Parker Pen Company
The Parker Pen Company was founded by George S. Parker in 1888. The headquarters were in Janesville, Wisconsin for the next one hundred years. In 1987 the company’s management bought out the company and quickly sold it to a conglomerate. The headquarters were moved to the United Kingdom and subsequently to France.
Parker was one of the Big Four pen companies during the Golden Age of fountain pens. The other three were Waterman, Sheaffer, and Wahl. Of these four, only Parker and Sheaffer remain in business. Waterman ceased operations in 1954. However the assets, primarily the brand name, were bought by their French subsidiary, which continues to make pens up to the present.
In 1957 Wahl, then known as Eversharp, ceased operations and their assets were sold to Parker, who toyed with the idea of reviving the Wahl-Eversharp brand, but nothing ever came of it. Some smaller pen companies also went out of business in this timeframe including Conklin (1955) and Mabie Todd (1938). In many cases these formerly prestigious pen makers could not make a viable ballpoint pen once that became the dominant writing instrument. In recent years, some of these brand names, notably Conklin and Wahl Eversharp, have been resurrected by new companies.
Famous Parker Models
For more information I highly recommend the excellent ParkerPens.net website.
Parker made several eyedropper pens in their early years. One innovation that lead to early successes, was the Lucky Curve. This was a feed design that would channel excess ink back from the feed to the ink reservoir when the pen wasn’t in use. The Lucky Curve feed prevented a major problem: ink blobs splattering onto the paper due to excess ink in the feed.
One of the first successful pen models was the Parker Jackknife Safety pen, which came in many different styles and was manufactured from around 1900 to 1920. The early Jackknife Safety pens were eyedroppers that used the Lucky Curve feed. Safety refers to the fact that users were safe from blobs of ink ruining their writing. Later models were button fillers that also used the lucky curve feed. The famous Duofold pens were the last pens to use the lucky curve feed.
Image link from David Nishimura’s Vintage Pens Website
The Duofold was a huge success for Parker, which introduced the first model, the Big Red, in 1921. Initially the Duofold was made of hard rubber like most pens of that era. In 1926 Parker introduced plastic Duofold models. Plastic, which can be produced in many more colors and striations than hard rubber, quickly become the main material for pens.
Image link from Wikipedia
The Duofold model lost its status as the flagship Parker pen to the Vacumatic in 1932. The Vac was touted as holding “102% more ink” because of its new filling system that pumped ink into the barrel by repeatedly pressing on the button at the end of the pen. Each press of the button created a vacuum to suck up additional ink. The golden arrow clip, which is still used on most Parker models, was first seen on the Vacumatic. Vacs come in many styles and sizes. Many people think this model is the most beautiful pen Parker ever made.
Between 1940 and 1945 Parker brought back the Duofold name on a completely different line of pens. These were smaller, less prestigious pens than their earlier namesake, as befitting the depression era. The pen used a vacumatic filler mechanism and came in several pretty, striated colors.
Image link from Parker 51
The next major model, introduced in 1941, was the famous Parker 51. Initially the 51 used the vacumatic filling system, but in 1948, Parker changed to the simpler aerometric filler, which basically worked like an eyedropper bulb to suck up the ink from a bottle. Even today, some cartridge converters use this type of filling mechanism. The aerometric filling bulb, although looking like an old fashioned rubber ink sac, was made out of a much more durable material. Almost all aerometric 51s found today in flea markets and antique shops work without repairs, although they will likely need an extensive flushing to remove encrusted ink that may have sat in the pen for decades.
There being no truth in advertising laws in the 1940s, the Parker 51 was advertised as being “ten years ahead of its time!”. The appeal of the 51, the longest continuously manufactured model Parker ever made, was in its futuristic clean lines that reminded some of the sleek combat aircraft of World War II, specifically the P–51 Mustang. It is possible that the pen’s name could have been a deliberate association with the plane. Another possibility is that the name could have come from the fact that the Parker Pen Company was 51 years old when the pen was being designed.
The design of the pen was definitely meant for soldiers fighting in World War II. The clip is at the very top of the cap so that, when clipped inside a shirt pocket, the pen wouldn’t extend above the top of the pocket. This was important since the uniforms worn by soldiers had a flap over the pocket and a protruding pen would keep the flap from closing.
The era of the Parker 51 lasted into the middle 1970s.
Image link from Parker 75
The next luxury Parker pen was the Parker 75, which was manufactured starting in 1964 and continued in production for over 30 years. This model is the first Parker pen to use what we may call a modern filling system: a cartridge/converter identical to the one seen on current Parker models. These pens also had concave depressions to fit the fingers when holding the pen. Parker made many of the 75’s bodies in solid gold as well as high-quality gold filling. Others were made out of sterling silver and silver plated metal. These were the first pens to use the silver Ciselé pattern.
