Parker 51 Fantasy Trip - Part 3
by Jim Mamoulides 4/30/04
All That Glitters
Parker introduced its solid gold Presidential model in 1949, the year after the launch of the new Aerometric Parker 51 line. The Aerometric design replaced the Vacumatic filling system, and eliminated the blind cap required at the end of the barrel, in favor of a press bar type system where the entire barrel had to be removed to operate. This gave the new version of the pen a clean, unbroken line from the clutch ring to the barrel end. The design made it easier for Parker to introduce metal barrels on the pen, as manufacturing would be simpler.
This new design, with a simple single piece cap and barrel, also opened up the pen to unique jeweler's versions, and many examples are extant. Parker also authorized jewelers to make special versions of the pen.
What might be a surprise is retrofitting a Vacumatic Parker 51 with a gold or gold filled overlay. The pen may be a prized possession. The owner may not be interested in one of those "new" pens. The jeweler or pen maker may find the challenge attractive, much like the feeling a mountain climber gets, first setting eyes on distant peaks. These two pens probably represent a little of each of those reasons.
The first pen is a classic solid gold overlay. A Vacumatic Parker 51 was taken apart and the cap, barrel, and blind cap were all carefully overlaid with a wrap of 18 karat solid gold sheet. The sheet is engraved with a repeating chain link pattern made by six intertwining parallel lines. It's hard to tell how the work was done, but the cap overlay is two pieces, made like butting tubes, and the pattern goes under the clip, indicating that the jeweler worked with pre-engraved pieces.
Other manufacturers made overlays in this manner. A 1940s Sheaffer Masterpiece has a plastic barrel with a solid gold sleeve. Many early fountain pens were gold overlaid on hard rubber.
The second pen is an interesting hybrid, and appears to be a "because it's there" design. The cap and barrel are from a Parker Insignia, an all gold-filled Aerometric pen made from 1948 through 1969. The craftsman who made this pen then took an earlier Vacumatic Parker 51, possibly a later single jewel model, and used it as the "engine" for the finished pen.
The Vacumatic clip replaced the Insignia clip, visually winding back the clock on the pen to match the Vacumatic filler that would be used. The Vacumatic barrel and blind cap was probably machined thinner to allow the Insignia's barrel to slip over the plastic. The Insignia's barrel end was then sawn off even to the blind cap and the barrel and blind cap pieces were glued together, as if made that way originally. The breather hole does look odd on the end of the blind cap, though. It's a clever way to get an all gold-filled Vacumatic, but it must have been a lot of work!
It's not known who the craftsmen are who made these pens, but it's reasonable to speculate, due to the wear and the construction, that they likely date to the 1950s, possibly from Argentina, a focal point for many other Parker fantasy pens for many years.
I have a natural attraction to solid gold and all gold-filled pens. Maybe its the cachet of gold, the implied expense, or possibly a more basic interest in shiny objects. All gold pens attract attention like no other. If you want a "look at me" pen, a pen that talks to everyone in the room when you pull it out, pick one that is gold from end to end and you'll meet that objective.
Both of these pens have seen some hard use, but they still have that certain attractiveness. Like an aging A-list movie star, the beauty may have faded somewhat, but they still have the magic to capture the interest of everyone in the room.
The gold-filled Insignia Vacumatic fantasy pen caught my attention first, probably because it was an Insignia set that drew me to the Parker 51 in the first place. That pen writes wonderfully and is definitely pocket jewelry, so I was fascinated with the idea of that model being converted to a Vacumatic. Looking it over, it turns out to be an interesting and effective combination of the two. The Vacumatic clip was a good idea, unifying the blind cap and its plunger at one end with the older style clip at the other. This looks like what Parker might have done if they had decided to make a Vacumatic Insignia. It's very well executed, and the only hint that it's not original is some evidence of the machining involved can be seen when the blind cap is removed.
The pen is the same dimensions as a Parker 51 Insignia, slightly shorter than a Vacumatic, being about 5 1/4 inches long capped and 5 3/4 inches posted. It's no different in terms of excellent balance, capped or posted, but is slightly heavier, due to more stuff packed under the metal.
The edges of the barrel near the clutch ring show the bane of the Insignia model, heavy plating wear. The fingers inside the cap that grab the clutch ring to hold the cap on have dug into the plating and, over time, scuffed a lot of it off. Too bad on such a pretty pen, but not a surprise.
There is the later, clear plastic Vacumatic plunger under the blind cap and filling is the typical several strokes required. With a quick wipe of the hood, the Vac Insignia is ready to write. The nib is a firm and very smooth medium that glides on paper. It's wetter than many Parker 51s, but has the characteristic lack of expressiveness. This would make a very nice and attractive daily user.
The 18 karat gold overlay Vacumatic fantasy pen is more subtle. The chain link design is very subdued and lightly engraved, and looks worn away in some spots. This pen looks like a custom job beginning with a single jewel Vacumatic. The overlay appears to be four pieces. Two pieces make the cap, and the seam is quite visible and tactile. The 18 karat hallmark appears on the cap. The design works very well on the barrel and blind cap, and breaks where they meet. The construction quality is very good, but it looks more like an add-on than an experienced, authorized work.
The finished pen is 5 1/2 inches long capped and 6 inches posted. It's slightly heavier than a plastic barrel Vacumatic, and retains the excellent balance, capped or posted. As with the Insignia, the 18 karat gold overlay Vacumatic works as it should, having the older metal filler, and a few strokes of the plunger fills it up. The nib is a little disappointing, having a definite sweet spot. It probably needs some work to write really well.
Although there are many variations of the Parker 51 over its long run, these high quality variations provide some real interesting side roads to travel, many of which lead to Argentina.
These two are the last of the Parker 51 fantasy pens. What a great run of unusual pens! I guess I have to return to the real world now.
Grateful thanks to Harry Shubin for supplying these beautiful Parker 51 gold fantasy pens. Harry was not only kind enough to loan these pens, but was also very helpful in supplying background on their origin.
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