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Tale of the Unexpected

Posted by Dirck on 5 September, 2013

I recently returned a pen to a client– a 1947 Parker “51”, which was the first of that breed the client had owned.  It was, as one might expect, not taking up ink, although apart from that it was in unexpectedly good shape for the model and age.  The body was smooth, the cap undented, and the filler stem unambered.  Apart from the engraving, BAT MIZPAH, which my wife and I took turns being childish about (“Cowboy!”  “Superhero!”), it was one of the cleanest examples of a “51” I’ve met.

On the outside.  To refit the Vacumatic filler, the first step is to remove the hood.  Thereafter, one pulls out the point to access the inner side of the filler to help ease it out once it’s unscrewed.  Let me show you what you see under the hood in an ideal world.

It’s a lot prettier when you’re about to put the hood back on, as I was here

After a slight but expected struggle with the hood, which is routinely shellacked in place, I found… the unexpected!  As is only to be expected, I didn’t take a picture, so I’ll ask you to imagine an encrustation on the gold, a conical surround between the point’s breather hole and the face of the plastic collector.  I’ve seen some pretty squalid “51”s in my time, but I’ve never seen something like that.  Once the point was free of the feed and collector, it took ten cycles in my ultrasonic tank to knock off all the crust, which under a light coat of deep blue was the grey of cement.  That’s twenty minutes of shaking as 40,000 cycles, which even a veteran raver would have trouble dealing with.

Unexpectedly, this had almost no effect on the other parts.  While it did take two cycles to actually free the point from its mounting, the whole of the encrustation went with it.  The plastic of the collector, the hard rubber of the feed, and the celluloid of the breathing tube had a heavy coating of ink which had to be gotten rid of, but it was entirely soluble.  Likewise, once the filler was out, there were great crystals of ink inside the barrel, but a single buzz in the tube and it was as blameless as the day it was made.

I suspect that this state of affairs was the result of the pen having been left filled after loading up with the “51”-specific formula sold until the end of the 1950s– in 1947 it still bore the name of the pen, but the next year it would become “Superchrome”.  This ink was as certain a doom for most other pens as India ink, and if I’m right in my suspicion I now understand why.

The final element of the unexpected:  on the body, this pen bears a date code indicating the last quarter of 1947, while the point bears a date code indicating… the last quarter of 1947!  They MATCH!

OK, that’s probably more shocking if you’ve got my experience of “51”s, in which such agreement is almost unheard of.

Today’s pen: Parker “51” (1949 model… on the outside)
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

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