Parker 51 Thoughts


Here I am, hanging out in the hospital dining room while Gordon has dialysis. I’m seated at a nice big table. It would be ideal for restoration work if I’d brought my tools and a handful of pens, but I suspect that the staff might not view that activity with approval.

If I can’t work at least I can write. I can’t really deal with specific pens here but perhaps some more general remarks might be acceptable.

I had a comment the other day about a post I had written on the subject of the Parker 51. Though the comment was just advice on the history of the pen, I read between the lines that the writer did not entirely approve of some of the things I had said about the Parker 51. Let me set the record straight. Though I am not a fan of the Parker 51, I fully recognize that it is one of the finest fountain pens ever made. Given the length of its production run and the immense number of pens made, it would be only a fool who did not recognise its worth and influence on the development of other fountain pens.

My objection to the Parker 51 and other covered-nib pens is purely personal. They don’t work well for me for several reasons. Unlike other types of nib, I have to consciously study the tip of the pen to ensure that I am holding it the right way. That might seem a very minor complaint but it has to be done every time I pick up the pen or resume writing after an interruption. Though you can find the occasional stub or oblique (particularly among Newhaven-made 51s), most covered-nib pens give no line variation. Therein, I think, lies some part of their present popularity; they suit writers who have grown up using ballpoints. Though I don’t entirely dismiss firm points with no line variation, they’re not my favourite type of pen. A little line variation enhances otherwise dull handwriting.

Finally, I don’t understand hiding beautifully crafted nibs away. A large part of my early attraction to fountain pens was just that: the sight of a gold nib gliding across the paper, perhaps flexing a little and laying the best line I could achieve.

So that’s the story. I’m not saying that the Parker 51 is faulty in any way. I’m just saying that it isn’t for me. We all have our preferences. I know at least one person who dislikes Conway Stewarts, despite their excellent nibs, attractive colours and huge range of models. Others actively dislike cartridge pens while some avoid lever- and button-fillers. That’s one of the things that is so wonderful about our hobby: the huge variety which provides something for all tastes.


11 thoughts on “Parker 51 Thoughts

  1. Dear Deb,

    Hopefully your husband is doing better at the moment and in the future. It is a very scary situation that everyone could find themselves in. I have also been warned about it due to the type of medication I take. My very best wishes go to both of you.

    As to 51’s, I have a couple of them which I acquired as part of bundles as I also have about the same opinion about them as you do.

    All the best.


  2. Hospitals… I have long experience of a wide variety of them whilst members of the family were being treated so I have every sympathy with those who sit for long hours in waiting rooms and cafeterias.

    As for the Parker 51 I do use one as a workhorse pen when I’m in meetings. It is so reliable. In the field i.e. outdoors, I use a Parker 25 which is very reliable and indestructible if a little odd looking. For letter writing and desk work I use open nib pens specifically a Waterman Forum or a Conway Stewart Universal 479. The nib is such a key part of a fountain pen, its a pity not to put it on display.

    The point about line variation is well made. The 51 is always the same but even a cheap pen like a 1970s Rolltip has more variation even with a nib as stiff as a nail

  3. Maybe it’s perverse of me, but I was glad to hear someone else say they don’t love the 51! Of course that doesn’t take away from the importance and value of the pen, but it has never worked for me either, and it’s mostly I hate to see a pen try to not look like a fountain pen when it is one. I like other Parkers, and have several British Duofolds, but I much prefer a typical nib, hands down, every time.

    Good to see a post from you, as they are always thoughtful and educational too.

    Best wishes for better health for your husband.

  4. I agree you should at least take along a box of cleaning equipment Deb, too good an opportunity to miss and not do some work – you could always ask if they mind. Rubbing on Micro Crystaline Wax isn’t noisy:)

    with the P51, I think the answer re popularity is/was partly the perceived image of the of person who back in the 50s and 60s owned one – plus the one really big advantage they had, which was styling.
    They always look the bees knees – so professional – very executive – especially the gf examples, and executives aren’t worried about flexible nibs – just whether it writes every time its used – unlike us collectors who want character from the tip.
    I’ve looked at my few P51s – and whilst the pens aren’t marked F, M, or B, I seem to have what look like three F and six M, but I stand to be corrected.

    In terms of frequency of turning up, 45s probably come top followed by 61s then 51s – and although I’m no fan of the 45 generally, both the 51 and 61 are stylistically almost faultless, but I wouldn’t use one – but then (cringes slightly) I don’t write with any of my pens, unless dip testing.
    But I really do see how some folk can be hooked on these modern Parkers
    I was fortunate recently – found a white 25!!

