Attack Of The Clones - Part 2
by Jim Mamoulides, May 31, 2004
Isn't It Rich?
Hero 800 "Flighter" G/T - China
Basic economics of the fake market: Make knockoffs of popular, but expensive items like Rolex watches and Coach bags not only because that's where the money is, but you have to show big savings to hook those fish. In the pen market, it makes perfect sense to make Montblanc knockoffs.
Go to Times Square, Chinatown, or Little Italy in New York and you can find the ubiquitous Montblanc twist ballpoint in much more than black precious resin. Every color of the lacquer on brass rainbow and several gaudy plated finishes await you. But wait, I thought those pens were plastic? Who's going to complain about it at ten bucks a pop, twenty if you really have to have a black plastic one in an authentic looking box.
In the pen world, Parker was king for the longest time before Montblanc became the brand. From inception, the Parker 51 was the "world's most wanted pen," and became the focus of many, many copies and reverse engineered competitors. It makes sense to try and either knock number one off its pedestal, or at least steal some of the glory.
Are We A Pair?
Why knock off an entry level pen?
The Parker 45 was introduced in 1960 as the first true cartridge / converter pen, though the design was inherited from but never made by Eversharp, which Parker bought out in 1957. While not a school pen, the 45 was priced at the entry level, at US $5.00. It was intended to be easy to use, allowing both large capacity cartridges and the option of a removable converter. This was a full featured pen for low bucks. The 45 is still in production today.
The answer has to be more about supply and demand and copying a good design than the raw economics of fakery.
Hero 800 "Flighter" C/T - China
Hero is not merely a clone shop, as the next two pens clearly show. The 156 is a brushed stainless design that takes the basic 45 and dresses it up for a promotion. Hero added raised trim rings on both ends of the section, the barrel end, and both ends of the cap. Capped, the centerline of the pen has three raised ring bands, and two bands on each end. A nice visual balance.
Overall, a lot of bright work, set against a muted brushed silver finish. No longer blue collar, but not boardroom, either. The 45 grows up.
Hero 158 Black- China
Not willing to stop there, the 158 takes the 156 design and adds glitter. The cap and barrel are a satin black anodized finish, ornamented in even more gold plate trim. The cap band is wider and adorned with Chinese characters and the Hero logo. The cap top and barrel end have large gold buttons. Fancy, fancy. And heavier, too.
They're Already Here!
The Hero clones are sneaking into the west. There are several regular dealers and importers that can be found on-line. Check the listings in PenBookmarks.com under New Pen Dealers. Several of these dealers keep a good selection, but the more overt and outright clones seem to be sneaking in other ways. Often they can be found on eBay, both an internet market, and new age Times Square surrogate.
These four pens represent two distinct levels of build quality, both in the pen themselves, and in the packaging. The two Hero 800s are worthy copies of the Parker 45 Flighter, but they are definitely short of the real thing. The Hero 156 and 158, on the other hand, go past the 45 into a higher level of fit and finish. These are two pens that, while carrying the 45 look in a decidedly Chinese direction, have ideas that would fit well in a Parker upfit of the 45. All of the pens are similar dimensions to the 45, about 5 3/8 inches long capped and 5 5/8 inches posted, with the 156 and 158 slightly longer. The 800s are a little lighter in weight than the comparable Parker 45 Flighter, while the 156 and 158 are noticeably heavier.
Hero 800 "Flighter" C/T Open Showing Press Bar Converter
First, the Hero 800s have an inexpensive look and feel, but only slightly below par with the Parker 45 they emulate. The featherless clip is a little too plain, and makes the pen appear cheap, but the fit and finish are quite good. Swap clips with a 45 and file off the Hero markings and it would be hard to tell. The only noticeable difference between the two is a choice of gold or chrome plate (or possibly stainless) clips. Both have gold plated section rings, though.
Unscrewing the barrel reveals a serviceable pressbar converter, a bit less robust than the Parker type, but it works well enough. Filling is the same, dip in the ink, squeeze a few times, wipe, and write.
The gold nibs on both examples unmarked, and are probably 12 karat gold. They are both stiff fines. Most of the literature with this set of pens suggests that gold color unmarked nibs are probably 12 karat, which is reinforced by the 12K marked hang tag that came on one of the 800s. Each nib is smooth, and evenly wet, but is less so than the real thing. Good, but not a great writers.
Hero 158 Black- China
The 156 and 158 are definitely upscale and both pens are more hefty than the 45. The packaging is first rate, giving the entire presentation a pricey feel.
The 156 is something of a logical extension of the 45 concept, with a Chinese flair in the added trim and has a much nicer finish. With the 158, it seems that Hero started with partially blank paper. The 158 looks like Hero used a nicer cap and barrel and married them with a dressed up Parker 45 section and added a 45 copy clip. I find the 156 more like a 45, and the 158 a nicer pen that nods toward the 45.
Opening both reveals metal threaded barrels, into which the section screws very smoothly. Both use the Hero pressbar converter. Filling is the same as the 800s and the 45, dip in the ink, squeeze a few times, wipe, and write.
The 158 came with a 12 karat gold hang tag, and the accompanying booklet says the nib should be 12 karat. So they both probably are, and again, both are very stiff. The 156 has the smoothest nib of the lot, a really nice writer. The 158 nib is on par with the 800s.
Cap Detail, Left to Right, Hero 158 / Hero 156 / Hero 800 C/T
These Hero Parker 45 clones didn't prove to be the mixed bag of quality the Parker 51 clones did. All of these pens are well made, showing very good to excellent fit and finish. All wrote well, but the 156 really shone, writing as well as most of the Parker 45s I like to keep around. That one is a very nice pen.
This turned out to be a more worthy set of Hero pens, a better showing of what the company is capable of. Considering the very low prices they can be purchased for, they represent a real bargain, and a nice collection can be put together without a visit to the loan officer at the bank. If you did go, you wouldn't be embarrassed with any of this set. I guess a bargain can be had even cloning the low end of the fine pen range.
Grateful thanks to Dan Carmell for supplying the fun Hero 800, 156, and 158 pens. Dan was not only kind enough to loan the pens, but was also very helpful in supplying background details on them.