George S. Parker founded the Parker Pen Company in 1888, and by the dawn of the twentieth century his company had emerged as one of the foremost manufacturers of quality writing instruments. Yet Parker remained solely a manufacturer of pens for decades, and the company did not begin offering pencils until 1922, four years after Wahl Eversharp introduced pen and pencil sets. Of the major American manufacturers, only Waterman was slower to introduce companion pencils.
Parkers are widely regarded as a highly collectible brand and generally command premium prices compared to other makers. However, while the following is true, it may sound like heresy: in quality, design and function, Parker pencils made before World War II clearly reflect the fact that pencils were an afterthought for the company, something they seemed to think they should make so that they could sell pen and pencil sets like the competition. These were built to match, not necessarily to last. Compared to pencils made by the others of the "Big Four" (Parker, Sheaffer, Wahl Eversharp and Waterman), early Parker pencils are more frequently found in damaged or nonfunctioning condition.
If there appear to be huge gaps in my collection, it is because I frequently cannot justify spending what it takes to acquire, for example, an oversize black Duofold pencil, when higher quality pieces that don't have the Parker name can be had for significantly less.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
1. Early Parker "Lucky Lock" metal pencils
The earliest advertisement I found for Parker pencils is from December, 1922, when the company began advertising "Duette" pen and pencil sets. Parker called them the "Lucky Lock" pencil after the way the cap was secured to the end of the barrel. To remove it, you push down and twisted the top, and it comes off. An application for the "Lucky Lock" pencil, and the mechanism that would eventually be used on the Duofold pencils, was filed by George W. Gilman on November 7, 1921, but wasn't granted until June 14, 1927 as number 1,632,371. View here.
The name "Lucky Lock" is derived from Parker's "Lucky Curve" line of pens, named for a patented feed that was curved towards the barrel wall inside the pen.
These pencils were also produced with barrels that were enamel painted over brass. Some had a spoon clip that closely resembled the early Wahl "military clip," and a few actually have the "Duofold" name imprinted on the cap or just below it.
2. Parker first generation Duofolds, 1920-1928
Parker quickly dropped the "Lucky Lock" line in favor of a simple bell top that pulled off to reveal the eraser, made specifically to accompany the company's Duofold line -- sort of. While the washer clip on Duofold Pens was secured with a black end cap screwed onto the top, the pencils had a massive gold-filled bell shaped cap that is very prone to denting in anything more than a stiff breeze. If you have one where the bell isn't dented and is still nice and flat -- whatever you do, don't drop it.
The patent date of September 5, 1916 refers to the patent on the washer clip, number 1,197,224. View patent here.
2a. Parker's "Dirty Little Secret."
When an early Duofold pencil surfaced on ebay in 2011, accompanied by its original box, the item answered a real mystery for me.
Parker incessantly bragged about the number of patents to its credit and all the innovations that had made it an industry leader. So why, I wondered, is it that the only patent dates found on the all-new Lucky Lock and Duofold pencils is for the washer clip, which was already six years old when the pencils were introduced?
The answer lies in the date of the patent: March 22, 1921. Only two patents were issued for pencils on that date: number 1,372,296, applied for on November 18, 1920, and number 1,372,354, applied for on January 20, 1919. Both were granted to none other than Charles Keeran, inventor of the Eversharp pencil, and were assigned to the Autopoint Pencil Company!
While a review of these patents reveals little resemblance to the Parker Duofold pencil design, and research on this subject continues, one thing seems clear: Parker's new pencils may have been an innovation, but the innovation wasn't entirely Parker's.
My thanks to Frank Briola, who granted permission for me to use his ebay picture.
3. Parker Duofold Streamline, 1929-1933
After Sheaffer introduced the Balance line in 1929, all of the other makers who were making squared off pens were caught playing catch up. Like Eversharp, Parker responded by simply rounding off the corners of its existing line just a bit. However, there wasn't much rounding that could be done to the massive bells on the top of the pencils, so Parker ended up redesigning the pencil completely, from a rear drive to a middle jointed mechanism with a top that was a much better match for its pens.
This was the most reliable pre-war mechanism used by Parker.
3a. Parker Duofold "vest pocket" pencils.
Parker also made a line of miniature "vest pocket" pencils for the Streamline Duofold line. Although I have just this one, in "seafoam" green, my friend Joe Nemecek posted a great picture of his collection of them. Check it out here.
4. Parker Vacumatic, 1933-1940
This was Parker's flagship line during the period. Pencils come in a dizzying array of sizes, band styles and top jewels (most are black, but some are striped to match the barrels. The ones to look for here are the desk pencils and the clutch (rather than twist) pencils.
Vacumatic pencils often are found in non-functioning condition. The most common issue is a crack that develops at the nose end of the drive tube, which results in the tube not grasping the mechanism firmly enough to cause it to twist. Any easy, but not permanent fix is to slightly bend the shape of the tube into an oval at the cracked end.
5. Parker "Shadowwave", 1933-1940
These pencils were mechanically identical to the Vacumatics, but were produced in an interesting, woodgrained sort of celluloid. The "halloween" colored example on the left is particularly difficult to find.
6. Parker "Depression" pencils, 1931-1935
Parker came out with a lower-priced line during the Depression, which collectors generally refer to as "Depression" or "Thrift-time" series.
