I am feeling bloody old.
It was 1969. Judy Garland had just died. The Stonewall riots happened less than a week later. The Mets took the World Series. I started high school. I was 14. In some ways it feels like it was just the other day, not 42 years ago.
One of Pop's cousins had a stationary/office supply store, just outside of New York City's garment district. It was where I went to buy my first typewriter, an IBM electric that weighed a ton and a half, yet was still labeled 'portable'. It was also where I saw my first Parker "Big Red". I was smitten.
My folks had already impressed upon me that there were certain things that constituted a special
gift; these included watches and high-end writing equipment such as a better Cross or Parker pen. In the late 60s, Parker introduced a kitsch knockoff of the Duofolds they'd produced in the 20s and 30s. While the originals were all fountain pens, the knockoffs were ballpoints. Chunky things they were, and in retrospect not much in the way of quality, certainly not when compared to the originals. My high school had a major geeky crowd and I was far from the only kid scratching away notes with a Big Red.
So, I will admit it. I still would like a genuine "Big Red".
They've been making Parker pens since the late 1880s. Up through the mid-1920s, pens were made out of hard rubber, most commonly solid black, but occasionally red. Some pen makers like Wahl and Waterman were blending colors, giving pens the appearance of rose or olivewood, complete with wood grain. Around 1925 plastics were introduced, with various companies trying to make them sound 'mineral like', with names like Permanite
In the picture above, to the far left is a Parker Duofold Junior, which unfortunately from what Dick tells me, is not worth repairing. If you look closely, you'll see it looks quite similar to the 1928 Sheaffer 530 pictured in one of my posts a few days ago. This is the same style as the "Big Red", just not in a solid orange-red, and not quite as large.
In 1932 Parker introduced a new filling system, initially labeled a 'vacuum filler'. Within a year they changed the name to the Vacumatic
. Instead of a collapsible sac that held the ink, the barrel of the pen served as the ink reservoir, a flexible synthetic rubber diaphragm at the top of the reservoir that when depressed by a plunger, created the vacuum for the pen to draw up ink. All five pens in the center of the photo above are Vacumatics in the most common pattern made, the horizontal Pearl stripe. They came in silver, blue, emerald green, golden brown, and on rare occasions, burgundy red. Quite flashy, no? Whenever I use one of these, and all of them are working, they always seem to draw attention.
Each of these pens has a blind cap on the end of the barrel, which covers the plunger. The model below is a silver Pearl made in 1940. The plungers in this era were made from aluminum, and both the top and the bottom of the pen had plastic jewels. With the start of World War II, aluminum became a much-needed commodity for the war effort. Parker switched to plastic for the plungers and eliminated the jewel on the blind endcap. The horizontal Pearl stripe, along with the Vacumatic filling syste were phased out in 1948.
In 1941 Parker introduced a new line of pens with considerably less flash, but quite a bit of elegance, the Parker 51
, a pen which has been described by some aficionados as the 'perfect' fountain pen. It was initially introduced as a Vacumatic filler, a filling system that was extraordinarily difficult for anyone other than a professional pen repair person to fix. In '49 they switched over to the Aerometric system, in my personal opinion a major step toward. This is the filling system in the gold capped pen on the far right. The Aerometrics return to the ink sac, but this time enclosed partially by aluminum that allowed you to simply squeeze the sac with your fingers to draw up ink. Much simpler to repair or replace than any of the Vacumatics, for sure.
Incidentally, the Parker 51 above was a gift from a patient of mine, and one of my frequent daily writers.