I’ll eventually get around to reviewing the Parker 51 – a fountain pen of which I own several and always have one inked up as part of my daily carry – but I picked up a Wing Sung 601 not too long ago and have been using it quite a bit over the past few weeks.
So I guess to start off, let’s just call the 601 what it is. It’s an homage at best and perhaps counterfeits at worst, and if you weren’t at least somewhat familiar with Parker cap jewel and barrel colors, I’d say there’s a good chance you might not even know the 601 wasn’t a real 51 if it were sitting more than an arm’s length or so away from you.
I’m not going to get into the weird history of how and why so many Chinese companies emulate Parker designs (and with a degree of impunity that I’m sure must be frustrating) but I will admit that I have some fairly mixed feelings about purchasing clones like these.
That said, they’re cheap, they’re popular and, for models like the 51 that are in no longer in production (yes, I’m aware Parker has unveiled a modern 51 that’s supposed to be available as early as February, though I don’t really see that as appealing to the same market as the bevy of Chinese products currently available), they’re an easy way for casual penthusiasts (shoot me) to test the waters of vintage pens.
“But Mike,” you might find yourself asking, “How is the Wing Sung 601 – a modern pen – an easy way for one to get into vintage pens?”
Allow me to explain. The 601, like early Parker 51s, uses a spring-actuated piston for filling. This would probably make a lot sense if I broke down and did videos, but basically it works thusly: First, you unscrew a cover (called the “blind cap”) on the end opposite the nib. Then, you dip the nib into the ink. After that, you give the piston rod that had previously been concealed by the blind cap a couple presses, and boom. Through the magic of negative pressure, ink is drawn into the barrel and after replacing the blind cap, you’re good to go.
It is, without question, a very cool system, but it is also a complex one. At least, complex compared to the twist-style converters prevalent these days, and especially to the squeezable rubber sac (marketed as the “Aerometric” system) that Parker ultimately replaced it with.
I’m having trouble thinking of another fountain pen currently in production (aside from other 51 clones) that uses the same system, and even the small number of modern vacuum fillers – the Pilot 823 and TWSBI Vac700R come instantly to mind – use a markedly different mechanism.
So, unless you’re willing to both pony up the cash for a restored vintage Parker 51, pens like the 601 really are an inexpensive and generally reliable way to give yourself a taste. Or at least that’s my take on the situation.
Wing Sung offers this pen in a number of fairly mundane solid colors that don’t deviate too far from Parker’s own lineup. Interestingly though, they differ significantly from Parker in that they include an ink window above the section, which is super convenient given this isn’t a barrel you can easily pop open to check the level.
As might be obvious based on my photos above, however, I opted for the transparent demonstrator model. I chose it because I wanted to see the vacuum mechanism working. But, I’ll talk more about the finish in a bit.
Moving quickly through some other basics – if you’ve held a Parker 51, you’ve held a Wing Sung 601. So far as my eye can see, they are identical in every dimension except length, where the 601 adds about an eighth of an inch – presumably to accommodate the piston rod under the blind cap (and in fact the length may be identical to a Parker 51 Vacumatic, but all of mine are Aerometrics).
Likewise, the stainless steel cap is, externally at least, virtually identical as well. The only significant difference is the cap jewel, which is a pearloid white on the 601 and black on the 51. The only clear differences are the engravings, where Wing Sung replaces Parker’s logo with its own and the country of manufacture with “Made in China”.
The Write Stuff
Wing Sung says the steel nib in the 601 is a fine, and that seems about right. I compared it to the other finest nibs in my collection – one on a Sailor Pro Gear and a second on a Pilot Vanishing Point – and indeed, Wing Sung appears to be using the Japanese standard.
Overall I found the writing to be pleasant enough. The nib is nothing if not stiff, but for the page-ish or so of quick notes I’d use it for at a time, I actually prefer a fast, hard nib.
That said, it seemed to write a little dry, and that was using a Noodler’s ink which are, in my experience at least, pretty well lubricated. Still, I wouldn’t say that’s to this pen’s detriment – especially if you, like me, intend to use this pen in situations where a quick-drying line is preferable. But, if you’re looking for a gusher to showcase your shimmering inks, this isn’t it.
Things I Like
If given the choice between a demonstrator or any opaque option, I’d say nine times out of 10, I’m choosing the latter. That isn’t to say that I dislike demonstrators in the slightest, but if I’m spending a good chunk of change on a pen, I want to make sure that I can get the most use out of it as possible. And so with that in mind, I generally go for more sedate finishes that won’t become a talking point at the office. Call me boring, but that’s just me.
I figured for the $20 I paid for this, however, that I wouldn’t at all feel bad if this pen were to never leave the desk in my home office, so I picked up the translucent version and boy, am I glad I did.
I mentioned earlier that my primary reasoning was so I could see the pump mechanism – but equally, if not more fascinating to me, is the hood and section.
Even amongst my other demonstrators, I don’t have another that more clearly showcases the collector (that is, the finned piece that helps regulate the flow of ink, thus preventing it from just pouring straight out the nib), nor the famed Parker 51 hood which, according to Parker ad copy, was designed to “keep the point surrounded by ink, thus making it a split-second starter.”
