The Hero 359 Fountain Pen

A bunch of Lamy Safari & Hero 359 fountain pens - Can you tell the difference?
A bunch of Lamy Safari & Hero 359 fountain pens – Can you tell the difference?

Recently, an FPN member asked whether there were fake or replica Lamy Safari fountain pens. In reply, another FPN member who also belongs to our club (and who shall remain anonymous (except to say that he takes great pictures)) replied, “Never heard of a fake Safari. Why would anyone create a counterfeit of a $25 pen? Sure, some of the limited edition colors can go for more than that but where’s the profit?”

Well, there as it turns out, there is a “fake” Safari – the Hero 359 fountain pen made by the Shanghai Hero Pen Company (Hero Pen). Hero Pen was founded in 1931 as the Huafu Pen Factory and was renamed in 1966 to its current name. The company has manufactured a number of relatively inexpensive brands of fountain pens including Hero, Wing Sung, and Xinhua, just to name a few. Like many Chinese companies, it has copied or cloned the design of Western fountain pens, e.g., the Hero 100 is similar to the Parker 51 and of course, the Hero 359 is clearly modelled after the Lamy Safari.

Why would or how could a company profit by cloning another pen that costs approx. $25-30? Well, readers with a business background might recognize the source of Hero Pen’s competitive advantage as cost leadership, i.e., winning market share by appealing to cost-conscious or price-sensitive customers. Cost leadership is achieved by having the lowest prices in the target market segment, or at least the lowest price to value ratio (price compared to what customers receive). If a company is to be profitable, with a high return on investment while offering the lowest price, the company must be able to operate at a lower cost than its competitors.

A manufacturer like Hero Pen must produce high volumes of output such that fixed costs are spread over a larger number of units, resulting in a lower unit cost. Mass production becomes both a strategy and an end in itself. Higher levels of output both require and result in high market share, and create an entry barrier to potential competitors, who may be unable to achieve the scale necessary to match the firms low costs and prices.

According to the Shanghai Daily, the Lamy Safari is very popular in China but is too pricey for many local customers.  Thus, acting like a good capitalist, Hero decided to produce the pen because it received many requests and saw the market demand.  While Lamy is quite aware of the Hero 359, Hero is of the view that the exterior design patent right of Lamy’s Safari series are protected for only 10 years in China and has expired.

So much for the business lecture, how does the Hero 359 compare to the Lamy Safari? First, the Hero comes in a reusable plastic case along with a converter and a package of cartridges. The Safari generally comes in a cardboard box with 1 cartridge – and the converter is extra, adding anywhere from $5-10!

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The 359 comes in 5 “Summer” colours – Black, Apple Green, Yellow, Royal Blue and Purple, as can be seen in the large picture at the top of this post.

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The two pens are basically the same size, length, and weight; however, the parts are not interchangeable between them, e.g.,  you can’t swap caps.

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There are a number of design differences – the Hero flower symbol replaces the familiar X at the top of the Safari cap, the clips on the 359s are all stainless steel vs. coloured clips on certain Safaris, and the  359 is almost entirely round but for one flat section while the Safari has two flat and two round sections.

Our examination of a number of Hero 359s, it is clear that the manufacturing quality is inferior to the Safari but it is debatable whether most users would notice or even care?

Finally, the initial impressions of our members were that they were very pleased with the writing performance of the 359; in fact, most were surprised at the quality of the writing experience relative to the cost of the pen.  Is it a Safari – no.  Nevertheless, the Hero 359 is perfect if you need to save a bit of money, want a pen for your children to practice with or for use in situations where the pen might get broken or lost.

P.S.  As as been pointed out in the Comments below from several readers, Hero now seems to be offering a similar roller ball pen and also a fountain pen and roller ball pen kit that consists of a fountain pen and a roller ball pen section that is interchangeable with the fountain pen section.  This development is not terribly surprising.  From a cosmetic perspective, the 359 roller ball has an ink window in its barrel, just like the fountain pen – the Safari fountain pen has an ink window but the roller ball does not.

It has also been noted that international size cartridges do not fit the Hero 359; however, the 359 does appear to accept Parker and Aurora cartridges.  On the other hand, the cartridges that come with the 359 do not work with Parker pens.

