The Inky Menagerie
I’m a relative newcomer to the hobby of fountain pens, so my first year has been spent feeling out what I like, what I don’t like, and so on. Many hobbyists concentrate on a single brand or even a single model of pen, sometimes to the point of obsession. Others look for a wide selection of pens, either beautiful, or technically interesting. And still others go for performance: how well the pen writes, or feels, or behaves.
These choices define a fountain pen hobbyist’s collection. You can go bankrupt chasing down every rare Montblanc, Waterman or Parker. Or you can go for the rarest of all, and spend crazy money that way too. I think it’s hard and extremely unlikely to use fountain pens as a viable investment: keeping the pens virgin, uninked, unused, unloved, in a vault, in the hope that someone someday will pay more than you paid for them originally. Sure, it’s possible, but I think there are easier and more reliable ways to invest money.
For me, I want pens that perform well, and that I enjoy using. I’m not a collector in the sense that I do tend to use the pens I value, and consider them to have intrinsic value to me, and no more than that.
Saying that, I have another side. I do casually collect ridiculous kitsch fountain pens, usually Chinese, and often from the venerable Jinhao. As many of these are animal-themed – often dragons – I call it my inky menagerie.
One rule (sometimes broken) is that pens in the menagerie must cost less than £15 delivered; this is partly to ensure the kitsch nature, partly to save my wallet, but mostly to avoid the 20% VAT and £8 fee incurred when overseas purchases come in over £15.
The zoo is kept in a beautiful pen wrap made by my friend Emmy from the finest (well… cheapest) fake silk dragon fabric available on AliExpress.
I love these two. They’re incredibly unwieldy, but they just look so badass. There’s a silver one available as well, but I don’t think it looks as good. Gaudy and over-the-top, I was surprised to find out they’re heavily influenced by the Parker Snake Pen #37 and #38 from 1906 and re-released since. It didn’t have a fricken’ cobra head as the top finial, though.
It just shows that there’s a very fine line between kitsch and luxury. Me, I prefer the kitsch.
The Noblest Dragon and Phoenix
These are the heaviest pens in my collection. [UPDATE: no longer! See below] All of these overblown Jinhaos are hefty, but these come in at over 115 grams each, and will post. That’s something like 4 ounces.
“It was Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the blunt Jinhao.”
The Dragon Playing with a Pearl
These almost look more like magic wands than pens. The pearlescent captive ball at the end rattles as used; the cap posts with a screw thread. While they come in several colour combinations, I found the “antique silver and red” particularly striking with the awfully “aged” (ie. painted) cap with dramatic chinese script. I have no idea what it says, but bets are it’s something about good wishes or luck, knowing Jinhao.
The Double Dragons
As with all of these, I’m not sure about the precise names. Jinhao are strange that way; heck, sometimes even the name/brand of the company isn’t clear.
The “Double Dragon, Golden Tower” seems to be two dragons, but is capped with a Chinese-style tiered roof (Pagoda?) on the cap. Being almost completely “gold”, it’s tough to make it out. The “silver” version just looks like a rod of scrunched-up aluminium cooking foil.
The “Dragon King” only has the one dragon, with a smooth flared cap. Again, I’m not sure this is the Dragon King, but I can’t find a different distinct name.
The “Double Dragon” is the one that initially attracted me to the range, when Brian and Rachel Goulet showed them in their “Write Now - Episode 050” video.
Now, I’m not sure if this is the Jinhao 999, as Goulet Pens lists it. I’ve seen other sources refer to the “Noblest Dragon and Phoenix” (see above) as the Jinhao 999. Maybe they both are?
Anyway, this video also made me start ordering Jinhao 993 Sharks too, but that’s for later…
The Elephant and Eagle
These don’t appear to be Jinhao, but rather Fuliwen.
The eagle looks very annoyed, and not that eagle-ish. In the sales listings, it was named either “Business Eagle” or more commonly, “Owl”.
Now we’re going a little less bumpy.
The Jinhao Y2 restricts its dragon to a ring below the section, and includes their logo horse-and-cart. I’m not sure how the horse will take to the dragon.
The “Advanced Jinhao 5000 Dragon” has a nice “gold” filigree; otherwise a pleasant slim cylindrical pen. I’m not sure how it’s “advanced”. Maybe the dragon can do calculus.
I’m not sure about the third one here. There is such a thing as a Jinhao 888 Dragon, but I’m not sure this is it. There’s also the Jinhao 891 Claret that has a dragon clip.
The “porcelain” pen is animal-free, and possibly porcelain-free. It does have weight and coolness that reminds me of ceramic, and I have other allegedly-porcelain Jinhaos:
January 2019: Beware of the Leopard
This one seems to be a new model, which I’ve only seen in a couple of listings. It weighs an incredible 149 grams, although unlike the dragons it won’t post, so it’s really only 75 grams when writing.
