Parker Fountain Pens

Up until now, I’ve had a somewhat unfavorable opinion of Parker fountain pens. This was based on my admittedly limited exposure.

My first was a vintage Parker 45. I fought with that one for months, but was never able to get it reliable. I passed it on to someone who enjoys digging into the inner workings. She found some bad parts, likely caused by a previous owner using the wrong kind of ink, failing to properly maintain it, or both. Not Parker’s fault, but not a favorable experience nonetheless. For the record, India ink in fountain pens is not a good idea. It is best with dip pens, like the Speedball varieties.

Then there were the Vectors. They have been my most labor intensive pens, by far. First, I had to apply numerous coats of clear fingernail polish to the top of the barrel so they would post. Then I spent what felt like hours dry scribbling on a fingernail buffer to make the nibs not suck. Even after all that, they still aren’t anyone’s definition of smooth. Overall, they are solidly mediocre. They do excel at reliability. They write every time. Leave them in a drawer for a month, uncap one, and it takes off with nary a skip or hesitation. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to salvage my opinion. They are my work pens. Mostly because if one were lost or damaged I would cry less than if something happened to any of my other pens.

I’ve always wanted a dress pen. That’s what the 45 was supposed to be. I prefer simple, understated elegance. Not the flashy, super shiny lacquered acrylics like many Chinese pens are. Sure, they’re pretty, but I prefer that my appearance be conservative and in good taste. Not the best writer on the planet that shows wear in no time like my Pilot. No. I wanted a good, relatively reliable writer in a timeless package that presents well.

Since I’m not keen on spending mid-three figures for a writing implement, even if it doubles as an accessory, my choices were limited. Enter the fine nib stainless steel and chrome Parker Sonnet. Cosmetically, it meets my requirements. It retails for $125, and in the months that I watched it on Amazon, the price fluctuated between $79 and $95, most often at the top end of that range. That was still too much, especially while I was supporting my former houseguest.

Early last week, I saw it drop into the upper $60s. I started seriously contemplating the purchase. The next time I looked, it had dropped to sixty-one dollars and twenty-seven cents. SOLD!

It got to me on Wednesday. Absolutely gorgeous. It looks and feels exactly how I wanted it to. But the listing said that it would have a gold plated nib, and the bastards sent me one with a standard stainless steel nib. At first, I thought that the reason for the price drop was a mistake somewhere along the line that caused the price to reflect the wrong nib type (gold is usually more expensive than unplated stainless) or even a ballpoint Sonnet, which retails for $79, and is readily available for low-$60s. Such was not my concern. They promised gold for sixty-one federal reserve notes, and I wanted my damn gold.

I went through the return process, and they shipped out a replacement the same day. Eventually Friday arrived, and with it, the pen.

You’ll never guess what happened. Okay, you probably can. Yep, you’re right. Another stainless steel nib. I called Amazon and politely threw a fit. They immediately pulled the “sold by Amazon” one off of the site while they verified the product and the listing, ostensibly to prevent anyone else from suffering the same fate. Then they offered me three options.

  1. Take a refund, and they would also issue a promotional certificate to cover the difference between what I paid and the current price ($93.00), and they would contact me when they finished their verification process to let me know that I could reorder.
  2. Same as option 1, but they would do the certificate for one of their marketplace sellers and I could reorder immediately.
  3. Accept a partial refund, and keep the pen. I asked how much. She said $35.00. Keep in mind that I bought it for $61.27, which is well below the normal selling price. I took it. Even without a gold nib, it’s worth way more than the net $26.27 that I paid. Actually, make that $23.48. She had problems getting the system to give me more than $30.00 in a single transaction, so she split it in two.  Somehow I ended up getting $37.79 back.

I prefer the finest nib possible, and given my previous Parker experience, I knew that their fine nib wasn’t going to be fine enough. It was all that was available, though, so I took it. Parker offers a free nib exchange within four weeks of purchasing a new pen. I contacted them and requested the finest replacement nib that they make, which I think is an extra fine. I also asked if gold plated is available for an additional fee. I’m waiting to hear back from them.

