In 1932, Parker decided to dip their toes into the fountain pen lever filler market, they introduced the Parco (defined as frugal, sparing, moderate or temperate). Parker spared no expense, as they picked through the bins of old Duofold parts and built a new pen (did I mention frugal, sparing, moderate or temperate). Even though the pen was made of old Duofold parts it retailed at a significantly lower price point $1.75 vs $5 (that is $35 vs $100 adjusted for inflation) for the Duofold, making it a good deal.
I digress a bit, this month I thought it would be fun to compare how the Duofold and Parco pens compare, since they are first cousins. For transparency, my Parco is made from old Duofold stock, while my Duofold is made from new Duofold stock. It’s not entirely an even comparison. Also, the Duofold is sporting a fine nib while the Parco has a flex medium.
BTW, the “Vs” doodle was done using both both pens.
I was reading a blog the other day by Deb Gibson (of Goodwriterspens) where she was musing about pens that she thought were the primary influencers impacting the direction fountain pen appearance has taken over the years. I was considering a posting about the history of fountain pens and felt her blog was far more interesting and considered “reblogging” it. In her humble opinion, the following are the biggest influencers:
I’m not going to go into great depth summarizing her thoughts, she does such a great job. I invite you all to read her blog; however, I would venture the Conklin Crescent should be on the list, replacing the Sheaffer Balance. But more on this later.
The Sheaffer Balanced, I’ll be honest I don’t know much about this pen, I honestly don’t like it, though Walt Disney was a big fan. It’s claim to fame is the torpedo shape and there are plenty of contemporary pens with the same shape.
I absolutely agree with her choice of the Duofold, clearly a landmark design and development. Many a contemporary pen is designed with the Duofold in mind. The Parker 51, I can see that as well. It’s influence is less pervasive because it came into being when the ballpoint pens were coming of age, but I feel the design impacted the appearance of all “clicker” ball point pens.
Missing from the list is the Conklin Crescent, why you may ask? I am getting a little off topic by adding this pen based on it’s self filling mechanism which impacted it’s appearance.
The Conklin Crescent is renowned for two firsts 1) first mass-produced self-filling pen and 2) the first mass-produced pen to use a flexible rubber ink sac. The crescent filling system employs an arch-shaped crescent attached to a rigid metal pressure bar, with the crescent portion protruding from the pen through a slot and the pressure bar inside the barrel. Which in turn compressed the internal rubber sac, creating a vacuum to force ink into the pen.
The crescent filling system is the basis for the Sheaffer introduction of the lever filling system in 1912, and the subsequent Parker button filler system. Clearly the pressure bar, and ink sac self filling system introduced by the crescent filling system became the primary direction of fountain pens for the next 60 years. In order to accomplish this, pen manufactures had to incorporate self fill levers, which petruded from a slot cut into the barrel – like the Crescent fill. Or they introduced a button under a blind cap which depressed a pressure bar. I know it is a stretch but it’s just my opinion which is the reason for the post.
So I ask, what are your thoughts? Do you agree, disagree, what pens do you think made a significant impact to fountain pen appearance over the years?
The Duofold is the pen that made the Parker Company one of the greatest pen-manufacturers of the world. Parker debuted the Duofold in 1921. Before the Duofold, nearly all pens were made of hardened black rubber but Parker developed a method to make rubber in a red-orange color which proved very popular.
The Duofold didn’t come easy to Parker, their Lucky Curve pens were selling well, but there was no pizazz. Along comes Lewis M Tebbel, Parker district sales Manager, he persuaded a machinist at the Wisconsin plant to make him a a Lucky Curve model #26 in some old stock red hard rubber. Tebbel’s pen was a hit so he ordered a couple dozen red pens, selling them all immediately. He proposed to Parker’s management that they should incorporate the “Duofold”, his name for the new pen, in the regular line, selling it for $7. This was a major investment in 1929. That $7 is equivalent to $110 now, and BTW I paid less than Ellwood in today’s dollars. His request to expand the product line was refused, not to be deterred, he contacted Kenneth Parker directly.
In 1933, Parker ended production of Duofolds at the Janesville factory, but production continued in Canada and Europe into the 1940’s. The Duofold was the pen that boosted Parker from a small pen manufacturer to one of the leading players in the pen world. When production ended, Parker sold more than ten million pens.
