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Parker British Duofold Af Button Filler


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14 replies to this topic

#1 Flounder

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 13:42

Introduction

Up for review today is this button filling, British market only Parker Duofold. It was made sometime between 1948 and 1953, judging by the aluminium filling button concealed beneath the barrel's blind cap.

Despite this, there's little in the way of wear to suggest its belonging to a vanished Britain of flying boats, skiffle music and a functional NHS. Cradled between the function keys of my ThinkPad (one of IBM's last Greenock built laptops) as I type, the Duofold shares with it the same capable, engineered aesthetic. It's stylish, rather than fashionable, and an archetypical cigar shaped fountain pen.


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British Parker Duofold AF (aluminium button filler), modern Parker Frontier in background.

The pens I use tend to come from eBay, at a price that reflects their condition (and the callousness of our generation, judging heirlooms by the going rate). After the usual convalescent period of barrel polishing, replacing perished rubber, soaking decades-silted feeds and realigning brutalised nibs, there's usually an initial ambivalence. For all the familiarity than grows with refurbishment, each pen, umbilical conduit of profundity to page (bread... cheese?), is at first a stranger in my hand.

In the face of this, from the first few words that flowed between the tines of this Duofold, doubt gave way to equanimity. Despite its diminutive appearance – it's a bit short and fat – there is a lot of pen to like here.

Appearance & Design

Although I no longer need the effortless, gliding grace of a fountain pen for three hour essay exams, I've indulged too long to go back to ballpoints. I've also retained a habit left over from university assignments; when I need a pen to hand, it's typically because I'm typing a train of thought, and handwriting tangents that occur to me for later development. In this way, there's a modicum of coherence lent to any given missive.

It's due to this pattern of use that I started scouting for a pen I could with one hand pick up, uncap, cap, write, hold meditatively between fingers as they type, move a mouse, or turn the pages in a notebook. My fountain pens are an eclectic mix, with no one pen quite fitting the bill - though the cheapest, Hero's 616 Jumbo, has so far been the best contender.

Until now! The Duofold does very well in this role. The cap unscrews easily between thumb and forefinger. While the piano black cap and barrel are plastic, the section is tellingly a shade less glossy – it's made from black hard rubber, for better grip where it matters. It's also fluted in the fashion of a cigarette holder, preventing ink from staining the fingers and providing a good seal with the inner cap when not in use.


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The Duofold's nib & tactile BHR section. The modern Frontier (background) uses rubber coated plastic to provide a similar effect.


Though the Duofold's appearance undeniably lacks a certain visual flair – yet another black pen! – there is a pleasing kind of flow. There's a classy subtlety here, different materials are colour matched, and there's no step, trim, embellishment or end jewel to betray the blind cap's presence. I find the anachronistic, personalised branding of the barrel imprint very appealing – "CEO S. PARKER". Today, it might read "Parker, of Sandford Consumer Brands, a Newell - Rubbermaid Company" - if they could make a barrel long enough.

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The barrel imprint is clear and unworn.

Onwards to the Duofold's crowning glory. In a creative squall, the eye is drawn instinctively to the cap, which is an understated beauty. It seems quite wide bodied, an effect emphasised by the short clip (Parker's famous arrow) and cap band. What impresses here is the very fine detailing – the feathers in the arrow's flight especially are very precisely machined. The clip and cap band are gold plated to match the 14k gold nib, very much to my tastes (if gold is present, I prefer it to be used as an accent or highlight – never the whole show).

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The Duofold's cap. Its clip is 60 years old, yet could have been electroplated yesterday.

Considered as a whole, the Duofold's design is a more detailed and delicate proposition than today's pens. The soft gold nib seems almost draped over its feed; in contrast, to cope with hands more used to ballpoints, the entire length of the Frontier's steel nib appears buttressed by scaffolding.


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Comparing the gold nib Duofold's 60 year old feed design (top) with a steel nib modern Frontier's (bottom).

Which brings up the subject of...

Construction & Quality


This is a light pen. From my limited experience of button fillers, I expected the barrel to be quite thick, to cope with the steel pressure bar flexing within; perhaps I overestimate the stresses button fillers cope with. The cap plastic is rather thin – remarkably so at the lip, though it must be strong enough, given the absence of cracks 60 years after having left the factory. The whole cap really is very light, and a decent Glasgow breeze would have it off an outdoor table.

Both the cap and barrel screw threads are plastic and very much of their time. They are demonstrably strong, tight and unstripped, and in sympathetic hands will probably last another 60 years. In a modern context, they are of a delicacy that clumsiness would wreck havoc upon in a single use. I make a point of never being precious about lending my fountain pens, and hand them over with no ceremony – my nonchalance masking a keen observance of each subject's subversive potential. The Frontier's steel snap cap copes well in such situations, given that the vast majority seem to palm slap it on the barrel like a magazine to the butt of a pistol. I won't be risking this Duofold in the same scenario.

