Jinhao’ s profile has been rising in the fountain pen community for many years. After initial condescension over their low price points; the exuberance of their designs and value propositions have won many people over. When many fountain pens cost $500 or more, it’s easy to lose sight that even $10 for a pen is a lot of money for most people and getting a decent pen for that price is a big deal. Especially if that pen resembles its loftier cousins. That is an amazing value proposition. But does it live up to the hype?
The Jinhao X159 raises some questions. Is it the Montblanc 149 slayer that many people say? Is it a cheaply made clone? Let’s have a look.
Jinhao x159 Pros & Cons
Got somewhere to be? Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of this remarkable instrument.
- Very inexpensive
- Very light
- Classic design; stolen, but classic nonetheless
- Nice oversized nib
- Reliable clip
- Clone of another pen
- 3 ½ turns to get the cap off
- Nib needs work for reliable performance
- Currently only available in extra fine and fine
- Material: Acrylic barrel
- Length (capped): 146mm
- Diameter (Widest): 11.7mm
- Weight: 26.6g uninked
- Fill: Converter fill from a bottle
- Cartridge Included: No
Jinhao’ s History
Jinhao is the main brand of Shanghai Qiangu Stationery Co. Ltd. (Chinese: 上海千古文具有限公司), a Chinese manufacturing company specializing in writing instruments. They were found in Jiangxi Province of China in 1988 and moved in 2003 to Shanghai. They have two factories and employ over three hundred workers, producing all sorts of pens, ballpoint rollerballs, fountain pens, and accessories.
Their brand identity is a bit amorphous and they do little, if any, direct marketing. Nevertheless, they have an enthusiastic and dedicated following ready to defend them vociferously wherever and whenever they are criticized. I think it’s meaningful to give them a fair appraisal.
Jinhao is known in the West for making incredibly affordable pens that seem to punch way above their weight and for producing the endearing Shark Pen that has launched many a young person’s lifelong passion for pens.
Many of their products have derivative designs, but they really shine when they go a little crazy, like making a pen out of a swirl of gold dragons entwined with red accents. Is it ridiculously and uncomfortable to write with? You bet, but man is it awesome.
The X159 is much more sedate design. Easy to do, since it is taken directly from one of the most venerable fountain pens available: the iconic Montblanc 149 Meisterstück.
My own history with Jinhao goes back for a couple of years. I have always wanted to like Jinhao, but have had issues with their nib performance, finding them inconsistent and requiring a bit of a tweak before they are reliable or enjoyable to use. I currently have the X450 and the clunky paperweight of a pen, the 159. How bad could this one be?
Where to Find the Jinhao X159
In the United States, the X159 appears to be only available through Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and the AliExpress. I imagine that all the major suppliers will carry this model soon.
The nib widths were limited to Extra Fine or Fine, but it was available in black, blue, burgundy in gold trim, and black in silver trim for some variety. I chose burgundy since I have far too many black pens and even when they have gold accents, real or otherwise, they get a little boring. Every pen collection needs some color.
For some sellers burgundy was listed as red. It is not a true red. It is a very brown shade of red, like wine left out overnight. I quite like it for this very reason. Wine-color pens are rare in the pen world and more muted reds are perfect for business.
The pen showed up in my mailbox in a slip of plastic inside a padded envelope. No box, no accessories, nothing at all fancy, but what would you expect for $6, and to be honest, who needs all that packaging? This does reduce its ability to be given as a gift.
Taking it out of the package, it is shocking how it immediately registers as a Montblanc 149 in overall dimension and initial feel. My imagination quickly tried to work it out and I wondered if someone sacrificed an actual 149 to make a mold for it, before quickly realizing that with modern imaging technology it is easy enough to copy anything.
Nevertheless, I still tried to switch caps with the 149 to see if it would fit. It didn’t.
Still, the resemblance is uncanny. I understand now why so many people say that this is the affordable alternative to the 149, but is it?
It is one thing to clone the king, but can it rule?
I have never been overly critical of a casual resemblance between pens. I have often viewed it as a conversation between the companies and the refinement of an idea being passed back and forth. I am sure the Corporate Counsel at Montblanc may feel differently. There are some refinements of form and function that every great pen shares, so some overlap in design is to be expected, but this is a discussion for another day.
However, outright plagiarism is more problematic for me. It’s also a lost opportunity. Why not house it in an original design or make an improvement, like having a ring of metal protecting the edges of the cap, something sorely lacking in the 149?
Also, some design elements were carried over to the X159 from the Montblanc 149 that were functional for the latter, but superfluous for the former. The hidden screw in piston fill mechanism of the Montblanc is copied as a simple gold ring here, one that you are tempted to unscrew.
Anyway, the overall design of the pen is a thick cigar shape that has nearly double the girth than a normal pen. For larger hands, this can be very comfortable since you need to pinch a little less to guide the pen across the page. Of course, this is dependent on how one holds their pen. I have larger hands and I love the overall feel of this pen. Unposted, I like the balance.
