George Parker patented his first pen in 1889 when he was still teaching telegraphy students how to transcribe Morse code. In 1894, he invented and patented his "lucky curve" feed system, which greatly reduced the leakage that was a common problem of early eyedropper fountain pens. By 1905, Parker’s Lucky Curve pens were a force to be reckoned with in the growing fountain-pen industry.

The Parker Jack Knife Safety pen arrived in 1911. Its cap could be screwed down to the pen’s body, making it ink-tight. One especially prized model had a transparent, amber, Bakelite body. Other Parker pens from the 1910s include the no. 15, a ladies model with a mother-of-pearl barrel and black hard-rubber caps that were either crowned by a semi-precious stone or covered in gold-filled filigree. The Parker no. 16 was a very small pen with gold-filled filigree, while the descriptive name of the Black Giant pretty much sums up its utilitarian design.

The Jack Knife evolved into the "Big Red" button-filler Duofold in 1921, which was advertised to "rival the beauty of the scarlet tanager." Duofolds in Mandarin yellow and lapis lazuli followed in 1927. Vintage yellow Duofolds are extremely collectible, but a blue model named for the Zaner Blouser calligraphy school is one of the most rare Parkers ever made.

In fact, as a group, the vintage Parker Duofold fountain pens from the 1920s are extraordinarily beautiful writing instruments. Jade pens made out of a branded plastic called Permanite were sold in a variety of sizes (Junior, Ladies, Senior) and in sets with matching mechanical pencils. Some Duofolds had pearl handles and caps, veined with black plastic. Apple green and "Modernistic blue" were other popular colors, as were moiré-patterned fountain pens, which ranged from pink to blue.

The Vacumatics followed the Duofolds in 1932. These pens held twice as much ink as those that had preceded them (102 percent more, to be specific), and, for the first time, the clip on the cap was shaped like an arrow, which would become a symbol of the Parker brand. These were also Parker’s first mass-produced pens. Some had horizontal layers of silver alternating with translucent plastic, which allowed the user to see how much ink was left in the pen. Codes were printed on all Vacumatic barrels, making them relatively easy to date today.

A Junior Vacumatic was introduced in 1934—the Golden Web pattern from that series lasted only from 1936 until about 1938, making it a particularly prized Parker for collectors. Even more rare is the Imperial Vacumatic from 1939, which was produced to compete with the Sheaffer Crest.

That same year, 1939, the company finished developing the pen for which it would become best known, the Parker 51. Released in 1941, the pen used a new, quick-drying ink, which m...

The original Parker 51 had a quick-action, vacumatic-type filler, but in 1948, this was replaced with an aerometric filler, which was actually similar to some of the sleeve-filler systems that had been around for 40 years. 1948 was also the year the pen’s arrow clip was redesigned.

Parker 51s are not especially valuable, so collectors who want to actually use one to write with would do well to choose a post-1948 model, since they tend to work better. For collectors who want to find a 51 to put away, look for models with solid-gold caps, Empire 51s, pens with small aluminum "jewels" at the bases of their clips, and the pre-production models tested in Venezuela, Columbia, Spain, and other climates with high humidity to test the tolerances of the ink.

Other notable Parker pens from the post-war era include the Parkette, a low-priced, lever-filler model from the early 1950s that looked like a 51 but was marketed to students; the Parker Jotter, which was Parker’s 1954 entry into the ballpoint pen wars (the 51 Jotter resembled the famous Parker 51); the self-wicking (but, at $20, expensive for its time) Parker 61 from 1956; and the Parker 75 of 1964, whose silver, engraved, grid-pattern body was an instant classic.

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Recent News: Parker Pens

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Dorothy Aileen Spry, Janesville, WI (1928-2014)
Gazettextra, October 21st

Dorothy began working in the Parker Pen Company office after graduation. She later worked at the company's Arrow Park facility until retiring in 1983. Following retirement from Parker Pen, she worked at JC Penney's for several years. She married Ernest E...Read more

Sylvia L. Sperry-Schleifer, Janesville, WI (1924-2014)
Gazettextra, October 12th

Sylvia was formerly employed by Parker Pen Company and as a legal secretary. She was a member of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and its choir as well as the Senior Center Choristers. Sylvia is survived by three daughters: Sharmian (Robert) ...Read more

Paul Ryan, hometown boy
Isthmus, October 9th

Ryan lives in the 1928 house built by George Parker, who in 1888 founded Parker Pen -- another symbol of Janesville's fading industrial glory. Once the largest pen factory in the world, the company gradually shifted jobs overseas until it shut down its ...Read more

Claire Adele (Ford) Damrow, Janesville, WI (1924-2014)
Gazettextra, September 26th

Claire spent her early years as a secretary for both Parker Pen and General Motors, and then devoted herself to raising her nine children. Claire was a lifetime member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, where she was a member of her church choir and along...Read more

North Fork teen creates handcrafted pens, says each pen 'tells a story'
Riverhead LOCAL, September 25th

When Yianni, who attends Mattituck High School, was six years old and shopping for kindergarten, even then, he knew he needed a pen fit for the occasion — and his parents bought him a Parker pen. And now, the young man, who lives in Cutchogue, has ...Read more

Janesville historic house tour features Columbus Circle neighborhood
Gazettextra, September 24th

The home of Edward and Sue Ellen Madere in Columbus Circle has a cozy living room with textured plaster walls and cove molding. The home is from the early 1930s and will be featured Sunday on the Rock County Historical Society's 34th Annual Janesville ...Read more

RCHS annual House Tour set Sept. 28
Beloit Daily News, September 24th

To complement the recent opening of its Parker Pen exhibit, the Janesville Historical Society will hold its annual House Tour in the Columbus Circle neighborhood in Janesville on Sunda, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Parker Pen developed the sub-division...Read more

Memories: Veterans of Vets Roll hold reunion in Janesville
Janesville Gazette, September 21st

At age 19, she was put in charge of a department of office workers at the Parker Pen Co., which was making war materials, not pens. Kennedy didn't want to go on the D.C. trip, but her husband, Tom, did. They got engaged before Tom enlisted, and she...Read more