Parker 51: The Leica M3 of the pen world grows on me
When I wrote about my new-found passion for the classic Parker 51 I didn't realise what I had started. Not only did the Parker I bought from Henry the Penman rekindle a lost love, I've been adding to the collection ever since. Coincidentally, I inherited a 1958 model from an old journalist friend who had used this pen for over fifty years.
The inheritance was something of a bonus. The 51 had been bought in the same year that I splashed out on an identical model at the cost of some two weeks' wages. What became of that original I cannot now remember, but the timely arrival of my old friend's pen was an apposite replacement. There's a story attached to this heirloom, though. I determined the old girl needed a good clean out and, possibly, a new nib. So I took her to Henry in Portobello Road with instructions to do the necessary. What with his holidays and my absence, it was a good six weeks before I called in to collect the Parker.
Lost and found
Henry was looking sheepish as I approached his booth. Indeed had a tale of woe. He had lost, or mislaid, the dear old girl and I was left in a very difficult position. How to explain this to my friend's widow? Henry supplied me with an identical 51, in perfect condition, but it just wasn't the same. He promised to keep on looking at my insistence.
Two days later I got a call. Henry had found the pen, in its plastic bag, dangling precariously beneath his rather cramped seat in the antiques-market booth. Naturally I was both relieved and delighted and hotfooted it to Notting Hill at the first opportunity last Saturday. We did a deal on the repairs but I also got to keep the replacement pen with which, in the meantime, I had fallen madly in love. Show me a Parker 51 and I now realise it cannot be wrenched from my hands. This explains how I now come to possess no fewer than five of these classics. All are magnificent and I am enjoying using them in turns. Every one is host to a different ink.
What is your favourite ink for these pens, I asked Henry Simpole. Without a doubt, he said, try to get hold of Waterman, but make sure it is French Waterman.
So off I went to Mr. Amazon's emporium and found serried ranks of Waterman Paris ink bottles, genuinely made in France. My order for three bottles, Tender Purple, Audacious Red and Absolute Brown arrived the following day, all for a very reasonable £12. If you want some of this lovely ink and, even, like to try some more of the great colours, you can start here: Waterman Inks including Tender Purple
The more I look at these Parker 51s, supremely functional, more practical than a normal fountain pen with their heavily hooded nibs, the more timeless they look. Here is an object made nearly sixty years ago that still looks ultramodern. In the 1950s, as I recall, it was futuristic. I have come to the conclusion that the Parker 51 is perhaps the iconic fountain pen of the 20th century. I would even go so far as to suggest it is the Leica M3 of writing instruments.
Parker was never the most expensive marque, nor the most prestigious, but the wonderful 51 has stood the test of time and is now a desirable classic. Henry charges £80, £100 or more for these instruments. It isn't a fortune in relation to modern good-quality fountain pens, but I believe the 51 will serve you better than a £300 upstart. And, with specialists like Henry around, the Parker is likely to be serviceable for decades to come.