After I initially published this article, George Kovalenko set me straight on these. "Thrift-time" pencils were actually the ones with the black top caps, and were produced only in 1931 and 1932 to accompany Parker's "$3.00 pen." Later, pencils in Parker's lower priced line had the flat metal top cap and were referred to as "Moderne" and "Premiere" pencils (for the shorter and larger sized models, respectively).
Parker used the Duofold Streamline mechanism for this series, which was a more reliable mechanism than the one used in the Vacumatic models anyway. The only weak point to these pencils is the terrible quality of the gold plating.
7. There was some relationship between Parker and National Pen Products during the time the Depression pencils were made. At top, a Parker Thrift-Time in a rare blue and black celluloid. On the bottom, a Diamond Medal with faceted barrel and Parker Thrift-style clip.
In the middle, the love child born from the two: Parker blue and black celluloid, faceted barrel, Parker clip and Diamond Medal top cap. The center band? Must've been the milkman!
8. At the same time Parker was producing the Thrift-Time series, the company also introduced "Parker's Reporter Pencil," which was advertised as "A popular priced, new thin lead propelling and repelling Pencil for men." The advertisement appears in the 1931 Eaton's Department Store Catalog (Eaton's was the largest Canadian mail order store, comparable to Sears in the United States).
Other than the word "Reporter" on the clip, there are no markings on the pencil to indicate this was a Parker product. The ad indicates they sold for $1.00 and came in blue, green and yellow (the persian-colored example at left is what they referred to as "yellow").
My thanks to George Kovalenko, who dug out the ad that proved this was a Parker product and resolved this once and for all!
9. Parker Vacumatic Junior, Challenger, Geometric ("Toothbrush"), Royal Challenger, and Golden Web, 1934-1936
These were intended to be lower priced lines for Parker, but a few are worth more today than the flagship products of the day.
From the left, the first three are "Vacumatic Juniors," different (and less desirable) than the regular line only in color. The next nine are Challengers, which are also less valuable.
The next three are "Geometric" Parkers, also known as the "Toothbrush" pattern, a highly desirable pattern.
The next two are Royal Challengers, with their arrow-motif lines on the barrels. They are highly prized, especially if they have a sword-shaped clip.
Last is the "Golden Web" pattern, only produced for one year and in this one color, which is quite rare and commands a premium.
10. Parker Duofold, 1940-1943
The Duofold name was revived by Parker in 1940. Collectors refer to these as either "striped Duofolds" or "wartime Duofolds." Look for examples with the blue diamond on the clip-- they are a lot tougher to find. All appear to have been twist pencils; I've never seen a clutch mechanism.
11. "Writefine" Pencils
Generally, Parker was an innovator rather than a copier, but the Writefine pencils were a glaring exception, made to compete directly with Sheaffer's popular utility pencils.
The first few examples on the left more or less copy the Sheaffer Utility pencil profile.
The four examples on the right are twist-mechanism pencils. The green one has a Parker imprint on the lower barrel and "Writefine" on the clip; the other three have Parker clips and ribbed lower barrels.
12. Parker 51, 1940-1977
Most of these are twist model pencils, but the five on the right are clutch (cap actuated) pencils. Caps come in gold fill, stainless, "lustraloy," sterling and a variety of patterns and configurations. The two at the bottom appear to be 51 pencils but have Wartime-Duofold-style clips.
13. Parker Parkette, Parkette Deluxe and Zephyr,
After the introduction of the Parker 51, plastic pencils were relegated to the lower priced lines. Parkettes had round barrels; Parkette Deluxe models had fluted barrels, and the "Zephyr" was identical to earlier wartime "Challenger" pencils.
14. Safford Pen Co. "Fifth Avenue" pencils
"Safford" was George S. Parker's middle name, used by Parker to produce some cheaper end products.
All these are mechanically identical to Parker Parkettes. The ones on the left are stamped "Fifth Avenue Safford Pen Co." but are otherwise marked. The middle ones are marked "Fifth Avenue" on the clip and are stamped "Safford Pen Co." The ones on the right are my favorites, with their matching top domes.
14a. Woolworth pencils
Parker also made Parkettes for sale in the Woolworth stores. These pencils are only marked on the lead magazine stored under the cap. Note that for this line, the company used slightly different colors and also different clip designs.
15. Parker 61, 1956-mid 1960s
The pen was a real innovation. The pencils were just a bit skinnier, particularly at the top end. Top jewels are significantly smaller. The rainbow caps are particularly nice and unique to the 61. In this picture are included a two tone gold/rose gold rainbow, and also an all stainless example with rainbow lines.
16. Parker 21
Another lower priced alternative to the 51 and 61. Parker 21s were mechanically identical to the others. All the ones I have found are twist models. They come in clips which are indented, that are facted out, and more rarely, with gold filled caps.
17. Parker Liquid Lead Pencils
These were made as companions to later Parker 51s, 61s, 21s and 45w. The idea was to have a graphite paste in a ballpoint-style refill, so that the pen would write with pencil lead like a ballpoint. A really cool idea and a real innovation, but one that never caught on. Parker quit making refills and no one else has taken up production, so there aren't very many of these that still work. If you have one that does -- don't write with it very much, 'cuz when it's out, it's out for good.
18. From left, here is a selection of Parker 45s, Jotter pencils and Parker 41s.