The clip is secured to the cap with a band of gold — probably not actual gold — and this same material comprises the clip which is firm and effective, clipping to the edge of a pocket with an eager click. There is another gold band toward the bottom of the cap that is thick and engraved with Jinhao X159. (Handy if you forget the name of your pen.) The engraving is a bit shallow and unremarkable, but who really pays it much attention? Beside me, of course.
Opening the pen takes three and a half turns of the cap, so this is not a pen for quick notes or jotting. You have to be committed to opening it. If you are carrying this one around with you all day, you may be sick of all the twisting by the time the day is done.
Similar to the Montblanc (I suppose I could use that phrase before every sentence in this review), the threads are etched into the body of the pen and they provide a nice grippy area for your fingers as a guide to where to hold it.
Unscrewing the pen reveals a nice metal section where the converter pushes in.
The nib itself is beautiful and quite large. I have heard that it is a #8 size nib, but nib designations vary wildly. Suffice it to say that the nib is similar to… you guessed it, the Montblanc 149. The nib is two tone with a band of Greek meander following its contour. The Jinhao Chariot, one of my favorite pen brand logos, is in the center.
The pen tapers toward the back and has another ring just before the end, where the piston screw cap should be. Don’t try to unscrew it. You’ll be tempted, but don’t. On the X159 it feels a bit bumpy and ill-fitting.
The pen is made from acrylic that to my hand feels much more brittle and hollow than the Montblanc. I feel like I could easily crush it in my hand. Much has been said of the use of resins in pen manufacturing with many people dismissing it as “plastic,” which undermines how truly fascinating this resin is. Often it is mixed with organic and other materials to achieve different ends: durability, gloss, warmth in the hand. This pen lacks the specificity of all that and appears made of the same stuff as the cap of a Bic pen.
It also has a seam that runs up the sides of the barrel; something you would never see on a luxury pen. Still, it is finished well and hardly noticeable unless it is in bright light.
How Does the Jinhao x159 Write?
I like to fill my pens with ink that either compliments, contrasts, or matches my pens. I filled this with Diamine Ancient Copper, which is a well lubricating ink that I have used in a variety of pens, from the Pilot Custom 823 to the Kaweco Brass Sport.
Writing was rough going at first. There was a bit of a drag to the nib like a jagged tooth anchoring it against the finish of the paper, and it had more than just a casual bit of skipping especially on the up-strokes and this on Ayush paper, 100 gsm — one of my personal favorite fountain pen papers.
I stuck with it though, then did a little work on the nib which improved the ink flow a bit and made the experience a bit smoother. It still skips a bit on the upstroke even after writing with it for a few days, but it feels much smoother as I fill the page with loops of cursive.
Doing this much work on a new pen is an immense disappointment. I will continue to work with it and hopefully it will open up more as the days go on.
Using this pen I keep asking myself, “How much do you really expect from a six-dollar pen?” Then I realize that I am making excuses for it. I am in an abusive relationship. Being inexpensive shouldn’t shield it from criticism. Even if it cost twice as much it is still an infinitesimal amount of the cost of the pen it is impersonating. So, how much should its performance matter? Quite a bit, really.
I believe part of the issue is how lightly I write with a pen. I use the minimal amount of pressure to draw a line and vary this to get some light and dark shading. This is how I am able to journal anywhere, even standing up, and why a pen like the Calligraphy nib on the Montblanc 146 is such a struggle for me.
I think that many pens are made with a ballpoint user in mind, requiring more pressure to create flow. This pen is certainly perfect for the first time user who can experiment with the amount of pressure they want to exert and perhaps abuse it a little without much worry if there is damage to the pen or the nib. No one wants to learn how to write with a fountain pen on a luxury pen.
Since the pen has the same design as the Montblanc 149, but lacks its internal piston fill, it is off-balance when posted and is very back heavy, making it more difficult to control. I find writing with it much more enjoyable unposted. It fills with a converter, a rather cheap one, but it works well enough and supplies the feed with a decent amount of ink, keeping the nib mostly flowing after tweaks.
Is the X159 an impossibly inexpensive alternative to the Montblanc 149? No, but it is a major upgrade to the original metal, clunky 159. In fact, I think they should have changed the model name entirely. I rather wish their nibs were better out of the box. Tuning a nib is risky business for non-professionals. I am knowledgeable, but I am not professional, so I proceed with caution. This is why I am not sharing the steps with you. I wouldn’t want to lead you astray and have you damage one of your beloved pens.
It is certainly worth the $6 I paid for it. That is literally .6% of the cost of the Montblanc 149. It would be a great starter pen and a good way for someone to decide whether the dimensions of the 149 are right for them. I wouldn’t trade a case of these for a single TWSBI Eco or Lamy Safari (my favorite choices for inexpensive starter pens). It’s all about the nib for me and this one, like my other two Jinhao pens, falls woefully short.
However, there is a dearth of pens of this quality of finish below $10 USD and I am grateful that Jinhao is here to fill it. I just hope that they put a bit more effort into their nibs and their QC. They certainly have little pricing pressure to contend with.