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Profile: The Parker 180

(This page revised December 25, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Logo “It’s two — two — two mints in one!” If you remember that TV-commercial slogan for breath mints, you were around when Parker tried to do the same thing with fountain pens. In 1977, a new, elegantly slender pen appeared, called the Parker 180. The 180 was a strange beast. Instead of an ordinary fountain pen’s arched nib, it featured the radically different nib shown to the right here, shaped like an arrowhead and almost flat, with a very slight lengthwise crease but no arch, and with a feed along one surface and a stainless-steel nib retainer along the other (U.S. Patent No 3,957,379, issued to Frederick R. Wittnebert on May 18, 1976). Section assembly The principal selling feature of the Parker 180 was that it could write in two orientations: normally, nib upward (the usual way); and finer with the pen turned 180° so that the feed faces upward. whence the pen’s model designation. Only two user-swappable nib configurations were offered, giving the purchaser a choice between Fine/Broad and Extra Fine/Medium point sizes, with the sizes marked on the under surface of the feed.

At first glance, there would seem to be a certain irony in the 180’s very existence. After all, virtually any fountain pen, if its nib is properly shaped and polished, can write in normal and inverted orientations, and for various reasons, the inverted orientation produces a finer line. From the 1920s to the 1940s, companies such as Parker, Sheaffer, and Waterman produced such flippable nibs (commonly referred to as duo-point nibs). Parker’s famed Vacumatic featured such a nib (left) from its 1933 inception until its withdrawal after World War II. Section assembly But after the war, as pen users’ sophistication declined, fountain pens — especially duo-points — declined in favor of the ballpoint pen. Hence the 180, a fountain pen designed to withstand the kind of stress that a ballpoint-pen user might inflict. Because ballpoints require a significant amount of pressure to create the friction that will rotate the ball while fountain pens require virtually no pressure beyond the weight of the pen itself, a writer habituated to ballpoint pens can press a fountain pen firmly enough to bend its nib (called “springing” the nib). While still allowing a slight degree of flex to permit a wetter line, the 180’s nib retainer prevents springing the nib by providing support from above when the pen is oriented with the feed below. The feed, which is longer than the nib retainer, allows less flex when the pen is flipped, effectively preventing the tines from being pressed together and shutting off the flow.

The 180’s overall design (U.S. Patent No D243,014, also by Frederick Wittnebert) is clearly a product of the Space Age, slender and angular from one end to the other:

Fountain pen
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Like most fountain pens made since the early 1960s, the 180 fills with cartridges or a converter. It takes standard Parker cartridges, unchanged in profile since the 1960 introduction of the 45, and it also accepts a converter for bottle filling. But Parker’s converter of that time was very thick, and the 180’s extreme slenderness compelled the company to develop a new hoop-style squeeze converter that bears a strong resemblance to the filler of the “51” Special but has no breather tube:

Fountain pen

Later 180s were fitted with the more usual Parker squeeze converter that resermbles a very thin fully shrouded “51” filler. (Today’s collectors are somewhat handicapped if the pen’s converter fails because the current piston-type converter does not fit into the barrel. The solution is to use the syringe-type converter that Parker includes with its lower-priced models.)

At the 180’s initial release, Parker offered the pen in a selection of metals and a range of French lacquers (the Laqué Collection): Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Red Quartz, Tortoiseshell, and Woodgrain. These pens were marked on the back side of the cap, near the lip, with a Chinese character. Parker soon began changing the color palette, doing away with the more costly hand-applied lacquers and using plainer colors without the Chinese character on the cap. The deep blue 180 shown here was produced after Parker had begun scaling back the cost of colors. It is, however, relatively early; it still bears a Chinese character in red on its cap.