P.S.S.  I had forgot to mention the translation of the label on the Hero 359 fountain pen case which is “Here’s the label translated in full. There are six lines of text, from top to bottom:

Hero [logo] HERO
Telephone number to call: 021-62499300/4008881861
or send text message 700 to 12113
Peel off the veneer, differentiate genuine from counterfeit (emphasis added)
Shanghai Hero Fountain Pen Factory Lishui Co., Ltd.

How ironic – Hero wants you to check the pen carefully to ensure that it is not a counterfeit!!

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Care of Fountain Pens & Ink in Winter

Great advice from our friends at Pendemonium.  You can sign up for their Inky Greetings and Midnight Madness newsletters on their homepage.

The Deep Freeze & Happy Ink
Thankfully not all of you reading this live in the frigid world like we’ve been in lately. I’d be pleased if it would just get above freezing for a few days. It’s been an especially cold winter thus far and the sooner it ends, the happier I’ll be. But more important than that is what these bitter temps can do to your pens and ink. If you’re in a cold zone, don’t even think about leaving your pens in the car overnight. They stand a good chance of cracking. We’re still shipping ink, but with extra insulation. If your ink arrives frozen, it’s still OK, let it come to room temp before opening. That way the bottles won’t crack causing a huge ink stain! Once again, for those of you in the cold zones, it might be a good idea to have your ink shipped to your office if no one is home during the day to bring it inside. Your ink will be so happy! Remember to wear your mittens.

“First” Fountain Pens

The theme for our FIRST meeting of the New Year was… your “first” fountain pen (FP).  This could mean the very “first” FP you owned (however acquired), the “first” FP you purchased as an adult, or it could mean the “first” FP you chose as a collector, after becoming “hooked” on this hobby.  The notion of “first” in “first” FP was limited only by our small brains.

One of our most distinguished members wrote the following about his “first” FP:

I still have it and it is still one of my most trusty workhorses.  No sequestering it away in a glass case, it is usually stabled in my shirt pocket next to my heart.  In the same fashion as many an infantryman (so I have read) has had his life saved by a musket embedded in his trusty bible, I would expect a bullet aimed at my heart to be deflected by my loyal Sheaffer.

No matter that it has long since destroyed its cap (I have it carefully stored so that when technology advances sufficiently I or a descendent will restore it), I fitted it out with a beautiful classic black one, that fits perfectly.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it looks rather more aristocratic than the original.
My Uncle Phil gave it to me when I started high school and I have been training it ever since.  It has learned to respond to my every touch in a way that can only be achieved over a lifetime.  I would guess that if all I ever wrote with this pen was stretched out in a continuous line it would reach from here to the sun!  It is too late for me to be ever able to train another although I do continue to explore vintage pens in the (probably vain) hope that some literate connoisseur may have had a similar relationship resulting in a perfectly molded writing instrument.

I will bring it to the next meeting of the LPC and if you swear to treat it with appropriate tenderness and respect I may even let you write a couple of words.

I don’t think you will find it too hard to pick out this “hybrid” Sheaffer in the picture that follows below!

As for me, I brought three “first” FPs to our meeting.  My very “first” FP, a tortoise Waterman Laureat that I purchased to sign my name on my firm’s correspondence (I used Waterman Florida Blue ink, of course!).  Next, I brought the “first” FP that I purchased online, from Levenger, a beautiful blue Visconti Pericles.  Both the Laureat and Pericles are pictured below.  Last, I brought the “first” vintage FP that I purchased, under the direction of a certain LPC member – a red Parker Duofold Streamline Senior.

Here is a picture of the “first” FPs that were shared at our meeting on January 2, 2010.  From left to right, they are as follows:

  1. Parker 51 Special – the “first” FP given by a daughter to her father (very Special indeed!),
  2. Uncle Phil’s Sheaffer – as described above,
  3. Parker Slimfold – the “first” (and only) FP used by a member’s mother,
  4. Parker 75,
  5. Esterbrook,
  6. Sheaffer Balance in carmine red,
  7. Sheaffer Snorkel,
  8. Parker Duofold Jr.,
  9. Waterman Laureat – as described above, and
  10. Visconti Pericles – as described above.


