Another look at the Hero 912 fountain pen.

This weekend my fountain pen-related activities have included a typical mix of journaling, letter-writing, cleaning four pens that were empty or near empty, inking some others and a little nib tinkering. I unzipped a case of 24 lesser-used pens and pulled out a steel nibbed Parker Sonnet to help it write a bit wetter. This proved quite satisfying and I filled it with Quink blue black and added it to my currently inked.

Whilst looking through those 24 pens, I came across my Hero 912. This is not a particularly heralded model but has sentimental value as it was a gift from our cousins in China, on a holiday there in December 2017. I included a picture of it in my post of 14 December 2017, Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 1: Meeting the Heroes. I do not know where they bought the pen: probably a department store in Shantou, their nearest big city and I suspect that it may have been the largest, most statesman-like and expensive of the pens available. It is always touching to receive a fountain pen as a gift, particularly if the givers are not particularly fountain pen people.

Hero 912 fountain pen

This particular trip to China, with its sensory overload of wonderful people, places, landscapes and impressions, catching up with as many friends and relatives as possible in a few crammed weeks, was later overshadowed for me by being hospitalised in Guilin with what I later discovered to be sciatica – a rather disabling bout of back pain radiating into the leg. Still, it was a memorable experience, I was very well looked after and where else could you get an MRI scan immediately and for £20?

I mention all this as I had not given the Hero the attention it deserved at the time. It is not a very common pen. There do not seem to be many mentions of it online, apart from me.

It is metal pen, with a glossy black lacquer finish and silver coloured fittings at both ends. The cap pulls off and looks, from the shape of the barrel, as though it is meant to be posted. It will post but makes the pen very back heavy and overly long.

The nib is stainless steel, bi-colour and rather small for the size of the pen. The nib grade was not shown but I would call it a fine. It was smooth, with the tines and tipping material nicely level but very firm and with a rather dry flow.

I was quite pleased with the texture of the paper showing here.

Under the barrel, removed by metal-to-metal threads, there is a collar to fit a standard international cartridge but a Hero branded, plastic slide converter was included.

The pen weighs a fairly substantial 41g capped, or 24.5g uncapped. The cap alone weighs 16.5g. Capped, the pen measures around 142m. Uncapped it is 118mm, and a massive 168mm if you dare to post it.

There is a white plastic inner cap. The cap is quite tight to pull off and so you would probably not want to use this for intermittent note taking. I find it reasonably comfortable to hold, with a tapering grip section (also lacquered metal) and a minimal step from section to barrel.

However I found the length at less than 12cm, to be a bit on the short side, unless holding the pen very low near the nib. Posting the metal cap is not ideal. Fortunately an easy solution lies in posting a light weight cap from another pen, to give you extra length without adding much weight or upsetting the balance. I found that a Lamy Safari cap posts quite well.

The barrel end, shaped for posting. Best not though.

The other issue for me, had been the dry nib. Today, after my recent success with the Parker Sonnet, I had a go at opening up the gap between the tines just a little to get the ink flowing, to write darker and with better lubrication. Before doing this I examined the nib under my x7 loupe and could see that, whilst there was a little gap between the tines at the breather hole, the tines were pretty tight at the tipping. This might suit someone with a heavy touch who writes in the under-writer style. However I am the opposite, mostly using an over-writer style and without using pressure.

Fortunately, this is not too hard to fix, with a little patience and the minimum of tools. One way to make the nib wetter in seconds, advocated by an old SBRE Brown video, is to bend the nib upwards very slightly as this will also have the effect of opening the tine gap a little. But a preferable way, I think, is to separate the tines without bending them upwards, if you can, by using brass shims to floss the tine gap.

My trusty Eschenbach x7 loupe, used almost daily.

With a little trial and error, this is done by starting with a very thin grade of brass shim and inserting a corner of the sheet into the breather hole, and then drawing it downwards and out through the tip. As it loosens, you may work the brass back and forth a little, up and down though the nib slit. The brass shim can also be inserted between the tines from the tipping end. Once you feel that it can move freely between the tines, you may stop or repeat with a slightly thicker grade if you want to go further. It is a good idea to stop frequently, blow away any metal residue or rinse in water and examine the results under the loupe again and test the writing experience with a dip in the ink.

Just a little light now between the tines, makes a big difference.

I did not go too far with this nib but just got the barest glimpse of daylight between the tines at the tipping material, which means that I can lay down ink without pressing down on the nib. You do not want to go too far with this, as it is harder to undo an overly wet nib.

I am pleased that the pen is now more usable, as a result of a little nib wrangling and the application of a handy Lamy Safari cap on the back. It now writes well with a smooth, fine line and joins my pen cups, newly inked with a cartridge of Kaweco royal blue. Given the right paper (something fairly smooth like Basildon Bond letter writing paper) this can be used and enjoyed as well as being a fond reminder of the kind and generous cousins in China.

Writing sample after easing the nib a bit.

Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 1: Meeting the Heroes.

