every Edison pen I’ve bought has written well out of the box whether a gold or a steel nib.


The broad nib on my winter 2012 was ground to a stub by Dan Smith and is smooth with nice line variation. I ground the Fall 2014 broad to a stub myself, and the Fall 2017–which I’ve loving dubbed “my Guy Fieri Pen”–is a stock fine.

The NP is a Goulet Pens exclusive product and they release seasonal special editions, so these finishes aren’t available anymore. The fit and finish on Edison pens is always spot-on. They are simple cartridge/converter fillers that can be readily converted into eyedropper filled pens, if so inclined. All production Edison pens are quite lovely and American made.

I have two issues with the NP line, though. For one, I want to post these pens. They feel like they should be posted. But they don’t post, not really anyways. The cap sort-of fits on the end but barely hangs on and makes a weirdly balanced pen that feels too long.

My second issue: I am always incredibly annoyed when a manufacturer makes a full-sized, standard international cartridge/converter pen that is just barely too small to accommodate a long international cartridge. It’s an oversight that bugs me. I don’t use cartridges often but having the option to take a few high-capacity long cartridges while traveling is very convenient.

The NP is longer and thicker than this Yard-O-Led Standard. . .
. . .but cannot accept the same cartridge,

Maybe I’m weirdly enthusiastic about this point, but I have a backstory: I had a tragic, inky accident on a business trip and didn’t have a way to refill my pen. This is when I discovered that Waterman cartridges are sold in practically every office supply store in the US. If I had a standard international long compatible pen, I would have been set, but I didn’t. I always take one on business trips now, out of tradition. Honestly, I usually just take a bunch of pens and refills with me, but one of them is always a pen compatible with Waterman cartridges.

To be fair, a long international cartridge will fit in a NP with some coercion but removing the cartridge is another matter. They are not advertised as compatible, either.

Obviously these minor issues were not enough to stop me from buying three of these pens. I recommend them.

It’s really hard to capture these cool materials with my less-than-stellar photography skills

Cross Century II

A teacher of mine in high school gave me a Cross ballpoint at one time. I developed a bit of a soft spot for the brand at that point.

When I discovered that the A.T. Cross company made fountain pens, I knew I had to have one.

The Cross Century II was my first “step-up” fountain pen. I ordered directly from the manufacturer and paid full MSRP for it, but I did so because I wanted a broad nib. The broad option was on its way to being discontinued at the time, and I don’t think they are offered at all anymore on this line.

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It’s a sweet writer. Super smooth and wet.

The company has changed a lot in the past couple decades and the question of who makes these nibs and during which time period is confusing–Pilot and Pelikan have made Cross nibs, and Sailor currently makes nibs for the Peerless line–but whoever made the nib on this pen knocked it out of the park. Only fine and medium are options on Century II pens, now.

The pen is thin and uses a simple snap cap. I can write with it unposted, but it feels better posted. It fills via Cross’s proprietary cartridge/converter system. Their cartridges were just okay when I tried them a couple years ago, so I prefer to fill it with the converter–which, I might add, costs extra. . .seriously, guys?

I like the Century II. Parts of it feel a little cheap–the plastic-lined snap cap feels reminiscent of other pens that originate in China but cost significantly less and ink can get trapped between the plastic grip and the chrome ring on the front of the section, staining ones fingers. Overall, though, I like it. It writes really well and looks classy.

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