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Profile: The Parker Challenger

(This page revised March 17, 2022)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

G. A. Soden catalog page, 1939

G. A. Soden & Company was a cat­a­log jew­el­ry wholes­aler lo­cat­ed in Chi­cago, Illi­nois. On pge 36 in the com­pa­ny’s 1939 cat­al­og were Par­ker’s Royal Chal­len­ger and De Luxe Chal­len­ger; the orig­i­nal Chal­len­ger was on the fol­low­ing page, with the Park­ette.

LogoAs 1933 turned to 1934, the great Parker Duofold was growing long in the tooth, and the Raven, Duette, and other Depression pens were losing their appeal. Parker needed a new mid-line pen to slot in between the bottom-line Parkette and the Vacumatic, both introduced in 1933. And one was there. Announced in the February 1934 Parkergrams, its name was Challenger. It was a typical Parker button filler, fitted with a Type 2 pressure bar (U.S. Patent No 1,819,383) and sporting the buyer’s choice of the same four colors in which the Vacumatic Junior was offered in that year: Black, Burgundy Pearl, Green Pearl, or Grey Pearl. To differentiate the Challenger from the more expensive Vacumatic Junior, Parker dropped the word Pearl from the color names for the Challenger, listing them as just Burgundy, Green, and Grey. (Blue was added in 1940.)

Taking the Middle of the Road

Neither deluxe like a $7.50 Vacumatic nor a “bottom feeder” like the $1.25 Parkette, the Challenger was nevertheless very much a pen of its time. Grey pens had chrome-plated furniture, with all the other colors featuring gold-filled trim. The blind cap and the screw that secured the clip were both black, with low-profile conical crowns like those on the Vacumatic but without tassies. The clip was a traditional Parker ball-ended washer clip, newly styled to feature an elongated rhombus with the name PARKER running vertically within it. The plain cap band was of medium width. As a mid-priced pen, the Challenger was priced toward the bottom of the range at $2.50, not quite student-pen pricing (The $1.25 Parkette was filling that slot) but inexpensive enough that it would make a very nice gift for many people in the middle class. As was common, it came in two sizes, Standard and Slender, measuring 5" and 4", respectively, when capped. As it had done with the Parkette, Parker fitted the Challenger with a 14K gold nib, a very good value at the pen’s price point. (In 1939, the price was $3.00.) Shown here ia a Green first-model Challenger Standard.

Fountain pen
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Stepping Up

Realizing that it had a hit on its hands, Parker did not stop with just the Challenger. Only one year after introducing the Challenger, the company rolled out the De Luxe Challenger, a step up at $3.50 ($4.20 in 1939). Otherwise essentially similar to the original Challenger, the new model featured three narrow bands on the cap; a smaller, more refined, clip screw; a Visometer Ink Supply section; and a duo-point nib. Colors were the same as those of the base-model Challenger, but they were produced in a new material that displayed a crisper, more luxurious pattern featuring cut chunks of color set against a black background. Shown below is a De Luxe Challenger Slender in Grey:

Fountain pen

Stepping Up Again

ClipWith the Great Depression winding down in the latter half of the 1930s, people had more discretionary income than they had had a few years earlier. Too, times change, and the public is always seeking the next great thing. Parker took note of these facts, and in 1936 the company introduced a third Challenger version, the $5.00 Royal Challenger. (In 1939, the price rose to $6.00.)

Fountain pen

The triple cap band of the De Luxe Challenger remained, as did the duo-point nib. There were tassies at both ends and a new clip, designed especially for the Royal Challenger and lacking a prominent ball, that looked like a long knife or a short sword (U.S. Patent No D107,708 shown to the right). Originally called the Roman Dagger clip, that clip has become known today as the Sword clip. It soon gave way, however, to a clip that was more Art Deco in style, with a tapered, stepped design that harked back to that of the first-generation Parkette but with the chevron-shaped steps at the ball end and without the pronounced ball. Stylistically, this latter clip (shown below) was more in keeping with the Royal Challenger’s unique body material. Variously known today as the Spade clip or the Step clip, it is much more common than the Sword clip, whose relative rarity commands a higher price among collectors.