Our recent holiday in China saw us spending time in the cities of Shantou, Shenzhen and Guilin plus a brief stay in Hong Kong at each end.  Shantou and Hong Kong are where our Chinese friends and relatives live, whilst Guilin was purely for sightseeing, in a spectacular region of strange limestone hills, ancient terraced rice fields and quiet rivers.

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Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler having a selfie near Guilin.

My pens chosen for this trip were the humble blue plastic Parker Reflex, filled with Aurora Blue and a red Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in which I had put a Jinhao nib. I judged it best to fly with the Conklin empty but carried a bottle of Aurora Blue Black ink, a recent favourite, to use when I got there. The box makes a handy pen cup.

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Improvised pen cup. Traveling with the bare essentials.

I had rather hoped that there might be time to do a little pen shopping in Hong Kong and possibly track down a Pilot Custom 823 and had even noted down the address of a shop to look for. As it turned out, this did not happen, owing to unexpected events but I still managed to come home with a staggering seventeen additional fountain pens (old and new) that somehow attached themselves to me during our travels.

First, on arriving in Shantou some cousins presented me with a very smart, hefty, black lacquer and chrome fountain pen, a Hero 912.  Hero is a long-established and well regarded pen manufacturer in China. This model has a bi-colour stainless steel nib, a push on cap and a Hero branded, slider-type converter similar to those made by Parker. Nib and feed were friction fit. I inked it up with the Aurora Blue Black and was very pleased with the result.

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Hero 912 fountain pen

Also tucked into the box as an extra gift, was a brushed stainless steel pen, which looked at first glance to be a ball point but was also a fountain pen. There were swirly patterns on the barrel and cap and the words “Beijing 2008” and so this was presumably a souvenir from the Olympic games. The stainless steel nib had some scroll work and the word “CHINA” and an Aerometric style push bar filler. This one had been inked before and had a little corrosion at the end of the section. I took it apart and gave it a quick clean but found that the sac struggles to draw up ink. Still, an interesting specimen and I will enjoy tinkering with it.

It is customary to visit the older, senior relatives first and we arranged to visit my wife’s elderly uncle, whose flat was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Shantou. He lives with his son and daughter in law and grand-daughter, a school student. In his younger days he had been fond of writing although his eye sight was now such that he had no further use for his pens. To my surprise, he gave me a bag of eight old fountain pens, assuring me that he did not need them any more, that no-one in the family would want them and that they would otherwise only be thrown out. I was thrilled at the prospect of giving them a new home and cleaning each of them and trying them out.

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Uncle passing on his fountain pens to the next generation.

Uncle’s pens were all Chinese and included four with hooded nibs and steel caps, of the Hero 616 type and similar – being a Parker 51 Aerometric copy.  He had one each in teal, burgundy, grey and black. Then there were a couple of brushed stainless steel pens and two laquered pens with the name “Jin Rong” and one which appears to have a fude nib. All eight pens had the Aerometric style push bar filler. I shall enjoy cleaning them up and seeing how they write.

I had an interesting chat to his grand-daughter, aged 17, who had studied English since the age of 10.  Her bedroom in the modern flat was a marvel of storage space solutions, with hidden compartments under the floor, under the bed and under the bench seat in the window. School starts at 8.00am each day and they have nine subjects for homework.

During our few days in Shantou, we did visit a modern shopping mall, on three floors with a huge Walmart supermarket and car park occupying the basement levels. We browsed around, what were mostly clothes and shoe shops. I did not find any stationery shops. However, in Walmart, to my delight, there was an entire aisle of stationery – with writing materials on one side and notebooks on the other. There I saw some Lamy Safari-style pens (shall we say, Safari tributes or homages), plus some other models not available at home in England and at very low prices, all hanging up in blister packs.

Perhaps the most inviting of these was a Hero 975, in a metallic blue finish and gold. Displayed in a sealed pack but in its opened gift box within, the pen appeared to have a screw on cap which appealed to me. Add to basket. I leafed through the other models behind it on the peg. One pack had been sliced open and the pen removed, which was sad to see, given its modest price.

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Hero 975. No, those are not cap threads; the cap just pushes on.

Also there was another Hero, the 2017. Again, I had not seen one before and it was notable for its very rich coloured laquered cap and barrel, (in blue or burgundy) and a hooded nib in a half metal section. At just a few pounds each, I took one in each colour. The blister pack also included a 15ml bottle of ink! I picked up a nice bound A5 notebook too.

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Hooded nib of the Hero 2017 fountain pen.

I may review these in due course. For now, I should add that the Hero 975 does not have a screw cap and that what appear to be cap threads are just part of the design. The cap simply slides on over them. Still, it is quite a handsome pen.

As for the Hero 2017, with its hooded nib, this came with a converter and performed reasonably well. The finish is lovely. However, the bottle of ink that it came with turned out to be almost useless. Instead of the jet black that I had expected, it was a very weak wishy washy sepia and barely legible and I threw it away. I cannot believe that this is how it was intended to be and so it was perhaps just a faulty batch or past its best.

More China pen stories to follow in Part 2.