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From the Crypt V: The Parker Pen Company Didn’t Really Invent the “51”.

(This page published January 8, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

This is one of a series of short articles that I posted on an Internet forum in 2012. The Internet being a graveyard, I’ve exhumed them for preservation on this site.

It’s true. Parker really did not invent the “51”. It’s unquestionably true that Parker’s engineering department, personified by one Marlin S. Baker, perfected the design and made it salable, but Baker, whose name is on U.S. Patent No 2,223,541, is not the guy who came up with the concept of the hooded nib with an ink collector buried inside it.

Patent drawing

The honor of having invented the “51” goes to Russell T. Wing, an independent inventor from Minnesota. In 1937, Wing filed for patent protection on his design that featured an improved capillary feed and a shroud that covered it to reduce evaporation. In 1940, he received U.S. Patent No 2,187,528. Here is the key drawing from his patent.

Patent drawing

There were other features in the patent as well, features that did not make it into the “51”. But in January of 1938, a year before Baker filed for his patent and nearly three years before it was issued, Wing signed an agreement giving Parker exclusive manufacturing rights to what would become the central features of the “51”. Wing’s compensation came in the form of a royalty on every “51” sold. The contract specified a minimum payment of $5,000 for the first year and $8,000 per year after that.

Things got even more interesting in 1943, when Wing and Parker — in order to forestall pending infringement litigation against Sheaffer — entered into an agreement granting Sheaffer a nonexclusive license to use the collector technology in its “TRIUMPH” point pens. In 1947, Waterman got its turn at signing a licensing agreement to avoid going to court. Wing received royalties from both Sheaffer and Waterman, and when all was said and done, it added up to a pretty tidy sum: for the years 1951, 1952, and 1953, Wing banked royalty checks totaling $186,787.58.

Virtually every pen made today has a feed that implements Wing’s collector technology by having some of its fins buried within the section where they can hold a supply of ink that is readily available to replenish ink lost to evaporation. What it comes down to for us, in the 21st century, is that Russell T. Wing was, in a very real sense, the inventor of the modern fountain pen.

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Here are links to the other six articles in this series.

  1. $186,787.58 in January 1954 was equivalent to $1,592,846.71 in March 2012, when this article was written.  Return

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