    But collectors would have to admit that 1930s f/pens with to die for flexible nibs (I still want to put a k in front) are generally not as reliable and long lasting as a P51.:)

  5. Good read – as usual Deb. But even better just to hear from you and to know that pen thoughts are intruding! Hang in there!

  6. Totally agree with you Deborah, the 51 leaves me cold too, having I recently received one as part of a lot, owning it hasn’t improved my opinion. Apart from writing as soon as it is laid to paper it just isn’t ‘right’ for me either. I find not being able to see the nib most off putting.

    Must have been late in the day for the dining room to be that empty. I hope the treatment is settling down and that you find a suitable home soon.

    Regards, Peter

  7. at the risk of boring people, just a thought or two that might be of interest and explain some of the reasoning behind the 51s hooded-nib design, which arguably remains the biggest criticism of this model.
    Parker had already developed what they called their new high-velocity quick-drying ink which they enthused would ‘write dry with wet ink’ – part of the trade off for this achievement with the ink was that the nib needed to be kept moist, and for obvious reasons ‘hooding’ the tip achieved this better than a conventional nib, and saved the need for a ponce pot and reams of blotting paper. So it could be argued that hooding the nib was essential to effective delivery of their new ink, and it’s likely that hooded nibs cannot be made to flex. There were other techno parts of the hood that also helped more efficient ink delivery such as the collector and this part of the design also fitted in better with a hood as opposed to an open nib.
    Perhaps at the end of the day our like or dislike of the 51 depended on which side of the pond you were sitting, but judging by contemporary reviews it seems to have been a winner from the word go, and I’d have to agree that the design is almost faultless. But as commented by Deb. and others, the characterless line is mind-blowingly boring and although I own a number of examples I’d never write with one. So far I’ve only managed to find aerometric examples made at Newhaven and still looking for a Vacumatic early ’40s designed 51, with aluminium jewels:)
    Have to say that I’m not clever enough to know all the above – just that I’ve splashed out and bought the Shepherd’s book on this model – fascinating read whether or not you like the pen.

    Apologies to Deb for clogging up the lady’s blog, and it can be deleted if wished – it’s not important………….. am sure we all hope Deb and Gordon are making progress, and that life is heading toward a more settled outcome.

    The London pen show (WES) looms close – Sunday week from memory – is anyone going?

  8. My 51 is a vac but there are no markings on the barrel. Around the cap it says Parker 51 14 ct r gold. If it had been American I would have expected 585 instead. There is also a strange symbol – a ! over a sloping line with 10 (1950?) underneath.

  9. Peter – identifying individual models and years of some of the earlier 51s, is not easy in the absence of pix – the variety and combination of caps and barrels is extensive.
    The one slash ten imprint on gold filled caps (rolled gold in the U.K.) indicates that 1/10th of the weight is 14 ct. gold.
    Putting it another way to make it a little easier to understand………………
    had yours been 12 ct. (instead of 14), then this would have meant 1/10th was 50% gold, since 12 is half of 24, which is pure gold, and 1/10 of fifty per cent equals 5% pure gold.
    In the event, yours is 1/10th of 14 ct., and since 14 is a little over half pure gold, then yours equates to a little more than 5% gold.
    Not easy to understand perhaps, but I hope I have the figures correct. In fact the gold content of caps apparently varied between 12 ct. and 16 ct.
    Perhaps understandably, some metals like copper, aluminium and brass were allocated to the war effort, and meant that gold and silver were used more on pens, than had the conflict not occurred.

    There are date codes on barrels for some of the Vacumatics, and even which quarter of the year on some models, but believe the practise of date imprinting ceased by the mid 1950s.
    Unfortunately, like a lot of pens, especially those that have seen a lot of use, imprints can wear or become difficult to read – that’s not taking into account those that were imprinted poorly in the first place.

    I think the wording on your cap is standard for States made Vacumatics with gold filled caps, although agree that we’re accustomed in the U.K. to seeing 585 on States made nibs on Duofolds for example. Until around 1953 (in the States) 51s were date stamped on the nibs, but as these are hooded then guess it’s impossible to see these details.

    I hope I have the above correct – please put me right immediately if not – my knowledge of 51s is very limited and it’s a pen with massive variation.
    The above information comes courtesy of the Shepherds book – a very good read, but now not so easy to find at a reasonable price.:)

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