Let us know about your “first” FP!


Good Times at the 2008 Michigan Pen Show

This post has been authored (for the most part) by Dr. Stan, a longtime member of the London Pen Club, with comments from the blog editor.

The trip to the Michigan Pen Show on September 6, 2008 was fun as always!  Our chauffeur John P. was kind enough to give us a guided tour through the Port Huron Business loop that was particularly interesting (Riding along in Mike’s comfy Honda Pilot – no mention of that I see.).

At the show, we browsed around and picked up a few pens. Around midday, we went to lunch and visited the Paradise Pens store at the nearby Somerset Mall.  We then stopped back at the show once more before returning to London.  It was there that I experienced the highlight of my pen collecting years.

I brought my favourite writer to the show, an old (vintage) Waterman that Mike (the generous editor of this blog) had given to me (Actually, I asked you to hold on to it for safekeeping.  That memory of yours is not quite what it once was!).  I don’t want to belittle his generosity (although you are), but I think the fact that her beautiful blue body was crowned with a rather shabby black cap had something to do with it I.  Nevertheless, her long slender gold nib, shiny and proud, was flexible and smooth and no matter how I leaned on it to achieve the desired effect, always sprung back to its original form.  Occasionally, I sought to find a better cap for her but she always seemed to look better in that old black cap.

Mike insisted on showing the flexible nib on my Waterman to a nib expert.  The expert assured us that the nib could not write properly because its tines were severely misaligned.  He was about to adjust it when I wrestled it (with the greatest of difficulty) from his hands.  After that comment (and near-miss), I just had to demonstrate her talent, which I did by providing a writing sample, to the stunned silence of the expert.

We (Mike and I) drifted over to a gentleman pen dealer with a large Tupperware-type box full of pen parts.  As I still had my precious Waterman in my hand, I casually asked, “Got a cap to match this?”.

“Gee, I could swear I had something like that in my box this morning, but almost everything is gone now.” came the dealer’s reply.

Like a shark smelling a drop of blood in a million drops of water, I began to navigate through the box systematically.  Interrupted once again and just about to turn away, I caught a glimpse of that familiar blue!
“My God, I think I’ve got it!” I yelled incredulously.  Mike looked at me as though I was delusional (The way you were yelling, I thought your sildenafil citrate had kicked in!).  Then he looked again.

“That’s it!” he agreed, then “He’ll take it,” he said to the dealer.
“Ten bucks,” said the dealer, “Eight,” I said, “Ten” he said, “Nine, I said, “Ten,” he said, “Ten”, I said (You made a strategic error in bargaining when you told the dealer that the pen was given to you gratis – mistakenly, see earlier safekeeping reference.).

All the way home to London I admired my beautiful, newly adorned (and now complete) vintage Waterman, and made sure that Mike and John did too (even though John was supposed to be driving.  Good thing you were finished by the time we reached the border crossing or that would have been an adventure.).

Blue Canadian Waterman fountain pen - image from www.vintagewatermanpens.co.uk
Blue Canadian Waterman fountain pen - image from http://www.vintagewatermanpens.co.uk

At last, my ugly duckling had been transformed into a beautiful swan.  Anybody got a black Waterman body to match a beautiful black Waterman cap (Funny how it was a shabby and old black cap a few paragraphs ago.)?

Editor’s (Mike’s) final note:  Most people are familiar with the concept of karma.  Well, I truly believe that Dr. Stan’s good fortune of finding a matching cap for my pen is a direct result of good karma.  As a result, I strongly encouraged him to toss the leftover black cap into the box of pen parts so that someone else might benefit from his good fortune.  But no, he wants to “double-up” and add a black Waterman to my collection!

Matching Ink Colour to Pen Colour

My family was fortunate to have enjoyed a three week tour of Europe this summer.  While in Italy, they were kind enough to buy me a Montegrappa Classica fountain pen (as a gift for me staying home with our dog, Ginger, and watering my wife’s flowers).  I have included a picture of the pen below, which comes from Airline International, as I have not been able to take my own pictures as of yet.  The depth and variation of the colour of this pen is really something to behold – it reminds me of the different shades of blue that one can see while flying over the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Sea when headed to one of the islands in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, I have become infected with a mild form of a syndrome, that I have come to learn affects a large portion of the fountain pen user community – matching the ink colour to the pen colour.  I was not even aware of the existence of such a disorder until I came into contact with a compulsive matcher; in fact, the thought of matching had never even occurred to me.

