For the next entry in my “Inexpensive Chinese Fountain Pens” series, I would like to call your attention to the…
Lanbitou 280 Fountain Pen
Nib: Fine/Extra Fine
Filling System: International Standard Converter & Cartridges
Born of an Old Chinese Proverb:
An old Chinese Proverb states “A good memory is no match for a worn pen nib.” It’s lesson: to write everything down…a written account of an event, by its very nature, is stronger (and more accurate) than an oral tale of that account passed down through generations.
In Chinese, “worn pen nib” is translated to lan bi tou (or Lanbitou). What a beautiful name for a pen brand. I love it. It tells me that the company takes writing seriously, and that the pens that bear its name can be trusted to record all the events of my life, all the stories I hold dear, all the knowledge that I want to live on after I’m gone.
I had always avoided Lanbitou because the name sounded strange, because no one was talking about them, and because I assumed that they were probably one of the bottom tier manufacturers. Now that I know where their name comes from (and how well they write), I’m sorry that I didn’t give them a chance sooner.
Now that I’ve been reviewing pens for a while, I’m more open to trying new and obscure brands, and I’m happy that I finally got around to trying Lanbitou.
The Lanbitou 280 is—for the most part—a pretty nice looking pen. I say “for the most part” because the clip is lined with 11 small rhinestones (or cubic zirconium…but I’ll call them rhinestones because it’s easier to type; and because Glen Campbell). Truth be told: I find the rhinestones kind of gaudy, and given that the cap and barrel have a faux wood grain finish, I just don’t think the rhinestones go with it very well.
I do very much like the faux wood finish, though. The pen is brass, so I’m sure the wood pattern is just painted onto the brass and lacquered over for shine and better durability. They did a good job with the finish. I mean, no one is going to mistake it for real wood, but the colors and pattern are nice and refined. The finish looks perfect and feels durable.
The 280 is a small pen. Not quite “pocket pen” size, but it’s close. There is no finial on the cap, and no end cap on the barrel. Both have rounded-off ends, giving the pen a more-or-less typical “cigar” shape.
The hooded nib is housed in a black plastic section is black plastic that sports a nice diamond/lined pattern etched into it for added gripacity (gripitude? gripability?). Typical of most hooded Chinese nibs, this one writes in the neighborhood of fine/extra fine.
All the accents and hardware are gold colored.
I’d like to point out that while some of the Chinese pens in this price range suffer from poor material quality, the Lanbitou 280 looks flawless. The finish of the barrel and cap is perfect and seems pretty scratch resistant (of course, now that I say that, I just noticed a tiny chip in the cap). The gold-colored accents are also perfect, with no brassing, flaking, or other signs of poor plating or half-assed material choices.
The clip is nothing special, but it looks like it would get the job done. The cap has LANBITOU screen-printed on the front and 280 on the back.
Build Quality (5/5):
I have nary a complaint in this category. The pen looks great and was put together well. Nothing is loose or in danger of disintegrating or falling off…although, I did hear some rattling coming from the barrel from time to time. Upon inspection, I found a coiled piece of metal (like a thick spring) inside the barrel. I have several Chinese pens that have this. It must be to add weight to the pen, but I can’t say for sure.
Although the section threads are plastic and the barrel threads are metal, they fit together very well. Screwing and unscrewing them is a pleasant experience (insert your own Beavis joke here).
And the nib is great: smooth and consistent.
For the most part (there’s that phrase again), this pen writes every time I touch it to paper. I do get an occasional hard start, but it’s not all that common. If I happen to leave the pen uncapped for a minute or two, it usually writes immediately…which is nice for students looking for a good note-taking pen during lectures when the writing is more sporadic and not constant.
My only real complaint in this department is that during longer writing sessions, the nib can suffer a bit of ink starvation and the ink will gradually get lighter over time. This is pretty rare with F/EF nibs, so I’m kind of surprised it happens with this pen. To get the nib all juicy again, you have to open up the pen and prime the feed. I hate having to do that.
The section of the 280 is relatively narrow compared to most of my other pens, and I’ve found that my fingers can get a little tired and crampy after writing for a while. Otherwise, I find the weight and balance to be pretty comfortable (at least when writing unposted).
Writing Experience (4/5):
I’ll be honest, the ink starvation and random hard starts are annoying (hard starts always piss me off). I feel I should never have to prime a feed to get a pen to write, especially a fine or extra fine (although I’ll give a stub nib a little slack on this due to their potential voracious ink demands). Otherwise, the Lanbitou 280 is a pretty nice writer. The nib is smooth with just a touch of feedback, and the line is fine, so it’s something I feel I can use every day.
The cap does post, but I find that it makes the pen too long and back-heavy to use. I don’t post when I write, anyway, but I think if you have larger hands, you may find that the pen is too short to use unposted and too unbalanced to use posted.
Hey, for $7, this pen is a fantastic value. It’s a smooth, fine writer that performs well and looks good doing it (rhinestones notwithstanding). Other than the ink starvation and occasional hard starts, the only other gripe I think I have is with the ink capacity. It doesn’t hold much ink. It seemed to blow through a whole converter pretty fast.
If you intend to do a lot of writing with this pen, don’t stray too far from your inkwell or spare cartridges.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 23/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Great build quality||Random hard starts|
|Fine & consistent line||Ink starvation|
|Comfortable to use||Small ink capacity|
Lanbitou: Worn pen nib. The name doesn’t stand for defects or a rotten writing experience. On the contrary, it stands for the importance of preserving the written word. It’s hard to argue against such a statement.
It’s also hard to argue against this pen at this price. I used three different inks in it, and the hard starts were only noticeable on the third (Toucan Cannelle), so the ink starvation and hard starting issues may be due to a drier ink and not necessarily the fault of the pen. Bottom line: it’s a nice writer and I think it would last a long time. It’s worth adding to your backpack, your pen cup, or your fountain pen collection.