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Chinese Four Spice


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17 replies to this topic

#1 faustulus

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 02:50

I admit it, I don't like expensive pens.
When I say "expensive" I mean more than $200 (Well what I really mean is more than $100)
I use pens every day, they are tools first and foremost and while I like to have nice tools, they just have to work and not breaking the bank is an added bonus. I don't use them as status symbols (not that there is anything wrong with that per se)
Since I have to carry them around and since I often carry two or more of them at a time, I liked to avoid hauling $300 or more bucks around in my pocket waiting to be lost or broken.
I write with dozens of different pens (as I am sure many of you do as well). With rare exceptions I have never paid a lot for them. However, up until now, most have been vintage pens I have found on ebay and fiddled with until I got them writing.
I have recently been drawn to the Chinese pens. Many of these are clearly made for people to use. So I figured I would find out what they had to offer. With a budget of $50 (shipping included) I was determined to find four or five pens to try out. Also a word about my reviews, I know most people like numbers and such in reviews, well I don't, I am more interested in the narrative and so that's what I do, sorry do disappoint.
With that said here is what I found.
Posted Image
From the top: Baoer #388, Kaigelu 316, Baoer Skywalker, Wing Sung #233 and Noodler's Ahab.

First up we have the Baoer #388.
This set me back about 9 bucks and as you can see is a copy of the Parker Sonnet. Now I happen to have a Sonnet (one of the few modern Parker's I own) and this actually writes as good as my Parker -- better actually since my Parker sometimes skips on certain papers and truth be told I was never impressed with its writing.
Built solid in stainless steel with gold accoutrements, the pen is an almost perfect copy.
It writes with a steel, medium nib with good ink flow. (I was using J. Herbin Eclat de saphir for this review) It is comfortable and well balanced whether posted or not. The cap does post snuggly, without the edges rubbing the barrel. The clip is a little stiff and lacking the spring some of the other models I bought came with, but it doesn't feel as if it will snag on you shirt.
The pen fills with either international cartridges (I think but didn't try them) or a filler which was included.
Honestly I don't know if I would buy my Parker over again if I had bought this pen first.

Next up we have the Kaigelu #316 (seriously what is with the numbers where are the cool names?)
This was the most expensive of the bunch, in fact it was more expensive than the other three combined, running $25. I wasn't going to spend that much on one pen, trying to get a better sampling, but this one came with good recommendations on this board.
After reading reviews here I took the plunge.
Admittedly I wanted a pen that looked nice for certain occasions where I might want to carry an attractive pen but not an expensive one. This clearly fit the bill. The pearlesque smokey gray is fancy without being bombastic and while one side of mine tends toward solid black it looks nice in the hand.
This pen is hefty. But its balance is a bit off and when posted it is way off. The end of the barrel carries most of the weight and feels like it takes more effort to keep it on the page. Posted it is too poorly balanced for my tastes. That said, I am not one who has to post all my pens. It also uses cartridges or the included removable piston filler
The nib is good, but not great. Like the Baoer it is also a steel medium and really glides across the paper. But now and again it seems to be hard starting on the first line, especially on the down stroke. A good pen, but not better than some of the others I received which were much lower in price.

The Baoer Skywalker was $6, That is all this knockoff homage to German pen maker Montblanc will set you back. Now I have only written with a MB 149 so I can't vouch for the abilities of the German version of this pen, but I highly doubt that they are of an order of magnitude greater than this pen.
The Baoer has some nice weight to it, and I tend to like heavier pens. It feels well made -- with the exception of the clip which does rock from side to side a bit more than I would like but still six bucks.
To post the pen, you screw the cap into the end of the barrel. This prevents the cap from wobbling around or falling off while writing, not problems I have with many pens, but this fixes them. It is nice, but I think it could have gotten buy with an indent.
This pen lays down a medium line from its steel nib. I used Daimine Macassar and it is hard to imagine an nicer writer. The nib glides across the page, whether it is copy paper or fancy clairefontaine. This pen will easily become one of my workhorses.
And like I said. Six bucks.

Finally we have the Wing Sung #233.
Up front I will say, she ain't the belle of the ball, but what she lacks in looks she more than makes up for in performance and value.
For less than $3 this little lady just keeps going.
Unlike the other pens, the Wing Sung has a simple design recalling the old Sheaffers in shape but with the '40s and '50s stylings of Parkers.
It is a lightweight pen with a built-in aerometric filler. The nib is designed after the Sheaffer Triumph nibs and lays down a nice medium line. It doesn't skip and probably writes better than any of the pens in this batch. The silver aluminium cap feels very sturdy and features a sping-loaded clip. There is an amber colored ink view window where the barrel meets the section -- which while not the most attractive does serve its purpose.
Now for the price this pen is a steal something you will want to keep with you when out and about. I works and if you lose it, well it wasn't pretty but it was cheap.

