Posted in Pens, Stories

Celluloid – Real, Fake & FIRE!

In this last discussion of my favorite vintage pen materials, I am presenting celluloid. Why do I like celluloid you ask. Unfortunately, that is a detailed answer you see. There are two kinds of celluloid; one made with cellulose nitrate and another made from cellulose acetate. I have both but I prefer the cellulose nitrate. It has a warm feel, much like ebonite, and a pleasant camphor fragrance. It’s much easier to generate vibrant colors and interesting patterns.

Cellulose nitrate (Real Celluloid)

The primary ingredient of celluloid is cellulose nitrate. Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth. Obtained primarily from wood pulp and cotton to produce paperboard and paper. Nitrating cellulose through exposure to a mixture of nitric acid and sulfuric acid produces highly flammable cellulose nitrate.

Parker Vacumatic and Duofold in Celluloid

It was initially used as guncotton, a replacement for gunpowder. Cellulose nitrate was also used as a low-yield explosive in mining. So naturally, it should make a great medium for manufacturing pens – once it is plasticized with camphor, celluloid’s other essential component.

Spontaneous combustion is always a possibility; however, the most common failure of celluloid occurs as it ages. Exposure to the environment allows the camphor to sublimate at room temperature, reverting the celluloid to Cellulose nitrate. Another sublimation associated with exposure to excess heat affects nitrate.

Cellulose acetate (Fake Celluloid)

“Cellulose acetate is most commonly prepared by treating cellulose with acetic acid and then with acetic anhydride in the presence of a catalyst such as sulfuric acid.”

Onishi Seisakusho Celluloid Acetate pens photo credit Jet Pens

Cellulose acetate was made by dozens of companies with different brand names and formulations. According to Lambrou’s Fountain Pens of the World, there are four different cellulosic plastics used in fountain pens:

  • Cellulose Nitrate (real celluloid)
  • Cellulose Acetate
  • Cellulose Propionate
  • Cellulose Acetobutyrate

I ask, is cellulose acetate, etc. real celluloid? It is still being manufactured and called celluloid. Or is the determination of celluloid made because of cellulose?

Now for the bad news, both nitrate and acetate are classified as flammable substances, and subject to transportation restrictions plus storage and handling regulations. For this reason, contemporary celluloid pens are very uncommon; however, Italian companies, Montegrappa and Visconti manufacture pens from celluloid as does Onishi Seisakusho in Japan.

Fun Facts

  • Early billiard balls made of cellulose nitrate were known to explode occasionally.
  • Cellulose nitrate-based film has spontaneously ignited and that which has not burned has in a large part decomposes to red powder.
  • Allegedly a prisoner explodes a deck of celluloid playing cards to facilitate his escape.

How can I tell?

The simplest way to determine if celluloid is real is to take a whiff, it is all about the fragrance. Wet the pen and rub hard creating heat. It will not smell like plastic but like camphor. Honestly, I have no idea what camphor smells like but I can tell you a celluloid pen does not smell like a petroleum product, or a solvent.

You can also test by burning shavings. Acetate will have a vinegar smell and burn yellow while nitrate will smell of camphor and burn white. Yellow vs white seems like an inconclusive test.

For those with access to a microscope, place a shaving and lace on a glass slide. Add a droplet of acetone. If celluloid, it will promptly dissolve; casein, Bakelite, and acrylic will be unaffected. This test won’t tell us if the celluloid is real or fake.

Waxing

Waxes have not been shown to benefit hard rubber, while they can damage celluloid by preventing the escape of the acidic gas by-products celluloid naturally produce. The wax seals the celluloid, preventing the nitrocellulose gas from escaping, it is retained in the celluloid hastening decomposition.

In conclusion, I test by smell. I like real celluloid because it has a warm feel and it smells good. To me, the aroma is earthy with a medicinal undertone.