The pen is gorgeous. It handles like a dream. I’ve had a hard time putting it down since I got it. It writes very smoothly. But it would be hard for it not to. It lays down a TON of ink. The puddling is visible on the paper before it either dries or is absorbed. That much ink would eliminate the friction between almost any two surfaces. This causes the writing to be visible on the back of the page except when using very high quality paper. Additionally, the line width is extremely wide for a fine. I’ve had medium nibs that made thinner lines. The pen is also rather angle sensitive, although that seems to have improved with use. It’s possible that I’ve just gotten used to it and am now more careful about the angle without consciously realizing it. In addition, the nib will dry and briefly skip if left uncapped but unused for more than two or three minutes.

After looking around, I’m not sure that Parker even makes the stainless steel body/chrome trim model with a gold plated nib. I’ve checked other places, including the official Parker site, and the only stainless steel models I can find with a gold plated nib are those that are also trimmed in gold. I admit, a gold nib might look a little weird when everything else is a shade of silver or gray. While appearance was my primary motivator, it has been my experience that gold plated nibs are smoother. I don’t think it would look that bad, although I am having second thoughts. If the XF nib is as smooth as the fine that I currently have, and I have no reason to doubt it, I don’t know how much benefit the gold would be. Trim type does not alter the retail price, so we’ll see what Parker says in response to my inquiry. I’ll decide then.

I should probably note that, in the context of body and trim, both stainless steel and chrome refer to appearance, not actual metal composition. The barrel looks like brushed stainless steel, but given the weight, I can almost guarantee that it is brass (or a similar metal) finished to look like brushed stainless. I watch FaucetCompany do the same thing with brass and zinc blanks every day. They use real stainless steel for some products, but it is noticeably heavier. The trim on the pen is, by Parker’s own admission, nickel palladium. Personally, I prefer it to real chrome.

Bottom line, I’m still not sure that I’m a Parker fan. I have to admit that I love the Sonnet, but I’m not in awe of its performance. Anybody that calls something that makes lines well over 0.5mm thick “fine” is full of shit.  And as much as I love it, I do not consider it worth the asking price. It is a $50 pen. No more.

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4 Responses to Parker Fountain Pens

  1. Garandgal says:

    I have to admit that I AM a Parker fan. That said, my youngest Parker was made in the 1960’s. For modern pens I like the clear TWSBI Vac-700 I was given for Christmas. I also have a Lamy Safari that I was also given. It…needs rubbed on a nail buffer lol. Save for a few Jinhao X750’s thats the extent of my modern fountain pen collection. Mostly I prefer old pens, and most of my old pens are Parkers. Im playing with my newest old pen at work today. A late forties Parker Vacumatic Junior in golden pearl, looks like tigers eye to me.

    • alaskan454 says:

      Good to see you again. I hope you’ve been well, and had a good holiday.

      Had I been the tinkering sort, I probably could have fixed the 45, after which it would have served me well. But I’m not, when it comes to pens, so that experience became a black mark on the brand. Then there were those cursed Vectors. I’m convinced they didn’t come off the same line that produced HH’s beloved Vector. That was two strikes, which had me predisposed to be critical of the Sonnet. But nobody else makes a model that appeals for less than a couple hundred dollars. So, I took the chance.

      Were the Sonnet my first Parker, I would be happy. Maybe not thrilled, but happy. As it is, I have a ways to go before I become a cheerleader for them. I’m glad your experience has been otherwise.

      Lamy popped my fountain pen cherry, so I’ll always be fond of my Safari. You never forget your first, right? 😀 The barrel came unscrewed at work a couple months ago, and for a few hours, I was very unhappy. I’d lost one of my Pilots shortly before that to a similar malfunction. Eventually, I happened to see it laying on the floor next to a pallet, unharmed, and snatched it up. It wrote well for me with the original F nib, and the XF nib currently installed still makes me happy. Hopefully the buffer trick will fix yours.

  2. I am so, so sorry that your Parker experience hasn’t matched mine. For what it’s worth, my Vector was purchased in summer ’03, so quality may well have fallen precipitously.

    My Reflexes have always been rather shitty. No wonder Parker discontinued that model.

    As for my others…yeah, the really good ones are ’52 or older. It’s probable that France (where most modern Parkers are manufactured) have different definitions of “fine” than other nations do; and different ideas of quality control than even the Chinese do.

    • alaskan454 says:

      Thank you, but my less than thrilling experience is not your fault. Don’t give it another thought.

      To the best of my understanding, Parker has always been considered a Western pen, so the nib widths are wider than the Asian pens with the same designation. At the same time, my Sonnet fine is almost identical to the 45 medium in line width. So, who knows?

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