July 14, 2006
Parker “51″ finally purchased…
Finally I have the pen which is possibly the most lauded pen in history: a Parker “51″. (the quotes are part of the copyrighted name) The Parker “51″ was introduced into the USA for sale in 1941. Original pricing was at $12.50. Nice price eh? Hell, I’ll buy 50 of ‘em… oh wait… that was 1941. In today’s economy, the pen’s base-price (without frills) would be approx. $165.00. Now, that’s not cheap!! The Parker “51″ was not the everyday man’s pen. The Esterbrook was much more the common-man’s pen. A great pen in its own right. I’ll have a post in the future on Esterbrooks. [Historical currency calculator.]
The design and implementation of the “51″ was a step beyond most pens of it’s era. Starting with the barrel of the pen, made from Dupont’s new Lucite material (polymethylmethacrylate), the same material adorning the canopies of World-War II’s fighter planes and bombers, the pen was a departure from most common designs. A hard and easily polished material, the Lucite material allowed Parker to place a highly volatile (and somewhat corrosive) ink into the pen. As well, with a covered nib and enclosed collector section, this volatile ink was kept inside the pen effectively, allowing for the excellent ink-capacity to stay put. The volatile ink allowed for an immediately useable paper after writing.
A number of parts on the “51″ are machined (likely by hand?): the clutch band- a nice slim three-banded ring right above where your fingers hold the sleek pen, the inner lucite threads that hold the pen together, and the finned internal collector (surely there are more, these are just the ones I know of). The nib also used more 14k gold than most of the nibs on the market. Even the cap was an innovation: the clutch system ensured the cap would not fall off, and the inner-cap sealed to the tip of the pen when capped, ensuring that the ink would not evaporate. The result was an easily capped pen, which was very secure and ink-safe.
One of the advantages about the “51″ in terms of vintage users and collectors is that they sold very well. They’re quite easy to find, but prices are climbing a bit as collectors are re-finding this great pen of their father’s or grandfather’s age. As well, a newer version of the pen, beginning in 1948, the Aerometric filler (or Foto-fill) system was so good that often vintage Aerometric “51″s rarely need much to get them working. A good water-wash, and you’re in pretty good shape. After 55+ years, finding a fountain-pen that works almost immediately is, quite simply, amazing. (A note to those who may not have heard of them yet- Pelikans often are in as good a shape- their piston fillers last for a very long time.)
The “51″ that found its way to me, is a first-quarter 1949 Mark I Aerometric filler with black-body and “Lustroloy” cap (modest- likely the lowest priced “51″). Interestingly, my mother tells me that both my grandfather and my great-grandfather used the “51″ all the time. It’s the pen she remembers them with. A gold cap and perhaps also an all-gold model (which is somewhat of a rarity, actually). So, I have a later/less-expensive version of something that was used daily by my relatives. As well, the pen was around when my grandfather on my father’s side was alive. (He passed at a young age after coming back from WWII. He was a POW for over 3 years in the same camp as the great-escape   .)
My “51″ has a much finer point than my Pelikan (it’s likely an XF), and writes a bit dry and was toothy, but with a little bit of work, it’s writing much better than when it first arrived. I’ve got it filled right now with a dark black Noodler’s Bullet-Proof Black to match the black pen-barrel.
Here are some links for Parker “51″ information:
- Parker51.com – a great resource for info on the Parker “51″. Wonderful images of caps and explanaitions of differences to similar pens you might mistake for the “51″.
- Richard Binder – master-nib-smith Richard Binder discusses the “51″:
- Fountain Pen Network’s Parker Forum – FPN is a great place to go and learn about FP’s and related items. There’s a great marketplace forum, as well as many very knowledgable people who can help you find info/assistance if you’re stuck.
I’m learning how great it is to enjoy fountain-pens, and how much fun it is to work with them everyday- it makes you sit down at your desk and write much more than before. Just remember: it’s not the coffee-cup, it’s the coffee. Now, go and start Getting Things Done!!