Reference Material

COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.
Posted in Pens, Stories

Fountain Pen Ancestry, A Story Waiting to be Told

Good morning, yesterday.
You wake up and time has slipped away.
And suddenly it’s hard to find.
The memories you left behind … -Paul Anka

Tomorrow (27 September) is Nation Ancestor Appreciation Day – yes there really is such a thing. To commemorate, I am highlighting the ancestry of three of my pens. Maybe I have an overactive imagination, or hopelessly sentimental, both I’m sure, but each holds a story waiting to be known. So without further delay allow me to present the ancestral story of each pen.

1928 Parker Duofold Jr. (1921-1934)

Ellwood Arthur Leupold was born in 1906 to Gustavus & Paulina (Padorf) Leupold (first-generation German immigrants) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When Ellwood landed his first “real” job as a draftsman for the telephone company he also invested in a decent writing instrument. He bought a Parker Duofold Jr (circa 1928). This investment cost him $7, equivalent to $105 today – a significant investment for a 22-year-old.

Ellwood subsequently accepted a job clerking at the Corn Exchange National Bank; I’m sure his Duofold followed. In 1945, Ellwood (39) married Mary T. Cuta (31), the daughter of Basil and Stella Cuta of Poland. The couple set up house with his parents in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, where they remained for the remainder of their lives. By 1950, Ellwood accepted a new position, this one with the Bureau of Water as a draftsman. Sadly, the couple did not have any children. Ellwood died in August 1985; Mary survived him by 31 years, passing in 2016 at the age of 102.

1950 Philadelphia Census

Esterbrook Dollar Pen (1934-1942)

Doris Isabelle Stirratt and her twin sister Donna, were born in 1922 to Chauncy & Theresine Stiratt of Crookston, Minnesota. As the Great Depression drew to a conclusion so did her days in high school. Doris landed a job as an assistant teacher in the Beltrami County, Minnesota school system as part of the “New Deal” National Young Administration School Project.

You can’t start your first professional job and not be prepared, around this time Doris purchased an Esterbrook “Dollar” pen.

But teaching was not her thing, in 1947, Doris accepted a position with the Beltrami County government. A couple years passed and she met a charming young doctor just starting his practice (Grant “Bob” Garlock, MD), they were married in May of 1950. The couple managed 3 children before Grant was recalled to active duty in the US Army, commissioned a Lieutenant, and deployed to Korea.

Doris had artistic talent, to supplement a Lieutenant’s pay, Doris agreed to illustrate a science textbook for Professor Alfred M. Elliott, of the University of Michigan. Zoology was published in 1952, crediting Doris Stirratt Garlock for her wonderful drawings and unbound patience with him.

Of the many drawings in the textbook, this one caught my fancy as it included a slide rule. I’m sure everyone knows what a slide rule is.

After Grant’s return in 1953, their 4th child is born and Grant accepts a position at State Hospital for the Insane in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. This apparently did not go over well with Doris and Grant remained in Beltrami. He announced his intent to take the position in Fergus Falls the following year but this also did not happen (happy wife, happy life). In the summer of 1969, two of the Garlock children join or took over the medical and surgical practice their father was associated with in Beltrami.

Doris is elected Beltrami County Treasurer in 1965, a position she holds until her retirement in 1977. This is where things get odd. At her retirement, the local newspaper quotes Doris as saying her husband “Bob” died in 1976 yet he clearly did not. He was living in California.

It appears Bob moved to Ojai, California in 1969, hence the reason their children entered his practice? After her retirement, no more Minnesota winters for Doris, she joins her husband in California, living first in Napa County before heading south to Ventura. Her husband dies in December 2009, and Doris survived him by 6.5 years.

Sheaffer Snorkle (1952-1959)

Iris Imo Simmons was born in 1904 to Erwan & Rosa (Banner) Simmons of Le Roy, Illinois. Unfortunately, she never got to know her mother, as her mom died several months after her birth. Subsequently, the family moved to Missouri, thus beginning her Odyssey. Imo, as she preferred to be known, attended school in both Livingston & Linn counties. Imo, her sisters Bebe and Edith left Parson Creek, Missouri by 1930 for Le Roy, Illinois where Bebe and Imo taught in the school system while Edith finished high school. Imo completed 2 years of college by 1940. She remained in Le Roy until the early 1950s, moving to Bloomington where she enrolled at the Illinois State University, graduating in 1956, having earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education.