Until recently, whenever I picked out a pen to write with, I filled it with whatever ink appealed to me at that moment, whether based on a recent purchase, my mood at the time or simply (dare I say) at random. The pen colour never entered into the decision.  Apparently there a fountain pen users who are compulsive about matching – their ink selection must always coordinated with whatever pen that they are going to use (query what happens to them when they cannot find such a match??).  Some users (like me) have a milder form of this affliction – the pen colour is more of a guideline to use, when an identical match cannot be found, they choose a colour that is complementary or contrasting.

That long story leads me to my current dilemma – I have this wonderful new blue pen to fill, but with what ink?  I have a very large collection of blue ink and I have narrowed down the candidates to those that are included in the scan below.  But I can’t make a decision, I need your advice on which ink to use.  I don’t guarantee that I will use the advice of the majority who respond (hey, this is not a democracy but I am a benevolent dictator).  In order to remove any potential bias that the names of the inks might create, I have simply numbered the choices.  When the selection period is over, I will post the names of these inks for your reference.

By the way, in the course of creating these ink swatches and scan, a couple of them did stick out as being somewhat closer than the others; however, I have not been able to reach a decision.  I know I can’t go wrong whatever I choose but I just want to have a bit of fun with this.

Lastly, the paper used for these ink swatches is an 80 lb. premium blend that was removed from a Behance Dot Grid Book that I purchased from Russell at papeterie nota bene*.  This paper has a wonderful texture to it; however, what makes this paper so neat is the light geometric dot matrix.  The dots can be used in whatever ways you can think of (I use them for writing in a straight line), and they disappear after you write over them.  I would trade all my Rhodia, Clairefontaine and even Whitelines for these Dot Grid Books!

How Many Ways Are There to Define Mint?

Or perhaps, more accurately, how many ways should “mint” be defined?  The answer to the first question seems to be an infinite number while the answer to the second (and correct question) is one.

It’s really quite simple.  “Mint” when used as an adjective to describe something offered for sale, like a pen, means “new”, “unused”, and “perfect condition”.  Mint means that  the pen has never had a drop of ink in it, through it or on it.  It might have been tested with water to make sure that it operates properly but no ink.

Just take a look on a few pen discussion boards in the “for sale” section and you will see that it is obviously not so simple.  People love to use the word (almost as much as “rare”, but that’s another topic for another day!) to get your attention and hopefully buy the pen(s) that they are trying to sell.  Once they have your attention, that’s when the meaning gets modified (read: twisted) to suit their particular circumstances.  When I say “modify” what I really mean is that’s when they pull out the weasel words and thus begins the slippery slope.  You know what I am talking about – “mint but its been dipped … a few times” or “mint but its had just a few cartridges (or converters) run through it”. 

The best ones, of course, come from the wild west of capitalism, Ebay.  In fact, those are the ones that inspired me (read: pi$$ed me off) to write this.  Here is one of the latest (after I have corrected the spelling and grammar) – “MINT CONDITION…(please note I use the word “MINT” meaning that in my opinion it is excellent and shows little usage wear, if it wasn’t for the slight split in the cap …  If you look at the picture of the cap by the split it maybe missing a very thin gold band as well…”.  The vendor seems to think that if they clearly explain THEIR definition of “mint” or provide what they think is full and fair disclosure, they have absolved themselves of their irresponsible use of the word to begin with.  C’mon folks, get with it!

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck”

NOT 

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”

Although I occasionally chuckle at some of these descriptions that are so off the wall, I am so frustrated by the time they have wasted by getting me to look at an advertisement that is false.  When I clicked on their link (or whatever) and read their ad, I was interesting in reading about and possibly buying a mint pen, not one that has been used as a tester by their entire family and is now missing a few parts, has a few scratches, bent nib, etc…

You get the picture.  We’ll tackle “rare” another day!