July 14, 2006

Parker “51” finally purchased…

Posted in FountainPens at 6:30 pm by a11en

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 As well, a newer version of the pen, beginning in 1948, the Aerometric filler (or Foto-fill) system was so good that often vintage Aerometric “51”s rarely need much to get them working.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 [1] [2] [3].)

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:

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. πŸ™‚ Just remember: it’s not the coffee-cup, it’s the coffee. Now, go and start Getting Things Done!!


  1. Digital Alan said,

    First off I have to say I am starting to hate you – (well not really) But…

    I love fountain pens and now I want one of these pens and you are making it hard for me to save money.

    BTW – Great Read – I learned alot about this pen and what makes it so special.


  2. a11en said,

    Hey Digital Alan! Thanks so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it. πŸ™‚ I will say that the “51” is a really wonderful pen. My particular “51” might need a bit of work- the ink-flow might need some adjustment. I’m going to use it for a while to see on this- likely the nib’s tines just need a slight opening to allow better ink-flow. These are the little things that can sometimes happen with a vintage pen.

    I will say that I’m extremely happy with my Pelikan m150- piston filler (since you already use some great ink in bottles, I think you’d take to it quite easily)- Online you can find the m150 for a pretty decent price (at least you’d be saving about $10 easy based on my local purchase). If you hang out at the FPN forums, keep a watch over the Marketplace, you can catch a nice deal on some excellent pens. Depending on the pen, a “51” goes for around $70/75. If you get the Aerometric, you’re going to be in for a better experience- they broke down a lot less than the vacuumatic versions (those were produced earlier). There is a “51” special and a “21” which are very similar, but are not built as robustly. I think the specials are going for around $50 if I remember right, but I could be wrong. If you get a cap with some serious dings, or an engraved model, it’s possible these prices can be lower as well.

    Patience is a virtue when it comes to the vintage pens. Everyonce in a while a great deal comes along. Sometimes you can find good Aerometrics on ebay for a steal. Just be a bit careful- you may end up spending the same amount if you need to get it fixed. [I’m a bit worried about my ink-flow, but I don’t think I’ll have to send it in, we’ll see.] You’re almost sure to get a working pen if you get an Aerometric- be warned, however, the nib is very difficult to change out. A Pelikan’s nib is removeable quite easily… and you can spend more money on specialized nibs (see Richard Binder’s site). I wish I knew about the Pelikan’s with the higher numbers (they take almost all the nibs)- check Binder’s table of nibs- this really enables you to upgrade your Pelikan in the future with a fancy writing nib (broad oblique for line-width differences).

    πŸ™‚ Also- the Esterbrook is a great little vintage pen. I’ll try and post about it sometime soon for you… we’re talking around $30 in working order. [And you can often find them in antique stores for less- but they need some work on their insides to make them work again.] The great thing about Esterbrooks is the nibs are user-changeable! And cheap! Depending on the nib of course. So, you can take an old pen with crappy nib and replace it easily with something fancy for pretty good cash.

    Saving money: I hear ya. πŸ™‚ Thank God I don’t buy the expensive “51”‘s right now- some are like $300. In fact, I feel silly only having 3 FP’s right now, one fairly cheap Parker ($25), my Pelikan m150 and my Parker “51”. But, for my budget that might be all I can handle for a while. πŸ™‚

    Thank goodness the Miquelrius’s are nice and cheap!

    Cheers, Alan, thanks for the great feedback, man!

  3. CharlesOS said,

    Welcome to the club – a good choice -. I recently picked up a 1970 Parker 51 Aeromatic for Β£46.00 approx $75-80. It writes superbly and feels really good in the hand.
    It now takes pride of place in what has become a small collection of writing instruments……..


  4. a11en said,

    Hey Charles- thanks for the comments, man. Exactly the price on that ’51 from what I’ve been seeing. Glad it’s working well for you, Charles! The Parker “51” went head to head with a lot of other pens in a recent “face-off” on the Zoss-list. Looks like the Lamy2000 and the Parker “51” were neck and neck. πŸ™‚ I’ll take the Parker.

    Definitely a vintage instrument to be proud of, Charles. I’ll probably snag one or two more in a number of years here- still searching for the pen that Mom remembers (I’ll have to show her a ton of pictures to try and find “the one”)… it should be fun. πŸ™‚

    Enjoy that Pen!! πŸ™‚

  5. jw said,

    I’ve had great luck with vintage pens. I have a couple of Parker Vacumatics from the 1920s and 1930s: one works (and worked perfectly after a simple water flush) and the other has a burst bladder (at least so I presume. I’m not equipped to dismantle and repair). I use it all the time.