Bursting with pride, deserving a reward for all the hard work or maybe it was a gift. Either way, Imo became the owner of a Sheaffer Snorkle fountain pen.

She remained in Bloomington until the early 1970s whence she retired to Memphis, Tennessee. Thus, reuniting Imo with her sisters, Bebe and Edith.

After her sisters passed, Imo moved to a nursing home in Wheeling, Missouri in 1992. A year later during the Christmas holiday, she passed. At the age of 89, Imo had outlived all her siblings (4 sisters and 1 brother). She was laid to rest in Meadville, Linn County Missouri.

Old stuff is not so boring after all.

COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.
Posted in Pens, Stories

Lifetime Guarantees and FTC

In the mid-1920s, the major US pen manufacturers began offering competitive and comprehensive warrantees on their top-line models. The warranties or guarantees are reflected in model names such as Lifetime (Sheaffer), Endura (Conklin), and Eternal (Mabie Todd). While some manufacturers created special symbols denoting their guarantees like Sheaffer’s White Dot, Parker’s Blue Diamond, and Wahl-Eversharp’s Gold Seal.

Sheaffer

Walter Sheaffer was known to personally inspect every pen and place a small white dot on each that passed his quality inspection. In 1924, Sheaffer launched its Lifetime Warranty, symbolized by the white dot guaranteeing quality. The Lifetime Pen, launched in 1920, retailed at three times the price of competitor pens, yet Lifetime guarantee repairs were 4% of sales.

No Ifs, Ands or Buts!

By the early 1940s, Sheaffer, Parker, and Waterman were suffering the effects of their lifetime guarantee. Having found that honoring the lifetime guarantee without a mitigating service charge was eating away at their profits, thus they began repair service fees. Naturally, their customers filed complaints with the government.

Federal Trade Commission

It is commonly believed that in the later 1940s the FTC outlawed “lifetime guarantees” – this it did not do.

The FTC’s 1945 ruling forbade “unconditional” warranties if there is an associated fee (shipping, insurance, etc). Waterman and Parker challenged the ruling, with Waterman withdrawing its challenge a year later. Parker didn’t win nor did they lose. In 1948, the courts agreed to allow such warranties but only if the fee was conspicuously detailed in writing within the warranty statement itself – so much for the “fine print.”

Except as noted

FTC stated that pen manufacturers could offer long-term guarantees if they did not say they were “unconditional” when a service (shipping, insurance, etc) fee applied. If the guarantee included a service charge, the charge had to be more prominently displayed in advertising.

Cross offered a lifetime guarantee then and still does today. Sheaffer has returned to offering lifetime guarantees, though not on all pens and, were offered, with qualifications.

ANNUAL REPORT OF THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED JUNE 30 1945

(pg 41) C. UNFAIR PRACTICES OTHER THAN MISREPRESENTATION OF DRUGS, DEVICES, AND COSMETICS

Fountain pen manufacturers.–W. A Sheaffer Pen Co., Fort Madison, Iowa (4337); The Parker Pen Co., Janesville, Wis. (4338); Eversharp, Inc., Chicago (4590), and L.E. Waterman Co., New York (4617), were ordered to cease making unqualified representations that their fountain pens are unconditionally guaranteed for the life of the user or for any other designated period, when a service charge, usually 35 cents, is made for repairs or adjustments. The respondents were ordered to discontinue using such terms as “Lifetime,” “Guaranteed for Life,” “Life Contract Guarantee,” “Guaranteed Forever,” or “Guaranteed for a Century” to describe or refer to their pens, and representing that the pens are unconditionally guaranteed for any designated period of time, unless the respondents, without expense to the user, make repairs or replacement of parts which may be necessitated during the designated period by any cause other than willful damage or abuse. The orders did not prohibit the respondents from (pg 42) representing truthfully that the service on their pens (as distinguished from the pens themselves) is guaranteed for life or other designated period, even though a charge is imposed in connection With such servicing, providing the terms of the guarantee, including the amount of the charge, are clearly and conspicuously disclosed in immediate conjunction with such representations.

