Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Parker "51" Fountain Pen

A trio of Parker "51" on a bed of rice.
This is an ode to a pen I reach for more than any others despite it not being my favourite: the Parker "51" (P51) fountain pen.

I had heard a lot about these pens, usually from mouthfoaming zombies rabidly spewing hyperexcited praises for their pens that were made 60 years ago. Never one to question the integrity of the undead, I heeded their wizened words, have been bitten, and now go around talking through excess drool to anybody with a functioning ear.

The iconic Parker "51" with its hooded nib.
The P51 is a famous fountain pen, made with an acrylic body, metal cap and an understated 14k gold nib that is tucked away under a hood. It is not an ostentatious pen by any measure. While the eye might dismiss it, the hand instantly falls in love. The balance and heft raises the brow and smirks the corners of the mouth. Uncapping it brings an impressed nod as the quality of engineering makes itself apparent.

First encounters with the P51 are memorable.

It isn't a perfect pen. I don't think it's a pretty pen. Flushing and cleaning is a drawn-out affair. It lacks the nuance and class of a more traditional fountain pen, but it still beats a biro or rollerball by a long margin. The nib is stiff as a nail and doesn't offer much line variation or shading opportunities and there is no way to see how much ink is left in the plyglass sac. I have only used an Aerometric P51, and I'm sure I would have many more negative thoughts about the Vacumatic filling system.

All these things that count against it are qualities I look for in a fountain pen. So, why do I ignore these shortcomings?

Firstly, it is a damn good workhorse pen. If I have to do a lot of writing, my hand will fall to a 51 more often than not. The balance and the no-fuss nib turns a long-haul scribble into a doddle. The Aerometric filler holds a ton of ink and just works. It writes, first time, every time, even after a long time. There aren't any more reliable pens in my humble collection.

If I'm in a more thoughtful or playful mood, I'll go for a pretty pen that makes pretty lines. If I want to spill a gallon of ink over a dozen pages, the P51 is the right tool for the job.

The design and construction is superb. When I get a new (read: secondhand) P51 I give it the deluxe clean out treatment to ensure that decades old ink cakes are all removed. This involves a complete deconstruction of the pen. Firstly, I soak it overnight to loosen most of the ink in the collector. Then I flush the pen and strip it down, with the help of a hairdryer to loosen the shellac that binds the hood to the filler. Once it is in pieces, the ultrasonic cleaner comes in and blasts away all the crud.

Once you have pulled apart and reconstructed a P51, you will have a new appreciation for the quality and design of this product. The humble exterior hides a feat of engineering marvel.

A partially deconstructed Parker "51" with Aerometric filler.
Most vintage pens I have worked on need some nib adjustments and ink sac replacements. But never on the P51. The nibs just don't seem to attract trouble and the plyglass sac will probably outlast all of us. The only problem I have had is with a corroded breather tube, and this was only once from six pens I have restored. A temporary solution was to retrofit the plastic breather from a cheap Hero 616 fountain pen. It isn't an ideal solution, but it will have to do until I can get the right part.

All my P51s are from the early-to-mid 1950s, but the model was made up until 1972. With any luck, I hope to be in such good condition when somebody finds me in a drawer in my sixties.


  1. Really these Parker pens are marvellous.All the Trim & the Nibs using this Parker fountain pensare amusing.Thanks a lot for sharing this valuable blog.

  2. After reading your blog i am impressed with quality of parker pens. Recently i bought one Parker Odyssey Brush Metal CT Ball Pen at best price and after reading your blog i am feeling good,thanks for sharing it.

  3. I am mesmerized by the build quality of Parker Pens. Thanks for sharing this significant blog. Parker pens are one of the best Luxury pens.