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 ...
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 meant that the ink in the pen had to be carefully sealed from exposure to air. A molded internal "collector" kept ink at the ready without drying out. Its tough Lucite body was sleek, and its cap resembled the nosecone of a fighter plane—in fact, Lucite had been developed for the canopies on such planes. No surprise, then, that the Parker 51 was chosen to sign the peace treaty between the U.S. and Japan at the end of World War II.
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.
Interviews & Articles
The Parker "51," produced by the Parker Pen Company, is considered by many collectors to be the best pen ever made. Developed in … [more]
In 1908, three guys in Hamburg, Germany, founded what would become Montblanc. In the beginning it was known as the Simplo Filler P… [more]
When I got my first job out of college, I did what a lot of people do: I ran out and bought myself a Montblanc pen and fountain pe… [more]
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Mike Lockley: Fear blooms in medical blunderlandBirmingham Mail, May 17th
“The good news is,” he announced, fingering his gleaming Parker pen, “your surgery went smoothly, very smoothly indeed. “Should have you back chasing those front page stories in no time, no time at all.” The medic scanned his notes again, leaned...Read more
Parker Jotter Pen: Lightweight, smooth-writing penBoing Boing, May 14th
I've had a Parker pen for about 20 years now but have found their refills to be lacking in the past few years. Is that why you switched to the Fisher? I very sadly stopped using my Parker but would love to bring it out of retirement. pdillenburg. That...Read more
Show biz personality came ready to vote, but…Inquirer.net, May 13th
Rama, a congressional candidate for the city's north district, brought her own blue Parker pen when she cast her vote at clustered precinct 271 in Zapatera Elementary School in Barangay (village) Zapatera here. She apparently ignored the black pen on...Read more
Nic BorainDaily Maverick, May 9th
In an intense and growing fury he took a Parker pen from the inside pocket of his coat. “This is my pen! If this man (pointing at his second in command) breaks this pen, I will beat him,” he said, shaking his fist angrily. Reaching some kind of climax...Read more
Civil services toppers share an evening with the governorTimes of India, May 8th
The governor presented each topper a bouquet of yellow roses and a Parker pen. He was keen to know which state they wanted to join as officers. "Here only", the answer was prompt and same from all three. Bhushan soon chipped in. "Well, it will all...Read more
HazMat team at company site in JanesvilleWisconsin State Journal, May 3rd
The Rock County Sheriff's Office said a call came in at 10:17 a.m. Friday about a possible situation at Hewlett-Packard, 1350 N. Parker Drive. The location is the former Arrow Park industrial building, which originally was a manufacturing plant for...Read more
Gatland rues missed chance to consult publicESPNScrum.com, May 3rd
After all I've only won two Grand Slams, three English Premierships, the Anglo-Welsh Cup, the European Cup, the Parker Pen Shield and the Air New Zealand Cup. "I should have listened to Toby Spencer of Richmond who had some great advice on Twitter...Read more
Here's what happens when good jobs go away, and don't come backNBCNews.com, April 26th
Janesville also had been the home of Parker Pen, which at one point was the world's largest manufacturer of writing instruments. It eventually was sold, and the company's final Janesville workers lost their jobs early in 2010. And because these...Read more