So, spoilers up front: after a month of regular use, I think you should buy a PenBBS 308. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting to explore fountain pens or a seasoned collector with a drawer full of treasures. Why? PenBBS is the Chinese forum for fountain pen enthusiasts, the equivalent to the international FountainPenNetwork. So, these are pens made by fountain pen lovers for fountain pen lovers, and it shows in many ways! The quality-to-price ratio is also the best I’ve seen so far — they’re ridiculously good values.
Construction: These are turned from rods of resin, not molded, and the machining is immaculately polished and feels great in the hand. Compare this to handmade pens from Franklin Christoph or Edison. The threading of the section and cap are smooth and precisely-executed, with 1.5 rotations to uncap and a tight seal. At least for me, the balance is perfect both posted and un-posted. Too many pens these days have the mass distribution off, so it balances but is unwieldy to pivot when writing. Not so, with the PenBBS 308! Between this and its light 20g weight, it’s a natural and comfortable writer’s pen for extended use.
Nibs: “Ah, but what about the business end???” you inquire impatiently. It’s just plain great, thanks for asking! So far I’ve inked up 3 PenBBS 308s, and each feels like the nib has been hand-checked and adjusted as needed; this is quite likely the case, which is more than I can say for most pens, including quite a few over $300. The result is nibs as consistent as Pilot’s famously reliable nibs — and well ahead of stock JoWo and Lamy nibs let alone the more erratic Chinese competition. The steel nibs are listed as fine (“0.4-0.5 mm”) and are Waverly-modified to yield a slightly-upturned tip. This makes them smoother at high writing angles. Also, much like a Fude nib, they can produce a slightly broader horizontal stroke at the right angle — especially with slight pressure to bring more of the tip into contact with the paper. It goes from a fine to a medium on the broader cross-stroke.
I’m told that Chinese nibs need to have at least some feedback to assist with the precise strokes needed to form characters, similarly to Platinum and Sailor pens. This means they will drag a little on paper, but should not be scratchy. The PenBBS nibs are no exception, but they still glide smoothly and on most papers the feedback imparts a slight silky or velvety feel. Personal bias here: I dig it. On Rhodia the nib ice-skates lightly across the slicker coated surface – smooth enough to please the lovers of “buttery smooth” nibs. But for rougher papers such as Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks, people who prefer less feedback may want to do a quick touch-up with Mylar lapping film. Flow is on the slightly dry side, by the way — resulting in an extra-fine line on Rhodia with no weight applied, even with wetter inks. But the nib has some cushioning softness and slight pressure results in wetter flow and a little bit of line variation. I struggle a bit with how to classify it — this wouldn’t be in the same bucket as soft 14k/18k nibs but it’s definitely not a nail. I’ve not seen any skipping or hard starts until almost completely out of ink, and in any case it plays especially well with a wetter ink.
Filler: Speaking of ink: this is a cartridge/converter/eyedropper pen, similar to many of Franklin Christoph’s models. It even comes with O-rings pre-installed! I’m happy with the converters (they seem on the larger side) but even a piston-filler fanatic should be happy with the eyedropper capacity. The tight and precise threading and multiple turns required to remove the section ensure a very tight seal, so I’d have zero concerns about leaks when eyedroppering it.
Looks: What about aesthetics? The basic design is a classic cigar, but there are plenty of different resin styles to fit everyone’s taste. – see below. The marbled and swirled acrylic seem particularly striking to me, because they have a translucency and cat’s-eye effect that reminds me a bit of classic celluloid. The only catch is that PenBBS produces limited batches of each style and rotates through new varieties — which means if you get one you really like it may not be possible to get more. While that means they’re potentially collectible it was rather frustrating to discover that the green marble and blue are now sold out and I might not be able to get more.