I purchased a 1928 Duofold Jr, from a seller outside Allentown, Pa – just north of Philadelphia. The pen is personalized with the name of the original owner, “Ellwood A Leupold.” Though a common practice, most collectors frown on personalization, I prefer it. Before I took possession of my this “treasure,” I was on Ancestry.com researching the owner. Ellwood Arthur Leupold was born in 1906 to Gustavus Leupold and Paulina Pandorf in Philadelphia. Ellwood was 22 when he purchased this Duofold, quit the investment for a young man employed by the Telephone Company as a draftsman. By the 1940’s Ellwood had changed employers, taking a position with the Corn Exchange National Bank. Both positions I think would warrant a quality pen. In 1945, Ellwood Leupold marries Mary Cuta, the couple remained residents of Philadelphia. Ellwood died in 1985, and Mary in 2016 at the tender age of 102.
The pen was in good shape, but it needed a cleaning and a new ink sac. When I took the pen apart I found significant dried ink deposits inside the barrel, on the pressure bar and the fill button. After a night of soaking, most of the ink dissolved and the residual was easily removed. The blind cap over the button and the flat top cap that held the clip on were black hard rubber and showed signs of sun/water damage. I ran some sand paper over them to remove the heavy damage and an occasional tooth mark. The flat top blind cap contained groves but the groves were caked with 93 years of grime – eww. I took a dental pick and began the process of cleaned out the groves, going around the cap 3 times. Afterwards, I applied a super light coat of Danish Oil to protect the BHR and restore a nice shine. I’m torn about using this oil because it contains a minute a mount of varnish but it does make the BHR water proof. I guess time will tell but I am using only the tiniest amount.
The section unscrewed from the barrel after I applied light heat with a hair drier. I had to use the dental tool to remove some very odd colored stuff caked inside the barrel and the remains of the ink sac. Since ink isn’t white I’m not sure what was in the barrel. Anyway, the nib and feed separated from the section with little effort. I had hoped the feed was a Lucky Curve but no. It took a lot of elbow grease to remove the stains from the underside of the nib. There does not appear to be any damage but we shall see. The channel in the feed was free of dried ink deposits but I cleaned it all the same.
Installed a new 16 ink sac, returned the nib an feed into to section and put it all back together. Inserted the pressure bar and the button. Time for the moment of truth, ink up the pen.
the “Duo” prefix was very popular at the time, being used as a marketing superlative for a wide range of products (paralleled by the ubiquity of “super” in the postwar era). “Duofold” would have suggested that the new oversize Parker was twice the pen competitors could offer – consistent with its pricing, which pushed existing market norms — while the “-fold” suffix both carried through the comparative reference (as in “twofold”) and alluded to the mass and rigidity of the Duofold’s large, manifold-style nib (“manifold” being the term for stiff nibs made for use with carbon paper, with which one could make manifold copies of a document).
“Fountain pens,” conjure the thought of antiquated writing instruments, long forgotten and relegated to the back of cluttered desk drawers, buried under “stuff” or the choice of highbrow NYC lawyers. You may be surprised to learn that there are a number of celebrities & A-listers who own and use fountain pens! I make no claim to doing the research, I found an assortment of lists on this topic which I combined, edited and skinnied down, and adding my own finds.
Mark Twain – Conklin Crescent Filler. Twain was a prominent influence in the fountain pen industry, helping put an end to the days of the eyedropper filling method by fiercely promoting the newly invented Conklin Crescent Filler.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Parker Duofold. Doyle penned four canonized Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories.
Ernest Hemingway – Montegrappa. All he needed as a blue-backed notebook, two pencils and his ELMO pen.
Jane Austen – Dip Pen. Her writings predate fountain pens but I thought it was a fun fact that she had her own special iron gal ink recipe and used a special type of notebooks, “quarto stationer’s notebook bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marble paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.”
Dylan Thomas – Parker 51. Thomas is a Welch poet probably best known for his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into the Good Night made known to the Sci-Fi community for its inclusion in the movie Interstellar.
Harper Lee – brand unknown but she explicitly placed one in Atticus Finch’s coat pocket during the famous courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Anne Frank – Montblanc Meisterstück. In her diary, there is a chapter where she mourns the loss of her pen after it is accidentally burnt in a fire, a gift from her grandmother.
