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Ingenious?

Posted by Dirck on 17 October, 2011

Well, the Parker Ingenuity mentioned previously arrived on Friday, and I’ve spent the weekend making little marks on paper and running my thinker at full power.  I’m going to give it the same sort of treatment as I did the TWSBI Diamond when it was a new and amazing thing; I may not have paid for it, but I did promise a serious review.

I should probably start before the first impression, though, with an overt statement of my predisposition (because I’m posting this review in more than one place).  Not only am I a fountain pen zealot, but I am infected by vintage fountain pens and their somewhat more graceful writing properties.  I’m not entirely innocent of modern pens, though, and will be making, for the most part, an examination of the Ingenuity with comparisions to modern high-quality instruments in mind.  My touchstones for this review are all pens that occupy roughly the same price-point as the pen under consideration, and I have spent a great deal of the preceding week examining and practicing my own powers of discriminating between subjective and objective opinion.  The outside observer may think that I’m still biased, and I’ll not deny it, but I’m trying hard to spot it when it happens.

On with the first impressions.  Behold the Ingenuity Large Classic:

It gets off to a good start….

The fountain pen I referred to most often in this review is the Waterman Carène; they cost about the same amount, and are made by companies which are lashed together at the owner (Newell-Rubbermaid holds Parker and Waterman).  Right off the top, the close analogy is present; the boxes are of much the same size and finish, and are appropriate to having spent this amount of money on a pen.  That little bit of paper at the back is an appendix to the main instruction sheet, which is hidden under the pad; the main instruction sheet doesn’t know the 5th Mode exists yet.  Oh, for those who wonder, the modes are everything pre-fountain pen, fountain pen, ball-point, roller-ball, and this thing, according to the adverts.

The pen is extremely old school in its looks; cylindrical, flat topped.  It is a large pen, somewhat broad, and the surface finish is also in keeping with the price level.  I have a little bit of trouble with the clip, which despite the looks of it is attached to the cap only at its upper end, very similar to the “Z-clip” of vintage pens.  Looking at the catalogue sent with the pen by its kind donor, this seems to be the set-up on the Parker Premiere as well, so it’s not a sign of the new kid getting a cheap treatment.  This isn’t really a low-grade clip, either, although the Carène’s spring-loaded clip just seems a little more high-class.  As it happens, my objections to the clip (small as they are) are simply side effects of the mounting.  This pen is quite heavy, in the modern “heavy = valuable” concept of pens, and the clip’s springiness is only just equal to the task of keeping it in the pocket when tying shoes; this makes me nervous.  The solution to this also makes me nervous; slide the fletching of the arrow over the top of the pocket.  This bugs me because it might afflict the pocket’ fabric, and because I fear rendering the clip sprung.  This sad nervous condition is, of course, not a proven problem, and may be overlooked as one man’s opinion.

I quite like the cap jewel

Uncapping the pen, I find that I actually approve of the way the cap posts.  It seems very gentle inside, and while it posts by friction it doesn’t carry the same sense of impending damage to the barrel’s finish that I get when posting caps on the Carène or the Sheaffer Legacy, although the weight and balance of the pen are such that I rather don’t think I would make a habit of posting.  The mechanism by which the cap stays on the busness end of the pen is, alas, the deformable inner-cap “clicker” common to a lot of modern Parkers and various other maker’s pens.  There are some versions of this mechanism which have not stood the test of time, and while I can’t put this down as a strict negative, it will be something to watch as the model ages.

The section is plated metal, and this is usually an invitation to a complaint about a slippery section.  There is a little texturing on the section, which may be sufficient to address this problem.  I certainly didn’t find it an issue when testing this pen, but I was doing this in a cool environment with hands not given to dampness.  Warm and damp pen users may find a gripping problem.  Something that I did find a problem is a sharp step at the joint, which prolonged use saw digging into my fingers a little.  Trying to avoid the step saw the pen out of balance, at least in my hand.  On the Slim models, this step is not present.

Handsome or hideous? That’s for each of us to judge.

