Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

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

Knocking the Cost Down Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoThe Parker “51” introduced the world to hooded nibs, and pen makers jumped on the bandwagon in a hurry. Virtually all of the copies had ordinary nibs and feeds that were just shrouded in nonfunctional hoods. Parker itself, in 1948, joined its competition in making a pen like this, with the introduction of the “21”. This pen, as a low-cost alternative to the “51”, went over very well. With a steel nib that Parker called Octanium, reflecting the eight metal elements used in it, the “21” used a squeeze-filling design that looks like Parker’s Aero-metric filling system but lacks the full-length breather tube, and its clutchless cap relied on friction with the bulges on a barrel ring that was made slightly triangular.

My red “21” Mark I is 514" capped and 534" posted. Its brushed stainless steel cap has a “Ridge” clip, the first of at least four different clip designs Parker used on the “21” while it was in production.

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Next is a Forest Green Mark II, 514" capped and 534" posted. This pen’s clip is the concave “Trough,” designed by Nolan Rhoades, that also appeared on the Parker Jotter in its first year of production.

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The “21” Super was Parker’s way of down-costing the “51” line even further than the “41” had done. It has the exact same guts that you’d find in a “41”, but the cap is a stock “21” cap, with a simple metal boss instead of the “51”-style bushing and jewel that crowned the “41”. At 538" capped, 54964" posted, my “21” Super demonstrator is a skosh longer than a standard Super; this is because the clear parts are machined instead of molded, as were the bodies of the standard version.

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The Pen Is the Nib. Really!

Manufacturer logoParker jumped into the 1970s with both feet, making a dramatic splash with the T-1. Fashioned of titanium, the T-1 was a sleek, unbroken expanse of metal, with its nib made integrally as part of the section. It also featured a user-adjustable flow setting, in the form of a screw on the underside of the section that pushed against a metal feed channel; you turned the screw to increase or reduce the flow. Designed as a tribute to the Apollo manned space program of the U.S.A., the T-1 was expensive, costing more to produce than it was sold for. Pretty but not a particularly good writing instrument, it was made in very small quantities and was withdrawn in 1971. My T-1, red end jewels and all, is 5532" capped and 512" posted. It writes acceptably, but I choose not to press the issue because T-1s are notorious for shedding iridium if you look at them cross-eyed.

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Manufacturer logoIn 1978 Parker tried again, this time with a very good stainless steel pen called the Falcon 50. Produced in several different finishes, the Falcon 50 lasted until 1983. My first Falcon 50 is a prototype, the only one made in this particular pattern, and it is 5532" capped, 512" posted. Its smooth medium tip is remarkable. I find it highly amusing that Parker advertised the Falcon 50 as the world’s second pen to have an integral nib, the first being the quill. This claim conveniently overlooked Parker’s own T-1.

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I keep telling myself I don’t need yet another Flighter, but then I see a pen like this one. It’s 518" capped, 51532" posted, and it’s another lovely smooth medium-nibbed marvel.

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First Tier, Third Tier, What’s the Difference?

Manufacturer logoMost of the first-tier manufacturers during the 1930s made pens that are obviously not of first-tier quality. Sheaffer had its Craig brand, while Wahl-Eversharp and Conklin produced models called the Oxford and Glider, respectively. Parker produced several lesser pens, including the Parkette and Parkette Deluxe. Parkettes were Parker’s bargain-basement series, and they were Parker’s only lever fillers. It’s not impossible that Parker saw in this design an opportunity to “dis” the competition; Sheaffer featured lever fillers across its line, and Parker may have used the Parkettes as a subtle way of saying that Sheaffer was being cheap.

The red-veined 1930s Art Deco pen here, with its stepped black ends, is somewhat uncommon. Also, despite its bottom-tier designation, it is a pen of top-shelf quality, excepting only the steel nib and the gold-plated, not gold-filled, furniture. The Television section’s black portion is a hard rubber sleeve over the clear celluloid core. This pen is average in size, 478" capped, and 534" posted.

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The design of the Parkette changed periodically; the next pen is more representative of the vast majority of Parkettes. This marbled green specimen also has gold-plated furniture, but its fine nib is 14K gold. At 434" capped, and 558" posted, this 1935 pen is just a tad smaller than the undated specimen above.

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Along with the regular Parkette, Parker made a model called the Parkette Deluxe. Most Parkette Deluxes are fluted, with a “step” clip and triple band similar to the style of the Royal Challenger; but the pen shown here, representative of the design beginning in 1938, is very different: round, with an almost teardrop-shaped clip and a stacked-coin band. This 1938-dated pen also features the high-quality two-part section that my first Parkette above bears. It is 5116" capped and 578" posted, and it has a smooth two-tone 14K fine nib.

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This red marbled Parkette Deluxe represents the more usual fluted variety that lasted until 1938. It’s 5" capped and 51516" posted, and its smooth plain gold 14K fine nib writes really well.

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The original Parkettes didn’t make it out of the 1930s. But Parker tried again; in 1950, a new Parkette appeared, obviously designed to cash in on the popularity of the “51” and “21” with their hooded nibs. Priced, as before, at the bottom of the company’s line, the new Parkette is an example of how to take something very simple (a lever filler) and overcomplicate it — the internals of this pen must be seen to be believed. Like the “21” Mark I, this Parkette has a gap between the upper side of the nib and the shell, enough that I can extract a delightful bit of elegant flex from the nib. The nib is otherwise a quite ordinary steel one, and the shell is cut away underneath to expose the feed for more than 12". This pen is similar in size to a “51”, 51532" capped, and 534" posted. It is date-coded for the first quarter of 1950.

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Flip-Flop. Pick a Side, and Write on It Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logo During the Golden Age of fountain pens, some manufacturers (notably Parker and Sheaffer), finished their nibs so that the writer could flip the pen over and write with a finer line on the “back” side. As the pace of life picked up, and carbon paper became more commonplace, these reversible nibs gradually disappeared from the market. In 1979, the concept appeared once again, as Parker introduced its radical 180. The 180, which Parker marketed as a ladies’ pen, uses a spear-straight nib, reinforced on the side opposite the feed, and it writes very well if maintained properly.

My first 180, a gold-plated pen in the guilloché finish called écorce (French for tree bark), is a smallish pen, very slender and unusual in that its capped length of 5732" is greater than its posted length of 518". This pen has an F/B nib.

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My next 180 has an X/M nib and is chrome plated in the Classic Milleraies pattern. This pen, 5732" capped, 5716" posted, is longer posted than capped; there is a slight flared contour to the barrel-end trim, and this trim snaps into the same inner-cap notches that secure the section when the pen is capped.

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