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Have you seen lately the chicken-scratch kids call handwriting? When I brought our kid’s unbearably sucky handwriting to a teacher’s attention about 10 years ago, she said, “Don’t worry about it, he doesn’t have to write legibly – he will be using computer keyboards.” Sheesh... I absolutely LOVE the feeling of writing with a fountain pen and writing with some panache and style.

My fountain pen collection has been growing for years and I keep changing my mind about the pen that I like most. I like inexpensive pens that write well, because, truth to be told, I am not really a collector - I am a user - nothing writes like a good fountain pen. Right now, I get most pleasure from Parker 51s - which is the most impressive pen to come out of America. In fact, when it came out in 1941, it was light-years ahead of all other fountains pen in the World.

A very brief history is here, at Penbox, from the UK, if you are curious: penbox logo.jpg

A more complete review, including the different "Marks" are on Rick Conner's site, "Penspotters"

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Some very interesting connections with advertisement from 1941 (very first), just below, here. First of all, the pen did get mass-produced. Between 1941, the year of its introduction, and 1953, the last year for which records are available, over 12 million units were sold, making it by far the most popular fountain pen of all time.

 parker51 adv.jpg             Some of my Parkers after Img148.jpga bit of polishing.

Secondly, the first batch way too expensive to produce, so with the advent of the war, metal parts were replaced with plastic and people just didn’t have the money to buy these “prestigious pens.” Yet, demand still vastly overwhelmed production. There is some apocrypha, or urban myth, that Parker produced a lot of caps (no pen – just the cap), so people could put the cap in their pocket and show off to co-workers and friends. Personally, I don’t think it was ever in the character of the Parker company to pull stunts like that. A 2002 new “rekindling” of the model is beautiful, expensive, and absolutely of no interest to me    parker 51 modern.png

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Another interesting fact, hotly disputed by some, is that the 51’s hood and extraordinary mechanism was invented by a Hungarian-born American genius named László Moholy-Nagy. Moholy-Nagy is best known in the US for his paintings, architectural and industrial designs and photography.

 

What made the 51 so advanced for its time, was the design. It had a hooded, tubular nib and multi-finned collector, all designed to prevent the ink from drying on the nib (therfore clogging it), if the pen was left uncapped. The collector also allowed the pen to hold more ink than any other pen of the same size and it assured that the 51 would write first time and everytime you put it to paper. Didn’t have to shake it, push it against the paper to “get it going.” The ink flowed consistently to the nib and one could draw a sure, uninterrupted fine line all day and all night.

The pen’s design is amazing. I have 51s that are 70 years old that have never been refurbished and when I got them all I had to do is suck up some ink and start writing, without any other preparations. Name any other pen that can do that, or, as a matter fact, ANYTHING that can function like that. Some people don’t like its stiff nib, but you do not have to press it against the paper – the pen just glides on a film of ink, softly, like butter, with minimum effort on the part of the writer.

It would be absolutely imnpossible to produce a pen like the 51 today. According to Daniel A. Zazove and L. Michael Fultz , “there are 23 separate component pieces of the '51' pen which required 238 operations to manufacture and assemble, of which 42 were by hand. The finished product weighs slightly more than one ounce. The '51' pen was manufactured to extreme tolerances of one thousandth of an inch, making it prohibitively expensive to reproduce today.”

If you want to have your pen fixed (and I am talking about making an old pen look and function like a new one) or just want to get educated, you can't do much better than taking a trip to Richard Binder's beutiful, educational and erudite web site:
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I spent MANY enjoyable hours reading the material therein and as a result now I am lot more knowledgeable about fountain pens than I ever thought I could be.

Newest addition to my collection - a Christmas present: Parker 100 Smoke Bronze GT Fine (thank you, honey):

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If anyone is interested in fountain pens, either as a collector or, like me, as an avid user, one of the best places to meet truly knowledgeable and kind people (1000+, from all over the World) who are ready to help or discuss any issue relating to fountain pens is The Fountain Pen Network:

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There are other virtual meeting places for pen lovers, such as The Rambling Snail Fountain Pen Citizenry, Lion & Pen, and PenPassion, but as of this moment I feel most comfortable at FPN. The members are very friendly and I have received a lot of really good advice from them. If you are a true beginner, I suggest starting with the Wikipedia entry for "Fountain Pen."

 

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