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Maker: PenBBS

The 487 is not particularly exciting on casual examination. Apart from the prettiness of the body material (which covers a vast swath of tastes), there’s little difference between it and the pen designs of pre-Balance era. One might almost take it for an eyedropper— a simple cylinder full of ink with a relatively clever hole at one end.

There are, however, a couple of important functional differences hidden within. The one which will matter most in daily use is an eminently modern feed, with buffering vanes not only under the point but running right the way back to the inner end of the section. I would not say it’s immune to the dribbling eyedropper pens are famous for, but it will put up long and valiant resistance.

The other hidden quality of this pen is the filling mechanism. It isn’t uncommon for a pen to have a well-concealed mechanism, but this one is all but invisible, sealed away inside the pen. It is also unusual in that one does not even have to put the cap to one side during the filling process. This pen is a piston filler, despite a lack of removable outer barrel, blind cap, or even knob masquerading as a blind cap.

PenBBS say that the mechanism is based upon a design from the 1950s, but I suspect it wasn’t practical until the advent of powerful rare earth magnets. The dry end of the piston is one such magnet, a simple disc attached to the back of the piston head. There is another magnet built into the top of the cap which is used to slide the piston to and fro in the barrel. It can be a little tricky to manipulate while the point is stuck in an ink bottle, but it’s less of a dexterity challenge than dealing with pen, section, dropper and ink bottle while retaining an eyedropper’s ridiculous ink capacity.

The instructions suggest that the easiest way to get the piston moving is to gently rotate the barrel while the magnets are engaged. The rotation around the piston seems to keep it from building up any friction in its fore-aft travel. I have also seen a suggestion that loosening the decorative insert in the tail of the barrel eases the movement, by allowing quicker air pressure equalization in the space behind the piston.

Those who prefer to use this pen as an eyedropper will be pleased to hear that the section can be unscrewed for dribbling in of ink the old fashioned way. Indeed, the pen can be taken apart into a surprising number of pieces for maintenance, with a modern point/feed unit screwed into the section, the piston removable through the front of the barrel, and even the cap reducible to components by unscrewing the well-concealed derby. I wouldn’t encourage absolute dismantling, but it’s possible.

I will also point out an emergency piston-removal port hidden under a decorative metal jewel in the tail. If the piston ever needs lubrication to the point that the magnets can’t draw it forward, one need only unscrew that jewel to reveal a hole into which a bamboo skewer can be poked (blunt end is a little easier) for direct shoving of the piston to the top of the barrel.

The writing performance is not disappointing, although it’s also not amazing. Part of this is the very limited range of point sizes– the pen comes with either a fine or a even more fine point, which tend to exaggerate feedback. I suspect a lot of owners will take advantage of the availability of after-market points to do something different

Because the pen contains strong magnets at both ends, it is possible to find it sticking to things in the writing area, and I would be careful of leaving it near any digital storage medium.

Production Run: Introduced in 2020. In current production, although PenBBS is somewhat intermittent.

Cost When New: 598元 according to the box, but bought from the maker’s Etsy page in Summer 2020 for $31.99. Either I’m misreading the box, or people in China are paying a steep premium for this pen.

Size: 14.1 cm long capped, 17.1 cm posted, 12.7 cm uncapped.

Point: Steel.

Body: Acrylic.

Filler: Piston, capacity approx. 2.9 ml. (if you faff about with clearing all the air out of the barrel, you can get 3.7 ml in).

PENBBS 487-80 “Snow”. It’s not just the colour name; the motif extends to snowflakes in the point engraving. The barrel is translucent, so ink level is visible.

Apart from the nature of the acrylic, it’s quite minimalist– not even a cap band. There is an identifying impression on the cap, but I couldn’t get enough contrast on it to make it worth a picture.

The 487 with its filling mechanism engaged. There is nothing supporting the cap but the interaction of magnets.

I don’t know if this counts as “bonus feature” or “occupational hazard”.


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