(This page revised May 31, 2019)
Sometimes, it’s really easy to nail a particular pen to a year. Sometimes, it’s not. Parker has made it very easy to date some of their pens. From the 1932/1933 introduction of the Vacumatic until the 1950s, and again beginning in 1980, Parker has imprinted date codes on its pens.
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The date code is part of the barrel imprint.
On the “51”, “41”, “21”, and VS, the imprint runs around the barrel adjacent to the clutch ring. This VS was made in the fourth quarter of 1946:
Exception: the first-year “51” (mid-1941 to mid-1942) has its imprint on the blind cap, adjacent to the jewel and tassie.
On all other models, the imprint runs lengthwise along the barrel. This Vacumatic was made in the fourth quarter of 1945:
At the right end of the imprint, look for a one- or two-digit number with zero, one, two, or three dots near it. (Some pens also have a date code on the nib.)
Early pens have two digits with no dots. In this code, the second digit represents the last digit of the year of manufacture. The first digit represents the quarter of the year; 1 indicates the first quarter (January through March), and so on. Thus, a pen with a date code of 46 was made in the fourth quarter of 1936.
During the second quarter of 1938, the first digit disappears, to be replaced by a system of dots. At the beginning of each quarter, one dot was ground off the stamping die, so that three dots indicate the first quarter, two indicate the second quarter, one indicates the third quarter, and the absence of any dots indicates the fourth quarter. The following illustrations show the usual placement of the dot patterns:
|Dot Pattern||. 0 .||. 0 .||0 .||0|
Because of the mid-1938 timing of the changeover, the earliest pens with three dots should be from 1939. However, some pens made before the changeover exist with both dots and two-digit dates. Based on information provided by David Nishimura, I believe that this short-lived coding scheme probably used the dots on these pens to represent the month during the manufacturing quarter. If this supposition is correct, a pen with a date code of 28 and three dots, for example, would have been made in April 1938 (the first month of the second quarter).
For pens that fall into the period after the changeover to a single digit with dots, the date codes break down for years with the same last digit. For example, 8 could indicate either 1938 or 1948. In this case, you must use the design features of the pen to determine the pen’s actual date of manufacture.
For pens whose manufacture continued past 1949, the same coding holds true except that in 1950 the date code again became two digits of which the first is a 5, so that a code beginning with a 5 indicates a pen made in or after 1950, as specified by the second digit. There appear to exist some “51” pens made in 1950 that lack the 5. (Because the “51” was introduced in 1941, there was no real requirement for the 5 until 1951.)
There is one additional puzzler associated with the “51”. Some Vacumatic-filling “51”s bear a date code of T6 or T7 (with varying numbers of dots). Today, no one knows for sure what the T means. However, the best minds in the hobby believe that it means Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Parker had a factory. Since the pens that have the mark also have a MADE IN U.S.A. mark, the supposition is that the pens were built in the U.S.A. using at least some parts that were made in Toronto.
If there is no date code on a pen that should have one, the most likely reasons are that the pen was repaired using a replacement barrel (which would have no imprint if the repair was not done at the factory) or that the entire imprint has been buffed off by an overly enthusiastic hobbyist repairer.
This code has been in continuous use since its inception, with slight format changes every so often. At or near the cap lip, look for a series of letters. A letter from the series QUALITYPEN represents the last digit of the year of manufacture, as follows:
|Last Digit of Year||0||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9|
For example, the presence of a Q indicates a pen that could have been made in 1980, 1990, etc., while P indicates manufacture in 1987, 1997, etc.
From 1980 to 1986, the year letter is the first character. Following it is a letter to mark the quarter of the year. The letters are squared to form a set of straight strokes. At the beginning of each quarter, one stroke was ground off the stamping die:
From 1987 through 1999, the quarter designation precedes the year letter, and it is in the form of the Roman numerals III, II, I, and nothing:
Thus, a pen marked UL was manufactured in the third quarter of 1981, and one marked IIIL was manufactured in the first quarter of 1994 or, if the code format had remained unchanged, 2004. To prevent any ambiguity between the 1990s and the 2000s, Parker in 2000 reversed the order of the year and quarter codes, also inserting a dot between them. Thus, pens made in the first quarter of 2000 were labeled Q.III instead of IIIQ as had been used a decade earlier. It appears that Parker made no format changes in 2010; pens made in 2010 bear date codes identical to those on pens made in 2000. As with the original date code system, you will need to observe the features of the pen to determine when it was made. (E.g., the new Premier was introduced in 2009 and so did not become a dating conundrum until 2019.)
Confused? Except for one instance of duplicated date codes, this system — while it might be difficult to remember — has so far been unambiguous. The problem? IL is an ambiguous date code because it could represent the third quarter of either 1984 or 1993. If you have a pen with this code on it, you will need to know whether your pen was discontinued before 1993 or not put into production until after 1984. The most common model that can have an IL date code is the Sonnet, which entered production in 1993 and therefore cannot be a 1984 pen.
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.