Classic Space Pen 1968
by Jim Mamoulides, November 30, 2004
An American Hero
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn performed the most daring feat of his highly decorated career. On that day he piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 "Friendship 7" spacecraft on the first United States manned earth orbital mission. The United States was in heated competition with the Soviet Union in the "Space Race" and was playing catch up. Glenn launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and in his 4 hour and 55 minute flight he orbited the earth three times, reaching a maximum altitude of over 160 miles and cruising at over 17,000 miles per hour.
John Glenn was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He was a World War II veteran, entering flight school in March, 1942 and earning his Marine Corps pilot commission in 1943. He joined Marine Fighter Squadron 155 and F-4U fighters in the Marshall Islands, completing 59 combat missions. After the war, Glenn continued his service and saw action in Korea, flying 63 missions in Marine Fighter Squadron 311. He also flew 27 missions with the Air Force Glenn on exchange.
Parker Classic Space Pen 1968
After the Korean war, Glenn trained as a test pilot and worked as a project officer in the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, DC. In July 1957, Glenn flew an F8U Crusader from Los Angeles to New York in a record 3 hours and 23 minutes, the first transcontinental flight averaging above supersonic speed.
Glenn was selected as a Project Mercury Astronaut in April 1959 and was sent to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He continued with the program when it was moved to NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas in 1962. Before going up himself, Glenn was the backup pilot for Astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1964 as a full Colonel. Glenn flew again on Space Shuttle flight STS-95 on a mission from October 29 to November 7, 1998. He was also a United States Senator from Ohio.
Glenn's service awards include six Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal with 18 Clusters for his service during World War II and Korea. He earned many additional medals for his service in both wars. His highest honor was given for his space flight, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
Detail Of Parker Classic Space Pen Cap
Honoring The Event
Parker introduced the International Classic pushbutton ballpoint pen and pencil set in 1967. The new line closely followed the design of the flagship Parker 75 line, with the principal difference being the stepped clip on the International Classic where the feathers lay flat against the cap top.
Limited edition pens were fairly unusual in the 1960s. Of course, pen companies occasionally made special pens in very small numbers for special events, and then usually only as gifts. The idea of the recurring limited edition series simply did not exist then. The first significant limited edition was released by Parker in 1965 as a special edition of the 75 made from silver recovered from a sunken Spanish trade vessel. This Spanish Treasure Limited Edition was made as 4,821 pieces with special packaging, much as would be done today.
The Space Pen was a little of both. The pen was intended as a commemorative item and made in quantity, but was not intended for public sale. It was a commemorative gift from the company to honor the event and the people involved.
Detail Of Parker Sonnet Ciselé (Back) And Parker Classic Space Pen (Front)
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of NASA, Parker created special edition of 250 sterling silver Ciselé Classic ballpoint pens using a fragment of John Glenn's Atlas booster rocket found in Africa. The Ciselé pattern found on the Classic Space Pen was introduced with the 75 model in 1964 and has since been used on several other Parker models, including the current Sonnet line. Engraved on the cap band of each pen is "U. S. A. INTO SPACE" above "20 II 1962," celebrating John Glenn's historic flight. The edition was released in 1968 with the push button being made from the found booster metal. These pens were not made for resale, but Parker used them as gift items to heads of state and key NASA officials, including John Glenn.
Detail Of The Cap Band Showing The Special Edition Imprint
Less known is that a fountain pen was also made. It was based on the Parker 75 and unlike the ballpoint, the entire cap and barrel was made from the booster rocket metal. The total metal fragment recovered had to be quite small as only four fountain pens could be made, in addition to the 250 ballpoint push buttons. Parker gave one of the fountain pens to John Glenn and one to President Lyndon B. Johnson. The company kept the other two. The fountain pen had a much more elaborate engraving in six rows on the barrel:
THIS PEN IS MADE FROM
A FRAGMENT OF THE ROCKET
WHICH BOOSTED ASTRONAUT JOHN GLENN
INTO AMERICA'S FIRST
ORBIT SPACE FLIGHT
20 FEBRUARY 1962
The only Parker marking on the fountain pen, other than the obvious Arrow clip, was on the nib. One of the pens is kept by the Parker family, and one of them was auctioned at the 2000 Chicago pen show.