Similarly, the nib is of a different age. Bafflingly, it is smooth and writes quite a broad line, though the tipping is quite conservative. It has a soft and somewhat flexible character, an effortless writer – the disadvantage of this being the ease with which some previous oaf bent the tines.

All things considered, the Duofold is robust enough to have lasted very well. The finish has kept its lustre, and electroplating is quite good, the cap clip in particular looking very fresh (...and the nib is as straight as I dare push my luck).

Weight & Dimensions

My scales aren't sensitive enough to be conclusive – the pen itself is of average weight, the cap has been mentioned above. The barrel is quite wide, wider than a Parker 51, perhaps even slightly wider than a Frontier. It's 12cm long from the tip of the nib to the end of the barrel, a little shorter than I'm used to, but the Duofold is a pleasing and comfortable shape that feels comfortable in the hand. I don't tend to post when writing, but this cap is so light that it makes no difference to the balance of the pen.

Nib & Performance

The nib on this particular example is a bit of an enigma. It is unadorned excepting the stark legends "PARKER" "14K" and "ENGLAND". It writes as smooth and almost as broad as my B nibbed Frontier, despite lacking the latter's bowling ball sized tipping. The tines are neither especially long, nor exceptionally thin. It follows that I was very surprised at the ease with which they moved during initial straightening and alignment – they are far less stiff than any other tines I've adjusted.


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The nib is stamped Parker - 14k - England.


I've no real basis for comparison, but I suspect this nib is a semi flex, capable with minimal pressure of a pleasing variation in line width that none of my other pens can achieve.

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Line variation using the Duofold's 14k gold nib.

Filling System & Maintenance

This is my first 'factory' button filler. Remove the blind cap from the end of the barrel, immerse the nib in the ink, press the button a couple of times, and you're good to go. I often see this style of Duofold referred to as the "AF" due to the aluminium button. This can't be removed from its barrel cavity like a conventional button, has a pleasing progressive action with no lateral play, and is covered in decorative, engraved rings. Capacity is roughly equal to the Sheaffer Snorkel's, there's a lot of space going to waste in that fat barrel.


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The barrel's blind cap and aluminium filling button.

Blind caps are a big draw for me; barrels that don't unscrew just seem more robust. I admit that I'm also a sucker for bells and whistles like hidden filler buttons. On the practical side, the ink is stored in a rubber sac like the Sheaffer Snorkel, so there's no risk of leakage at joints and seams, or into the cap due to thermal expansion. However, the length of the nib means that you do need a higher level of ink in a bottle to fill compared to other pens.

Cost & Value

For a button filler from a 1st tier company, British Duofolds are very reasonable on eBay. This one was less so due to the incompetence of whoever opened it up before it fell into my hands; I'm convinced the pressure bar I replaced was cut too short to ever compress the ink sac. Nevertheless, it was an inexpensive purchase, and easily restored to working order without the need for professional tools.

Conclusion

Given the modest initial pecuniary outlay and lack of specialist skills needed to get one of these up and running, I can't help but feel the British Duofold is due a popular resurgence, despite its delicacy. Perhaps, given the now ubiquitous touchscreen's evolution from crude resistive to capacitive feedback, we are gradually becoming resensitised to the subtlety and finesse our forefathers once exercised balancing their carburettors... One thing is for sure - the British Duofold is a damn fine pen, & I need a subeditor for these wild eyed handwritten delusions!


Flounder

Edited by Flounder, 04 February 2012 - 14:08.

Latest pen related post @ flounders-mindthots.blogspot.com : vintage Pilot Elite Pocket Pen review


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#2 jandrese

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 15:12

Great review of a fantastic pen! Made me want one, and I rarely buy vintage pens anymore.

#3 georges zaslavsky

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 15:21

I have one with the aerometric filler also made in UK but with a 18ct french market nib, it is also amazingly smooth, flexy and responsive.
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#4 Mauricio

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 15:42

Thanks for a great review. I also have a couple of these AF pens and I really like them. Very well made, elegant but without too much ornamentation, and their nibs are amazing, like most nibs produced by Parker in the New Haven plant.

Edited by Mauricio, 04 February 2012 - 15:42.

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#5 Beechwood

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 16:02

Great review, I have a Danish Model (!!) and its excellent, a little too fine perhaps but very nicely put together, second from the left on the pic, I presume the, by the clip thats its a little earlier than your review model?

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#6 Flounder

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 16:34

Thanks for the kind words, this was a fun pen to review. Arthur, I think the Danish model you have is the AF's immediate ancestor, I'm not too sure though - does it have a conventional button?

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#7 Beechwood

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 16:39

Thanks for the kind words, this was a fun pen to review. Arthur, I think the Danish model you have is the AF's immediate ancestor, I'm not too sure though - does it have a conventional button?