Getting to the point (ho ho!), I turn to the real nexus of pen-fancier’s curiosity.  Merely looking at it, it’s not a raving beauty, although I find that if I squint I might find resemblance to the Parker 65 or 75.  The impression, which seems to also follow the lead of the Premier, is one I find somewhat appealing, but I can’t shake the fact that it reminds me of the side of the arcade game console in The Last Starfighter.  Looks aside, though, we are told that the pen “adjusts to your writing style after the first few words.”  How about that, then?

Nobody home.

Well… it is, I think, a bit of license on the ad-writer’s part.  The bit that looks like a fountain pen’s point is, in fact, a mere protrusion from the face of the section.  It may provide a little support for the actual writing component, but after trying the pen inverted, I don’t find that that needs much support.  The actual writing component is an insert, which looks slightly like a 1940’s science-fiction interpretation of a modern pen cartridge.  From the end of it peers a little writing tip, which looks for all the world like the hard-tip fibre pens I used in the mid-1970s drawing childishly careful architectural three-views of various Gerry Anderson spacecraft.

The actual writing component, and not a Mongo death ray.

The refill has some lugs on it that act along with the “feed” to prevent the whole insert from rotating in use.  I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, as in recent examination of Parker’s Jotter ball-point, I learned that part of the reason for the whole cartridge rotating is to ensure even wear.  With this pen, that’s not possible.  The tip material seems sturdy (read on) but it’s not tungsten nor iridium, and is bound to wear under constant use and with all the friction concentrated on one place.  Will it wear more slowly than it runs out of ink?  I can’t say.  I can say that even an iridium-tipped fountain pen point will take a flat spot eventually, and I suspect the fifth mode will be quite susceptible to that… which may count as adjusting to your writing style. Update from 2014: We find that there is a tendency of the pen to wear substantially on the writing side, although most find that the ink runs out before the writing tip is reduced to a useless nub.

All together.

There is a spring at the back of the barrel against which the tail of the cartridge lies; it might also be something that is meant to allow for writing-style adjustment, but I’m jiggered if I can figure out how.  When holding the pen in the sort of angle a fountain pen prefers, the pressure doesn’t transfer in that direction, and the spring doesn’t come into play.  When the pen is held more nearly perpendicular, it takes a lot of pressure, in the opinion of a fountain pen user, to get any response out of the spring at all, although a heavy-handed writer may find it gives some cushioning but that hardly translated into enhanced expression.  On a kitchen scale, I found it took about 1 pound to start moving, and the metal “nib” grounded out at about 1.4 pounds.  On the durability front, the writing tip did not actually collapse during my experimentation with that alternate lifestyle, so it is up to a certain amount of roughhousing.

I do not have an answer for the question, “Does it dry out if you leave it uncapped?”  Probably.  Don’t abuse your pens by leaving them about uncapped.

Now we are at the actual meat of the matter, the point hitting the paper.  I tamp down my inner chauvinist at this juncture, and admit that it is not entirely unlike a fountain pen in the way it makes marks on a page.  There is no more call for pressure than a fountain pen, and the visual density of the marks is good and consistent in a similar way.  Another pen is shares a price point with is the Parker “51” (guess how much 1945’s $12.50 is worth in modern cash?), and at the risk of getting some extremists howling for my blood, I have to say that the feel of the Ingenuity moving along a page is much the same at that iconic instrument’s.  Held perpendicular, as a habitual ball-point user is apt to, the marks are a little closer to the “medium” the cartridge promises, while in the flatter fountain pen manner, it’s rather thinner.

The ink is quite water resistant, too, although I found on a long immersion that it turned blue.  It is slightly less hesitant to write on a thermal-paper credit card slip than a fountain pen, but is no better on glossy magazine papers.  We run up against another objection that only a fountain pen devotee might make; there are but two colours of ink, blue and black.  Actually, this connects to another more serious if only possible problem; if only Parker is making the refills, and Parker decides in a little while that the new thing isn’t bringing home the money like it should, refills could get mighty rare.  They did it before with the Liquid Lead pencils, after all.

Water applied only left of the black horizontal line. The Lamy ink is waterproof, the Herbin is not (and it’s “Noire” or course), and the paper was held under running water for one minute.