Parker Classic "Space Pen" Ballpoint 1968 - Edition Of 250 Pieces
Parker Classic Space Pen 1968
The Parker Classic ballpoint known as the "Space Pen" was created to commemorate John Glenn's three orbits of earth on February 20, 1962. It was not a regular production model, nor a publicly offered limited edition. It was a short run of 250 ballpoints in the sterling silver Ciselé pattern and made specifically as gifts for John Glenn, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and for NASA and other dignitaries for the tenth anniversary of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and to celebrate NASA's greatest achievement to date. Other than the push button and the special engraving, it is an ordinary Classic Ciselé ballpoint. Some collectors identify this early model Classic as a 75 Classic ballpoint.
Identification guide and features:
Sterling silver cap and barrel in deeply cut checkerboard Ciselé pattern
Cap band with commemorative engraving, "U. S. A. INTO SPACE" above "20 II 1962" on the front face
Gold plated clip
Push button made from John Glenn's Atlas booster rocket fragment
About 5 inches long
Uses standard Parker ballpoint refills
Never offered for general sale
Edition was 250 unnumbered pieces
Parker 75 "Space Pen" Fountain Pen 1968 - Edition Of 4 Pieces
Parker also made a Space Pen based on the 75 fountain pen where the cap and barrel were made entirely from material found in the same Atlas booster rocket fragment. Only four of these pens were made, with one given to John Glenn and the another to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Parker kept the other two.
Identification guide and features:
Cap and barrel made from John Glenn's Atlas booster rocket fragment
Barrel with commemorative engraving - only engraving on the pen
Gold plated clip and tassies
About 5 1/8 inches long capped
Cartridge / converter
Never offered for general sale
Edition was 4 unnumbered pieces
In keeping with the space pen theme, Parker also produced a "Moon Dust" pen that incorporated dust collected by Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin during the Apollo 15 mission. Each of those pens, made in 1972, and probably only five total, had a gold plate mounted on the barrel where the moon dust was embedded. The cap and barrel was made of titanium, a space age material, in keeping with the space theme.
After I completed and posted the article on the Parker Classic pen, Len Provisor contacted me with an offer to see one of the original Parker Classic Space Pens. This was an unusual treat and I jumped at the chance. The pen came to visit in a large Fedex box along with some additional information that Len provided.
Parker Classic Flighter G/T (Back) With Parker Classic Space Pen (Front)
Even though I have been in the possession of many interesting limited editions, having the Space Pen visit was like having a visiting dignitary. Parker never intended this pen for general consumption. The pen was personally given by Parker to people associated with the space program, which in the 1960s, was considered one of the highest achievements of mankind. John Glenn was a national hero.
If you've seen a Parker Classic ballpoint in sterling silver Ciselé, then you have a good idea of what this pen looks and feels like. It's slender and standard length at 5 inches long, but two subtle elements make the pen stand out from anything on the table. The push button is a different shade than the rest of the pen. The nobility of the white metal crosshatch pattern gives in to a business like mid gray. That cap has been places. Right at the middle of the pen is an engraving that makes the point seen on the cap. This pen lived history on February 20, 1962. The push button cap was along for the most famous ride of the early 1960s.
This is not a pen that bears use. It's a pen that carries memories. I really found myself much less interested in writing with it than wanting to touch the moment it represented.
There are many limited editions made today, some genuinely attempt to channel history by incorporating, as this pen does, some element from the moment it represents. I think this space pen, by virtue of not being made for sale, captured the essence. It was there to commemorate history. And it was part of that memory and it's celebration. I'm glad it came to visit.
Grateful thanks to Len Provisor for loaning the Parker Classic Space Pen photographed in this article, and for providing background on the model.