When we mention vintage pens, we all think of something slightly different. For you it might be pens before 1980. For me it’s pens before 1960. That’s because by that date, the place of the fountain pen in the world had changed. By that time the ballpoint had become completely reliable and was the writing instrument of choice. My husband was ten in 1960 and he says that the ballpoint was the cool choice by then. That’s what the schoolkids wanted to use but the teachers insisted on fountain pens.
After 1960 fountain pens were no longer just competing against each other; they were in a death-struggle with the ballpoint pen. Several pen companies had already gone to the wall and the rest were suffering. From then on, every fountain pen would be made in the knowledge that it would be in a fight for market share. Pens were made for an ever-smaller niche. As time went on more and more fountain pens were made with the hobbyist and collector in mind.
It was in 1960, right on the cusp of my date for the end of the vintage pen, that Parker brought out its budget 45. I don’t propose to repeat the history of the 45. You can find that on the excellent parkercollector.com. The 45 was Parker’s first attempt at the cartridge/converter pen. Some people say that the name is a nod to the Colt 45 and its cartridges. Be that as it may, the 45 has some resemblance to the Parker 51. It has a collector to control ink flow and the first 45s followed the plastic barrel/metal cap pattern of the 51. Later ones were all plastic. Then came Flighters, Insignias, the 45 CT Arrow and colourful Harlequins. In one form or another the 45 was in production for 47 years. I don’t know how many pens were sold, nor, I believe, does anyone else. Hundreds of thousands I should think, and I believe it was Parker’s last really big seller.
For years I ignored the 45. Most of its production years were too late for it to attract my interest. Ebay is full of them and they don’t make much money. Of course some came my way when they formed part of lots that I bought. Apart from the converters, which can fail, every one I had worked well right away. The nibs come in all shapes and sizes and are easily interchangeable. With the exception of the Parker 17 (that’s for another day), I don’t like hooded nibs. I find their looks unappealing and I have to look to ensure I’m holding the pen the right way. That’s why Parker put the arrow on the hood of the 61. But the 45 isn’t really an enclosed nib. It’s partially hooded but enough of that little trangular nib protrudes that it’s instantly apparent which way up the pen is.
For one reason or another I’ve ended up with a lot of Parker 45s in recent times. I put them up on the sales website for a peppercorn price and sooner or later they go. Apart from the rather more special ones like the Harlequins and Insignias, they’re never going to be money-spinners because there are so many of them available.
I’ve kept one or two fine-nib Parker 45s because they write so well. The plastic they are made from is light and they are very well balanced. They don’t seem to be subject to any obvious faults like cracking or shrinkage. The press-on cap can become loose but that’s easily repaired. I find myself using a Parker 45 often. The pen has sneaked into my heart. From ignoring them for years I have become a Parker 45 enthusiast.
At a time when other pen manufacturers were struggling to sell fountain pens, Parker managed to turn out a succession of successes from the Aerometric Duofolds to the 45s and 17s and on to the elegant 75. That may have fallen away in more recent times and, no longer a stand-alone company, its products may have lost the obvious stamp of Parker quality. However, as long as the 45 remains ubiquitous we are unlikely to forget how good Parker once was.