“China”, it has been famously said, “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. When one looks at Fountain Pens that trace their origins back to the mainland, one cannot but admire the content of the saying. For indeed, the more we try out Chinese pens, the more baffled one becomes.
How do they make pens so cost-effectively (read cheaply)?
Well, economies of scale. Make one and it costs a certain amount. Make a million and the cost becomes a fraction. It doesn’t go on indefinitely, but still. And as we all know, what China does, they do it by the zillions.
Besides, China is a command economy – that is to say, their products are subsidised to an extent, which in effect means, that at times, they sell their products even below the actual, “real” cost of production.
It is also a valid point to say that since they are so damn good in replicating – producing knock-off’s, they really are not burdened with the cost of development. R&D costs that competitors are saddled with are zilch for the Chinese as they go about heaping flattery with their imitations.
The cost of labour too is one huge advantage. Skilled labour that is cheap – now that is a game changer.
And the skill level of Chinese labour needs no elucidation – history will bear me out.
The end result is the fountain pen that you are now holding in your hand. One for which you probably paid a fraction of what you would have paid for a similar product sourced from some other country.
But the quality is suspect – aren’t we paying pittance for junk?
Not always. Yes, cheap fakes from China has acquired menacing proportions, but there are also the gems. Scratch below the surface and they are there. My personal take on the issue is that it is the greed of the traders who import from China that is to be blamed – they just don’t bring in the good stuff, content as they are to skim the price differential between Chinese throw-away pens and the originals they copy.
The Ming dynasty vases, to site an example, that are prominently displayed in museums around the world can hardly be questioned about their quality, or the craftsmanship of the creators, or the aesthetics of the ones commissioning them. Same with the fountain pens?
The Holy Grail of Chinese Fountain Pens
That brings us to a question, the answer to which I am still seeking.
Which is THE Chinese Fountain Pen that one should possess? One that will walk into any aficionado’s collection on its own right – as a Chinese Original? One that will display oriental characteristics that are so trademark of the Japanese FPs? One that cannot be passed off as a copy of so and so company’s model number so and so?
Considering the sheer amount of resources that the fountain pen industry consumes annually, the number of people who are employed by it directly or indirectly, the revenue that is generated and the near domineering global status that it enjoys, isn’t it a matter of probability that somebody, somewhere will create something that will force all of us to reach for our ink wells (or cartridges, whatever)?
They can match a Montblanc down to the last ounce of snow in the cap, their quiver has had more arrows that Parker has ever shot, and they cannot make a pen that we will be proud to carry as an original? I don’t believe it. And I want to go out and search for the one – my Great March in search of Shaolin, the Confucius of Fountain Pens.
Friends, lovers of fountain pens, netizens – lend me your knowledge.