Posted in Nibs, Stories

Breathe, just Breathe(r Tube)

I hadn’t given breather tubes a second thought until I unexpectedly ran into one in a 1951 Park Parkette. I got to thinking “what are breather tubes and why are they only in some pens?”

What is a breather tube you ask? Welp, it is added to a filling system whose mechanism will not completely fill the ink reservoir with one cycle of compression and vacuum.

The breather tube is a thin tube inserted into a hole in the back end of the feed and extends into the ink reservoir; it permits complete filling in pens that require multiple operations of the filling mechanism.

They also control the airflow within the barrel, thus immediately balancing the pressure of the air inside the ink reservoir with that of the external air, because the breather tube provides a way for air to transition between inside and outside, thus reducing or eliminating the tendency of leakage at high altitudes, sometimes!

What? How does it work?

When a filler mechanism is engaged, it pushes air out of the reservoir up the ink channel in the feed and out through the breather hole and slit in the nib. The nib of the pen is submerged in ink, as the compression stage ends, a vacuum is created and the evacuated air is replaced with the ink drawn up through the same channel in the feed.

Breather tubes require modification to the feed. A hole is drilled into the reservoir end of the feed, in to which the breather tube is inserted. Perpendicular, a “blowhole” is added via the ink channel or the dorsal side of the feed connecting with the breather tube hole.

Parker Vacumatic feed

A breather tube (26), effectively extends the ink channel deep into the reservoir. Thus, when the filler mechanism is engaged, the air is forced out through the tube and the “blowhole” in the feed (16). The vacuum draws ink up the ink channel into the blowhole. As the blowhole is attached to the breather tube, the distance ink travels is farther so a better vacuum is created. As ink exits the breather tube it fills the reservoir while maintaining a vacuum. Once the ink level in the reservoir reaches the end of the breather tube (A), the vacuum is equalized and the pen is “full.”

From Parker patent 2,400,768

This sounds great – right, well it does come with a significant aggravation. The breather tube makes it difficult to completely empty the pen thus cleaning the reservoir is problematic.

Not all breather tubes address the issue of leakage and excess ink flow associated with high altitudes or air travel. The Parker patent 2,400,768 claims to address this issue. Breather tubes extending to the rear of the ink reservoir are prone to leakage caused by air pressure differential. The aft opening of these excessively long tubes is submerged in ink until the reservoir is almost empty – when carried nib up. The pressure differential associated with altitude changes causes the higher pressure in the reservoir to force ink out through the breather tube. Who knew patent applications could be interesting to read?

Contemporary Pens with Breather Tubes

Basically, any pen with a fixed squeeze filler, which is pretty uncommon, will use a breather tube, such as many of the Hero, the Bahadur, and the Dux models.

Posted in Collection, Pens, Restoration, Reviews, Stories

The 1950’s Parker Parkette

The Parkette

A family of pens manufactured by Parker, but generally considered a third-tier pen. Evolving from the Parco, Parkette produced began in 1932 and ran through 1941. The pen was Parker’s answer to inexpensive competition while providing the Parker name and mystique. The Parkette generally lacked the quality of flagship Parker pens of the time (Duofold, and Vacumatic).

The Parkette was Parker’s first pen to make use of a lever-filling mechanism. A common option amongst other manufacturers but not one Parker pens ever would regularly embrace. Eventually, the lever-fill mechanism would find its way into other “third-tier” Parker pens, including the Duo-Tone (not to be confused with Duofold) and the Writefine.