All pens bought from Isellpens.com

Edited by faustulus, 22 July 2012 - 15:16.

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#2 raging.dragon

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 07:23

You'll have to buy another pen for a proper five spice mix. :eureka:

#3 faustulus

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 15:16

Already taken care of, I have a Beijing Jinxing 28 on a slow boat from China. (or maybe an airplane)
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#4 Uncle Red

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 17:22

Nice review

#5 raging.dragon

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 23:42

Already taken care of, I have a Beijing Jinxing 28 on a slow boat from China. (or maybe an airplane)


Shipping time estimate: anywhere between 6 days and 6 months... :(

#6 WOBentley

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 00:30

I have a Baoer Skywalker and agree with your review...looks like I may need to look into that Wing Sung too!
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#7 faustulus

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 02:06

I thought I would update this review as I have spent the last week letting the pens sit for a few days to see how they started with some rest. My observations in the review still stand, but the new findings should be considered.
1. Wing Sung. After sitting for a few days, this was a hard starter. It required several seconds (30 or more) of scribbling and a couple of taps of the nib on paper to get it going (licking didn't seem to hasten the process). Once it started for two or three lines it would still write a little dry. Once it began to flow however, it would write flawlessly for as long as you like (I pumped out about 1500 words over an hour with breaks and it was fine). I probably wouldn't carry a lot, but it is still a good workhorse for around the house. I have been using Private Reserve Ultra Black and wonder if the ink could be an issue. I will try a Watermans next and update the post on my findings.

2. Baoer Skywalker or whatever it is called. This one also displayed issues with starting, but not to the extent of the Wing Sung. Its issues cleared up quicker and like the Wing Sung it wrote flawless, wet lines once it was 'awake'. I was using Daimine Macassar, a new ink to me, so I don't think the ink was the issue considering my experience with Diamine in the past.

3. Kailegu. This has been sort of a Jekyll and Hyde. It normally performs well, and I have picked it up after a day or so and it wrote on the first stroke. But I have also had to almost force the ink to flow in it a couple of times. Air seems to be getting into the feed and it takes a flick of the pen to get it going again. It doesn't happen every time like with the Skywalker or the Wing Sung, but when it does happen it is harder to get going again. But as with the others, once it starts it performs wonderfully.

4. Baoer 388. This pen is just boring. It starts every time, it keeps writing, it outperforms pens ten times its price. (9 bucks). Honestly this pen is going to see a lot of use. The only drawback for me is I don't like stainless steel 'flighter' pens. I really do love this pen though.

Edited by faustulus, 29 July 2012 - 02:07.

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#8 tonydent84

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 02:23

Good review. You got me interested in the knockoffs now. Would you mind sharing the site from which you purchased these? i'm particularly interested in getting the Sonnet clone. I have a legit Sonnet but like yours, mine acts fussy at times. But I do like the Sonnet styles, so maybe a knockoff would do the trick for me :).
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#9 faustulus

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 03:16

I bought these four from Isellpens.com
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#10 lovemy51

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 03:21

my Baoer is one of the best chinese writers i own -really up there in the top 5. wrote perfectly right out of the USPS package... it didn't come in a box! ;)

#11 tempo

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 21:16

Baoer #388 is about 10 CNY in China, so about 1 dollar 60 cents...

Wing Sung #233 is............. 2.5 CNY.... so it's about 40 cents USD...

:roflmho: :roflmho: :roflmho:

So, if you have a contact in China :ninja:


(Internet price. A real store will ask about 3 times more.)

#12 Seele

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Posted 01 August 2012 - 03:13

Baoer #388 is about 10 CNY in China, so about 1 dollar 60 cents...

Wing Sung #233 is............. 2.5 CNY.... so it's about 40 cents USD...

:roflmho: :roflmho: :roflmho:

So, if you have a contact in China :ninja:


(Internet price. A real store will ask about 3 times more.)


