[ search ]
Parker pens are probably the most extensively chronicled and avidly collected of vintage pens, and it is easy to see why. Few other pen manufacturers have exhibited such consistently high levels of style, technical innovation, quailty, and global commercial success. There doesn't seem to be a bad period for Parkers (as there is for many other makers), and there aren't many "junk" Parker pens out there -- just about everything Parker made is of interest to the collector, to the user, or to both.
One of the reasons I like Parker is that, over the years, they've maintained the most diverse lineup of just about any manufacturer, a lineup that now ranges from the humble but serviceable Jotter ballpoint up to limited edition fountain pens selling in the four figures. Also, Parker has never forgotten the value of technological research and development, and the firm's list of contributions to writing technology ranges from the early button filler and the Lucky Curve feed through to the Vacumatic filler, and the revolutionary 51. Even their less successful technological ventures, like the capillary filler 61, the VP, the all-titanium T-1, and the liquid lead pencil are notable for their ambition.
The Parker story begins in 1889, when George S. Parker of Janesville, Wisconsin established the company as an outgrowth of the small business he'd had making reliable pens for his telegraphy students (transcribing Morse being one enterprise where you don't want to have to wrestle with an unreliable pen). Capitalizing on several patents, chief among them for the so-called "lucky curve" feed (which curled outward to touch the inside of the barrel so as to draw ink out of the point when the pen was not in use, minimizing the danger of leaking), he quickly moved to a commanding position in the young fountain pen industry. Parker also developed his own self-filling system, the button filler, which became nearly as widely-copied as Sheaffer's lever filler.
The introduction of the Duofold in 1921 is one of the events that marks the beginning of the golden age of fountain pens, when both style and technical innovation drove the market to ever-greater triumphs. Racing neck and neck with arch-rival Sheaffer, Parker introduced celluloid "Permanite" pens later in the 20s. In the early 30s, Parker stole a march on other penmakers with the Vacumatic, and less than a decade later they set the competition further back with the futuristic 51. Along the way, Parker also served the lower price points of the market with colorful and reliable writers like the Challenger and the Parkette. Among all the old-time U.S. fountain pen makers, Parker was one of the few left standing after the winnowing of the fountain pen industry during the 1950s and 60s, thanks perhaps to its remaining active in the low price market (as well as its development of the reliable Jotter ballpoint).
Parker entered the cartridge-pen market around the turn of the 1960s with the very popular and stylish 45 (which remains in intermittent production to this day). The VP model marked the start of a development process that would eventually lead to the model 75, Parker's prestige model during the 60s and 70s. The 75 was supplanted by the Sonnet during the 1980s, but the biggest news for Parker fans during this decade was the reintroduction of the Duofold name in the form of the Centennial, which marked the company's 100th anniversary and harkened back (in style, at least) to the classic Duofolds of the 1920s and 30s.
Parker was very heavily involved in overseas markets, particularly in the UK and Europe. In many cases, local concessionaires simply assembled Parkers for local sales, but the UK operation in particular blossomed into a quasi-independent firm; UK-made Parkers like the 1950s-60s Duofolds are known to collectors as stylish, well-perfomring pens. Indeed, Parker's international lineup became rather unwieldy as time wore on, and the company retrenched during the 1970s, moving its fine-pen production from the U.S. to France (and later to the UK). In the early years of the 2000s, Parker closed down all production at its original Janesville site (which remains the administrative HQ for Parker-Waterman operations in the U.S.).
Most recently, Parker has changed hands a couple of times; first, they were acquired by Gillette (who had previously purchased Waterman). In 2001, both Parker and former arch-rival Waterman were taken over by office-supply giant Sanford (famous for its "sharpie" markers), and Parker has introduced several models (including fountain pens) at lower price points, and has retained the trusty Duofold Centennial and Sonnet series.