I own more PenBBS 456’s than any other pen by any manufacturer. I think I might actually have an addiction to PenBBS pens in general, and I think that the 456 is their pinnacle model. It doesn’t help that PenBBS is an incredibly collectible brand — with their innumerable finishes, gorgeous resins, hard to find exclusives, and general absence from the Western market (though you are starting to see some vendors like Goldspot and Vanness carry some minimal offerings from them — with Vanness being the only Western shop that I know of to carry the PenBBS inks).
Currently, the favorite among my 456’s is a recently released color called Adventure. It features a dark purple acrylic with pearlescent swirls streaked throughout. This material has incredible depth and a high amount of chatoyancy (it’s the word of the day!). When you get your hands on one, you WILL sit there and twirl the pen in the light for a bit enjoying the effect. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how nice some of the materials that PenBBS uses are – with finishes like Galaxy, Tuzi, Niangao, and Kun being favorites.
PenBBS is known for the variety of models they offer — many with unique filling systems. Of (at my last count) the 20 or so pen models that they have released, they offer: ten cartridge/converter models, one spring filler, two piston fillers, two magnet fillers, a bulk filler, a handful of small eyedropper pens, and two vacuum fillers (of which the 456 is one). The entire line’s development has been driven by the Chinese fountain pen community, with PenBBS being the Chinese online equivalent of Fountain Pen Network. This has led to constant evolution in the line — with improvements iterated into each model over time.
Finding the finishes and colors you want is rewarding but usually involves waiting for a drop on their official Etsy store or navigating Chinese sites like TaoBao or Ali Express — but any serious fanatic knows that the search is half the fun.
How Does It Write:
Beautifully. This particular model came with what the PenBBS Etsy store listed as a “Duo-Color F Nib #1” but for comparison’s sake, it lays down a nearly identical line width to the medium nib on my Platinum #3776 Century. The nibs on all my PenBBS models have been uniformly firm but smooth writers, with the caveat that, out of the box, they are tuned to write dry for Chinese characters/calligraphy. However, after a flush and a few minutes of writing (or if you take the initiative to give the tines a few GENTLE flexes against your fingernail), you will find that the flow picks up dramatically.
I also have good news for those that like to tinker. It is a straightforward process to swap the nibs on the 456 for any other #6 sized nib. I’ve had myself some fun lately swapping some spare stub nibs onto a few of my additional 456’s and have found that the feeds keep up nicely — so if you have the motivation, feel free to install a favorite nib on one.
I’ve had this inked with Montblanc Psychedelic Purple since the day it arrived. I can’t decide if the purple-on-purple combo makes me feel regal or villainous (maybe a bit of both?). It currently lives in a small travel case alongside some of my other everyday carry pens such as the Lamy 2000, Lamy Studio LX All-Black, Platinum #3776 Century, and usually a Schon Pocket Six. It’s fun to use, looks beautiful, balances well in my hand, has a shutoff valve, a super comfortable hourglass section, holds a large amount of ink, and posts deeply without adding too much back-weight.
Where To Score One:
If you want to get your hands on a 456 you have three primary options.
The PenBBS official Etsy Store: Run by Beini Zheng, this is the easiest way to get your hands on one. There are usually a handful of the more common 456 colors available daily, with occasional surprise drops of new stock happening every month or two. These drops typically include rarer colors, store exclusives, introduce new pen models, and more — but you have to be paying attention because some of them can sell out in seconds/minutes. I’ve been dying to get my hands on a 456 in Amber is a Cat — and they were sold out in the minute it took me to add one to my cart and try to pay for it during the last drop. I’m also always pleasantly surprised by how well packaged my pens arrive. The boxes sometimes include elegant but straightforward pen sleeves and the famed cat stickers that Beini occasionally includes. These don’t compulsorily come with every order, making them feel like a genuinely appreciative thank you from the vendor, rather than a toss-away premium.
Taobao: I’ve finally ordered a few pens through Taobao after being intimidated by using this massive Chinese online marketplace for a long time (and I’ll be making a post on that soon). Thankfully, a pen group acquaintance eventually turned me on to using buying agents like Taobao Focus to aid with making purchases, as Taobao’s site has no English language option of its own. For a modest commission, the purchasing agents will order your pen from Taobao, package it up, and ship it off to you (and they offer DHL as a shipping option – so my last purchase from them took under a week to arrive). This is the place to go if you are looking for a specific finish or model and want it NOW. The downside is that you will pay significantly more for it than you might on the Etsy shop, as the rarer finishes and models are priced accordingly if stock is low. However, I have also found some surprising bargains here — recently scoring a PenBBS 308 in Kun (a gorgeous turquoise/green color) for way less than I had seen it on eBay.
Ebay: What can’t you find on eBay? I see PenBBS listings pop up regularly from a variety of resellers. The prices can range from affordable to occasionally ludicrous. I’ve yet to find a finish I wanted badly enough to pay the markups I see on eBay when I can find them cheaper elsewhere if I’m patient enough. You could make a sacrifice to the eBay gods and hope you get lucky, but I’ve had my best luck with the Etsy shop.
With the possible exception of finding a Western-based reseller or paying for DHL shipping through Taobao Focus, be prepared to play what feels like an interminable waiting game of anticipating your packages arrival. I’ve watched them work their way across the globe from China to Buffalo numerous times – occasionally taking a month or more. I’m part of a collectors’ group for this brand on Facebook, and one of the most common topics merely is members posting updates on just where in the world their pens are and the sometimes odd routes they seem to take on the way.
Is it worth it?
This pen outperformed my expectations in most key categories and over-delivered in terms of how much I enjoy using it vs. the cost of purchase. There is a reason I now own five of this model. In simple terms — It’s fun to write with, fun to tinker with, and looks great.
This particular pen cost me $33.99 USD + applicable taxes from the PenBBS Etsy store (plus about $8.50 in postage from China — though I had a few other pens in this order, so the shipping could be slightly lower for a smaller package). From the date of order to arrival, the pen spent about 22 days in transit, which honestly isn’t too bad considering I just waited nearly as long for a pen to arrive from a vendor three states away due to USPS’s problems during the holiday season. I’ve been writing with this a ton, and it has become one of my primary journaling pens.
The only thing holding me back from giving this highest marks is simply the fact that I have not owned it long enough to speak to its durability and longevity. While I have not had any significant issues with any of my PenBBS pens (save for a small propensity for staining on one particular finish), I have seen a few scattered posts about some people’s pens arriving with shipping damage or the blind cap having come unattached — but in all cases, it seems that these issues were either easy fixes or quickly remedied by the vendor in the case of those bought from the official store.
That said, considering the price and how well it writes, I would not hesitate to recommend this pen to anyone looking for a well-performing vac filler for under 50 dollars that is available in a staggering array of finishes. This is also a great place to start for anyone looking to explore an emerging brand out of China whose design philosophy has been driven by a community of fellow fountain pen lovers.
(The pen in this review was purchased by me for my own collection. This post contains no sponsored content, affiliate links, or items provided for review by vendors/manufacturers)