Very true that; but all the reports of having scored some good examples at jaw-dropping prices at their local mom-and-pop stationary stores mean nothing if you are not at that particular shop at that time. Sure we'd all like to have a network of friends all over the world, willing to travel, track down items at bargain prices, test them out to make sure they are all the real deals, pay for them, send them out to us but charge us only the pens' prices! So to be realistic, Todd is doing a great job at sensible prices for US-based enthusiasts.
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#13 rbuchanan

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Posted 01 August 2012 - 09:56

I have a Wing Sung 500 (Parker 75 copy). When I first got it, it was really hard starting up every morning (perhaps like me, it just needed a good shot of coffee). Once I got it going, it was good. Writes perfectly without skipping, smooth extra fine nib was great, if a bit dry. I went on holiday for a week and didn't take it with. It didn't like being left behind and went into a mega-sulk and wouldn't write at all. I just couldn't get it going, despite filling, refilling, cleaning etc. So I gave up on it.

A couple of months later, I decided to give it another go. I found a piece of thin, but stiff plastic sheet and pushed it up between the nib and the feed, to open it up a bit. Since then it has worked brillinatly. It starts first time, every time, no matter how long I leave it for. Is no longer so dry but leaves a lovely wet line which really brings out the colour of the ink (usually Diamine Midnight). Before the ink colour looked a little thin and washed out. Not now.

So it just needed a tiny bit of tweaking to open it up a little. Simply in terms of reliability, it would be difficult to better it. Not the prettiest or best made pen I have, but a fantastic writer. And all for £6.00 - what's not to like?

When you do the maths, it becomes difficult to beat when compared to some of my other pens.

Wing Sung 500 - £6
Kaweco Sport - £19 - 3 times more expensive

Is the Kaweco sport 3 times better? It is certainly better made, it will probably last longer. But will it last 3 times longer? Probably not. Is it 3 times better? Again, probably not. The nib? I don't know. The Kaweco is smooth, but so is the the Wing Sung.

And if you compare it to my Pelikan m150 at £60, 10 times the price. Is my Pelikan 10 times better? Certainly it is much better made, again, it will probably last a lot longer. The nib is smoother (though with a Pelikan fine and Chinese extra fine you are hardly comparing like with like). The Pelikan looks much better. But in terms of performance? 10 times better - no way. So how do I justify German pens over
Chinese pens? I suppose the main justification is that there is much less of a lottery. A German pen should be good, regardless. A Chinese pen might be great or awful depending on the luck of the draw. But the Wing Sung was a NOS from the 1980s - I believe modern Chinese pens are much better than older ones, quality control is still and isssue but getting better.

I want to try more Chinese pens. I just wish it were easier to find them in the UK. I'm still a little too nervous about the quality control issues to want to risk ordering from China on ebay. Sending it back is too much hassle when the postage costs more than the pen. But then at the price, I suppose I could just live with it...

Edited by rbuchanan, 01 August 2012 - 10:04.


#14 Seele

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Posted 01 August 2012 - 15:50

rbuchanan,

I can empathize with you very well indeed; and the extra cost gives you a better chance of getting an example of more predictable quality, but not invariably so!

However, it is hard to make a blanket statement that the new Chinese pens - perhaps referring to those by the newer firms - are generally better in quality than the old ones. I am into watches and those into Chinese watches also see the parallel here. In the old days of planned economy, products were made to a minimum quality, but now as market economy becomes mainstream, the vast majority of products by the new brands are pretty dreadful. In fact at several forums focussing on Chinese made pens, the general attitude towards the newer ones are somewhat dismissive. I am not saying they are bound to be rust-buckets in a year's time, what I mean is that the older products can indeed be much better than you might think.

This brings us to Wing Sung: the firm ceased operation in 1999 with a rather full inventory, I understand that it took a bit of time for the independent distributors and dealers to buy up the old stock. Being old stock it's always a bit of a risk involved, and if something has gone wrong you are pretty much on your own, or the dealer who sold them to you might want to step up out of his professionalism. Being one concentrating on hooded nib models, I found Wing Sungs to be very easy to work on and generally requiring very little work, if any at all. If I ever get into the Triumph-style designs, things might get a bit complicated!
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#15 pienaar

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Posted 05 August 2012 - 03:01

I like the Wing Sung #233 they are great writers.
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#16 Biff

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 01:29

It's Starwalker, isn't it? ...not Skywalker.

#17 Gloucesterman

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 02:02

Probably have 10 or 12 Chinese pens and they all work acceptably. Have not really tweaked them. And for the money, they really are good basic working tools.

 

At some time in the future, I may want to learn how to grind and or tune nibs. These and the cheap Indian pens (which are much lower in quality based on my experience) will be my test subjects.


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#18 rwilsonedn

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 19:37

Thanks for the really thoughtful reviews and perspectives. My experience with a couple of these pens, the Baoer homage and the Wing Sung, are much like yours: very positive.

By the way, you can often resolve the hard-start problem on Chinese pens by dripping a little hot candle wax into the cap to seal the air passage where the clip attaches.

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