The 1950s Parkette

It is a common practice for pen companies to reintroduce former names as a means of adding nostalgia. Parker introduced one last model to the Parkette family in 1950. The new pen included a lever-filling system and contemporary styling (a metal cap and a hooded nib). The newest Parkette did not fare well against period Parker’s.

My Pen

I have a grey 1951 Parkette. It is in very good shape, without any bite marks, or scratches, but it leaks. I know grey is boring but I like it with the shiny metal cap. It appears to have the same “defect” other hooded Parker’s shared – a gap between the hood and the nib. While researching the Parkette, it seems this pen is not favored amongst collectors and is considered cheap and not worthy of the time and effort to repair it – got my attention now.

This seemed odd to me, when I removed the ink sac I found the pen had a breather tube (more on these another day). A breather tube is used in better pens when the filling system fails to completely fill the reservoir with one cycle of compression and vacuum. This is a feature commonly not found in cheap pens and I would know, I have 3 Arnolds.

Refurbishment

I replaced the too-short ink sac, being careful not to remove the breather tube. I tried to remove the hood but found it is held firm by glue. I made a valent effort to remove it but when all options failed and applying solvents was the only choice, I stopped. The cap retention ring thingy was a little tarnished, nothing a Sunshine cloth could not remedy. The only real damage is a minute amount of brassing on the cap clip.

Not wanting to leave the feed, nib and breather tube as is, I used a bulb syringe to flush them out. I was surprised to see flakes of dried ink accumulate in the sink. My concern appeared warranted.

All done and ready to ink up and give it a go.

Welp, I’m happy to say it writes well. It is a fine point nib which is not one of my faves but this one does very well. The nib is a little wet but that may be excess ink from the filling fixing in the hood.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 132mm
  • Uncapped length. 121mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 16g

For a “cheap” pen not worthy of my time, the only complaint is a manufacturing defect (in my opinion). The cap is secured is pressure the cap retention ring thingy. The pen lacks a clutch ring as found in a 51, thus the cap is not adequately secured. I picked it up one day by the cap and the pen went flying. Luckily I made a good catch.

Posted in Pens, Stories

The Fountain Pen Mystery Theatre Presents, Mystery Behind the Blue Diamond

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

Parker “51” Cordovan Brown

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….

Posted in Restoration

1935 Parker Challenger

(Revised from the original posting on 16 March 2021.)

The Parker Challenger was manufactured from 1934 to 1941 and was a surprise success for the George Parker Company. The pen was introduced in February of 1934 during the Vacumatic era and featured a button filler made of the same material as the Vacumatics but at less than half the price. The Challenger was offered in two sizes, slim or 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.

My Pen

When I got my Parker Challenger as a consultation prize for bitching about excessive shipping cost on another purchase. It was in horrible condition, the clip and cap ring is heavily brassed. The ink sac was dried-up, and the section is frozen to the barrel and the nib won’t pull out. The date code 13 is stamped on the barrel, meaning it was manufactured in Q1 1935.

How to refurbish it, I pulled out my Parker Repair manual, which was apparently a bad idea. In the repair manual, it indicated that the plunger section needed or could be removed using the Parker pen vise. Turns out you aren’t supposed to take the plunger section out so when I tried and tried all I did was damage the threads of the plunger cap. Now there are no teeth to hold the cap on.

So I got working on the section and the nib. Both aren’t budging, using a hair drier and soaked them for days, they finally came apart. A peek inside the barrel revealed the pressure bar mixed up with the dried ink sac.

Feeling frustrated I did a Duck Duck Go search and found 2 articles, one on The Fountain Pen Network and the other on Fountain Pen Restoration detailing how to refurb a Challenger, well shit. This is when I realized the vise was a mistake. Removing the plunger was no problem but the pressure bar wasn’t moving. Using a dental pick, I broke up enough of the sac to free the pressure bar, then removed the remaining sac.

