The Parker Vector is one of those pens that many collectors overlook. It is the classic inexpensive and mass produced fountain pen. That it is heavily used as the canvas for corporate logos and giveaways, showing up in office pen cups and desk drawers probably doesn't help it much in the cachet department.
The Parker Vector's design is clean and simple, a basic cylinder shape with a plain cutout version of the famous Parker Arrow clip. It's worked well enough to approach the quarter century mark in continuous production. Parker has and continues to make zillions of them in countless combinations of plastic, paint and trim schemes. If you like a lot of variety and a good writer for little money, the Vector does have a certain appeal. It's one pen that could be fun to see how many you can get your hands on for free, too.
So what's special about the Vector? Isn't it overlooked for good reason?
Any pen model that has a twenty year run is touching all the bases. In the low end of the market, it means that the design is attractive, it can be produced in quantity, is a quality product at an attractive price, it's durable, and it can be readily used for logo work. The Vector certainly meets all those qualifications.
The story is in how the Vector came to be. The Vector's precursor pen was introduced in 1981 as the Parker RB1. The RB1 name literally stands for "Rollerball 1" and, as the name implies, was originally made only as a rollerball pen.
The RB1 looks like any other Vector until you lay the two pens down side by side for comparison. The RB1 has a slightly shorter cap and shorter section than the Vector, and yet the RB1 is slightly longer than the Vector with the cap on, likely because the RB1 has a slightly longer barrel than the Vector. The posting knob on the end of the RB1 barrel is also longer than on the Vector, but posted the Vector is the longer pen. Confused yet?
Evidently, after the first five years of production, Parker found something about the short section wasn't working, and lengthened it, causing a fairly significant design change, yet one that's not readily obvious until the two pens are compared close together.
The most noticeable difference in the two pens is the clip. The RB1 has a very chiles ed and sharp edged matte or brushed finished steel clip that is made in two pieces. The top piece, the clip arrow, is flat and is mounted on a thin piece of spring steel that bends into the cap top, where it is secured. This design is identical to the clip design used on the Arrow, which was introduced a year later, in 1982. The RB1 has the "minus sign" inset into the cap top, which serves as the clip fastener, as also on the Vector.
The RB1 was introduced in 1981 and was produced until 1984. Parker added the FP1 fountain pen in 1984, essentially the same design as the RB1 except with the now familiar Vector nib and section instead of the rollerball section. The RB1 and FP1 were produced until 1986, when Parker revised the pen by lengthening the cap and shortening the barrel and renaming the new pen the Vector Standard.
I hadn't actually seen an RB1 in person until Matt McColm contacted me and offered to loan me one for this article. He had been reading the Vector article on PenHero.com and sent me a note asking if he had in his possession an RB1. Matt had noticed that his RB1 had a UI date code, which, if the pen was indeed an RB1, it would place it 4th quarter 1981 manufacturing, the correct timing for the model. Yes, he had definitely landed an RB1, and after some correspondence, the pen arrived here.
Like many people, my first Vector was a freebie promotional rollerball, which was a great little pen, but not especially exciting. I kept it in my Daytimer. The first Vector that I really liked was the Flighter model. Stainless steel makes every Parker look good, and the Vector Flighter is no exception. In the article, I had mentioned the RB1 as the parent for the Vector, and soon, I had one here to examine.
The RB1 and Vector are very similar in size. The Vector, which most people are familiar with, is a small and slender pen at 5 1/8 inches long capped and 6 1/8 inches posted. The RB1 is slightly longer capped at 5 1/4 inches and slightly shorter posted, at 6 inches. Like the Vector, the RB1 is lightweight and pencil slim in the hand. The cap securely posts onto the end of the barrel, as designed and makes for a long, but balanced pen to write with. I prefer it posted.
Since I only had the RB1 to work with, I can only evaluate the Parker rollerball refill, which I think write quite nicely. From what I understand about the FP1, the nib is no deferent than the Vector, so it should display the same stiff, but smooth, and wet writing characteristics.
The RB1 clip is very flexible and springy. It is made from two pieces, the top is a thick matte steel Parker Arrow "overlay" mounted onto a very springy base piece that attaches the cap at the crown. The design has much more play than the later Vector design, and because of the additional steps required to make it, it's no surprise that Parker simplified it, at least to keep the cost of the pen down. The clip is attached using a press-fit rivet that goes through a hole in the end of the clip and into the inner cap. This is why Vectors and RB1s have that "minus sign" in the top pf the cap. The rivet head is rectangular to fit the depression under the "minus sign." Because the clip is attached at the top of the cap, the pen will sit low in the pocket.
Aside from the much more interesting Arrow clip and the differences in the cap and barrel length, the RB1 is essentially a Vector, and modest utility tool of a pen that does the job well. Parker has livened up the Vector line with many dazzling colors and paint jobs, a few of which I admit are very catchy. I like the Vector Flighter. It's a steel Zen stick that's fun to knock around with and fits in most pen loops. I also enjoy some of the transparent models, my favorite being a wild "dot Com" set Parker produced in the late 1990s.
As I said in the previous article, the Vector is good, cheap, and reliable, just not exciting. Seeing the RB1 connects the dots on the design history and shows that Parker was experimenting with tubular ideas in the 1980s, as seen on the RB1, FP2, Arrow, Vector, 88, 95, and Reflex. All of these pens have borrowed some or all of their design from the RB1, anchoring the past side of the arc. Let's see what Parker does with the other end of that arc in the future.
Grateful thanks to Matt McColm for loaning the RB1 and the Vector "demonstrator" photographed in this article, and for providing background on the model.
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Last Update 3/30/05