One hazard of the collecting field is the presence of counterfeit pens. I don't know if the problem is as bad as it is in the watch collecting world, but it is just as easy to get a fake Mont Blanc in Chinatown as it is to get a fake Rolex.
Here I've collected pictures from the Internet of fakes and some commentary on how to spot them. Fortunately for us, most fakes are quite inept and easy to spot; the only seriously impressive ones I've seen pictures of are of Parker Sonnets and ST Dupont Orpheos, which are well-nigh indistinguishable from the real thing. There also exist high quality Mont Blanc fakes, but thankfully these are pretty rare.
I should add that finding pictures of fakes on eBay is embarrasingly easy.
For what it's worth, I have never seen a fake modern Waterman or Sheaffer. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but I've never seen or heard of them, so they can't be that common, right?
Anyhow, skip ahead to your favorite section and see what the fine craftsmen in China are up to:
Boy howdy it is easy to find pictures of obvious Mont Blanc fakes. It probably took me longer to write this up than to find the pictures on eBay.
Some general advice on avoiding fakes is below, but I stress that your greatest weapon in the fight against counterfeit pens is knowledge.
- Avoid all of Asia and Eastern Europe. Heck, I'd avoid anything outside of US/Canada and Western Europe. While there are the occasional legitimate sellers there, odds are that anything that comes out of Hong Kong is fake.
- Seller's claims of "100% Authentic!" doesn't mean a thing. Neither does feedback. In fact, you'd be better off buying from some guy who doesn't sell regularly on eBay and is getting rid of an unwanted graduation present than from a high-feedback Power Seller with suspiciously low prices.
- If you can examine it in person, know that the Meisterstuck line is made of resin (plastic), so if you're holding a heavy pen that feels like it is made of metal, it is probably fake. Of course, if you're examining it in person, you're probably in Chinatown, so you already know it is fake.
- The serial number is completely meaningless. Fakes now almost always have them. If you notice the same serial number on all of the seller's pens, they're certainly fake, but to make matters more complicated MB does reuse serial numbers and does not keep any databases of numbers except for limited editions. Moreover, real Mont Blancs before 1991 do not have serial numbers. The same goes for the "Pix" engraving that many people think is an indicator of a genuine pen; this only appears on pens made in 1997 or later.
- It is said by many that a distinguishing trait of Mont Blanc's black "precious resin" is that if you shine a strong light from behind, it glows translucent ruby red. This is indeed true for genuine Mont Blancs. However, I invite you to try the same test on your black Pelikan M800s, Sailor 1911s, and many other modern pens. You'll find that they also glow ruby red when strongly lit from behind. It seems that this is a characteristic of poly-methyl-methacrylate (PMMA) plastic (also known as Plexiglass, Acrylic, and many other names). While Mont Blanc's specific resin formula is secret, I'm betting it is some acrylic/plexiglass variant. If an alleged precious resin Meisterstuck does not glow red, it is definitely fake, but if it does, it might just mean that the fakers are using acrylic. There are fakes out there that do pass the glow test.
- Knowledge of the product line is your greatest weapon. Compare with pictures from catalogs, reputable authorized dealers, or the company website itself. Noticeable deviations almost always indicate fakes.
- Mont Blanc never uses Iridium Point Germany nibs. Pens with these nibs are always fake. In general, the nib is the easiest way to tell; avoid bidding on pens whre you can't get a clear shot of the nib. As for ballpoints and rollerballs, it's a total gamble.
- If you're bidding on a 146 (LeGrand) or 149 (Diplomat), if you can see the ink window or the piston mechanism in operation it is probably real. I am not aware of fakes with brass piston mechanisms and doubt it would be economical.
- The 147 (Traveler) has a unique rear-loading cartridge tray. I am not aware of any fakes replicating this feature.
- For the Boheme, the retracting mechanism is quite complicated and probably not economical to fake. The Boheme fakes are always of the larger non-retracting version.
