As one who lived through the Parker 51 era, I disagree that the large number of Cross fountain pens sold as gifts has discouraged collectors. If number of units sold is the measure, then the Parker 51 should be even less interesting to collectors than Cross FPs. Instead, one of the things 51 enthusiasts tell each other is that the pen sold more units than any other fountain pen. Best selling pen of all time. But far from deterring today's collector, that seems to be an argument in favor of the pen.
Number of units aside, there are other differences. The Cross Century FP introduced in 1982 to the world market and in 1984 to the United States market was never thought of as terrifically desirable. Somewhat desirable, yes. Fashionable, yes. But Parker advertised the 51 as the world's most wanted pen, people believed it was, and although there was a time near the end of the 51's original run when it wasn't very wanted at all, the fact is that its technical excellence combined with Parker's marketing made it more salable than any Cross fountain pen ever was.
I would add, parenthetically, that there were years, possibly many years, when the Sheaffer Snorkel outsold the Parker 51 in the United States though not in the entire world. Both pens were interesting, and although I enjoy writing with my Cross FP, I can't make much of a case that it's interesting in the same way as the 51 and the Snorkel were. What can be said for Cross pens, at least in the past, is that they were well manufactured. That is very different from being interesting as objects.
Yet another point is that Cross pens are somewhat less a big-box product in foreign countries than in the country of their origin. FPN members outside the United States are, I think, more likely to perceive a Cross fountain pen as potentially an upper-middle-class object than Americans are. At first Cross did try to position the pen that way in the United States, but those efforts subsided. As slogans go, "smart indulgence" isn't in the same universe as "the world's most wanted pen." Cross marketing was never really there in the way that marketing was there for the Vacumatic and the 51 and the 75. And various Sheaffer pens, too.
For whatever reasons, Waterman as well as Cross pens have been offered in large quantities in big-box office supplies retailers without, it seems, degrading the image of the Waterman brand.
For me it isn't only one thing that accounts for the Cross brand's lack of glamour when it comes to fountain pens. It is several things, not least the changed market for fountain pens in general. By the 1980s glamour attached itself to fountain pens that weren't sold in mass-market quantities, and Cross found itself somewhat between two stools there.
They were committed to moving a large number of units at a time when perceptions of fountain pens differed from what they had been during the 1940a and earlier. In the early 1980s it wasn't at all easy to get up to speed as a new fountain-pen manufacturer selling large quantities at premium prices. The Boss family has been doing the best it knows how, but mechanical pencils and ballpoint pens were the markets the company could dominate, not fountain pens.
Edited by Jerome Tarshis, 20 October 2010 - 13:15.