First things first. This pen works really well. It's an achievement in terms of design and functionality. The more I use and understand it, the more I appreciate what the Parker 45 accomplished.
What? Parker? But this is a Moonman...
More on that shortly.
- Size - For everyday, professional use, the size works. It is unobtrusive but sturdy. Easy on the shirt pocket. The pen is big enough to use unposted but is just that much more comfortable posted. It is a slim pen.
- Weight - Unposted the pen is light and agile. Posted it feels solid but still a very easy writer.
- Nib - The semi-hooded nib ensures the pen stays ready to write. The screw-in nib-feed assembly locks in alignment and takes the guesswork out of nib maintenance.
- Cap - The friction cap is as simple and fast to use. The cap posts deeply so the posted length feels hardly longer than unposted. I haven't found that posting the cap scratches the barrel in any way.
- Section - The section is long and smooth making it easy to grip anywhere that's comfortable.
- Filling mechanism - The pen uses cartridges or a converter, i.e., the modern standard.
So what's not to like? It's taken me forever to bring myself to write this review because I am fundamentally conflicted about the era from which this pen springs.
So here we are in the mid 60s. We have the Parker 45, the inheritor of the epoch-making Parker 51. Why did Parker feel the need to make a new pen? Fundamentally, fountain pens were getting killed by the ballpoint. The Parker 51 was showing its age.
- Nib maintenance on the Parker 51 was non-trivial. Beyond what most owners could manage. If you wanted to change or repair a nib, you probably had to send the pen away for the work.
- The Parker 51 filling system required owners to have bottled ink on hand. If you were away from your desk when the pen ran out, you had a problem. I suspect lots of people carried a couple of pens to make sure that didn’t happen.
The Parker 45 solved both of those problems.
- The screw in nib/feed unit made swapping nibs trivial. In a pinch, owners could do it themselves. Parker advertised a free nib swapping service for 30 days after purchase.
- The Parker 45 introduced ink cartridges. This meant users could easily bring along spare ink and never have to worry about the pen running dry.
Parker also found ways to make the pen cheaper through new materials and improved manufacturing. It all worked. The Parker 45 was a huge hit. It caught the market at just the right moment when people were looking for better, cheaper solutions.
Point vs Nib?
Parker’s marketing materials for the 45 don’t use the word "nib." They call nibs “points.” When did that usage start? When did it stop? Was it because ballpoints were coming into fashion or in an effort make modernize fountain pens for middle class buyers?
But innovation in the fountain pen market wasn’t the only thing going on in the 60s. Maybe there were folks in the counterculture movement who paid attention to fountain pens, but more likely than not, the whole trip was considered incredibly square.
It’s safe to say, at the time, I didn't gave the Parker 45 even passing attention. Interesting how things change.
So why does this pen exist from a Chinese company? Blame Deng Xiaoping.
The tale is convoluted, but the bottom line is in the late 70s Parker transferred the design and manufacturing process for the Parker 45 to the Hero company in China as part of an exploratory OEM manufacturing project. Parker ultimately abandoned the effort but left the IP behind as compensation for Hero’s investment. Frank Underwater tells the story from the Chinese side of things.
Hero didn’t let the knowledge go to waste. They made pens, notably the Hero 800 and now, it seems, the Moonman 80 as an OEM project for Shanghai Jindian 上海晶典. So the Moonman 80 is based on the original Parker 45 design but is produced as an authorized clone.
I don’t have an original Parker 45, but others who do say that the Moonman 80 compares favorably with the original. The parts are, in fact, interchangeable. Hard to believe.
- 19.2g capped/posted
- 11.8g uncapped
- 137mm capped
- 126mm unposted
- 141mm posted
The Moonman 80 is a well made pen. The barrel and cap are flawless. The clip is tight and centered. The Moonman name at the base of the cap is small but clear and precisely stamped. Overall, the finish is first rate.
Aside from an odd cap-seating issue, I can’t find any cosmetic issues with the pen.
When the pen is closed there’s a small but noticeable gap between the end of the cap and the metal ring at the base of the section. It looks like the cap should close flush with the ring but it just doesn't it. It’s the kind of thing you cannot unsee once you’ve noticed.
In addition to black, the Moonman 80 comes in mustard yellow and teal green, a couple of colors you don’t often see. There are both gold and silver trim options.
The pen comes in 4 different cap styles: plain, vertical lines, rings and a crosshatch pattern. The ring texture on my example is fine and neatly executed.
Interestingly, the pen comes with two nibs. It seems that initial reaction in China to the stock F nib was less than stellar. People complained the nib was soft. So Moonman also included an EF nib unit in the box. The second nib comes in a handy 5ml ink vial along with a little square of what looks like a bicycle inner tube gripping material for unscrewing the nib unit.
Glad I wasn't the intern tasked to snip inner tubes all day for the production run of this pen.
The Moonman 80 costs ¥49.00 on Taobao or less than US$7.50. It is also available in lower-cost 80s variants that come with plastic caps. (The 80s mini looks much like a Pilot 95 Elite.) All of the Moonman 80 models use the same nib units so they should write the same.
With the F nib, the pen is a wet and generous writer. It requires little or no pressure. In fact, the less the better. The nib offers a useful sweet spot gives moderate feedback. Waterman Absolute Brown looks great with the F nib.
Swapping in the EF nib was a different story. It was stingy, writing an vanishingly fine line with a tiny sweet spot. It completely changed the character of the pen.
Since the EF nib wasn’t doing it for me, I decided to have a go at taking it apart to see what I could do. The nib collar came off without much issue. The feed and collar both showed patches of rough finishing. I grabbed a fine blade and scraped off some of the excess plastic.
Reassembled, the nib did better but was still dry and extra-extra fine, like a freshly sharpened pencil. Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be. I think it could be OK with a darker, well lubricated ink. It certainly would make a fill last a long time!
Coming to Grips
Since I experienced the vintage Aurora 88, I’ve come to appreciate semi-hooded nib pens. The design represents an intelligent approach to the problem of hard starts and nibs drying out. With the Moonman 80 (and by extension the Parker 45) now under my belt, I’m thinking about a Lamy 27. Sounds like fun.
If you're a Parker 45 fan, you probably know about this pen already. If you are just getting into fountain pens and want to see what the business was up to in the 60s, grab a Moonman 80. I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised. I am.
More often that not, my desk is my pocket. But everyday desk items doesn't have the same ring.