The Household PenBBS Family:
What about negatives? There’s nothing I’d really call a flaw, but the clip isn’t anything special. Also if you want to upgrade a PenBBS 308 with a different #6 nib, the nib’s tip will hit the inside of the cap unless you grind about 1.5mm off the base of the new nib. This is because the stock Waverly nib is about 1-2 mm shorter than normal. Stub or EF nibs *might* be able to slip in due to less tipping, but if you want to do nib swaps the PenBBS 323, 309, 349, and 267 are better choices (they leave ample room).
Now the best part: you’ll note that I’m comparing to $150+ hand-made pens. But a PenBBS 308 is currently just $15-20 off eBay from China. Which feels borderline crazy, because they could easily sell for 3x that internationally and still be a bargain. I spotted at least one UK seller already reselling at a steep markup. So, while the pricing lasts: pony up, wait the appropriate month for shipping and enjoy! Uh, and if this is your first pen, it may spoil entry-level pens for you — I’d suggest swapping in new #6 nibs instead.
PS: Sometimes you’ll see the 308 with a cap band or photos listing it as the 266 – this is due to reuse of materials/photos. It’s mostly identical to the 266 except that the cap threading is better placed.
PPS: I’m aware this reads almost like an advertisement, but PenBBS hasn’t sponsored this in any way. All pens were purchased with my own money after seeing some glowing reviews in the /r/FountainPens sub-Reddit.
- Nib: Stainless Steel F (listed as 0.5 mm), Waverly-modified (slightly upturned tip)
- Weight: 20g total with ink, 13g without the cap
- Length: 5 5/8″ (145 mm) capped, 5″ unposted (127 mm), 6.5″ (165 mm) posted (posts firmly)
- Grip Diameter: 3/8″ (~9-10mm) to 7/16″ (11 mm)
- Filler: cartridge/converter or eyedropper
- Fits a Lamy-compatible converter. The one it comes with is slightly smaller diameter and includes an agitator, so I’d guess it’s about ~0.7-0.8 mL (but haven’t measured).
- Converter appears to be to the exact same specs as a Wing Sung 3003 (but with better manufacture).
- Some eBay sellers will also include a smaller piston converter as well (one of my orders did).
Update May 2018: PenBBS launched an official Etsy store a month or two back – that is not the cheapest source of PenBBS pens due to the shipping costs, but they tend to have new editions other sellers won’t (and you’re buying from the official source):
- On eBay – Office_Supplies_Pen – recommended vendor, AKA “Bobby pens”/
- On eBay – art-pen-book-dy – recommended vendor.
- On eBay – Pen_Life_Collection
There’s also an Amazon Seller offering them, although with the same shipping from China (may be from the official source).
- PenBBS is a great component donor for Frankenpens
- The #6 nibs are excellent and will fit pens that take friction-fit JoWo #6 nibs
- The converters use the same opening size as Lamy and Parker – I’ve got a PenBBS converter in a vintage Parker 45 at the moment. You’ll want to verify they fit into the barrels of whatever pen you’re swapping into though!
- Nib is compatible with #6 nibs, if the base of the nib is ground down to shorten the nib by 1.5 mm or so. Otherwise there’s a high chance the nib’s tip will hit the inside of the cap.
- PenBBS sells EF replacement nib units in decorative holders
- Completely ready to eyedropper, just remove the converter. Between the O-rings and tight threading it may not even require silicone. This probably shouldn’t even count as a mod.
- KEY UPDATE: converter will fit INTO a Lamy or Parker due to the same opening size, but those converters generally will not fit into the PenBBS itself. For the
- I’d incorrectly reported initially that this model would accept those converters, and apologize for this. I had verified they could fit into a Lamy, but not the other way around (and was relying on reports of Parker having the same opening size). It turns out that the interior of the PenBBS section is too narrow for Lamy converters, and the barrel won’t fit at least a Parker 45 converter.
Edit: 2/24/2018 – Clarify what nib feedback feels like, more detail on nib swapping, 2/26 – Clarify the relationship with the 266.
Edit: 5/28/2018 Clarify nib swap options and converter compatibility.