Also available in gold, but I went for “ancient silver”. It’s a pity that the gold version’s spots are gold too; if they’d lacquered them black, it’d’ve been incredible. In fact… hmmm… yeah, I’m going to order one and a pot of paint.
November 2020: Jinhao Vintage Luxurious Metal Dragon Cloud Heavy Big Pen
About the same weight as the Leopard, but it will post. This is a monster. When posted, it’s like writing with a preschooler hanging off the end cap. I have to hold it so far back, it’s like trying to sign something with a baguette. “Dragon Cloud” is possibly the least appropriate name. It neither floats or flies. It’s a lethal melée weapon.
Also, I picked up one of the purple Cloisonné variants of the Jinhao Dragon-and-Phoenix, last year on a special offer. Although over the £15 limit, it was fortunately not hit by customs. It’s beautiful.
There are a whole host of different variations on what’s shown above. I did try to get a variety, but it’d be silly to get them all.
The Jinhao 1200 Advanced Dragon (!?) is available, but it has that bumpy “scaly” texture that I really don’t like, so it’s one I won’t be ordering.
I really regret missing out on the Jinhao Tigers; I’d love one of the red and black tigers if I could find one:
and the sharks, and the swans…
Yes, I have the Jinhao 993 Sharks too. Not only that, I have the rarer demonstrators in clear, smoke, blue and red, along with the grey opaque that doesn’t come with the current multipack.
In addition I have what I think is a full set of Jinhao Swans, which are the same as the Sharks but with different caps so they can include a clip – the swan has a ridiculously long bill.
For kicks, I also picked up a couple of the Jinhao Shark sets that included the lesser-known Shark gel pens. While not fountain pens, I thought they were interesting, partly by being slightly longer than the standard shark.
And to round it off, I have some knock-off sharks – yes, Jinhao aren’t immune from being copied themselves. These have tiny little shark tails and three fins (rather than the Jinhao single fin) on the caps.
Separate to all of these, I have other kitsch fountain pens from Japan, China, Korea and so forth, including teddy bears, farmyard animals, “Pokit Bunnies”, vegetables, syringes, and the list goes on.
Where can you buy all these? Well, eBay is one possible choice, but I bought almost all of them on AliExpress. A few of the more kitschy plastic ones at the end came from Etsy, and I do keep an eye on Rakuten; the sillier cartoon plastic often tends to be Japanese or Korean rather than Chinese, so AliExpress isn’t the obvious place for them, but they do still come up.
Delivery from China, Hong Kong, Singapore (as these are sent via various routes) can take as little as two weeks (!) but as much as two or three months. Typically I’ve found it to be a month, and I’m pleasantly surprised when it takes less.
UK import strategies
If you’re buying in the UK, then there’s an initial import limit of £15 including shipping: less than that and it won’t be charged at all. This makes for some very cheap deals: less than £1 delivered in some cases. However, a penny over £15 and there’s a risk of it getting hit for VAT (20%) and an automatic £8 Royal Mail handling fee. To add insult to injury, it can also add about two weeks of clearance at Heathrow. Now, 20% + £8 isn’t a huge amount in absolute terms, but compared to the price of the pens it’s an unpleasant surprise.
On AliExpress, these sellers will often “for your convenience” (ugh) combine purchases into a single shipment, thus pushing a bunch of cheap pens over the £15 limit. Some sellers have multiple accounts and will still combine orders, so try to be aware of similar listings. They will also sometimes ship after they’ve said they’ll ship, so even if you delay purchases you should give a couple of days of leeway to make sure the first package really has dispatched before buying the next from the same (or similar) seller. My shpping basket has about 100 items on it from where I’ve delayed purchases.
Over £135 and you’ll also incur import duty, although if I remember correctly, this is only about 3.5%. It matters if you’re going to import a grail pen from Japan, but not this cheap stuff from AliExpress.
UPDATE: December 2020
Apparently the £15 allowance – the “Low Value Consignment Relief” – is to be abolished in January 2021. So the above section is basically obsolete. At this time, it’s not clear how enforced the new rules will be, or how the markets will react to the new requirements. Anyway, caveat emptor.
I don’t know about other countries’ import regimes, but I believe the US is fairly lenient and you can import about $800 before it gets hit for customs. HOWEVER, check this before ordering; I may be wrong, or it might’ve changed since I last looked.
Anyway, please do let me know if you find anything new and cool that I should add to the menagerie!
Oh, and if you get a lead on a spare Jinhao Tiger, in red or otherwise, I’d love to get one of those. Do remember the (oft-ignored) rule though: the idea is that these things are silly but also ridiculously cheap. I’m not going to buy a Montegrappa Pirates, Bruce Lee Dragon, or that hideous Sylvester Stallone pen just because they look like Jinhao Dragons… if you haven’t seen the Montegrappa Chaos, by Sylvester Stallone, you must watch this… (Keep “watch”ing ‘til the end.)