ClipSome Royal Challengers were built with a plain black section, and some were built with the Visometer Ink Supply section. The changeover to the Visometer section probably happened in concert with the application of the Step clip, although this is not currently documented.) Unlike its siblings, the Royal Challenger came in only three colors, all of which (Burgundy, Brown, and Grey) were completely new, featuring wide longitudinal bands of marbling alternating with wide bands of a herringbone pattern (U.S. Patent No D106,326). (There was no black Royal Challenger; the patterned colors, unique to the Royal Challenger, made the pen appear “princely” and were part of the appeal.) Shown here is a Sword-clip Royal Challenger in Burgundy. Note that the color is a much brighter red than the usual burgundies of the time:

Presto Change-O!

In 1938, as part of a complete editing of its entire product range, Parker redesigned the Challenger line. Gone were the triple cap bands of the Royal Challenger and the De Luxe Challenger, supplanted by a broad box-ellipse (Barley) band on the Royal Challenger and twin bands on the De Luxe Challenger. (In keeping with the Parker “family-ness,” the Barley band later appeared on some Striped Duofolds, and the twin bands were characteristic of the Vacumatic Junior from its inception until the Vac was retired.) The original Challenger’s capscrew gained a step around the edge, while the original and De Luxe Challengers both received a new, smoothly tapered clip with the name PARKER running vertically. (The De Luxe version had a thin line around the edge.) This tapered clip later appeared on Striped Duofolds and on the VS. From this time until they were withdrawn, all three Challenger models had Visometer Ink Supply sections. Shown below is a Brown Royal Challenger with a Step clip, the new Barley band, and a Visometer section (deeply ambered):

Fountain pen

There was another kind of quick-change trick available to buyers. The Challenger was one of the models that Parker made as convertible desk sets: the pen came with a desk base and a taper, and the set also included a cap and a blind cap, with which the user could easily convert the pen into a desk pen. Shown here is a Challenger convertible desk set made in the fourth quarter of 1934. The pen looks very much like a streamlined Duofold, but its barrel imprint reads PARKER CHALLENGER.

Convertible desk set
Photo © Brent Couch. Used with permission.

Out the Door

As with so many products, the Challenger’s demise was rapid and unceremonious. By 1940, the De Luxe and Royal Challengers were gone. The reintroduction of the Duofold name in the form of the Duofold Geometric (the “Toothbrush”) as a mid-line pen in 1939, and the Parkette Zephyr and striped Duofold in 1940 sealed the doom of the Challenger. No Challengers appeared in the 1941 Parker catalog.


The following table shows the colors of the three Challenger models. Original catalog color names for the Challenger and De Luxe Challenger are taken from the 1937 Parker catalog; because the Royal Challenger never appeared in an annual catalog, its color names are from a 1936 supplemental brochure. (For a little extra appeal, the G. A. Soden catalog page at the top of this article restored the word Pearl to the names of the non-solid colors.) All of the non-solid colors are from photographs of actual pens. 3D highlighting was added with a computer.

Colors of the Original Challenger
Color Catalog Name (Years)

Black Black (1934–1940)
Burgundy Burgundy (1934–1940)
Green Green (1934–1940)
Blue Blue (1940)
Grey Grey (1934–1940)

Colors of the De Luxe Challenger
Color Catalog Name (Years)

Black Black (1935–1939)
Burgundy Burgundy (1935–1939)
Green Green (1935–1939)
Grey Grey (1935–1939)

Colors of the Royal Challenger
Color Catalog Name (Years)

Burgundy Burgundy (1936–1939)
Brown Brown (1936–1939)
Grey Grey (1936–1939)

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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