Stephen King – Waterman Hemisphere. King has written 95+ novels including It and Carrie with this instrument claiming, in 2014 he wore out 4 pens writing Dreamcather.
Neil Gaiman – Pilot Custom 823 and LAMY 2000. Changes his ink color daily to track progress, the first draft of each of his novels is in longhand.
Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) – Pilot Metropolitan. Hill is the author of comic book series Locke and Key (now a Netflix series) and a handful of novels, of which NOS4A2 is soon to be a AMC series.
Christopher Paolini – LAMY and Pilot Decimo. Best known for his fantasy & sci-fi books Eragon and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Both books I own.
Charlie Chaplin – Parker Duofold. Most of Chaplin’s journal writing and poems remain unpublished, a poem of his about self-appreciation has circulated the internet – “As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is ‘AUTHENTICITY.’”
Rick Wakeman – Conway Stewart. Wakeman the keyboard player for 70’s super group Yes and an avid journalist. Listing fountain pens as one of his “Top Ten Outsides Family and Music” interests and concocting his own ink blend.
Oprah Winfrey – Viscounti. Her pen was fabricated with the tiniest drops of gold and silver using the intricate filigree technique, a traditional Italian art form that has been passed down from jewelry master to jewelry master for generations.
Howard Stern – Visconti Arte Mudejat Aragones. A gift valued at $1,700. Its design is inspired by the Aragon region of Spain and celebrates the harmonious coexistence of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that occurred there between 1000 and 1600 AD.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower – Parker 51. Used to sign the German Instrument of Surrender in Reims, France.
General Douglas MacArthur – Parker Duofold. Used a 1928 Duofold to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.
Lyndon B Jonson – Esterbrook. A set of 74 clear Lucite Esterbrooks were used to sign the Civil Rights bill into law in 1964.
Theresa May – Parker Duofold. She used the Parker to sign Article 50 commencing “Brexit.”
Vladimir Putin – Montblanc Meisterstück 146. He used the Montblanc to sign the document “admitting” the Crimea and Sevastopol back into the Russian Federation, after his militia invaded the territories.
So the clip on the Parker Challenger is heavily brassed and I bought a NOS clip which turned out to be for a junior sized pen – duh. I’ve determined the clip is probably from old Duofold stock or from that stock but stamped with different tooling. As you can see in the picture the finish on the original (on the left) is heavily worn, while the incorrect sized replacement looks GREAT! So what are my options? Other than feeling sorry for myself, what I see is what I have!
Wait one minute and OMG all is not lost, I’ve found a diy process for nickel electroplating that is safe and easy (their words not mine). The process is probably a little unnerving and my wife will be terrified that I’ll blow the house up but definitely worth consideration. I stumbled across the first blog via a Duck Duck Go search by a guy who restores handguns, which included a link to the Instructable process. The pistol refurb blog has a slightly different take on the DIY electroplating process that I need to review both to ascertain which will be best for me.
A dissertation on electroplating is clearly a rat hole I don’t want to go down, as I’m sure it would be sitting ”on the edge of your seat excitement” and I know nothing of it, so Lets make this super simple. Electroplating is the process of using electrical current to transfer ions from a metal source to a receptor metal using a conductive electrolyte solution. As a public service for nerdy pen enthusiasts I’ll outline my endeavors to give this DIY process a try. Please refer to the external sites for detailed instructions.
The question now is what do we need to make this happen? It is possible to create a nickel acetate (electrolyte) solution using stuff found in any local grocery store, pure nickel and electricity. Grocery stores (check), electricity (check) – nickel…. need to work on that.
So I’ve been searching eBay looking at pure nickel options for the donor metal (that sounds so not right). I’m thinking the nickel battery strip tape will make a good donor – the Instructables did said we could use guitar wire if we separated the nickel wire from the steel core. Just gotta make sure it is pure. Also, after giving it some thought I decided to make a project box containing a barrel Jack (vin), with a fuse and (vout) terminals. This way I can use the barrel Jack on the charger opposed to cutting it off and I decided to use D batteries for the electroplating process since low voltage is recommend for a bright and lasting finish (they are 1.5 volts each). You have to understand I know nothing about electronics but I am geeked about the prospect. All the components have been ordered including a Raspberry Pi which I’ll use as the project box. I have a Raspberry Pi case but it is a soft plastic and I am not sure how it will fare with heat so figured acrylic would be a good choice.
