A common question that I get from readers, and one of the suggestions that appeared in response to my New Year's Giveaway was "Write a piece on Chinese Pens." By "Chinese Pens," most people are referring to pens sold under certain Chinese brand names (Jinhao and Baoer, among others) and can be purchased for very little money on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. This is something of a misnomer and can be misleading: Many pens are manufactured in China, including pens sold by well-known, established brands such as Monteverde and Conklin. Other pen companies use Chinese-manufactured parts. To avoid confusion, this piece is going to look at the first category (the cheap, mass-produced eBay pens), and give you my thoughts on why I think these pens aren't really worth your time and money.
I've written about Jinhao pens before, when I reviewed the X450. My review wasn't exactly glowing. The main virtue of the Jinhaos (and Baoers, etc.) are the price: these pens are ridiculously cheap. You can find them for sale on eBay for as little as $3.99, shipping included. As you might expect, however, you generally get what you pay for. For under $5, they are, objectively, a "great deal," if you receive a serviceable writer and the merchant doesn't send you pen with chipped enamel finish and a bum cap. (You can guess what happened to me.)
Sure, you can ask for your money back, throw the pen away, pay another $5, rinse and repeat, but at that point I don't see why you wouldn't spring for a $12 Pilot Metropolitan, which in my opinion is the greatest entry level fountain pen available and could very well be the last fountain pen you ever need. Even the Pilot Kakuno writes better than the best-writing Jinhao I have tried. Also, one of the main reasons I am drawn to this hobby is because I don't like disposable pens. When you adopt the mindset that you are only going to purchase $5 fountain pens off of eBay so you don't have to worry about losing or breaking them, or can always throw them away when they stop working, you're forgoing one of the main benefits of using fountain pens: the pen is NOT disposable, but rather becomes something you use daily, and, if you want to foist the expectations onto your children or heirs, something you can pass on and have the next generation use as well. If you want a disposable fountain pen that writes exceptionally well, just pick up a pack of Pilot Varsities.
I think a lot of people, my past self included, see these inexpensive pens on eBay as a way to quickly build a "collection" of fountain pens and have some daily variety at a budget price. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I would venture that you can get more satisfaction--and save yourself a LOT of frustration, by growing your collection slowly and spending just a bit more money on a smaller number of pens. One or two slightly more expensive pens purchased from a merchant who can service the product is a better long-term bet than 10 cheap semi-disposable eBay pens.
That said, if you like the aesthetics of these pens (and the Jinhao x750 in frosted black is a nice looking pen), I would recommend that you pay slightly more money and purchase the pen from a merchant like Goulet Pens or HisNibs, which typically inspect the pens before they ship them to ensure they are not defective, and will allow you to do an easy return if you are dissatisfied. (I have not purchased from HisNibs, but the retailer appears to be popular on various pen forums, and the website claims that they fill, test, and, if necessary, adjust all pens prior to shipment.)
Final Note: As to the argument that certain pens available on eBay "look exactly like Montblancs" or "look exactly like Lamy Safaris" at a fraction of the price, as a general matter I don't support trademark infringement, and won't recommend that you purchase those pens for that reason. Nor will I link to those pens directly here. As to why these pens are so cheap, and the implications of supporting the economic model that allows this sort of lowball pricing to exist, I would recommend that you read this article from Fountain Pen Economics.
The opinions expressed here are my own, and I understand that many people might disagree with some (or all) of what I have written. The purpose of this blog is discussion, and I welcome any comments or feedback. As always, thanks for reading!
DISCLAIMER: This post contains some affiliate links, through which I may be compensated a small amount if you purchase something from sites linked to in this article. While I'd greatly appreciate it if you use these links to purchase a pen you are interested in, you are, of course, under no obligation to do so. Many thanks!