I’m close to finishing up the reviews from my most recent round of PenBBS purchases, and I have to admit that this one was a bit of a letdown. After being absolutely blown away by certain other models - particularly the Model 308 and the Model 456 - the Model 309 piston filler didn’t deliver. While the signature PenBBS nib still offers an excellent writing experience out of the box, the piston sticks and generally feels cheaply made and unreliable.
Let’s start with the positives: Like every other PenBBS pen I’ve used, the presentation, fit, and finish on the Model 309 far outstrip any other pen I’ve purchased for $23. This pen looks amazing, with a classic streamlined shape and “peaked” ends. It doesn’t break any new ground from a design standpoint, but with this type of standard piston filler, not many pens do. The closest comparable would be the Leonardo Momento Zero, with the PenBBS Model 309 slightly slimmer and longer.
Though I had some issues with the plastic piston mechanism - discussed further below - it reduces the weight of the pen. While those with smaller-sized hands might find the PenBBS 309 slightly long to use unposted, I had no such issues given how light this pen is. The Model 309 posts securely, and slightly deeper than my Leonardos.
I understand that PenBBS is attempting to engineer sophisticated fountain pen filling systems in a way that makes them inexpensive to produce. That’s admirable, and likely the driving factor in why PenBBS is able to sell at their current price point. This piston design on the Model 309, however, falls flat. I had trouble filling the pen because the piston kept sticking to the sides of the barrel, and moving the blind cap actually caused it to disengage from the main piston rod, disassembling the mechanism itself. I was able to get things working again by pushing and pulling to “unstick” the piston, but this shouldn’t happen straight out of the box. Eventually I’ll disassemble the pen and apply some lubricant to the piston to see if that helps. I’m not the only one who’s experienced this problem, and plenty of people have posted fixes online. (Just Google “PenBBS 309 stuck piston.”) PenBBS should take a page from TWSBI and re-engineer the piston on the Model 309 to resolve the issue. If TWSBI can figure out how to incorporate a reliable piston into the TWSBI Eco, PenBBS can as well, even if it means charging a few dollars more.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
I’ve reviewed several PenBBS pens over the past few months, and while I have enjoyed the Model 308 (cartridge-converter), the Model 456 (vacuum-filler), and the Model 469 (double-ended eyedropper), I’m hesitant to recommend the Model 309 (piston filler) or the Model 355 (syringe-filler/”bulkfiller”) unless people go into the purchase with their eyes wide open as to the potential issues. I just can’t get past the fact that the filling mechanisms on these two pens feel a bit janky and give me doubts about long-term reliability. If I can get a TWSBI Eco with a reliable piston for the same price point, the only reason I wouldn’t do that would be to pick up a pen in one of the unique PenBBS materials. (Majusaka Red, anyone?)
That said, I firmly believe that the unique acrylics and materials, at this price point, are driving PenBBS sales. If I can get a transparent colored demonstrator that writes this well for $23, maybe I am willing to put up with a slightly janky piston rather than shell out hundreds of dollars - not to mention deal with complex shipping logistics - for a Japan-only Sailor exclusive in a similar color. Apparently, many people are deciding that this tradeoff is worth it, and PenBBS could be positioning themselves for success in the event of a recession or other event where disposable income gets tight.
You can purchase the PenBBS 309 piston filler directly from the PenBBS Etsy shop, with prices ranging from $22.99 to $29.99. The transparent green “Mojito” pen pictured here is one of the lower priced offerings, at $22.99.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I purchased the pen featured in this post with my own funds, for my own collection.