I found a guy in South Dakota with a spare clip for the Challenger – I ordered one. Well, the clip arrived and the hole in the washer is too small. 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.

The inside diameter of the brassed clip ring is 10mm while the replacement clip is 7mm. Could it be a Vacumatic clip since Challengers were made from the same plastic or maybe a remodeled Duofold clip,

Removing 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. Afterward, I went over the pen with a Sunshine cloth. It feels great! and looks good. The process was repeated with on cap.

Time to focus on the section, it had a brown tint from all the grime which required sanding twice. The paper turned brown, but when I finished it looked great. Installed a #20 ink sac. Used the Sunshine cloth on the nib, it shined up great so I also polished up the feed and put the nib back into the section.

Do No Harm

Turned my attention to the damage I did to the plunger cap. Applied 2 coats of sac shellack to the inside of the blind cap threads. It 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.” I gave it a go, didn’t poison myself or blow up the garage, and my wife didn’t divorce me (lol).

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length 132mm
  • Uncapped length 116mm
  • Barrel diameter 12mm
  • Cap diameter 14mm
  • Weighs in at 16g
Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Parker Vacumatic

The Vacumatic replaced the Duofold in 1933 as the Parker flagship line of pens. Production lasted through 1948 in the US and 1953 in Canada. The first models were known and marketed as “Golden Arrow,” followed briefly as the “Vacuum Filler” then “Vacumatic.”

Parker had bought the rights to this design from Professor Arthur O. Dahlberg in 1925, an instructor in machine design at the University of Wisconsin. Parker spent 5 years and $125,000 perfecting the mechanism.

The Vacumatic filler mechanism consists of a spring-loaded plunger attached to a sac-like rubber diaphragm. Depressing the plunger distends the diaphragm to expel air from the pen, and releasing the plunger sucks ink directly into the pen’s barrel. The whole barrel is used as the ink reservoir. The diaphragms are flexible parts that will break down over time.

The Vacumatic sported three filler mechanisms during its life. Two were made of a metal tube and known as the Lockdown Filler and Speedline Filler. Wartime needs saw the introduction of the Plastic Filler.

DuPont supplied the plastic for the body, which was made of alternating rings of celluloid. The horizontal rings alternated clear celluloid and opaque or pearlescent creating barrel transparency and visibility to the ink level.

During the life of the pen, it sported four clip designs, all variations of the new stylish landmark feathered arrow, designed by Joseph Platt of New York, which is now synonymous with Parker.

The very first pens, known as the Golden Arrow, were test marketed in July 1932. As with the Duofold, Parker quietly distributed 60 Golden Arrows to a store in Chicago. During July, the store sold nine Wahls, seven Sheaffers, six Parkers, two Swans, and one Waterman. The first week of August the Golden Arrow hit the shelves, during the month the store sold 15 Golden Arrows, one Parker Duofold, and one Swan.

My Pen

My pen is a standard Vacumatic, manufactured in 1946, Q2. It has the Blue Diamond Clip and the color is Gold Pearl. The pen was refurbished prior to my purchase. It has an age-appropriate plastic plunger but the color of the plastic plunger is incorrect – oh well.

The nib is solid colored with the Parker Arrow and a date code stamped on it indicating it was manufactured in 1946. The cap has a peaked black plastic jewel.

1946 Vacumatic cap jewel and ring

I wrote very nicely when inked with the Pelikan 4001 black. There is a little feedback but I attribute that to the paper, it’s pretty thick. And (don’t let me forget), Vacumatics are PITA to clean.

Evacuate the ink by depressing the plunger slowly. Release to draw water into the pen and slowly depress the plunger to expel the water/ink. Repeat this process until a) your thumb falls off, b) the cows come home, c) the grass grows or d) you decide that it is “good enough.”

