Have you ever heard of a Skerple marker?
Neither had I until the other day when I ran across an article by a college professor about a Chinese knock-off of the Sharpie marker. Turns out, the Skerple looks like the Sharpie in almost every regard, even using similar font for the name, and can be found in many discount stores, as well as on eBay.
The professor says he shows a Skerple to his students in his business class and asks them to identify it. Most every time, they believe they're looking at a Sharpie.
By the way, that marker on the right is a Skerple, not a Sharpie.
And that is only the beginning of the market for knock-off pens. Many of us have heard of high-end fountain pens like Montblancs being counterfeited, but apparently the fake pen market goes all the way to the bottom of the scale to the least expensive ballpoint pens.
For example, police in African nations frequently confiscate giant shipments of counterfeit pens believed produced in Asia and shipped to the African continent for sale there. Check out this video of cops in Kenya seizing thousands of "Beifa" ballpoint pens that are basically just Bic Cristals.
Knock-offs are enough of a problem for Pilot Pens in Thailand that the company website acknowledges that customers may very well run across fakes and asks them to report any they find.
In 2007, the LA Times identified the town of Wengang, China as a center of counterfeit pen production, including Parker knock-offs.
The town, in southern China's Jiangxi province, has been making writing implements for centuries. Famous calligraphers and poets such as the Tang Dynasty's Wang Bo looked to this place for their maobi, or brush pen.
In more recent years, villagers not only cornered the nation's market in maobi but also added metal pens to their repertoire.
Today more than 2,100 businesses in Wengang (population 70,000) make brush pens, and 1,000 others produce ballpoint, fountain, gel-ink and other modern pens, says the China Writing Instrument Assn. In 2005, the town made and sold roughly 7.5 billion brush and metal pens -- enough to supply one to every person on the planet, and then some.
While there are many legitimate pen manufacturers in the town and local officials deny that counterfeit pens are produced here, the Times reported, just "ask other manufacturers, retailers and even passersby on the street whether they make or sell fake Parker or Montblanc pens, and often their reply is, 'How many do you want?'"
Since then, China reportedly has been cracking down on the production of counterfeit goods nationwide, but has been largely ineffective in shutting down these operations.
So next time you spot an unbelievable deal on a pen, no matter the brand, you might want to give it a look to be sure what you're getting.