If you want an opinion on whether a specific pen on eBay is fake or legit, you can ask at the Mont Blanc forum on the Fountain Pen Network. People ask that all the time there and pictures of the more egregious fakes are passed around for laughs. Trust your gut instinct and err on the side of not bidding, but also do your due diligence and research before accusing any seller of selling fakes when they are actually selling vintage pens that look a little different from modern ones.
This is an obvious fake ballpoint typical of the sort you see in Chinatown. Points to note: the proportions are wrong and too large and the star logo is in reverse color (the star on the box should be white). Ironically these fakes are often more durable than the real thing as they are made from heavy brass, which can take a fall with only cosmetic damage, as opposed to hard resin, which can shatter if it lands funny.
An obviously fake Starwalker. Note the incorrect box, the Iridium Point Germany nib in an incorrect color, mismatched (and poor quality) section, and numerous other flaws.
A fake Mont Blanc Boheme. Although you can't see the nib, it's clear that the body isn't quite up to Mont Blanc quality levels. Also, the star on the box is black instead of the correct white.
Another fake Boheme. You can't see the nib clearly, but it isn't the real nib. Conspicuously absent is the clip jewel that is the central feature of the Boheme. Also note the black star.
Mont Blanc never made the Boheme in this funky pattern!
A Boheme in the Starwalker grid pattern? Cute. But fake. Oh, and you can tell the nib is wrong even if the picture is unclear there.
Hey, they even faked the packaging. Too bad they left in the Iridium Point Germany nib. The section is also wrong; compare the trim ring with the real thing.
Same as above, except that the F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn't made with an orange barrel!
Nor does the Fitzgerald come in green...
A Franz Kafka with an Iridium Point Paris (hey, what happened to Germany?) nib? Yeah, right! The real nib has a cockroach on it, as befits the Kafka.
A poorly executed fake of the Greta Garbo Special Edition. Note the very poor imitation nib (the real nib has higher quality scrollwork and is rhodium-plated, not two-tone) and the fact that the cap is black instead of the correct cream color and the fact that the section is black with silver trim rather than the correct silver with black trim.
The Greta Garbo Limited Edition (1905 pens, as opposed to the unlimited special edition) does have a black cap, but the cap has silver/rhodium stripes. Also, in all cases, the real thing is a lot curvier.
Another Greta Garbo fake, with all the same problems as above but with an incorrect silver cap.
Probably the most competent Greta Garbo fake, but again the nib is shoddy and the gold trim is incorrect.
Here's a fake Mont Blanc piston converter. Mont Blanc has never made a converter with its name printed on the side like this, and I've seen this exact same converter (sans MB logo) offered with kit pens and generic Asian pens. It seems like someone took a generic converter and started stamping logos on them.
Note that a fake converter does not mean a fake pen; it could be a real pen with a fake replacement converter (since MB pens use International Standard cartridges). However, if it is being sold as completely new-in-box, never used, be wary.
Now we're getting to the good stuff. This is an utterly convincing fake of a Mont Blanc Chopin (145) in burgundy with platinum trim. The only problem is that Mont Blanc never made the Chopin in burgundy with platinum trim! The nib is also lightly engraved instead of stamped, but aside from that the pen is visually indistinguishable from the real thing in photos. Be wary of what you buy on eBay.
I'll close off with something scary - this amazingly competent fake of a Mont Blanc 144. There are two signs that this is fake. First, the nib is clearly engraved instead of stamped, but they have the correct engraving and the correct two-tone masking. Second, the gold trim ring around the section near the nib has a clear and prominent ridge where it flares out and then tapers back in; when viewed head-on, the gold ring will be wide and prominent. In a real Mont Blanc 144, the ring only flares out and barely (if at all) tapers back in. When viewed head on, a real 144 will have the nib surrounded by mostly black with just the edge of the gold ring visible. Both of these details can only be spotted with high-resolution photos like the ones this seller unwittingly supplied; with slightly blurrier photos, this fake would be indistinguishable from the real thing.
Fake Cartier Trinity pens are also very common.
An obviously fake Cartier Trinity. The Iridium Point Paris nib is a dead giveaway, but the real pen also has silver-colored section threads.
