(This page published April 1, 2004)
In 1941, the Parker Pen Company introduced its new “51”, a pen so radical in design and so popular that it received perhaps the greatest tribute of all in the form of a host of copies produced by dozens of makers. Beginning with “51” itself, the pens shown in this chapter were all made in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s.
One of the most prominent features of the “51” was its hooded nib, a relatively tiny bit of gold that was almost entirely concealed within the streamlined gripping section, or shell. The hooded nib of the “51” was an essential part of the pen’s design, as the shell also concealed a huge secondary ink reservoir to prevent the pen from drying out during use when it was filled with Parker’s companion ink, the super fast-drying “51” ink.
The “51” caught Parker’s competition flat-footed; many companies were struggling along on older designs, while others had just introduced new models with ordinary open nibs. Among the latter was Eversharp, which immediately set out to produce its own hooded-nib pen. The result of Eversharp’s hasty design was the Fifth Avenue, introduced in 1943. The Fifth Avenue, while its nib and feed were almost entirely concealed, like those of the “51”, used the same nib and feed that Eversharp was making for its Skyline, and the result was less than felicitous because the nib was not designed to work well when jammed tightly between the feed and the bore of the streamlined gripping section. A revised design appeared shortly thereafter, with a nib and feed of much smaller diameter, held together by a hard rubber sleeve.
The Fifth Avenue was ultimately unsuccessful in the market; but while it was failing, Waterman’s Taperite was succeeding very well. The Taperite, whose nib can be called hooded only in the sense that it is small and mostly buried within the streamlined section, wrote well and reliably, and it survived into the 1950s. Waterman produced it in several versions, with the material and trim of the cap differentiating one from another.
The “51” was a costly pen to produce because its design required precise machining of several acrylic parts. To produce a less-expensive pen while retaining the look of the hooded nib, Parker created the “21”. Like the Eversharp Fifth Avenue (and in fact like most of the other “51” copies), the “21” used an ordinary nib and feed, enclosing them with a loose-fitting shell for appearance only. Later versions of the “21”, however, have a different design that resembles that of the early Fifth Avenue, with the nib and feed fitted into a section with a tight bore.
The V250’s nib and feed are very much like those of Waterman’s Taperite although somewhat larger. This is actually a very well made pen, sturdy and solid, with a responsive 14K gold nib. Its primary fault is that its aluminum cap, swaged from tubing of good thickness, is not anodized; consequently, the cap’s surface is prone to corrosion.
Scripto was known as a maker of relatively inexpensive pens. The lever-filling model shown here, while it has a steel nib, is quite sturdy and reliable. Some of Scripto’s other hooded-nib models were very inexpensive indeed; also shown here is a bulb filler that was used as a giveaway for a 1949 regional convention of the Reliance Life Insurance Company. This latter pen exhibits a surprisingly high level of fit and finish for a convention giveaway, including an iridium-tipped broad nib.
The Hooded Knight is definitely a third-tier pen, light in weight and poorly finished. It illustrates a relatively creative solution to problems with flow design, in the form of a notch in the shell so that the breather hole is exposed. Some Hooded Knight models were fitted with metal caps, but all are the same under the skin.
The next pen appears to have been made for a particular company to use as a giveway, possibly as an employee service award. Every specimen that I have seen has had a person’s name hot-stamped in gold on the side of the barrel opposite the lever. This pen may have been produced by the same company that offered a stylistically similar pen bearing the MARLOWE imprint. The gold-plated steel nib on this model has a folded-over tip.
Webster had a long history, during much of which the brand’s output was pens that were decent but not spectacularly good knockoffs of major makers’ models. Webster pens included an open-nibbed lever filler resembling the first Sheaffer Crest, a hooded-nib plunger filler resembling the Eversharp Fifth Avenue, and this hooded-nib lever filler whose business end resembles the Universal V250. This pen is of reasonable quality, but its barrel threads are cast of zinc alloy, and they no longer engage the cap.
Catalog giant Sears, Roebuck & Company has always been known for selling products under its own brand names. The Tower name was applied to product lines as diverse as binoculars and fountain pens. Superficially similar to the Webster above, this Tower pen is far superior in quality, very solidly made and a very good writer. The Tower also offers an interesting look at the ways in which some makers dealt with their inability to conceal their pens’ feeds.
Like many other manufacturing companies, Parker tried to cover the spectrum from very expensive to very economical products. In 1950, the company’s flagship was still the “51”. The “51” Special and the “21” filled the middle of the product line, and at the bottom was the last of Parker’s few lever fillers, the Parkette. (There had also been a Parkette in the 1930s.) This pen, unnecessarily complicated inside, illustrates the lengths to which makers would go to achieve the hooded-nib look. The nib and feed are completely ordinary, and more than " of the feed is exposed by a sharply raked cutaway opening in the underside of the shell.
Parker’s 1956 introduction of the 61 was expected to be as dramatic as that of the “51” had been 15 years earlier. As with the “51”, there existed no other pen like the 61. Basically similar to the “51” internally, the 61 differed in its revolutionary capillary filler, which used a rolled-up sheet of plastic with dimples punched in it to hold the layers apart so that capillary action could draw ink in when the barrel was removed and the filler immersed in ink. The arrow on the top of the shell served the dual purpose of decoration and providing a visual indication of the nib’s position. Ultimately unsuccessful in the marketplace, the 61’s capillary filler was copied by very few other makers; I know only of the French-made Waterman X-Pen and a couple of Hero capillary fillers from China. Parker itself, after fielding numerous complaints about the filler, redesigned the 61 to use a cartridge or converter, and these later 61s are excellent pens.
Among the many inexpensive but reliable Sheaffer cartridge-filling school pens is the one illustrated here. This pen is mechanically identical to Sheaffer’s open-nibbed school pens, using the same nib and feed, but its section is reshaped to form a shell that covers part of the nib. This model is made of a surprisingly soft plastic, more like polyethylene than the usual polystyrene of the 1950s, and the surface damages very easily.
The 45, initially designed as a school pen, was Parker’s earliest successful model with user-interchangeable nibs. The nib and feed are secured together by a threaded collar that screws easily into the front end of the pen; this design may skirt the true definition of a hooded nib, but it is without question elegant and attractive. A sturdy and reliable pen, the 45 has appeared in more variations and trim levels, including a Flighter and an Insignia, than any other Parker model.
This article is obviously not a comprehensive survey of all the hooded-nib pens ever produced, not even all those made in the U.S.A. Notable European hooded-nib pens include the famed Aurora 88, the Lamy 2000, and several Montblanc models with semi-hooded nibs. The retractable Pilot Capless, which became the Namiki (then Pilot) Vanishing Point, is technically a hooded-nib pen. There are many other hooded nibs to explore; the fun is in finding them.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.
This article is also available as a chapter in The RichardsPens Guide to Fountain Pens, Volume 4, an ebook for your computer or mobile device.