Parker Duofold Centennial and International
Image link from faculty.haas.berkeley.edu
The current flagship model of the Parker line is, once again, the Parker Duofold. It was first available in 1987. This new version of the classic 1920’s Duofold bears a much closer resemblance to the original model than the 1940s Duofold. It has a flat top and bottom just like the original model. The clip retains the overall appearance the original Duofold clip, but managers to integrate the iconic Parker arrow.
The Duofold fountain pen comes in two sizes: Centennial and International. The Centennial is larger and more expensive. It is virtually identical in size to the original Duofold Senior. Both the Centennial and International have a large 18 K nib that is engraved with a feathered arrow, harmonizing with the engraving on the clip. The surface is very highly polished and seems to be very durable. I knocked around with one for over a year and it doesn’t appear to have picked up any signs of wear.
The filling mechanism, like the Parker 75 it replaced as the top of the line Parker pen, uses a cartridge or converter. The pen feels like a very well made writing instrument with all its parts fitting precisely. It take very many turns of the barrel to unscrew the filling mechanism from the barrel.
Other Innovative Models
One thing you could say about Parker, is that they always tried to be innovative and create pens that were on the cutting edge of fountain pen design. Not all of these made money for Parker, but they added greatly to Parker’s reputation. Two in particular are worth noting.
Image link from Penoply
Parker made the Parker 61 between 1956 and 1983. It looks generally like the 51 with a hooded nib and a sleekly tapered barrel. The 61 had an inlaid gold arrow in the section just behind the nib. It also had a jewel at the end of the barrel. Many of the models had a rainbow chased cap, which was quite distinctive. Thus, despite being quite similar, the 61 and the 51 are easy to tell apart.
What was innovative about the Parker 61 was its passive filling system. Once you unscrewed the barrel to expose the filling mechanism, you didn’t have to squeeze anything, pull a lever, push a button, or rotate a shaft. You simply dumped the pen, point up, into a bottle of ink. You waited a while for the wick-like material in the filler to saturate with ink and removed the filler from the ink bottle. The wick material was covered with a teflon tube, which repelled ink and therefore came out of the bottle with little or no ink adhering to it.
Unfortunately there were two major problems with this filling mechanism: they were, as you could imagine, extremely difficult to flush out the old ink if you wanted to change color, and they were not very durable so people frequently had to return the pen for repairs. In many cases Parker replace the filling system with a more reliable cartridge/converter mechanism. By 1969, Parker stopped using this filling system and replaced it with a cartridge/converter filling system.
ParkerPens.net has a well-researched and extensive article on the Parker 61 that gives the history of this model.
Image link from Fountain Pen Network
Parker made the Parker T1 for only a year starting in April 1970. The “T” in the name stood for Titanium, a miracle space-age material. The pen was advertised as the material that would take spacecrafts to Mars.
The pen was made entirely of Titanium, including the integrated nib! If you broke the nib, the pen was useless since you couldn’t replace it. Titanium proved to be a very difficult material to use in pen manufacturing and the amount of waste made the manufacturing costs too high to sell the pen at a profit, even at the high price Parker was charging.
One ingenuous feature was the way the nib could be adjusted to different line widths by turning a screw under the feed.
Once again ParkerPens.net has a well-researched and extensive article on the Parker T1 that gives the history of this model.
Before starting Parker Pens, George S. Parker was a teacher of telegraphy at a school in Janesville, Wisconsin. To earn additional income, be became a salesman for the Holland Gold Pen Company so he could sell pens to his students. ↩
The Golden Age of Fountain Pens is generally considered to be from 1900–1950. It ended with the wide-spread adoption of ballpoint pens. In the wonderful and beautifully crafted book, Fountain Pens: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments by George Fischler and Stuart Schneider, the authors do not explicitly define the golden age timeframe. But the authors have photographs of pens made during the 1980s. ↩
The latter changed its name to Wahl-Eversharp and ultimately just Eversharp. ↩
Note that the Wikipedia article on the Vacumatic says they were introduced in 1933. However the Fischler and Schneider book clearly shows a picture of a Vac dated 1932. Also, in Glen Bowen’s book Collectable Fountain Pens, there is a copy of a Parker ad from March 1933 that shows a graph of Vacumatic sales starting in the later half of 1932. ↩
A pre-production model was made in 1940 and these rare pens are a prize for collectors. ↩
Because of the shortage of raw materials caused by the war, Parker could not produce all the 51s needed to meet the demand. In a brilliant advertising campaign, Parker told people to be patient, that when the war ended they would quickly make enough Parker 51s to meet the demand. In the meantime, almost all the 51s being manufactured were being shipped overseas to our soldiers. When the war ended, demand skyrocketed and Parker made millions of 51s to satisfy consumer demand. ↩
I am bemused when some pen blogs criticize Parker and other large pen makers for not using “standard” international cartridges and converters instead of using their own “proprietary” ones. Parker introduced their cartridge/converter in 1964, decades before the so-called standard size came into existence. Of course the manufacturers of these “standard” cartridges and converters are the newcomers who made their own cartridges and converters that someone subsequently anointed as the “standard”. ↩