Welcome to the Fountain Pen Mystery Theatre, where “it may be said with a degree of assurance that not everything that meets the eye is as it appears.” Enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and touch but of deduction. In this episode, our hero unravels the mystery behind a Parker “51,” as there are more so-called “first-year” pens than Parker ever made.
“It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital.” Sherlock Holmes – The Reigate Puzzle
Holmes, it appears this is NOT a Parker 51 “First-Year” pen, manufactured in late 1940 through 1941. They are easily distinguished by their unique characteristics.
Practically all pens of this period are double jewels, while the Parker “51” Made in USA is imprinted on the end of the barrel near the jewel in a single line.
“First-year” clips are also rather unique. They resemble the Parker Vacumatic clips with a larger blue diamond. Also, the enamel used is of a lighter blue color, and the clip gold plate is over a brass base. They are die-struck, resulting in a negative image on the back.
The clutch inside the cap is longer and has 4 “portholes” instead of the more common 5 “portholes.”
Filler units are the aluminum Speedline filler used in the Vacumatic line. Interestingly, some of the 1942 production pens are found with aluminum Speedline fillers. Finally, the nib is completely devoid of any markings. Parker did not start marking and dating the nibs until 1943.
My dear Watson, in order to correctly identify a “first-year” pen you must employ a holistic approach to the pen and not just focus on each individual characteristic.
“In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards.” Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet
The availability of component materials was not consistent during this period, Parker would use older components in newer pens and new components as they become available. Sometime in the second quarter of 1942, the imprint on the “51” was changed to a two-line format that remained until the end of the Vacumatic period in 1948.
The new imprint is relocated on the barrel under the clutch ring, and the nib is the most frequently replaced component on a pen. We cannot accept either at face value.
Conceding that later production used available inventory which included early components; however, during the war years, the brass used in the cap clip and clutch ring base was replaced by metal. War year clips and clutch rings tend to show a silver base instead of brass. Post-war production returned to a brass base.
Finally, the blue diamond on the cap clip was discontinued in mid-1947 due to a ruling by the FTC.
“You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.” Sherlock Holmes – The Bascombe Valley Mystery
The clutch ring is well worn, even so, this does not aid in determining if the underlying material is used. The ring appears to show brass while in a different light it appears to be silver (metal).
Look here Watson, the clutch inside the cap is 5-holed and short, typical of the war-time pens. The “first-year” clips were plated over brass and die-struck. This left a negative print on the backside of the clip. Then there is the oversized blue diamond on the clips of “first-year” pens. The blue diamond on this clip is the standard size found on Vacumatics and later “51.”
As mentioned, the pen’s nib contains absolutely no markings. Parker did not begin using markings on the nibs until 1943, thus this nib must be earlier.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes – The Sign of Four
Elementary my dear Watson, this is most assuredly a “first-year” Parker “51,” purchased by Ray Sims of Twin Falls, Idaho.
Upon closer examination, there is a barely detectable crack in the clutch ring. One can deduce from this, that the pen was damaged.
The repair is done during the war years. At this time the original speed line filler is replaced with a plastic filler and the original cap is replaced.
It is common knowledge that the “51” imprint was relocated in 1942 to the barrel by the clutch ring. Upon closer examination, this pen is missing the Parker “51” imprint completely. This can only occur when the original “first-year” pen has the jeweled blind cap with the imprint replaced by a new blind cap which will be devoid of the imprint. The new cap is confirmed by the ever-so-slight variance in color between the jeweled blind cap and the barrel of the pen.
As you can see Watson, only by being observant of details and employing deductive reasoning can the mystery be solved. Until next time….