Conclusions should here follow, but I’m not sure I’ve got any.  I’ve explained my impressions as I went.  However, I’ll dance around a couple:

  • I am somewhat doubtful on Parker’s claim of inventing a brand new way of writing.  This may be a polishing or enhancement of something that has been out of favour, but it’s darned familiar.
  • Is it fair to compare it to fountain pens, or fountain pens to it?  Not entirely, as it is something rather different.  However, in putting that very suggestive and entirely non-functional split in the end of the casing, Parker has drawn the comparisons.
  • Is it worth $160 (or more, in some versions)?  That’s a knotty question.  If I took a non-pen-fancier off the street, showed him or her any of the pens I’ve mentioned in this review, and said, “I want over $100 for this,” I’d be called a looney in an instant.  Is any pen worth that much?  My own answer is “yes” in some cases, and it becomes a great battle of subjective opinion then about which cases.  To me, the Ingenuity is not, but that is a reflection of my own inclinations rather than the pen’s inherent virtues.  To someone else, it might be.
I’m curious to see how long the writing unit lasts in action.  At $8 to replace, it had better take a while to wear or run out, but I’m going to be listening for that result rather than trying it out.  It’s not a bad pen, but it’s also not a fountain pen. Update from 2014: There is indeed substantial grumbling about the speed with which the cartridge runs dry.
Today’s pen: Sheaffer Lifetime 1750 (or Imperial VI, if you prefer)
Today’s Ink: Diamine Steel Blue
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7 Responses to “Ingenious?”

  1. {I got this note at a difference place I’d posted the review, and I’m importing it here with the author’s consent}
    Sir:

    I’ve read your exceptional comments on the pen, the comments to the board, and appreciate the heartfelt feedback.

    We have sold a tremendous amount of this pen and have gotten a lot of email. The comments on the board—I appreciate the defense of Parker, not because I have any financial interest but because there are some misconceptions many of which you addressed.

    The HOOD as it is strictly referred to is there for two reasons, (1) to provide the REQUIRED support for the end of the refill and allow for some—flex and, (2) to look really cool. Non FP users love the look of the nib on a FP and Parker combined function with looks.

    The last point is tough to explain briefly but here goes. Parker was not in any way trying to appease a hardcore bottle ink italic nib person. If that’s your deal you already have found nirvana. But for the other 99.9% of the population Parker thought perhaps a few percent would enjoy the 5th more than a BP or RB. Many FP writers have found this to be an enjoyable alternative. The price of $160 is actually our average selling price across the thousands of pens we ship each year. So, for the average customer we get, this is smack in the middle.

    Just a few thoughts for factual clarity on the hood and the target market.

    Again, I applaud your concise and detailed review of the product.

    Bob Melvin
    President
    CPD

  2. Maja said

    Interesting review. I have no plans to buy one of these writing instruments, but if I come across one in a local shop, I will find it difficult to resist the urge to at least try one 🙂

    It will be interesting to see how well the Ingenuity does, sales-wise. Contrary to Mr. Melvin’s letter, however, I just don’t see $160 worth of pen here…..

    • I think if it were less expensive, and I hadn’t been handed one for review purposes, I might have gotten on on the basis of nostalgia for those old hard-tips. As far as $160 worth of pen… highly subjective territory. One could ponder why the Hero 100 or the TWSBI Diamond do have higher price tags given their performance levels, too.

  3. […] likely tangible result of this sort of “cloud design” is the Parker Ingenuity, which has the sort of unity of design one also sees in creatures like the platypus.  Perhaps I […]

  4. […] slightly blurry photograph is the newly-arrived IM.  The one on the left is that non-fountain pen Ingenuity which I was given for review purposes.  There are some subtle differences, but on gross […]

  5. I’m adding a note here, with reference to the question of how long the refills last. A couple of people over at the Fountain Pen Network have reported results of regular, applied use, and the answer is “not very long,” one of them speaking of running dry after a few weeks. Since a refill costs about as much as a bottle of Quink, and that bottle can last months even if it’s the sole and regularly-used source of writing, there is a serious question of cost efficiency raised regarding the 5th mode.

  6. […] gave what I think is a reasonable first glance at Parker’s “5th Mode” pen a little over a year ago.  Since then, others have been chiming in, and the general thought (so far as I can distill […]

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