Parker's First Rollerball Pen 1975-1983
by Jim Mamoulides 4/7/02 - Updated 7/4/03
Do You Feel It?
The rollerball pen - the ball pen that writes wet like a fountain pen. They are commonplace today, even offered in very cheap throwaway pens. The first really successful rollerball, in terms of performance, was a Parker. Parker introduced their new rollerball in 1975 along with a new pen line, the Systemark. The name indicated that it was a pen that took advantage of multiple writing modes, including a felt marker. Parker announced the new pen with the slogan, "You've got to feel it to believe it."
Parker entered the rollerball game late, as with ballpoint pens, waiting nearly ten years after the first mass-produced ballpoints hit the market before introducing the Jotter in 1954. The Jotter, still in production today, quickly became the best selling expensive ballpoint. The Jotter reached over 100 million units sold by 1974, and sells millions of units per year even today.
As with ballpoints, Parker entered the rollerball market only when the company thought it could bring a superior product. In 1975 Parker introduced the new Systemark multi-refill pen as the launch pen for the new rollerball for US $2.98 for plastic barrel and brushed steel capped models. The new pen could take any one of three refills: the new rollerball, a "Super Soft" soft-tip marker Parker introduced in 1966 in the Touché pen, and a plastic tip Stylus marker.
It's the rollerball refill that makes the pen notable. Early attempts at a rollerball pens used a wick ink system to regulate the ink flow and proved unreliable and also smeared or skipped. Parker revolutionized ballpoint refills in 1957 with a textured tungsten carbide ball called the T-ball. Parker combined the learnings from the first Parker 61 with the knowledge gained from making excellent ballpoint refills and created a capillary based rollerball system using a tungsten carbide textured ball. The new capillary rollerball refills provided smooth ink flow to the textured tungsten ball. The design is similar to a stylographic pen, where the liquid ink flows onto the paper around the ball when pressure on the paper lifts the ball slightly. This basic design carries through to this day.
Systemarks, like Jotters, came in a number of colors and finishes. The all-stainless Flighter version came with either chrome or gold plated trim. Plastic caps and barrels were offered in solid colors, including black, blue, brown, green and burgundy. Some models will have smooth gripping sections, while others have a longitudinal ribbed textured grip.
In order to accommodate the multiple refills, Parker designed the Systemark with a strong plastic tapered end cap with a stainless support ring that allowed each refill a secure fit.
As rollerball pens became more accepted, Parker integrated more models into the line, introducing the RB1 rollerball in 1981, a pen that would later be renamed Vector, became one of Parker's best selling rollerballs ever. Nearly every pen line has a rollerball mode. The Systemark was discontinued in 1983.
Parker, long a supplier of Presidential pens, supplied Systemark pens as bill signers to Jimmy Carter's White House in "Campaign Green" in 1977 and also later to the Reagan Administration. Bill signers were often given away as gifts or souvenirs to VIPs. These pens all had stainless caps and colored barrels, typically blue, black or green and were imprinted with gold, silver or white, bearing presidential seals, White House logos, official signatures, or a combination. The presidential pens would be gold trimmed and imprinted and the Vice Presidential would be trimmed in chrome and silver.
If you use a Parker rollerball refill today, it will fit the Systemark and is part of its legacy. Parker even offers them now with Gel ink. Unlike Parker ballpoint refills, which are used in many makes of pens, Parker rollerball refills fit only Parker pens.
The Systemark, being first a rollerball pen, may not have the appeal of the fountain pens typically reviewed here, but its importance is in ushering in the era of reliable rollerball pens. Some have become interested in fountain pens through rollerballs, enjoying the feel of wet ink on the page.
The Systemark pens shown are very similar in size to a Parker 61 or 45, about 5 1/4 inches long capped and 5 3/4 inches posted. The pen is a straightforward derivative design, well made, functional rather than ornate. The barrel is a slightly more slender version of the 45 barrel (they won't interchange), while the clip is close to the 61 design.
The cap snaps on and off and posts deep and snug. This pen will pick up some wear on the barrel from posting. The clip is top mounted, placing the pen deep in the pocket when worn.
Parker rollerballs are good writers, but there are others on the market that are better now. The refill is consistent and smooth, wet without smudging or skipping. At least you can get refills for this pen!
Are Systemarks collectible? Early Jotters certainly have their fans and some models fetch pretty prices. The Systemark represents a new page in pen modes, but the pen itself won't attract a lot of dollars. They live in the low rent district, and often are misidentified.
I got a Flighter Systemark in a flea market in Maine, sitting in a pen cup. I knew it was a Parker rollerball pen, but at the time I couldn't figure out what model. When I decided to sell it on eBay, I got a note from Eric Fonville, the Flighter expert, who identified it for me. That pen has since been sold to a happy owner. The black and steel model was part of a big bag 'o pens I picked up, mint in the original box with all the papers! A great find!
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Last Update 3/30/05