51 Clones

4 11 2020

Not unlike many fountain pen users I have acquired a couple of examples of the classic Parker 51 along the way. One I paid for, one I inherited. I love both, but not in any particularly sentimental way – they just write really well.

I’m not a complete philistine though – I acknowledge their age and look after them as well as I am able. That means no fancy inks that might damage their innards, and being careful they get no more scratches than their lives thus far have bestowed.

My “Made in USA” teal P51 has a barrel stamp declaring “51” which though coincidental actually indicates it was manufactured in 1951, according to the awesome Parker dating references at ParkerPens.net. It has a fine nib and is a lovely smooth writer.

1951 Parker 51 – Made in U.S.A.

My other – black – P51 is Made in England and dates from the second quarter of 1942, as indicated by the older dating system of “2.”. The nib on this is more medium and is really smooth on most writing surfaces. It was originally owned by a lady before it came to my father, and it’s in better condition than the one made almost a decade later.

Q2 1942 Parker 51 – Made in England

I do enjoy using these venerable old stylos, but feel restricted by the need to treat them with a modicum of reverence. They are, after all, 70+ years old!

Two old dears waiting for a hand

I read somewhere of Parker’s brief flirt with potentially manufacturing Parker 45s in China with the HERO company. Indeed, there was totally legitimate transfer of intellectual property from Parker – these were no mere “cheap knock-offs”. It ultimately stalled, but I was left to ponder whether a HERO clone of the Parker 51 might give me a route to using a pen with a similar feel to my two lovable old dears but with modern materials and a price I could afford to replace if things went horribly wrong with some dodgy ink or other (I’m looking at you, Noodler’s!).

A few minutes with Aunty Google and I discovered the HERO 616, for the princely sum of $1.42. Canadian! What could possibly go wrong?!

OK – so (very) superficial evidence to the contrary… this is no Parker 51. The pen feels very light – 12g versus the genuine 20g, and looks very much like the $1.42 it cost was mostly spent on sandwiches rather than manufacturing.

There is a sharp, catchy burr on the “jewel” – which looks more like a piece of pressed or even poured aluminium. Unusual for these days, it has an aeromatic filler rather than a converter/cartridge. On arrival however, the outer squeeze tube wasn’t even properly in place. An easy fix, but what turned out to be an indication of the general build quality. I’m trying to be objective, and please remember this only cost $1.42. The fit of the cap seems secure enough, but as you may be able to see in the photo below, there is a lot of space around the opening with the pen inserted, and the cap lip itself is quite thin, if not actually sharp. The cap is firmly held though – the clutch is deep inside and holds the section firmly in place.

The clip is a poor copy of the Parker arrow and is cheaply pressed steel. The sharp “jewel” turns out to be a simple bolt and the clip can be easily removed and replaced if you’d like to greatly increase the value of the pen with something more aesthetic from say Beaufort Ink.

Metal shroud wasn’t properly pressed over the sac on arrival
Catchy molding on “jewel” – the bolt holding the clip on, and poor clip alignment
A poorly stamped, fake arrow
Poor fit of cap showing square-cut opening and uneven loose fit

OK – enough grumbling. At the end of the day, a pen is a way of delivering ink to a page. What kind of a job does the HERO 616 do for it’s sub-Biro price?

My particular HERO 616 was a horribly scratchy writer

Well – I tried to be as kind as possible and filled it with blue Quink – a very reliable and forgiving ink. The nib is nominally EF with a stated width of 0.38mm. I may have got unlucky, but my pen was unusable! It was so scratchy it gouged up the Fabriano paper I was using and got paper fibres stuck between the tines. I pulled out the tubular nib and did some judicious flossing and tweaking, but to no avail. Later I might try swapping in a Jinhao nib – I’ve had a lot of success with them in the past. For now though – this pen is barely worth the $1.42 for a spare sac!

Next, I’ll move up to a pen worth twice as much! Yup… a whole $2.80 Canadian.

I have many vices, but if we focus for a moment on those related to fountain pens I have 3 primary ones. Well 2½. I love utilitarian “tool-like” pens, typically all in metal. Steel, aluminium, brass, etc. Related to that, I have a soft spot for Parker’s so-called “Flighter” offerings which are all-steel (or more properly “Lustraloy”) and began with the Parker 45 in the 60s I believe. Finally, I have a thing for “stealth” pens – all matte black, preferably including the nib.

So while I was checking out the HERO 616, I came across the Jinhao 911. At 19g it’s slightly lighter than a real Parker 51, despite its metal barrel. Now Jinhao occupy a slightly higher perch in Chinese pen making, and I’ve had great success with several of their offerings in the past, as well as using their easily obtainable nibs to resurrect some otherwise defunct old pens.

Jinhao 911 with grandad Parker 51

Despite their Jinhao 75 model sporting a decidedly Parker-esque arrow clip, and more than a passing resemblance to a Sonnet, they are confident enough in their own identity to proudly brand their pens with their name.

The Jinhao 911 is a slimmer pen than the Parker 51 and does not sport a Parker-like clip. It seems well-finished and has nicely machined “jewels” in steel at both cap and barrel end.

Nicely finished steel “jewels”

The cap fits snuggly and as mentioned, proudly declares both the Jinhao brand and the 911 model.

Proudly branded Jinhao

The section is slightly longer and slimmer than a Parker 51, but the styling is obviously heavily influenced. There are steel threads on the section making for a pleasingly solid connection with the barrel, unlike the vaguely uncommitted plastic threads of the HERO 616. The 911 comes with a standard international converter of Jinhao’s own making and unfussily gets the job done. Actually – there are TWO “standard” converter widths. This is the wider 3.4mm opening. There’s a 2.6mm one as well. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. Occasionally it does!