Of course the transparent parts aren’t of much value if they aren’t clear, and I was actually pretty shocked with how good Wing Sung’s production seems to be. There weren’t any scratches or even fingerprints from assembly anywhere on the pen, and I have yet to see or feel a mold line in the plastic. It really is pretty impressive – especially for the price.
Next, let’s talk capacity. It’s hard to get a good handle on how much ink this pen might hold, but unscientifically speaking, it’s a lot. I’d guess it’s at least 1.5 ml, and possibly even more. Regardless, with this fine nib that seems to sip ink, a full fill is going to last you a very, very long time.
Last, I think it’s worth mentioning again that Wing Sung seems to encourage owners to service their own pens – and much like TWSBI, actually provides the tools to do it. Included with each 601 is generous amount of silicon grease, conveniently loaded into an international converter-sized applicator. Also included is a tubular plastic tool that slides over the pump rod, allowing the user to unscrew and remove the entire piston unit for cleaning and lubricating.
Both might seem like sort of small things, but then again, when many other pens in the $20 price range don’t even come with converters these days, it makes the whole 601 package feel a bit more premium than it probably has any right to.
Things I Don’t Like
The biggest difference I see between the Wing Sung 601 and Parker 51 is one I very vaguely alluded to earlier in saying “the stainless steel cap is, externally at least, virtually identical”, with the emphasis being on “externally”.
Internally, many slide on caps have what’s called a “clutch” at the open end. They differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they’re generally a circular array of flat metal springs that curve inward – almost like an hourglass or something. As you slide your pen into the cap, the springs compress, providing the friction needed to prevent the cap from falling off and also making sure the cap doesn’t rub too much against the section (which, for those not yet fluent in pen, is the basically the part your fingers grip).
Parker designed the 51 in such a way that the metal band between the section and barrel – called a clutch ring – further protects the section from damage. Basically, the ring sits slightly proud from the rest of the barrel, so as you insert the pen, the cap only makes contact with that ring – thus saving your pen from getting scratched as you cap and uncap it.
This long-winded yet still unsatisfactory explanation of clutch mechanisms aside, the real point of all this is to say the 601 does not have one. So, there’s a lot of potential for the cap to scratch the section and ruin its nice clear finish through normal use.
Edit: After writing this, I decided to investigate the 601’s cap a bit better with a flashlight. I was actually mistaken in saying it doesn’t have a clutch. It does. But given that it is so poorly implemented that I wasn’t even aware it was there, I think my above criticisms are still largely valid.
My other complaints are more general grumbling, but still worth noting.
Vacuum fillers of this design are going to require a bit more effort to clean thoroughly than, say, a converter. But, that’s just the nature of the beast and something you should assume going in. It helps that the piston mechanism is removable, as is the nib. So even though that adds a few steps to really cleaning the pen out, it makes it a lot easier than just drawing and expelling water one pump at a time for God knows how long.
Regarding the piston itself – it uses three rubber gaskets along its length to create an airtight seal, thus making the vacuum inside the barrel possible. To move smoothly, those gaskets need lubricant – in this instance, silicon grease.
The grease itself is clear (and kudos again to Wing Sung for providing extra in the package), but the pistons, by virtue of them traveling up and down the length of the pen, do leave a film behind that tends to hold onto droplets of ink. It isn’t noticeable at all when the pen is full, but as the level in the tank drops, it looks kind of messy. Obviously this isn’t an issue for the non-demonstrator versions though since none of the upper barrel where the piston lives is visible.
Last, it seems like ink has a slight tendency to want to pool on the bottom side of the nib. However, I usually only notice it after I’ve uncapped it for the first time on any given day and fixing it is as easy as giving it a quick wipe with a paper towel, and I’ve seen worse issues with burping and dripping from other vacuum and eyedropper fillers than this one.
I wound up being far more impressed with the Wing Sung 601 than I thought I would be, and even compared to other Parker 51 clones in the same $15-$20 price range, I’d saw this is my favorite I’ve come across so far.
Just to recap, the overall quality is very good, the vacuum filling mechanism is unique, the ink capacity is enormous, the nib is adequate and for those who opt for an opaque model, the ink window is a godsend.
That said, I would very much recommend the demonstrator version. Even as someone who has used fountain pens for a long time, seeing the anatomy in a way I never have before really makes it a fun pen to use.
Where to Buy
You can pick up a Wing Sung 601 (and most of these Parker 51 clones, for that matter) for around around $20 from Amazon. Last I looked, you can find them slightly cheaper from importers on eBay, but if I’m being honest, I generally stick with Amazon because the delivery is almost always faster with Prime shipping and I feel better about the ability to return something if it’s defective.
I know some other online retailers also carry pens from Wing Sung’s other lines, though it seems most of them tend to stay away from those that are straight up clones like the 601 out of respect for the originals.
Disclaimer: I receive no compensation for providing links to retailers or companies, nor was this product received as a review sample.