    Beware the green eyed monster of pen collecting. I’m at about a dozen myself, and have a “waiting list” of at least a dozen more. The beauty, however, is that often cheap pens (as witnessed by the recent craze for the Lamy Safari) can beat out much more expensive pens. I’d take my Lamy (or my Vacumatic or…) over my ungodly Meisterstuck any day (which was, fortunately, acquired via inheritance. Never, ever pay for that brick of a pen. I’ve had better writing experiences with a charred stick).

    I also tell my wife that I’m not a collector of fountain pens. Collectors buy things to collect them. I buy pens to use them. I use *all* my pens. They’re tools, but happily beautiful tools that give me pleasure every time I look at them. And it keeps the rifraff from walking off with your pens, since fountain pens are pretty intimidating to novices.

  6. a11en said,

    Ha ha ha! You’re only too right about the monster of pen-collecting, JW! πŸ™‚ I completely agree. I’m already thinking about 3 pens ahead. Doesn’t help when you keep eyeing $600 handmade danish pipes… πŸ˜‰ But, I have to be honest, what you can get for the price is excellent on the vintage marketplace, I think. Especially in Parkers. [Maybe that’ll change- hope not!] I have to admit, you’re right about collecting, I’m more of a vintage “user” at this time… as I get more pens, I’m sure I’ll be less user and more collector.

    I have to admit, I haven’t yet learned to stop loaning my pens. I’ve handed my m150 to a few people now (screw cap) and I see them lay on the muscle to try and take the cap off… I yell at ’em: “Stop! Wait- I’ll show you…” I’ve done it now 3 times with a good friend of mine… he’s slowly learning to not borrow it. πŸ˜‰ ugh… I’ve heard horror stories of pens loaned.

    Thanks for dropping in, JW! I hope that you return and enjoy my blather- don’t be afraid to tell me when I’m wrong, or that I’m crazy. πŸ˜‰

  7. leisureguy said,

    Of all my many fountain pens, the one I seem to use the most is the Pelikan M800 with the Broad standard point modified to an italic point by John Mottishaw. He does a beautiful job.

  8. a11en said,

    Oh man, the m800 looks beautiful. I’ll be playing with a broad nib at some point… in fact, I may need to. My XF Parker seems to be a bit difficult to write with for some reason… but, I love it… just wish my handwriting were better! Thanks for dropping in Leisureguy!! πŸ™‚

  9. beautiful comments around here!
    Listen everybody, just came across an article that warned of FAKES being sold on the net.
    Stick with the local stationary, and toss yer ink pots at the fountain-fugazi mafia!

    Regards from Tel-Aviv,

    Oliver Grinberg

  10. a11en said,

    Hey Oliver!

    You’re very right. There are some fakes out there. Horrible thing, eh? There are also some real Japanese makes (Hero) that look a lot like the “51”. They’re great pens at the right price… (~$30) but at the “51” price, they’re definitely *not* great.

    I will suggest a perusal of the fine folks on the Fountain Pen Network.

    They’re wonderful people, really into their fountain-pens. They have a market place which is fantastic, and many users often have pens they would like to sell that aren’t even listed… a posting to the Parker forum may bring someone who would like to sell you a “51” for a great price. A working Aerometric with lustraloy cap goes for around $75 I believe. That’s of course in working condition/ready to write. The older Vacuumatics with the blue-diamond can run much higher of course… add a Gold-filled cap and a double-jewel body, and you’re looking at over $120 approx. I believe.

    I will say this- the local stationary store doesn’t have “51”‘s… at least for me. And they only have MSRP pens… Lamy’s and Pelikans (which I rarely see in local stores), but all for MSRP. There are a number of reputable dealers online that have wonderful deals on pens. Pendemonium is excellent, as well as Swisher pens:

    I order regularly from Pendemonium. It sounds like you might have a good FP “brick and mortar” shop near-by… that’s a wonderful thing to have!! πŸ™‚ I bet you can get great paper there as well… Clairfontaine? Triomphe? Rhodia? πŸ™‚

    Thanks so much for dropping in, Oliver! I appreciate you leaving a comment! If you happen across some links about the fakes, please let me know! I’ve always heard of them, but never seen them!! I hope that things are good in Tel-Aviv! One day I hope to visit Israel. Such an amazing place! BTW, do you write in Arabic, or Hebrew? I’ve heard of an amazing nib that helps to write in those languages… sort of a cursive-italic nib made especially for them. If you haven’t heard of them, I’ll try and find a link for you!

    My best regards from the USA! πŸ™‚

  11. a11en said,

    A bit more about some of the fakes, guys. Here are some pages on the Sonnet fakes:



    These are such good fakes, that honestly, with the wrong type of lighting, you’ll have no idea if it’s fake or real… be careful out there in Ebay land… it’s much better if you can find the pen at an antique store in town.


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