[ search ]

Parker 61

Parker 61, black with nickel-plate "rainbow" cap, c 1956

Fifteen years after reinventing the fountain pen with the model 51, Parker created this pen, the model 61, with what has to be the simplest filler yet...no squeezing, no screwing, no levers, no moving parts of any description — just unscrew the barrel and drop the pen, point up, in an ink bottle for a few seconds, and a wick-like assembly inside the pen draws in a load of ink.

As if that weren't cool enough, the 61 also cleans itself up after filling; the Teflon coating on the filler repels ink, requiring nary a wipe before reclosing.

This 'capillary' filler was probably the last word in fountain pen technology; although Parker would go on to offer an adjustable point for the VP and 75 series pens, and would also create the daring T-1 with its one-piece titanium section and point, the emphasis in the industry was shifting away from the fountain pen and toward ballpoints, rollerballs, etc., and no one has come up with any particularly eye-popping advancements in fountain pen technology since the 61's capillary filler.

Parker 61s: c. 1956 with nickel-plate rainbow cap, and first-year model (1955) with gold-plate clip and Lustraloy cap.

The model 61's revolutionary filling system did have its drawbacks, however; these are notoriously difficult pens to flush and clean, and they suffer in performance if not used consistently. Parker got so many returns and repairs on the 61 that they eventually replaced the capillary filler with a conventional cartridge/converter system.

The 61 was introduced in 1956 with prices starting at a rather stiff US$20 (in plastic with nickel-plate cap), and was advertised "a gift unlike any on this planet...or any other"; this seems an apt description. Over the years, several solid colors were offered, as well as variations in cap design (including an exotic two-tone rainbow motif). Gold and gold-filled 61s were available, as well as all-stainless-steel Flighter models. First-year 61s are commemorated by a little scroll plaque just below the tip of the clip. Like the 51, the 61 enjoyed a nice long model run well into the 1970s (with the capillary filler being supplanted by cartridge/converter fill in the 1960s).

Ahead of the capillary filler, the 61 is quite similar to a 51, using a cylindrical point and a plastic collector assembly concealed under a fasionable plastic hood. The 61s can be distinguished from 51s by the little metal arrow inlaid just behind the point, the rainbow cap (on some models), and the presence of an end jewel (which only the first few 51s had). The 61 is a bit longer and more slender-looking than the 51. The parts are not interchangeable between the two lines; in fact, 61 hoods have much thinner walls and are prone to cracking.

The Verdict

In theory, Parker 61s were a notch up the ladder from the 51s, so they ought to fetch higher prices. In practice, this isn't always true. Possibly this is because of the rather troublesome capillary filler, although when properly maintained these pens offer the same reliable writing performance as the 51. More likely, despite its unusual filler, the 61 simply isn't as interesting or diverse a line as the 51.

Look out for cracked hoods (which can be sealed) and missing arrow inlays on the hood. I have heard of a conversion to allow these pens to use cartridges or converters in place of the capillary fill, but I suspect this isn't an econmically justifiable conversion (and it certainly isn't a reversible one).

Maker Parker
Origin USA (and elsewhere)
Production 1955-1970c
Type Capillary filler; later cartridge/converter.
Point 14k gold
Construction Solid acrylic barrel and hood (also metal), metal cap.