Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Review by Jack Labusch: Jinhao Evening Stripes Fountain Pen

PB Note: Jack emailed me regarding the Jinhao fountain pen he was thinking of purchasing, and I asked if he would review the pen. It's a great piece, for several reasons: it's well written, the photos (by Tom Darland) are crisp and clear, and it's about a fountain pen that is easily available to anyone with a laptop and a credit/debit card. Guest submissions are welcomed on this site, if you're interested. In the meantime, enjoy Jack's review.

In Search of Jinhao: Review of Jinhao’s Evening Stripes Fountain Pen

A few low-end A. T. Cross pens at Staples, and a handful of Pilot Varsity pens at the local university bookstore, the latter sold mostly to foreign students.

That’s what I found after scouring gift shops, office supply stores, jewelers, bookstores, and Mom ‘n’ Pop specialty retailers in the Youngstown-Warren, Ohio area. You mean an area of about 600,000 people can’t support a better-quality pen and stationery store? How about a mall kiosk or display space piggybacked onto an existing retailer?

Some months earlier my Parker 75 had developed a quarter-inch wiggle between the cap and barrel. I’ve described the 75’s line on Pocket Blonde as “opulent”. “Buttery smooth” is another description. I thought of getting a 75-replacement, while I fiddled with a ginned-up home pen repair. That’s how I crisscrossed our metro area looking for an FP retail display that doesn't exist.

You probably know the down side of some FPs: skipping, blotching, persnickety filling gizmos, scratchiness, etc. Workaday FPs run from 4-200 times the price of a ballpoint or gel pen. Their up side is a diversity of inks, a more expressive writing line, an assortment of nib dimensions and materials, barrel diameters to suit the individual penman, and much more. Are they worth it?

Enter Mr. Norman Haase of A well-regarded e-tailer with more than ten years experience, Mr. Haase makes a market in medium- and high-end Chinese pens. Think Chinese goods are junk? Think again. Chinese products are moving quickly to the high quality/low price quadrant of the price-quality matrix. That’s the box Japanese and German manufacturers once occupied. With a Parker 75-equivalent weighing in at $200 or more, I wanted something more moderately priced. Could deliver?

My close-to-medium nib Jinhao Evening Stripes arrived six days after I’d mailed my order. Packed in a beautiful, lined presentation box, Evening Stripes looks to this frosh penman’s eye like a generous gift one would give to a recent Shanghai university graduate. I’ll defer to Mr. Haase’s detailed description at

I inked up with Private Reserve’s Velvet Black, also sold by Mr. Haase. Decorated with scrollwork and the Jinhao name, the large steel nib is firmish. This torpedo lays down an extraordinarily smooth line on Staples bagasse paper, Rhodia and Alvin notepads, legal pads, and even, with trivial initial skipping, no-name inkjet paper I’d cannibalized for scratch pads. Fit and finish appear excellent. Pocketability is fair. No blotching. Prestige factor unknown. This lacquer-over-brass pen is nicely balanced, and has a heft that many will enjoy.

Am I happy with my purchase? Yes. Would I buy from again? Yes. And, Norman’s handwritten letter folded into an origami envelope is a gem.

You can buy Jinhao less expensively from other well-regarded e-tailers. What Norman promises is an examination and tweaking of the nib if it needs it before the sale. That’s the kind of extra effort that builds confidence and repeat sales.

Back in the 16th century, Europeans had finally thrown back the Caliphate. Mongol invaders had been repelled for good. Bristling with energy and fresh ideas, Europeans built themselves into an economic powerhouse. China, which until then had been among the wealthiest of nations, was eclipsed. Until recently, that is.

Welcome back, China.

Jack Labusch


  1. Are FPs worth it, I’d asked? The photographer Tom Darland posed that question, too. That’s a question, I think, that’s being answered in bits and pieces on many excellent blogs such as Pocket Blonde.

    What I told Tom was that I do a lot of small-time writing. My battery of writing tools helps me break out of a bad groove the same way an amateur drummer, which I once was, will swap his sticks for wire brushes or tympani mallets. There's more going on, too, such as the pleasure of entry-level (for me) connoisseurship.

    Many thanks to Pocket Blonde for inviting other folks to review their rig. I’d like to see their thoughts, too.


  2. The great thing about fountain pens is the connection to craftsmanship. And that has nothing to do with price. As a matter of fact, my mission is to dicover pens of high VALUE. As in, great instrument to write with at a price that pleases me. Value. I am also a customer of Norman's. And will be. For a very, very long time.

    Tad / Richmond, VA

  3. Tad, will you ask PB to post something on one of your own pieces? As I'd mentioned, I'm a newbie penman, so I learn a little from other folks.


  4. Tad, if you'd care to write something definitely email me.