No stinkin’ ink here

Monday 13 September 2010, 9.23pm HKT

You would think that a shopping paradise the likes of Hong Kong would stock an item that’s almost too widely available around the world. Be surprised.

Amazing but true, the Standard International Size Ink Cartridge is the world’s cheapest and most widely available die Tintenpatronen for fountain pens. It’s characteristic shape and length is instantly recognisable by certainly the older folks and also those who have even a casual fondness for non-ballpoint pens.

Many brands great and small use this ink cartridge. The more famous ones are:

  • Caran d’Ache
  • Cartier
  • Colibri (of cigarette lighter fame)
  • Dunhill
  • Faber-Castell
  • Inoxchrom (whose steel nibs can spear through chopping boards!)
  • Online
  • Osmiroid (which every English schoolboy knows)
  • Pelikan
  • Rotring
  • Yard-o-Led (à la Filofax)
  • Sheaffer’s Reaktor fountain pen (2001-present, being the only Sheaffer that doesn’t use proprietary Shaeffer ink hardware)

This is the ink cartridge you find in cheap thrills like calligraphy pensets with couple of interchangeable nibs. They cost peanuts anywhere in the world (or did) and are often sold in bulk packs of dozen or up. I remember from my own schooldays they used to come in nondescript plastic bags of two or three dozen. Apart from the standard blue and black, the cartridges also came in in exotic colours like Turquoise or Peacock Blue, Sherwood Green, Saffron Orange, Sunset Red or Storm Purple, among many others.

The biggest maker of this cartridge used to be China (and probably still is). I say China instead of naming a specific company is because nearly all ink factories in The Long Graveyard make this cartridge. Back in the old days in England, people demanded the Chinese-made cartridges because they were (a) dirt cheap (like, 50p or 77 American cents for three dozen), (b) came in bulk quantities and (c) of higher quality than all the American- or European-made varieties. We’ve gone upscale today, so they are now made in places like Slovenia or some shitty East European country — which means they’re now overpriced, under-quantitied and of inconsistent quality (both in ink and hardware).

But you cannot get hold of them in Hong Kong. Indeed, you can barely track down the Parker medium-point rollerball refill, never mind this standard ink cartridge. There is something seriously wrong with Hong Kong because of this.

It took me a hell of a job to locate this cartridge. I know of only two stationers who stock it (after three tries). And both places were way, way overpriced.

The first shop sold the Manuscript Ink Cartridges, 12-pack, for HK$20 (US$2.57) and made by the venerable English company Manuscript Pen Co. Ltd. of Shropshire, which also makes the famous Osmiroid writing or calligraphy pensets.

The second shop sold the more pretentiously named Bic Cartouches Standard Courtes (“Standard Cartridges Short”) for HK$12 for a six-pack. I got shafted on the Bic because it contained only five cartridges — but that could have been an accident. It doesn’t matter and I’m fine about it.

The more interesting aspect of my trying to get the cartridge is the surprised look on the stationers’ faces. It is as if they’ve seen a ghost or something. The first shop owner seemed never to have seen or heard of it. The second and third shop owners at least looked like, Okay, we got this rare bird who’s asking for something our fathers last sold just before the war. What the hell.

* * *

What the hell. Shop addresses please.

I would if it weren’t for the extreme prices. I don’t really want to inadvertently defame the two stationery shops by naming them here. They’re nice people there, so probably it’s the wholesalers who are shafting them with high wholesale prices. The stationers are simply doing what comes naturally — transferring the overheads to the customers. If you have to have the addresses, leave a comment below and I’ll tell.

What the hell. More than 700 words on a bunch of ink cartridges? Seriously, are you retarded?

Could be. But those whose pens use ink cartridges might take a different opinion, douchebag. After all, those of us who at least recognise this cartridge also recall that they’re cheap and cheerful. We never banked on the fact that they’re practically non-existent in a shopping paradise like Hong Kong and, when they’re available, grossly overpriced. And that says a helluva lot about Hong Kong.

Seriously, why can’t you buy a pen that uses better refills?

Because I had the pen for a friggin’ long time, that’s why. Pens like mine don’t normally come with a plunger for bottle refilling, dumbarse. And since it’s a pen that uses such cheapo cartridges, it’s not very likely that plungers that fit are also available. Try harder, pal. Eat my shit and die.

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