Fountain pen

The 180 had a short life, but before its discontinuation in 1985 it wore virtually all of the colors that also bedecked the 75 during that period. Among that panoply were many of the more beautiful metal treatments as well, such as an elegant engine-engraved sterling silver “tartan” pattern called Écosse (the French name for Scotland) and a parallel-line engraved finish called Classic Milleraies (shown here in chrome):

Fountain pen

As most manufacturers do, Parker created various prototypes to do market testing of possible new designs and finishes on its pens. Among these prototypes is the pen shown below, in a gold-plated version with a deeply grooved guilloché finish called Écorce (Bark):

Fountain pen

Barrel tassiesNote how short the prototype pen shown above is when it is posted; it actually posts shorter than its capped length. This specimen was made without one of the 180’s better features, a slight flare of the barrel-end tassie. The flared tassie snaps into the inner cap in the same way as the section’s trim ring, holding the cap securely in place without the need to force it down onto the barrel and possibly scratch the pen’s finish. Shown to the right are the barrel ends of the Bark prototype and a chromed Milleraies production-model pen. The Écorce finish was later put into production, fitted with the correct flared barrel tassie.

Truth in Advertising?

Readers of Fischler and Schneider’s Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, if they are not personally familiar with the 180, may be misled by the book’s statement that the pen does not write satisfactorily in either of its possible orientations. This condemnation, coming as it does from such respected authors, does a disservice to the collecting community. While it is true that many 180s are poor writers, the same statement can be made about many other vintage models as nibs have bent feeds downward over time, allowing the tines to come firmly into contact and throttle ink flow. As with most of those other pens, it is possible to get a 180 to write remarkably well in both directions with a minimum of adjustment.

Who’s on First?

The desirability (and marketability) of a pen like the Parker 180 was not lost on the innovative and capable engineers of Japanese pen makers. Both Pilot and Platinum had produced their own two-sided pens some years before Parker’s version hit the scene. These pens might have been the inspiration for Parker’s entry into the two-sided market. Shown here is a Platinum pocket pen from the mid-1970s:

Fountain pen

Japan’s Platinum Pen Company produced this two-
sided pen that may have inspired the Parker 180.

It is also possible that Parker was inspired by competition closer to home, in the form of the Sheaffer Stylist. First produced in 1966 and taking many of its styling cues from the lines of the Parker 45, the Stylist featured a nib formed from sheet stock and sandwiched between an upper and a lower feed. This model, which lasted only about two years, acquired a reputation for leaking through the gasket that supposedly sealed the nib unit to the gripping section. While it was on the market, it was offered in a variety of versions, from gold-plated models with the White Dot to basic plastic-bodied “school” versions like the pen shown here:

Fountain pen

This Stylist was at, or very near, the bottom
of the line in terms of the model range.

180, The Afterlife

The 180 turned out not to be a really good runner. Introduced in 1977, it lived only eight years in Parker’s stables, being put out to pasture in 1985. Even before then, however, back in 1983, the two-sided gold nib had been replaced by a single-sided gold-plated steel version, limited to only XF, F, M, and B grades. But sometimes a loser lives on in another guise, and so it was with the 180. Only a year after its demise, the pen reappeared on the range with a new identity as a member of the Classic family, still limited to only four nib grades. It finally disappeared in 1995.

Colors of the 180

At its 1977 introduction, the 180 came only as a Flighter or in the gold Imperial trim. The five early lacquers and other metal finishes appeared in the catalog in 1979, each pen bearing on the back of its cap two Chinese characters whose combined pronunciation represents “Parker” in Chinese. At that time, Imperial was renamed Millerais. In 1981, the lacquer line was revised to solid blue, red, and green, with Thuya continuing; by 1982, the earlier colors had returned but without the hand-marked Chinese characters that distinguished the earlier pens.

The following table shows the five lacquer colors that were used in the first-generation production of the 180, later lacquers that I have verified, and metals that I can be sure of.

Early Lacquer Colors (1979–1983)
Color Name


Lapis Lazuli




Red Quartz


Tortoise Shell



Later Lacquer Colors (from 1983)
Color Name



Forest Green

Forest Green

Deep Blue

Deep Blue

Matte black

Matte Black

Finish Name


Brushed Stainless Steel (Flighter)

Chrome Plated (Milleraies)

Chrome Plated (Milleraies)

Gold Plated (Ecosse)

Gold Plated (écorce)

Gold Plated (Milleraies)

Gold Plated (Imperial, later Milleraies)


Torsade, Silver Plated (also Gold Plated)

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.

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