When I first started with fountain pens I heard so much about the venerable Parker 51. All the talk about it made me think it would be the most beautiful pen, so I rushed to find pictures of this grail. I’ll admit, I was shocked when I first saw it. THIS THING is supposed to be considered the greatest fountain– let alone any - pen ever made? It didn’t even look like a fountain pen to my virgin eyes. I thought perhaps this was the P51 Ballpoint. Little did I know about the hooded nib. The simple styling makes it a pen you kind of have to get used to.
Appearance and Design
While I originally didn’t really like the Parker 51’s styling, I am now in love with it. It truly is a product of the 40s and 50s. The pen is extremely clean and I would say almost minimalistic. Aside from the vertical lines on the cap, there are no patterns on this pen. And other than the clutch ring, clip, and jewel, no other features to note.
The pen comes in a variety of colors and finishes. The cap can either be lustraloy (a frosted finished), nickel plated (shiny), or gold filled. The body comes in black, brown, burgundy, blue, among others.
This is a conservative pen that I wouldn’t mind pulling out in any situation, whether formal, informal or a business setting. Perhaps the gold is a bit flashy, but it goes so well with the cordovan brown body that I am apt to forgive it. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves in this case though.
Construction and Quality
Drop it, bang it, twirl it – you name it, this pen will hold up.
While early models were made from celluloid, Parker eventually switched to Lucite. As I said, it’s quite durable and has anti-shattering properties. Lucite is also a very light material. Overall, I would take it over precious resin any day. I don’t have to fear dropping it in my bag or placing it on a hard surface.
The reason why I deducted a point is because of the vacumatic filler system. It is (almost?) impossible to find an unrestored vac that will work. The rubber diaphragm generally needs replacing every 7-9 years. While I would’ve preferred an aerometric filler which last decades, I just couldn’t resist the looks of the this vac.
Weight and Dimensions
This is light pen that is comfortable for even extended writing sessions. Whether capped or uncapped, balance is maintained (though that might depend on where you grip the pen). I would probably roughly compare the size to a Pelikan M600 although it is a bit thinner.
Length capped: 5.4 inches / 13.7 cm
Length uncapped: 5 inches / 12.7 cm
Length posted: 5.87 inches / 14.9 cm
Circumference: 1.6 inches / 4 cm (at cap band)
Nib and Performance
The 14k nib is smooth with just a touch of feedback – the kind of nib I like on my workhorses. The hooded nib also means you can leave it uncapped for a while and have it start back up as though you just put it down. This means it’s perfect for lectures with long gaps where you don’t write anything down, but still have to be ready at any moment when the prof says something crucial. I’ve found that generally all inks work well in this pen.
I’ve had no skipping issues at all. The optimum writing angle (at least for my nib) seems to be around the standard 35-50 degrees. If you are someone who writes vertically you will have a very scratchy experience.
The Parker 51 offers a comfortable writing experience though. Capped or uncapped, the pen is balanced and is extremely light. Even after a 3 hour lecture, my hands did not tire at all using this pen. The lack of threads is probably a welcome sight for those of you who grip at that point.
Filling System & Maintenance
This is where the Parker 51 Vac disappoints me. I’ve used both the aerometric and vacumatic fillers and while I prefer piston fillers, I would have to say the aerometric system is vastly superior to vacumatics. It is extremely difficult to clean out this pen. I would have to say it took me at least a good half hour to an hour to completely flush out this pen. Just when you think you got the last of the ink, color continues to seep out. I swear I am going to wear it out by continuously pumping it. Anyone have any suggestions? I’d love to think I’m doing it wrong.
Speaking of wearing out, as I mentioned earlier the diaphragm needs replacing every decade or so. It’s a shame, if I ever pass this pen on, I’d like to think my children wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of replacing the sac.
Another downfall of this system is that there is no ink view! This combined with the pumping action means you can never really tell how much ink you’ve actually filled up (despite what people say, the bubbles never really seem to stop).
Cost and Value
Definitely an affordable way into the world of vintage and fountain pens in general. This one cost me $80 including shipping, but you can find one going for anywhere from ~$50 for a user-grade pen to hundreds of dollars for the rarer colours. With the older pens going on 70 years, the durability speaks for itself. This pen will probably outlive all of us. When I ask my friends how old they think my pen is, this guess about 10 years max, but little do they know the pen is probably as old as their grandparents!
Given the stellar reputation of the Parker 51, I never hesitated once with this purchase. I knew I would be getting more than my money’s worth.
There is a reason why there are so many Parker 51s on sale even nearly 70 years after they were first introduced. They are sturdy pens that do everything a pen should: write well. They are also stylish at the same time, with a specimen on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I would not hesitate at all to recommend this pen to anyone regardless of budget. A good condition Parker 51 could be had for $50 shipped. Though I would suggest an aerometric filler for those who are just looking for a hassle free pen. So if you are looking to buy vintage (or not) pick up one these immediately! With the craftsmanship, you wouldn’t even be able to tell this pen is from WWII!
These pens will never let you down and certainly live up to its slogan, the world’s most wanted pen.
Edited by Kaych, 09 November 2010 - 03:14.