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length 128.5mm,
  • Uncapped length 119mm,
  • Barrel diameter 12mm,
  • Cap diameter 13.5mm,
  • Pen weighs in at 17g.
Posted in Collection, Pens, Reviews, Stories

The (Wish) List

I usually acquire pens based on impulse and circumstance (i.e. dumb luck), which has introduced me to a variety of odd pens. Some contemporary, some vintage, but all speak to me. The pens on this list are not pens to finish my collection. Nope, these are pens that have caught my eye, struck my fancy, and now I have a penchant for owning them. Oh and BTW, I love lists. Without further ado, in alphabetical order, let’s start the new year with a wish list ….

Benu – Silver Skull

“Silver Skull Fountain Pen is inspired by our childhood dreams of piracy and adventures. Rebellion and daring design is created for those who share the same ideals. Skillfully crafted by hand from glossy resin with its hand-friendly shape and shining decorative ring the Silver Skull Pen is a stylish accessory and a real pleasure to use.” – Benu Pen.com

I just thought this pen is the coolest. Why? Well I have a fondness for black pens, plus I have a fascination for Día de Muertos and who doesn’t like pirates. There are many “skull” pens on the market but this is the one for me.

Benu Silver Skull

Irish Pens – Black Carbon Fiber

“At 66 grams, Rhodium and Titanium wrapped in Black Carbon Fiber and with a Peter Bock nib at the business end this is a serious fountain pen, a fountain pen that will feel at home in the most exclusive boardroom, business setting or in your personal writing space, its gravitas will not go unnoticed whenever it is used. When the written words really matter! this is the fountain pen to use.” – Irish Pens.ie

Irish Pens, an Irish indie pen company specializing in pens made in County Cavan, Ireland of Irish native woods. I originally was drawn to their pens made from bog oak, but I saw this one! You have to admit, it takes your breath away. No surprise, this pen is the most expensive on the list.

Irish Pens Carbon Black

Kaweco – Student Pen

“Nostalgic fountain pen in soft green with golden details made of precious resin. The Student 60’s Swing impresses with a soft and organic green. The combination of green and golden elements is harmonious and underlines the series’s nostalgic, bulky shape. It matches the motto of the Swinging Sixties: Harmony and peace. The Student fountain pen with its curved pen body made of high-quality resin guarantees a haptic and visual writing pleasure.” – Kaweco Pen.com

Germans are known for their over engineering not for their simplicity, this this pen is the exception. The design, aesthetics, complimentary colors of ivory and green – beauty in simplicity. I do wish the section was not gold, but rather the same color as the cap.

Kaweco Student

Parker – 51

“When it introduced the “51” in 1941, the George S. Parker Company knew it had a winner. The pen was stylish but not flashy, durable but not clunky, and reliable but not overengineered. Over the next 31 years, the pen proved itself immensely popular. Tales are told of people who, unable to afford a whole pen, would purchase only a cap to clip in a pocket, giving the appearance of a complete pen.“ – Richards Pens.com

Parker 51 is the one vintage pen everyone should own, or so I have been told. After reading tons of accolades, this pen is worthy of the distinction. It is an attractive pen, unique in design. I am looking for an acceptable 1941 pen but they are not common. I fancy the Cedar Blue color but as mentioned I’m sure dumb luck will prevail and I’ll get what I get.

Parker 51

**** Update, a 1941 or maybe it’s a 1944 (more on this at a later time) is in the mail and of course it is not Cedar Blue.

Scrikss – Heritage Black GT

“Launched in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Scrikss company, the Heritage range is intended to be emblematic, a flagship of the brand Scrikss. The painstaking design is a combination between traditional and modernism, having as inspiration the aqueducts model that surrounded the old city of Istanbul in the past. It is created by the Turkish designer Kunter Sekercioglu.” – Scrikss Pen.com.tr

I stumbled on this pen after I bought a Scrikss 419. A lovely metal pen, with laser etched scrollwork. I feel like there is an elegance inspired by Instanbul. I have not found a US dealer as yet.

Scrikss Heritage GT
Posted in Pens, Stories

It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup?

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.

Anyway, what are you writing with this month?