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(This page revised July 15, 2018)
Before the advent of the fountain pen, and for a time thereafter, the part of the pen that we now call the nib was called the pen, and it was inserted into a pen holder for use. (The nibs — plural — were the tips of the pen’s tines.) To distinguish a fountain pen from an “ordinary” (dip) pen, the former was given its full two-word name. For nearly a century, the distinction remained clear; but in 1970 things changed.
In 1970, Parker introduced a radical new pen called the T-1. Made of titanium, the T-1 was at once elegantly sleek and modern, and it was wonderfully light in weight so that it could be used for extended writing sessions without tiring the writer.
This T-1 shows off the pen’s attractive silhouette and coloring.
Suddenly, all over again, the nib was the pen. The revolutionary T-1, created to honor the U.S. Apollo space program, featured an integral nib. There was no separate nib of gold or Octanium; the body of the pen extended forward and, with its underside cut away and fitted with a feed, became the writing point. In keeping with the “personalized” design of Parker’s flagship pen at that time, the 75, the company fitted the feed of the T-1 with a small screw that the user could turn to adjust the wetness of the T-1’s flow and, within limits, the breadth of its stroke. In the image to the left, the lighter-colored “bump” visible along the bottom edge of the feed is the adjusting screw.
Fitted with flat, ruby-red jewels at its ends, the graceful brushed gray T-1 is a very attractive pen. But it is, unfortunately, not a very good pen. Most T-1s write poorly no matter how their users adjust their nibs. This deficiency was to some extent the result of inadequate quality control during manufacture, and the writing qualities of many of these pens can be improved. More serious was the T-1’s alarming tendency to shed its nib tipping material at the least provocation due to an incomplete understanding of the technique for welding platinum-group metals to titanium. For this reason, most collectors today tend to leave their T-1s unused.
Titanium was, and still is, difficult to work. The T-1’s exotic construction was expensive; it is reported that each T-1 cost more than its wholesale price to manufacture. Parker retired the model after only about a year. But stainless steel had been used for pens since the appearance of steel nibs in 1926, and Parker had pioneered its use for body components in the 1940s with the Lustraloy cap of the “51” and, later, the brushed stainless body of the “51” Flighter. The concept of an integral nib continued to appeal to Parker’s designers, and in 1977 the company introduced the Parker 50. In Europe, the company named the pen the Falcon. Collectors today frequently combine the two appellations and call it the Falcon 50:
The Falcon 50 featured a variety of finishes and materials, including chrome-plated models as well as the gold-plated and Flighter versions shown above. What all Falcons have in common is a stainless steel gripping-section shell with an integral nib, shown to the right on a prototype featuring a brushed coppery-gold finish. The darker matte-finished trim area provides a good gripping surface for the user’s fingers , and it also gives the pen a rakish look. But, as so often happens, it is not an unmixed blessing. Capping and uncapping the pen wears a line around the section as the inner cap bears against the surface. Falcons with unworn sections are highly desirable as collection specimens.
The Falcon 50 has a distinct advantage over the T-1, in that it is an excellent pen. Its nib is not adjustable, and the resulting simplicity allowed Parker to tune the pen’s design so that it works very well. The Falcon was also far less costly to manufacture than the T-1, and it remained in Parker's catalog alongside newer entries into 1983.
Unlike the hooded nib of the “51”, the integral nib of the T-1 and, later, the Falcon, did not spark a revolution. Other manufacturers did not all flock to develop their own integral-nib pens. At least one, Sheaffer, had introduced its own strikingly modern pen, the Targa, in 1976. With the next best thing in its justly renowned Inlaid Nib, which gave the sense of an integrated whole without the attendant manufacturing difficulties, the Targa was a remarkably successful pen model.
But “not all” is not quite the same as “all”; and in fact one company, Pilot of Japan, did climb aboard the bandwagon with a series of excellent integral-nib pens, the stainless-steel Pilot Murex (upper) and Murex MYU (two lower) models. (There are also striped full-length Murex pens.)
These pens look good, write well, and handle well. The Murex MYU version is unusual in having a barrel that is much shorter than its elongated nib section; capped, the MYU is very short (like Sheaffer’s Tuckaway of the 1940s), while posting it creates a full-sized pen that is comfortable even in big hands. This type of pen is referred to generically as a long/short; during the 1970s the style became wildly popular in Japan, where the design is referred to as a pocket pen (ポケットペン).
I like integral nibs; and judging from the intense interest in, and correspondingly high prices of, T-1 and Murex pens, I am not alone in this. But there is one serious downside to all integral-nib pens: you can’t simply replace the nib if you bend or break it. Repair, if possible, is Hobson’s choice if you want to restore the pen to service. An expert nib repairer can straighten a bent nib; the MYU nib shown here was badly bent and has been straightened. Missing iridium is another matter. Unlike gold, stainless steel does not weld easily to replacement tipping material, and the usual treatment of a nib that is missing its tipping material is to reshape and smooth the titanium or stainless steel and rely on the metal’s hardness to provide a result that is suitable for occasional use.
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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.