Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

Writing instruments on this page are part of my personal collection and are not for sale.

PFM: The Pen For Men Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoSheaffer’s PFM, introduced in 1959, was a major departure from the ordinary business of making pens. It used Sheaffer’s reliable Snorkel filling system, and its distinctive, bold masculine design should have been a great hit. It wasn’t. The model was discontinued after only four years. The pity of that fact is that the PFM is widely considered today to be one of the best fountain pens ever designed. But although the PFM itself didn't last, the design innovations it carried did last. Sheaffer continues today to sell pens with the remarkable Inlaid Nib, and until very recently marketed an inexpensive line called the Triumph Imperial, which was essentially identical in design to the cartridge/converter Imperial of the 1960s. The blue pen here, with gold nib and gold-banded stainless steel cap, is a PFM IV; other PFM models featured stainless steel or plastic caps, some with chrome trin and palladium-silver nibs. This pen is 51332" capped and 51932" posted. Its medium/fine nib writes marvelously.

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Waterman’s Bird

Manufacturer logoIn gorgeous red hard rubber, which Waterman called Cardinal, this Waterman’s Ideal No 01855 is the biggest Waterman I own. It’s also right at the top end of my super-comfortable size range. Because red hard rubber is much more fragile than the pedestrian black stuff, it’s much less common, and I’m delighted to have acquired this pen in a trade from an artist friend who is now using a woodgrain 56 that I wasn’t comfortable with due to its size. And the nib, oh, the nib. It’s a flexie that does wonderful things without my even having to work at it. Just think it, and it’s there. Nice! The pen bears the name of G. Di Nuccio. I don’t object to personalizations on my pens, and I’m wondering who this person was. Did he strut around New York City’s Little Italy with this bright red pen poking out of his pocket to proclaim his wealth?

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The “Craftsman,” Which Might Not be a Craftsman at All

Manufacturer logo Right after World War II, Sheaffer introduced a new and very practical design that featured a “wire” cap band placed right at the cap’s lip, to prevent the plastic from splitting when the cap was posted. The pen below is of this design, which is commonly but erroneously called the “Craftsman.” (The name “Craftsman” was actually applied over the years to many different economy-priced pens rather than to the “wire band” design.) This pen, an actual Craftsman from the Touchdown era, is 518" capped and 53132" posted. As did many of Sheaffer’s lower-priced models, this pen has a traditional open nib, a smooth firm Fine. (This nib, a No 33, is one identifying mark of a true Craftsman.)

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“Big Red”: the Famous Parker Duofold Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logo In 1921, the Parker Pen Company took a risk by introducing a new pen based on the design of the company’s successful Jack-Knife Safety pen. The new model, proposed by a Parker branch manager named Lewis M. Tebbel, was the Parker Duofold. It was identical to the oversize Jack-Knife Safety No 26, but it wasn’t the ordinary black. It was red. It was seriously red. It was priced at $7.00, a dollar more than the Jack-Knife Safety No 26. Tebbel insisted that the Duofold would sell, but very few in Janesville were optimistic — until sales took off like a rocket.

I resisted acquiring more than a single specimen Duofold for several years, but as I learn more about this remarkable pen I’m looking around to find a few more. The first Duofold shown here, identifiable by its large barrel imprint and lack of a cap band, is a first-year model, made in 1921, and it is made of the bright red (orange, actually) hard rubber whose color Parker dubbed Chinese Red. It is 51732" capped and 62732" posted. Its factory original broad stub nib writes very smoothly.

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Although its dual-purpose use didn’t give rise to the Duofold name, it is nonetheless interesting to see a Big Red fitted out with the desk taper Parker made for it. In this configuration, my 1926 Permanite Duofold is 8332" long. Below the pen is a Duofold desk base I found at a flea market (not photographed to scale with the pen):

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Fountain pen desk base

Today, pen makers don’t seem to produce pens of a given design sensibility in variants designated specifically for men and women, but during the Golden Age this sort of gender differentiation was the rule. Parker’s best known venture in this vein was the variety that appeared in the Duofold line. My Lady Duofold was made in about 1926, and it is 458" capped and 51932" posted. Because of its size, it’s not a pen I expect to carry much; but it’s a nice pen nevertheless. Its Deluxe-style broad cap band adds a distinct flash of bling while at the same time providing the extra strength that is so very important to keep the cap lip from splitting when the pen is posted.

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Big guys deserve little brothers. The Duofold Jr. was the Big Red’s smaller sibling. My Little Red was made in about 1924, and it is 41932" capped and 52932" posted. The Duofold Jr. is actually a delightful pen to carry; it’s not so outsize as its Big Red brother, but it still has that Duofold cachet. My pen is orange hard rubber, the lightest of the colors that Parker used before switching to Permanite.

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For Duofold collectors, the Mandarin Senior is pretty much the Holy Grail. The yellow color appeared in Parker’s catalog after a visit George Parker made to China, where he discovered this particularly bright yellow and observed how popular it was there. But it wasn’t as popular in the West, so not that many yellow Duofolds were made. To make things worse for collectors, the yellow celluloid turns out to be much more fragile than the material used for any of the other Duofold colors; these pens, when they turn up, frequently have cracks at the cap lip (or in even worse places). This 1928 Mandarin turned up at a yard sale in Indianapolis, where my brother-in-law bought it for $10.00. It was crackless but otherwise in terrible shape, but I’ve brought it back — all except a chemical burn on the back of the cap that will be undergoing restoration in the not-too-distant future. It’s 51932" capped and 62932" posted, and its firm medium nib writes remarkably well.

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In 1929, Parker restyled the Duofold slightly, streamlining it without changing the basic design. As the 1930s progressed, the new Duofold received slight changes, most notably a new Arrow nib and comb feed like those of the Vacumatic. At 5316" capped and 61532" posted, the Streamlined Duofold is a little shorter, but no thinner, than its predecessor. My pen has a smooth fine 10-feather Arrow nib. I don’t know in what year it was made, but I think it likely that the nib and feed were fitted sometime after the pen was originally made. This, by the way, is the version of the Duofold after which Parker patterned its nostalgic 1970s recreation, the “Big Red.”

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