parker’s fabulous "51".

Pens 007

Every once in a while, someone engineers a tool that performs its function so well that it stands out from all the other comparable tools in its field, and earns the title of “classic”.  In the fountain pen world, that’s the Parker “51”.

The “51” was introduced by Parker in 1941, Parker’s 51st year of existence.  Like all vintage fountain pens, it has a fixed internal ink reservoir instead of the more modern cartridge/converter system found in modern fountain pens.  The “51” will only accept ink from a bottle.  The design of the pen is very understated and streamlined, and a marked contrast to the Art Deco designs of other fountain pens of the era.  The “51” has a hooded nib–the lucite section at the front of the pen covers the nib almost entirely, to prevent ink from drying out too quickly if the pen is left uncapped–and to someone unfamiliar with the design, it doesn’t look much different from a ballpoint pen at first glance.

The gently tapering cylindrical shape of the “51” is completely unadorned, broken up only by the metal clutch ring between the barrel and the section (the upper and lower parts of the pen.)  The shape is supremely comfortable in the hand, and the pen is light in weight.  This is not a flashy pen, it’s a workhorse, designed to be used a lot.  The designers of the “51” made a bunch of fortuitous decisions that imbued the pen with remarkable longevity and ruggedness.  The body is made out of lucite, which was a brand new material back in the 1940, and the internal ink sac is made out of what Parker called “Pli-Glass”.  The company warranted the Pli-Glass sacs for thirty years; many “51”s are still in use after sixty, and it’s rare to find a “51” with a leaky or busted ink sac. 

I came into ownership of the “51” in the picture thanks to the generosity of a reader and fellow ink-and-paper lover.  (Thank you again, Velma!) It’s an Aerometric filler in India Black, made in 1951, and it has a medium nib. 

I didn’t really get the mystique of the “51” before I owned one myself.  I thought they were plain-looking, and I generally prefer the look of exposed nibs.  Then I got this one in the mail, inked it with Parker’s own “Quink”, and put the nib to paper.  When I had written the first few sentences, this “51” had nudged all the other pens in my possession out of the way, and placed itself on top of my list of favorite writing tools.

A great tool is more than the sum of its parts.  What makes a classic is a certain quality–a synergy of look, feel,  and functionality that turns an object into a bespoke tool that melds with its user and disappears in the act of creation.  The “51” is a writing instrument in the best sense of the word.  The nib just glides over the paper, leaving a trail of deep-black ink, and the words and sentences flow out onto the page with no physical effort.  I have other pens that write very well, some nearly as well as this “51”, but none of them work with my hand in the same kind of harmony.  It’s like the pen was made just for my hand, and just for my writing style, even though the design predates my birth by thirty years (and this particular pen predates it by twenty.)

I plan to test the long-term durability of my “51” by writing lots of novels, letters, and essays with it, and see if I can pass it down to one of my kids when I get too old to write longhand.  One thing’s for sure–until that day, I won’t part with it voluntarily.  Some things work so well that they’re worth much more than their collector’s value, and when you find such a thing, it’s only prudent to hang on to it and put it to good use.


14 thoughts on “parker’s fabulous "51".

  1. Eric says:

    Marko, I found a web site dedicated to the “51”:

  2. ajdshootist says:

    Marko i got 51 for my 12th B,day and still have it and i am now 60 was given a 51 and pencil set for my 21st but have never used the pen the older one
    writes better than i do.

  3. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    Hi all~Munchkin I thought you were into old typewriters??

    I remember the days when you could be judged by the pen you used just l ike the way people judge you by the car you drive or by your watch. The snobs and tofts all had expensive pens, rolex watches andfancy pens.

    I never got along with them because they froze in the winter and leaked all over my shirts in the summer. I went to the Staedtler me chanical pencils and have been with them for the last 20 years. A good writer should be able to sketch too and fountain pens simply don’t cut the mustard for such chores.

  4. Antibubba says:

    I love the form of a fountain pen, but as a lefty, I simply can’t use one in the intended manner. Smeared ink has no style.

  5. Jim says:

    I feel the same way about my 1969 Gillette adjustable slim razor.

    Shaves better than any of the multi blade modern abortions and at 15 cents a blade is much cheaper to use. Of course shaving with an old razor quickly lead to lathering the old way with a badger hair brush and embracing the entire “wet shaving” process. Which is a great way to start a morning.

  6. John Gall says:

    Your comments got my attention and I went out and found some 51’s for sale. I’d say you’re fortunate to have one. I won’t be the one paying 150 plus bucks for any writing device.
    I do have a good knife and it sharpens heck outta pencils. . .

  7. LittleRed1 says:

    Back in the day, writing extra hours in your pilot’s log book was called “getting P-51 time” because of the use of the Parker 51. The phrase is still used, although the original meaning has faded, like using the term “squawk” for activating the IFF (now called transponder).
    Not that anyone has ever, does ever, or will ever pad logbooks. Noooo. Never.

  8. Burban says:

    I found several bottles of Quink at my local and relatively new Staples store. I bought one bottle. Found an article online stating that Parker quit making Quink around 2000.

  9. Velma says:

    Hurrah! I am so glad that it has gone to a good home, and is being used. It’s a fine pen; but it doesn’t sing to me the way a Sheaffer Balance does. (My current daily use pen is a Parker Sonnet, but my heart belongs to vintage Sheaffers.)

  10. Bill says:

    Great article! The Parker 51 is one of my all-time favorite fountain pens. I couldn’t be without one.

  11. John Faber says:

    This Pen is still available at Montgomery Pens

  12. Martin B says:

    Reading the comments above on the the difficulty of finding the 51, I’m now all the more grateful for my discovery of the two of my Grandfathers that my Grandmother gave me, they are incredibly fine writing instruments and truly worth using.

  13. Jerome Tarshis says:

    Not true that Parker stopped making Quink in 2000. They are still making Quink and are likely to go on into the indefinite future.

    Far from being unavailable, Quink is almost painfully available, being, in many big-box office supplies shops, the only bottled fountain-pen ink the shop sells. I’ve begun using Sheaffer Skrip instead, but used black Quink for decades. Have been writing with one or another Parker 51 for almost 60 years now.

  14. […] clearly willing to invest a great deal of time and money into writing instruments that I am not: a Parker “51″, say, is worth far more to him than it is to me.  On the other hand, I consider three hours spent […]

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