In the world of fountain pens, there are forgettable pens and famous pens…. and then there are the icons. Those are the pens that have a wide appeal and a cult like following. You may love them or not, but there is no denying their impact and the passion they generate amongst devotees. One of these icons is the Parker “51”. There is an abundance of information about these great pens, and I will make no attempt to repeat all the details. I will simply point out that there are two primary filling systems used in the life of the pen – the vacuumatic plunger filler and the aerometric filler. The vac filler was the first system used and I draw this distinction because the pen I am reviewing uses this method.
Sometimes iconic pens inspire tributes or fantasy versions where people create a pen they want to see, but it never came from the factory. When this is done with the intention to add character or widen the scope of a pen, I think it has the potential to be a thing of beauty. (When it is done to deceive or to make a pen that is represented as a rare factory original, I find this despicable and blight on our hobby.) There are many folks who have created so called fantasy “51” pens including Ariel Kullock, Paul Rossi, Ralph Prather, and Brad Torelli. Each has their strengths and their products cover a wide range of prices, depending on materials, hours invested, and parts used. While I admire the work or all four men, the pens that appeal the most to me in general are those by Brad Torelli.
Although he is a master of many pen skills, plastics are the area of expertise he focused on for this pen. He essentially took standard “51” vac parts and crafted a new barrel, hood and blind cap. In addition, he put new jewels on the top and bottom of the pen to make is a “double jewel” or DJ version of the pen. This particular pen is a demonstrator in a lovely transparent brown, almost the color of a refreshing root beer. I find the color pairs well with the gold cap. The transparency also gives one a real appreciation for the mechanics of these pens. Manually creating a vacuum to pull ink through the collector and breather tube in order to fill the ink chamber – simple but effective.
One of the best things about Brad’s pens is the warranty. He likes to say he offers a lifetime guarantee on his work and his materials. The part that always amuses me is that he means his lifetime. I have no desire to publicly share his current age, but he has joked that he probably has 20 good years ahead and then maybe another 5 or 10 so so years (so get that warranty work done!). In all seriousness, I have personal experience with him standing behind his work and going above and beyond what any large manufacturer would do in support of their pens.
Besides the giant pain in the rear it is to clean a “51” vac, the other issue for me personally is the limited range of nib widths available. To remedy this I turned to a custom retipped nib from Greg Minuskin. Greg sells a lot of “51” nibs that he retips and stubs in various widths. The one I picked was a fairly broad 1.3MM tip and Brad mounted in into his pen for me. Now I have a demo pen with a tip that is wide enough to suit my preferences.
I’ll close by saying that if, like me, you found the Parker “51” a little lacking from the factory the good news is there are artists who can make your desires a reality. I have a soft spot for demo pens, wide stubs, and pens hand made by artisans. This pen met all these criteria in one slim, iconic form factor.