Seems well made with good fit and finish

Not a lot more to say really. It looks handsome, well-made and could easily have come from Parker’s own stable. As I’ve come to expect from Jinhao EF/0.38mm nibs, it wrote perfectly straight out of the bubble-wrap (AliExpress vendors aren’t big on packaging!) If you’re not a pen-snob, this is a very capable solidly built pen with a few design nods thrown towards Parker’s 51, but plenty of its own style.

No messing – writes smoothly, straight out of the envelope

One final pen that caught my eye on AliExpress was another Jinhao. Another hike in price and a bit more blatant of a clone. The Jinhao 51A (Yup – they went there) comes in at $4.32 Canadian – still less than a latte at several well-known coffee chains I refuse to mention. Remove the cap, and this could almost be a Parker 51… with a wooden barrel! The attraction for me was the rosewood barrel, so I paid the extra few dollars to see if it looked as good in the flesh. It does. It’s also available in maple, ebony, peach and tiger wood. Possibly others too.

Again, I wasn’t expecting much for less than $5, but this is as well made as the 911. The wooden barrel has a brass insert to provide a good solid screw connection to the section. The section itself is almost identical to that of the Parker 51, save that the hood is slightly more rounded than the original.

Parker 51 (left) with newcomer Jinhao 51A

Despite the wooden barrel, it actually comes in slightly heavier than the original at 21g.

Hard to see in the photo above, but the Jinhao 51A cap is much more like the Parker 51’s except for a distinctly different clip. Again proudly stamped with Jinhao and 51A, but also with the Parker 51’s band etched a couple of millimetres from the cap opening. The steel jewel much more closely echoes the Parker 51 than did the 911 because the cap and entire pen is slightly fatter to match the original.

Another smooth writing experience. This time from the Jinhao 51A… likely with the same nib as the 911

So – conclusions? Well there’s no denying the Parker 51 spawned many lookalikes and even bare-faced clones over its illustrious career. Parker themselves are even re-releasing a lookalike at a laughably high price point.

Family resemblance? Jinhao 51A, Jinhao 911, HERO 616, a brace of Parker 51s

The HERO 616 unashamedly attempts to copy a Parker 51. It’s an aeromatic-like filler and even has an arrow clip. But it uses cheap components and is poorly finished. I could even forgive all that if it had a half decent nib and at least put ink on paper. It does not, and though I have had similarly poor performance from pens costing very much more, this is unforgivable in a pen. Its sole job is to write, and if it can not perform that task, it is of no use no matter its price or prettiness. The HERO 616 is not pretty, despite its pretensions, and though this particular specimen may be saved at some future date if I ever bother swapping the nib, it is not high on my priorities!

I hesitate before commenting on the Jinhao 911. I think I might argue that it is not so much a copy of the Parker 51 than it is heavily influenced by it. It is slimmer, echoes some of the later model Parkers, has a bit of the “Flighter” vibe about it, but is undeniably a Jinhao. It doesn’t pull the old arrow clip trick (though they’re not above it on other models), but it does use higher quality materials, and the attention to fit and finish is noticeably higher than the HERO 616. And for a mere $2.80 Canadian, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a similarly smooth writer with a metal body and decent build quality. I bought disposable plastic Pilot V-pens on clearance at Walmart for more! (Though I re-use them as eye-droppers rather than dispose of them).

The Jinhao 51A is different again. This treads an interesting path between copy and homage. Remove the cap and it could easily be a Parker 51 “lunchtime project”. The dimensions of barrel and section are identical and it’s as if the Parker marketing team had said “make them out of other materials and see what you can do”.

Of course, it’s a steel nib rather than gold… but it cost less than $5 Canadian, and it still writes remarkably well. It’s a handsome pen and I look forward to seeing how the wood changes over time with oil from my fingers.

But I said homage as much as copy. Plainly Jinhao have the capability to copy as close to the original as they choose, and with the 51A they choose to go pretty close. But they do draw a line. They use their own branding prominently and use a drastically different clip stamped with their chariot logo. Just for shits and giggles, I tried one of the genuine caps and it fitted perfectly, so obviously they could have gone the whole hog if they’d chosen to. The 51A barrel won’t fit your old Parker 51 though, so this isn’t a way to give your old pen new wood. As it were.

I’d like to think they drew the line as a professional courtesy. Almost as if to demonstrate how the venerable old Parker 51 still had some steam in it and could have moved into other materials to keep itself fresh and interesting even to today’s new pen buyers. The Jinhao steel 0.38mm nib is used in several of their offerings (599, 992, 911 to name three). It’s nothing special, but I have now used 4 without incident and much pleasure.

Bottom line? Ignore the HERO 616, primarily because the nib was diabolical, but even if you were lucky enough to get a good one… the build quality is terrible. This proves “you get what you pay for”.

Consider the Jinhao 911 on its own merits as a sturdy capable inexpensive pen, and a counterexample that sometimes “you get a lot more than what you pay for”.

The Jinhao 51A is a modern copy, without the Parker gold nib. It’s own is a capable enough nib though and if you’ve got a thing for hooded nibs and wood – for $5 Canadian you’d be greedy to expect much more than this.


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8 11 2020
Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – November 8, 2020 | Fountain Pen Quest

[…] 51 Clones | Quieter Elephant […]

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