Parker Advertising gallery

painting of Parker 51 by "ARTZYBASHEFF"

The development of the fountain pen coincided with the development of modern product advertising. At first, pen advertisements simply showed the product and provided little dissertations on the its technical merits. Later, as color magazines and improved graphic and typesetting techniques made their appearance, penmakers seized on these new tools to give the reader some "sizzle" with his steak. Herewith I am happy to present a small sampling of the magazine advertising placed by Parker for their pens between 1919 and 1946. The images are used by courtesy of the the Art Today clip art website. Click on the thumbnails to load a full-page image.
They called it The War to End All Wars, so naturally you can excuse a bit of celebration after it was all over. The image of rifles being beaten into fountain pens in this 1919 National Geographic ad was a good one (Waterman, for one, also used it). After the next war, everyone was a bit less idealistic, and the ads just told you to hang on until the retail supply channels were back in order so you could buy some pens for yourself.

Introduced in 1921, the Duofold (seen here in a November 1924 advertisement from The Literary Digest) was anything but a radical advance over Parker's earlier pens -- the washer clip, the button fill, the lucky curve feed, and the basic shape were all introduced in the previous decade. The name, the orange color, and the price were new.

A very puzzling and elliptical ad from the September 1931 National Geographic, one that inspires many questions. Who is "he"? Why is he always kyping her pen? Just what school is he slouching off to so shamefully (the reformatory, no doubt)? Where does this family get the money to hand out such expensive pens (about $50 in today's funds) so extravagantly? The pen illustrated is one of the "streamine" Duofolds, its ends somewhat tapered but not given the full baguette treatment that Sheaffer had introduced the year before with its Balance model. Parker has also taken another arrow from the Sheaffer quiver in its use of celluloid (which it callse "permanite") for the red pearlescent color of this pen. And, no, the reference to "ball point" is not to a modern ballpoint, but merely to a spherical nib.

Frightening...worthy of Hitchcock and Dali's collaboration on the movie "Spellbound". In a weird expressionistic Fritz Lang limbo, the menacing shadow of a new visible-ink Vacumatic points accusingly to his crummy brand X pen, as anxious thoughts swirl in the air above him like the mad scratchings of Dr. Mabuse, blotting out all thought of the Great American Novel or whatever it is that he's writing (or maybe that's his SAT...the ad does refer to "graduates", after all). This June 1935 National Geographic ad shows the dense, newspaper-like style of Parker's ads from the mid '30s, and sports the recently-adopted arrow trademark.

When Parker introduced the 51 in 1941, they wisely decided to let the pen's radical styling be the focus of the advertising. Since close-up photographs still weren't technically practical for magazine advertisements, Parker instead commissioned a series of astounding "hyperrealistic" paintings of 51s in their native environment...the human hand (some of these paintings are signed "ARTZYBASHEFF"). Unfortunately for Parker, wartime conditions (i.e., allocation of pen sales to the military, and manufacture of war materiel on pen production lines) limited the number of pens they could sell to civillians, so ads like this February 1943 example from Life magazine were intended to maintain public interest in the pens despite dealer shortages.

Another beautiful Parker 51 ad, this one from the August 1945 National Geographic. Parker ran ads like this one throughout the war, continuing to whet the public appetite for this new pen. For these ads, Parker let the image of the pen in hand dominate. The dense gray blocks of copy receded into the background, and the heavy gothic headlines were replaced by tall hand-penned Spencerian script, all surrounded and interspersed by plenty of whitespace. Ironically, as fine a pen as the 51 is, Spencerian writing is just about the last thing you would be able to coax from its fairly rigid and non-shading point.

The war is over at last, but this unfortunate correspondent (in the December 1945 National Geographic) is still forced to make do with a chewed-up marginal looking yellow pencil. Ah, well, soon he will get his heart's desire if Santa Claus (or whoever he is writing to) can pop for $12.50 (nearly $100 in today's funds) for an entry-level 51. Or, maybe that black gold-filled number up there in the cumulus will come in for a safe landing in his shirt pocket. Gee...just think...back then, people felt obliged to apologize for using a pencil to write a letter (sorry about writing this on a 68LC040 Mac, but my 350 MHz PowerPC is still on backorder).

Parker takes up residence in the Bauhaus in this Life advertisement (from November 1946). It was generous of Piet Mondrian to loan one of his paintings for the layout, and the major heads are in a Kabel-like lettering reminiscent of the Weimar years (you can't properly appreciate these simple, clear German 'grotesk' typefaces unless you've tried to read books set in Fraktur type...but I digress). Although desk sets were rapidly losing favor (most people preferred to take their pens with them), Parker devotes this ad to a number of attractive sets using their new magnetic ball joint.

This file last posted on:
2005-Jan-20 17:50:23 CST
MCMVIII, the red network