Its the aluminium button, have a British made pen same spec and same clip.

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#8 Flounder

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 17:07

Hmm perhaps someone can help with this! It does eem an older style of Parker clip generally speaking.

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#9 Malcy

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 22:45

A great review, thanks.

These are really nice pens which make reliable day to day writers. I sold my AF and my NS on recently and they are enjoying new homes. Perhaps I will get one again if I can find a nib like the one on your AF. :)
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#10 mbSailor

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 11:05

Hi Flounder,

thanks for your very informative post. I recently acquired one of this beautiful pen but it needs a new sac and to be deeply cleaned. I was able to unscrew the barrel but I could not remove the feed and the nib. Do you know if the nib/feed unscrew or I need to pull it? Thanks,

mbSailor.

#11 Beechwood

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 11:59

Hi Flounder,

thanks for your very informative post. I recently acquired one of this beautiful pen but it needs a new sac and to be deeply cleaned. I was able to unscrew the barrel but I could not remove the feed and the nib. Do you know if the nib/feed unscrew or I need to pull it? Thanks,

mbSailor.


Its not every pen that must have its nib and feed removed, it shouldn’t be a ‘first job on the list’ unless there is an obvious problem, removing the feed has the potential to do more harm than good unless you have a great deal of experience.......... and even then accidents can happen.

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#12 mbSailor

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 19:55

Beechwood, you are right. Indeed, I have no experience in that job. Given your advice I cleaned the nib unit by a solution of tap water and ammonia, it worked well. Then I started to replace my first ink sac of a button filler pen by following the wonderful instructions here. I disassembled the Parker Duofold AF and I threw out the old sac and I bought a new one (size 18)

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I cleaned the nib unit (especially the peg where I would fix the sac)

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I shortened the ink sac, then I put a little of shellac to fix the new ink sac and I inserted it. After a while (half an hour) I put a little of talc outside the ink sac (in order to simplify the insertion of the spring)

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Finally, not easily, I inserted the spring and the button. This is the result

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Now the test, I took a bottle of ink (Parker washable blue), pressed the button, and dipped the nib

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After, I pressed again the button

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Fantastic! It works well! My Parker Duofold AF was full of blue ink! I cannot say the satisfaction to see this (sorry my enthusiasm). I filled it again and I wrote few line

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Just a question: The nib of this pen is tagged "N", does someone know what it means?

Best,
mbSailor

#13 Beechwood

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 04:47

The N stands for Newhaven, Parker headquarters at the time.

You have done a remarkable job, well done.

Presumably you put the pressure bar in from the top to avoid the bar twisting the sac when you attach the barrel?

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#14 Flounder

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 17:06

Congratulations on getting your AF up and running. As it happens I have knocked out the nib and feed on this pen since this review, as unfortunately the BHR section had a hairline split and had to go. The good news is that in doing so, I discovered some more about the pen's background - the usually hidden area of the nib was marked 1953.

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Yours is the second I've seen where the repairer has chosen to pull the button rather than unscrew the button assembly (and run the risk of the barrel plastic cracking) or leave the button and assembly in situ. I wonder if that will become the accepted practise "safe option" as these pens get older.

Thanks for sharing your photos, I hope your Duofold gives you as much pleasure in use as mine has, it is very much a daily writer!

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#15 mbSailor

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Posted 19 October 2012 - 22:06

The N stands for Newhaven, Parker headquarters at the time.

You have done a remarkable job, well done.

Presumably you put the pressure bar in from the top to avoid the bar twisting the sac when you attach the barrel?


Thanks Beechwood. So N stands for Newhaven, I could image that.
Exactly, I put the pressure in from the top. I was struggled with the problem how avoid the bar twisting the sac and I look for a solution on the net.

Congratulations on getting your AF up and running. As it happens I have knocked out the nib and feed on this pen since this review, as unfortunately the BHR section had a hairline split and had to go. The good news is that in doing so, I discovered some more about the pen's background - the usually hidden area of the nib was marked 1953.

Posted Image

Yours is the second I've seen where the repairer has chosen to pull the button rather than unscrew the button assembly (and run the risk of the barrel plastic cracking) or leave the button and assembly in situ. I wonder if that will become the accepted practise "safe option" as these pens get older.

Thanks for sharing your photos, I hope your Duofold gives you as much pleasure in use as mine has, it is very much a daily writer!


Thanks Flounder for your comment. Yes, I pull the button only and I did not unscrew the button assembly I was unsure how to unscrew safety the button assembly. I kept the sac a very little shorter in order to insert the pressure bar and the talc helped a lot.

I like very much my Duofold, especially I like the shape of the feeder behind the nib. It is thin, thinner than usual feeder. Somehow, it resembles the Esterbrook feeders, here a couple of pictures.

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On the top an Esterbrook (nib 2556), on the bottom my Duofold.

Best,
mbSailor.






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