Over the last few months a new brand of Chinese fountain pens has been generating a lot of interest due to a combination of moderate price, interesting designs and beautiful materials. This is my second PenBBS fountain pen, my first being a 323 in the lovely blue/purple acrylic. While I liked that pen quite a bit, I really think this particular pen is definitely worth crowing about.
I'm going to take a look today at the PenBBS 308 in the lovely "Hawa'ii Gradient" acrylic resin.
Design 8/10: The PenBBS is modeled after the well-known Sheaffer Balance fountain pen which was first introduced in 1929. Similar to the Balance, the 308 is a long, streamlined pen with torpedo shaped ends, a single cap band, screw on cap and flared grip section. This is a pretty classic shape for a fountain pen copied by any number of fountain pen makers over the years, with the Edison Nouveau Premiere another modern interpretation. There are some differences, however. The 308 has a cap band that encompasses the entire cap lip, and the clip, instead of being inset in to the cap, is on a separate ring with the finial screwed down on top.
Moving on from the basic design, the 308 is a rather large pen, utilizing a #6 sized, stainless steel nib. The nib is engraved with standard scrollwork, and the words "PenBBS" "Since 2005", "F", and "China", The engraving is clean, even and well executed.
The cap band encompasses the entire bottom lip of the cap and is engraved with "PenBBS", the PenBBS logo, and "266". 266 was the model designation for the earlier version of this pen, as the threading was moved from the grip section to the barrel. The reason for the change was that there were complaints that people were having the barrel unscrew when they tried to remove the cap. Instead of junking the already engraved cap bands, the maker decided to just use them anyways. Hey, fine by me! Saves waste. Again, the engraving is clean, deep, even and well executed.
The barrel tapers down to point, and is made of a single piece of resin. This pen can be used as an eyedropper, and comes with an o-ring installed, sitting in a groove machined in to the grip section.
Now let's get it out of the way - the material gorgeous. The coloration starts as a bright yellow at the tip of the barrel, moves through a light green and in to a bright, almost turquoise blue, and then back to yellow. The transitions are well done, the colors go well together and I think the effect is really, really lovely altogether. The polish is perfect, and the entire body, cap and grip are all made of the same material.
As I mentioned before, this is a relatively large and lightweight pen. Measurements are as follows:
Length (Capped): 143mm
Cap (Widest): 15mm
Body (Widest): 13.5mm
Grip (Widest): 11mm
Grip (Narrowest): 9.5mm
Weight Capped or Posted (Inked): 20.7g
Weight Uncapped: 12.5g
Fit and Finish 8/10: Considering the price, I'm quite happy with the fit and finish. The polishing is well done, the threads, while not the smoothest I've experienced, don't rub or gall in any way that would lead me to have concerns about the longevity of the pen. The body and cap are approximately 2mm thick at the joints, and thicken towards the ends.
The cap band encompasses the entire cap lip and should help prevent any cracking issues.
One thing that I was quite happy with was the number of quality touches on the pen, from both a design and build quality standpoint. I've mentioned before that the an o-ring was installed in the section, but there are a few other things to note. First, the barrel is quite a bit thicker towards the "tail" of the pen, so much so that the knob for the included converter fits relatively closely in to the end of the pen. Second, the converter fits quite securely in the section, and even when shaking the pen it does not rattle around in the body. Lastly, the maker took some effort to match the coloration between the different body parts. It's more noticeable in person, but the barrel section happened to end in the lightest color of the different resins used. Care was taken to ensure that the section, where it screwed in to the barrel, also started at that same, bright yellow color. This demonstrates a standard of care in construction that you simply wouldn't expect at this price.
My favourite brand of fountain pen is Delta, and I own 17 of them right now. From the standpoint of fit, finish and materials I'd happily put the 308 on the same level of some of the lower end Deltas like the Unica, Virtuosa, Italiana or Vintage. I'd even go so far as to put it a half step above the Virtuosa or Unica with their laser-engraved nibs and trim.
Filling System (6/10): It's a cartridge converter. Nothing special, but the included converter is of decent quality and holds a good amount of ink. It is pretty much identical to the converters that come with current Jinhao pens. The only real complaint I have here is that there's no agitator.
If you don't care for C/C. PenBBS does make a piston-filled fountain pen, the 309. They are also working two styles of Vacumatic-filler fountain pens, one plunger fill (similar to a TWSBI Vac/Mini Vac), and one pump fill (similar to the classic Parker Vacumatic or modern Edison Menlo Pump Filler).
Nib (7/10): The nib on this pen was really, really good. Stainless steel, smooth, well adjusted and a very reliable writer, though quite stiff. In a vacuum I'd probably give it at least another half point or so, but I'm averaging the performance between the two PenBBS pens I've received. While the nib on the 308 reviewed here was excellent straight out of the package, the nib on my 323 was overly dry and needed some work before it wrote in the way I wanted. The nib is stamped as a fine, and I'd say it matches fine nibs from my Western pen brands rather than my Japanese/Taiwanese/Chinese pens. The nib and feed are a standard #6, and the pen worked perfectly well when replaced with a few spares I had laying around.
One thing to note is that PenBBS nibs has slightly upturned tipping compared to most modern pens. While I wouldn't go so far as to call it a Waverly nib, it is definitely noticeable when viewed through a loupe.
Cost and Value (9/10): The "Gradient" color series of PenBBS pens are currently the most expensive pens from this brand, selling for anywhere from $27-30US. Given the fit and finish, looks, nib quality and design details, I think it's a heck of a pen.