The following images are courtesy of Antonios Zavaliangos via FPN.
Pictured above is a fake Dani-Trio "Imaginary Lions" Maki-e pen. The obvious sign is the Iridium Point Germany nib, which is incorrect for the pen (which should have an 18k gold nib with the T-Trio design). However, I should also note that Dani-Trio has and continues to use IPG nibs in its other pen lines, so that by itself isn't always indicative of a fake (you have to match with the model). Also notice the relatively poor detailing and simple design. Contrast with a picture of the real thing below:
Notice the far higher level of detail and finer gold speckle and lacquer work in the real thing.
Goodness, you'd think they would be smarter than to take a picture of the fake against a book that shows the real thing! The contrast in the quality of the detailing and even the shape of the pen are obvious.
This is somewhat more competently done, including fake packaging. However, the Iridium Point Germany nib is obviously incorrect for this pen. The colors and details also aren't quite right, but it is hard to tell from photographs, so be careful not to get taken in.
These are perhaps the most insidious of the fakes. Whoever is doing them has gotten really good. None of them are instantly obviously fake like the Mont Blancs and the better ones are indistinguishable except under very close examination. Be careful about who you buy your Sonnets from on eBay!
The above compares a fake (top) and a real (bottom) Parker Sonnet 18k
gold nib side by side. The engraving is lighter on the fake (although
you would not be able to tell this from auction photos). The obvious
difference is the cross-diamond hallmark, which is never used
in real Parkers. Real Parker hallmarks are usually the P-arrow-P (in
two variants) or P-over-W for post-2001 pens. However, I have seen a
picture of a recent fake with the P-arrow-P hallmark, so we may be
losing even this method of identification.
Above image courtesy of PenHero.com
Here is a detail from the cap band of a known fake. It is quite a bit
rougher than a real engraving, and the serifs on the S are in the
wrong direction. These are very small differences that you would be
unlikely to see clearly in an auction photo.
Above image courtesy of PenHero.com
Above is a side-by-side shot of a real and a fake Chiseled Tartan Sonnet (courtesy of Stylophiles Online Magazine). You can see the difference side by side, but even experts would be hard-pressed to tell in person without a real pen for reference.
Again from Stylophiles, a shot of real and fake Sonnet Tartans side by side. In this case, the fake one has the fake nib (with cross-diamond hallmark). The gold single-tone scroll nib is an authentic Parker design, but should never appear on a new Tartan since Parker had switched to the cross-hatch nib by then. Unless the nib was swapped with a genuine older nib after the fact (possible but unlikely), mismatched nibs are one way to pick out fakes. However, Parker made Sonnets in a dizzying array of finishes and nibs, and knowing all the legit combinations is a daunting task.
The box is another way to tell. The following two boxes are known fakes according to a post by Antonios Zavaliangos on FPN. As he advises us, "If you see it, run away..."
Very similar to a real Parker box, but it is missing the registered trademark sign next to the Parker and the texture is somewhat different.
Parker never made a box that looked like this, so it must be fake.
Knowledge of proper packaging is difficult to come by, however, so unless the box is a known fake we can't do much. And when the seller offers pens with no box at all, we can do nothing.
Speaking of which, remember the fake Chiseled Tartan that had almost everything but the nib right? I found this in an eBay auction out of China:
The box (and therefore the pen) is a known fake, but notice how they have figured out how to make a correct-looking two-tone crosshatch nib. Without the box, this fake would be indistinguishable from the real thing from auction photos.
Here is another Chinese fake from eBay. The box (not shown here) is a known fake box. Moreover, to my knowledge, Parker never made a Sonnet in gold-plated Cisele, and even if it did, the combination of the new P-logo on the band with the older scroll nib is very odd (although not completely impossible). Note that the counterfeiters seem to have figured out how to make the P-over-W hallmark on the nib.
A quickie tip on identifying fakes: look at the box. Current Dupont boxes have an inlay space that fits the exact form of the pen. If you see a box that holds the pen with a ribbon, it's fake.