The Parker Challenger pen was manufactured from 1934-1941 and a surprise success for the George Parker company. The pen was introduced in February of 34 during the Vacumatic era. The pen featured a button filler and made from the same material as the Vacumatics at less than half the price. The pen was offered in two sizes, slim and standard and sold for $2.50, whereas the Vacumatic sold for $7.50 and the Parkette for $1.25, making it priced right as a gift pen for school students.
So I got a Parker Challenger with a purchase of a newer Parkette. The Challenger was in horrible condition. As you can see the clip and cap ring are brassed, the clip especially. The ink sac is a dried up crunchy thing, the section is froze and the nib won’t pull out. So I decided what the hell let’s give it a go, I need to learn about Parker pens anyway.
Little background on the pen, this model is from Q1 1935 – it has a date code of 13 – it has a plunger fill system. It is considered a mid grad pen in the Parker family. Offered in two sizes; the slender measured 122 millimeters (4 13/16”) long and the standard measure 132 mm (5 1/8”) when closed. I need to measure mine. Which I did and it is 132 mm long, answers that question. At the time it sold for $2.50. I started doing some research and pulled out my Parker Repair manual, which was apparently a bad idea. In the manual it indicated that the plunger section needed or could be removed using the Parker pen vise. Now those are nearly impossible to find but I found a home made modern pen vise which I ordered. Turns out you aren’t supposed to take the plunger section out so when I tried and tried all I did was screw up the threads for the plunger cap. So now the cap is too big – geez, but hey better find out the hard way on this pen.
So I got working on the section and the nib. Both aren’t budging, used a hair drier and soaked them for days, finally they all came apart. I took a peek inside and the mess looked like some kind of mold growth but it was just the hardened old ink sac. I could see there was a pressure bar mixed up with the ink sac.
Feeling frustrated I did a Duck Duck Go search and found 2 articles The Fountain Pen Network and on a Fountain Pen Restoration blog on how to refurb a Challenger, well shit. This is when I realized the vise was a mistake. I learned instead that I needed to pull the plunger out, followed by the pressure bar. Pulling the plunger was no problem but the pressure bar wasn’t moving – remember the mold looking thing? Next step, I used a dental pick and broke up enough of the sac to pull the pressure bar. Then I could scrap out the rest of the ink sac.
Feeling empowered now I decided to make a serious effort at refurbing the pen. I found a guy in South Dakota with the same clip I took off the pen nearly NOS – so I ordered one. Well the clip arrived and the hole in the washer is too small, wtf. At first glance it is otherwise identical to the one I took off. Placing them side by side the new one is a little shorter so I guess my pen is a standard. Did some measuring and the inside diameter of the brassed clip ring is 10mm. Wondering now if it is a Vacumatic clip since Challengers were made from the same plastic. Upon further review I think the clip is a remodeled Duofold clip, need to keep my eyes open for a Duofold clip replacement. Anyway, until I can find a replacement or an inexpensive “zinc” application process (lol) I’ll use the ugly brasses clip.
Also learned the pen uses a #20 ink sac, which I don’t have, order some of them. All the goodies are on the way so Now it’s time to clean off the years of grim, tooth marks and scratches. Taped over the name and mfr info and started sanding with 1000 grit paper, then 2000, 3000, 5000, 7000 grit paper then I repeated the whole process. Afterwards I went over the pen with a jewelers polishing cloth. It fells great! and looks good. I repeated the process on the cap.
Then I focused on the section, it had a brown tint from all the grime, sanding it twice. The paper turned brown, but when I finished it looked great. Used the polishing cloth on the nib, it shined up great so I also polished up the feed and put the nib back into the section. Turned my attention to the damage I did to the plunger cap. I used the ink sac shellack and coated the inside of the lid twice, didn’t help so I cut some black construction paper into a thin strip and put it inside the cap and shellacked it into place – bingo.
OMG I’ve found a DIY process for nickel electroplating that is safe and easy. Probably a little unnerving and my wife will be terrified I’ll blow the house up but definitely worth consideration.