There is some magical date, before which the fountain pen was a utilitarian (if often costly) writing instrument, and after which it became a fetish-object for obsessed collectors. By my reckoning, this transition must have started with the introduction of the Parker 75 in 1964.
By this time, the ballpoint pen was getting ever cheaper and more reliable, and had in fact become most people's preferred variety of pen. While many fountain pen makers tried to compete by cheapening their products (e.g., the nondescript steel-pointed pens produced by Sheaffer, Venus, Wearever, and others), it soon became clear that if the fountain pen was to survive, it would have to move upmarket and become an objet d'art.
Sheaffer pointed the way with its Lady Skripsert pens, simple and slender cartridge fillers that were available in a variety of costume-jewelry finishes, but the Parker 75 was the first pen in some years to show off the arts of the jeweler and the metalsmith, offering what seem like dozens of different styles and finishes. The 75 even became the basis for a few commemorative pens (such as the famous Spanish Treasure model, or the rare and expensive model that included actual moon-dust in its trim), presaging the current mania for limited-edition pens.
Commissioned by company president Kenneth Parker (son of George S. Parker), and designed by Don Doman, the Parker 75 was named to comemmorate Parker's 75th year in the pen business, and was intended to be an unabashed high-end offering. Unlike Sheaffer's contemporary PFM, this new flagship of the Parker line was anything but oversize; it was fashionably slim, and a half-inch or so shorter than the 51. The pen was made from 92.5% solid sterling silver chased with an attractive and distinctive cut-grid pattern; this was the first of many, many finishes in which the new pen would be offered over its roughly 30 years in production. The price for the 75 sterling grid fountain pen was $25, which was very high indeed (contrast this to the $5.00 asked for the Parker 45).
The 75 had some of the same design features as the VP (the adjustable point) and the 45 (cartridge filling), but was an altogether more luxurious pen. Pointing out the future for Parker (and most other pen makers), it was also highly modular in construction; this enabled Parker to roll out many variations in the design simply by coming up with new caps and barrels.
Thanks to this modular design, the 75 could be "field-stripped" by its owners (including removal of the point unit) without special tools. Doing so reveals the molded soft plastic section as the heart of the pen; it carries the cartridge (or aerometric converter) at one end, has a 51-style collector unit inside, and the VP-style point at the business end; the barrel screws onto the end, and the clutch cap grasps the section to stay in place. If the pen has a mechanical weakness, it would be the plastic section threads; one example I owned had its threads pretty well obliterated, and I had to improvise a repair by wrapping a strip of tape around them (the earliest 75s had metal threads, but these were phased out a couple of years into the run). The later felt-tip and rollerball 75s used the same barrels and caps, but had sections that would accommodate the appropriate refill units. Two different click-action ballpoints were offered at various times, known as "cap-actuated" and "button-actuated"models. A mechanical pencil was also available to complete the ensemble.
In their development of the VP, Parker designers determined that the best sort of grip for pen writing was roughly triangular in cross-section (many other makers have since tried this design). This notion was carried forward to the new 75. To enable any writer to get completely comfortable with this "asymmetrical" grip, Parker made the point "adjustable" by allowing the user to twist it right or left to any position (see left); a calibrated dial was found at the very end of the section so that you could note your own favorite angle, It was a nice sales gimmick, although I doubt that many owners regularly availed themselves of this feature.
As in the VP, the point and feed were crimped together and could be pulled clear of the pen, allowing the dealer or even the owner to swap it out in favor of one of the more than 30 different nib grades offered for the 75 during its early production. These point units (in all but the latest models) were on a long "stalk" that could simply be pushed in through the front of the pen where it would fit within the ink collector. Inside, the pen used the same cartridge-converter design as the humble 45; the days of exotic filling systems in Parker pens were now pretty much over.
P75s were eventually offered in a wide variety of finishes, but the one most closely connected with the model is the sterling-silver grid pattern. Originally, the grid was finished in a black enamel to bring out the color of the squares, but later the lacquer was omitted; the natural tarnishing of the sliver made it somewhat redundant. You'll hear this pattern called "ciselé" by Parker publicists and some collectors, and this is the correct nomenclature for the later French-made models, but "grid" is really the correct term for the first US-made pens. Those earliest pens are also known as "flat tops" because they do not have the small dishes or indentations in the ends that were found on most of the production (allegedly, the "dish" was added to promote the 75 as a gift pen to which corporate logotypes or other insignia could be attached).
Other finishes available in the U.S. made 75 range included the Ambassador (sterling silver with "pinstripe" lengthwise lines), the Insignia (gold filled brass in a grid pattern, but with a smooth area on the cap for personal engravings), the solid-sliver Keepsake, and the solid-gold Presidential. The later Rainbow finish featured arcs in different colors of gold-fill, while the scarce Titanium model featured a solid titanium barrel and cap similar to those of the T-1 pen. Variations of some of these finishes (such as gold-over-silver vermeil) were sometimes produced in exclusive versions for select dealers such as Tiffany's.
Parker found early on that its strongest sales for the 75 fountain pen were often outside the US. In the 1970s, Parker built a 75 production line in Meru, France, where special lacquered and epoxy-matté variants of the 75 were made. Eventually, by the end of the 1980s, all 75 production was moved to France, and exotic new precious metal finishes were offered in addition to the perennial sterling grid model. In the 1980s, a new feed and point design (using 18k gold rather than 14k) was introduced, necessitating the redisgn of the section to all but eliminate the triangular grip contour. This design change rendered the adjustable point (and all the ergonomics research behind it) rather moot. When the 75 was phased out in in the mid-1990s, it was replaced by the Meru-made Sonnet model (which is still in production at this writing, and is also offered in a sterling grid model).
The Parker 75 is my favorite pen from Parker's post-1960 period. It has an ideal (for me) size and weight (although some might find it too slim for comfort), and it writes very well, as a Parker ought. If the modular construction and cartridge/converter fill are a bit boring, technically speaking, at least they make the pen easy to tear down and clean.
You can keep busy for years trying to accumulate all of the regular production versions of the 75 produced over its long model run, although if you aren't an obsessive you can simply add the classic sterling grid to your collection as the best representative example of the line.
Parker 75 prices took a steep increase a few years back, particularly for the common sterling-grid models, and 75-mania has increased to the point where this is one of the very few pen models to have a website devoted exclusively to it: http://www.parker75.com/ (worth a look if you are interested in the many variations of the 75, plus more in-depth technical info).
|Construction||Adjustable section, metal cap and barrel in various styles.|
(c) 1996-2002 Richard C. Conner. All rights reserved.