Without reservation, this book now stands as the definitive reference source on the Parker “51” the world’s most successful fountain pen.
David and Mark Shepherd have a passion for the Parker “51” which started with David’s use of the “51” in his schooldays and today has built up a collection that is one of the most comprehensive in the world. During his collection process, he has acquired substantial expertise in the subject which provided the impetus to write this book. As a retired Dentist in England, he is fortunate to have had privileged access to the Parker archives at the Parker Pen Co Ltd in Newhaven. David’s son Mark became involved in this project after graduating from Oxford University and starting work as a solicitor in London, spending much time researching the archives and helping to shape the structure of the book. Mark’s input into this book has been invaluable and he is also responsible for the extensive photography.
The “51” fountain pen was originally Kenneth Parker’s idea. As Geoffrey and Steven Parker, grandsons of Kenneth Parker, a state in the Foreward of this book “To us, the “51” is Kenneth Parker…and looking at a “51” today always brings him to mind.
The contents of this book, with many never before seen materials from deep within the Parker archives, is a journey along with Kenneth Parker, his design team of mechanical engineer Marlin Baker, patent attorney Ivan Tefft, and metallurgist Milton Robert Pincus. David Shepherd now documents the chronology of the “51” which actually started in 1928 with Parker’s desire to get into the ink business by developing a quick-drying ink. The ink was strongly alkaline, a new pen material was needed, and along came DuPont Pontalite, later renamed Lucite. The book now takes off as a 13-year adventure of research and development trials and successes to develop a pen unlike anything ever produced before or since. The final design was one of some complexity, with the pen’s 23 separate components requiring 238 different operations to manufacture, 42 of which were done by hand-produced to a tolerance of one-thousandth of an inch. Yes, the book almost reads like a novel, with the highly detailed structure of every development in manufacture and marketing almost every page has a startling discovery that finally sees the light of day.
The structure of the story begins with the history of the beginnings, the very root of design tracing to the first button filler of 1914. David explains and well illustrates with original designs and photos of developmental models and concepts. Illustrated are the major components of the product and detailed information on early test marketing, which was cleverly conducted in faraway markets of South America out of the glaring eye of the American markets in case of failure or disappointing results. Fundamental problems were identified, such as with the ink collector design. Continuing, David documents the evolution of the design from First Year Vacumatic filler, to American, English, and Canadian production. The mystery of the infamous Red Band filling system is finally fully explained, in part as a result of the huge garage sale lots found by pen collector Roger Cromwell a few years ago, containing perfectly preserved pens and parts belonging to a former Parker metallurgist.
“Glancing out his office window one day, Kenneth Parker noticed a marker sign on the highway running beside the Janesville factory. It read U.S. 51. On a business trip to New York he dined at Toots Shor’s restaurant, he noticed the address on the menu…51 West 51 Street. He decided on a name.”
The story continues with elaborate illustration and text concerning metamorphosis from Vacumatic to Aerometric fillers, the Demi size “51”, Liquid Lead pencils, ballpoints, and the desk pens continuing up to the 2002 Special Edition model. David and Mark document the great variety of style designs, aluminum and plastic jewels, prototype colors and cap designs both original and modern, prototype nibs and fillers, clips, inks, and some really strange-looking demonstrators.
Also illustrated is a huge variety of packaging and gift boxing, dealer point of purchase displays, and sales techniques are also explained. Almost everything documented in this book is new information that has never been disclosed before.
Did you know there was a “51” nib made in Arabic medium and broad, plus a broad music stub?
Prototype nibs included a three-way slit, a flat pointed nib, a totally flat and layered top, and bottom nib, and most outrageous, an experimental rubber-coated nib.
Furthering the great value of this simple yet complex pen is the role played by the “51” in world-historical moments. In 1941 the saga of Parker “51” manufacturing switched almost immediately after the introduction to war production efforts and the products they made. Advertising documented the use by famous individuals in peace and wartime, by Presidents, Generals, and world-famous personalities. The influence of post-war aviation, increased public transportation made the development of the high altitude leak-proof Flighter. This was “AA-1 priority” as Kenneth Parker would state. Post-war aviation demanded the next level of development for the traveling public and Parker created a design concept copied by almost every major pen manufacturer.
David and Mark conclude the book with extensive provenance, dating by barrel imprints, cap designs, anatomy drawings, key dates, valuations, and price guidelines. Extremely well researched and written with stunning photography this book is now the icon of Parker’s “51” reference. Adding to the value is an elaborate Glossary and Index making for easy quick reference, a chronology of key dates, and even has an illustrated Parker family tree. I can certainly say this was a wonderful discovery for me to read and highly recommend this as a choice book for any pen collector, modern or vintage. I would even say that after reading this book you can easily slip into any conversation with serious “51” collectors and have as much or more information for a knowledgeable discussion. The value of information far exceeds the modest $80. retail price making this book an easy reach for any serious or even casual pen collector.
Hardcover, 169 pages, 8 ½” x 11”, dust jacket, full-color illustrations, index, and glossary.
David Shepherd will attend the 2005 Chicago Pen Show and autograph his books.
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