Parker Jotter

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Is it an overstatement to suggest that the Parker Jotter is the most important writing implement of the 20th century? I don’t think so. While it was not the first ballpoint pen widely available to the buying public, it was the first ballpoint that was both reliable and affordable. Introduced in 1954, the Jotter original cost $2.50 (about $24 in 2014 dollars). Considering that a standard, well-built Jotter can be had for less $10 and that various “deluxe” versions with upgraded materials go for about $20, the Jotter remains a solid buy.

The Parker Jotter is on any short list of iconic pen designs. While its basic shape has not changed in 60 years, there have been a handful of modifications over the years. The clip and plunger have gone through a few iterations and the body comes in more colors and designs than you can easily count. Early on, the clip got its arrow shape and the engraved feathers have come and gone and the plunger has been rounded, flattened and rounded again. These small tweaks are nice and all, but for me, the fun of collecting Jotters is all about the colors and designs. But why would anyone need more than one Jotter? Well, for a small investment, you can get a consistent writing experience in a variety of colors and designs to suit any situation or mood at work, school or home. Of course, the same can be said for other widely-available pen designs such as Retro 51 or the Fisher Space Pen.

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The build quality of the Jotter is solid. Of the 20 plus Jotters I’ve owned during 20 plus years, I’ve never had a hint of an issue with the body or clip sections. I have lost the tiny spring that sits inside the tip of the body, so you’ll want to take care not to loss the spring when replacing the refill. The spring usually stays inside the pen when changing refills, but every now and then it will get stuck on the end of the refill and you may lose it if you’re not paying attention.

One minor, yet noticeable, alteration done to the Jotter sometime in the 1980s was swapping the brass threads for plastic threads inside the cap section. It’s not a huge difference, but I do like the extra bit of weight the brass threads provide.

There are literally dozens upon dozens of refills made by a variety of manufacturers. So, while we’re not talking fountain-pen-range-of-options here, surely you can find at least one refill that works for your typical needs. Personally, I’m partial to the newer Quink refills made by Parker and Fisher Space Pen refills. Other folks swear by the EasyFlow 9000 from Schmidt or the various gel refills made by Monteverde, which brings me to a quick bit of advice. If you audition an older Jotter, look inside the pen first. If it has an older Parker refill then do not give the writing experience any credence. Instead, focus on the design and condition of the pen itself and know that you’ll be able to get a solid writing experience with a new refill.

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It’s an icon. It’s well built. It accommodates a variety of refill options. Put it all together and the inevitable conclusion is that you should get a Jotter (or two or three) and spend a bit of time and money finding a preferred refill. Personally, I prefer the metal Jotters to the plastic ones. Unless it’s an older Jotter with the brass threads, I find the plastic versions to be too light; I would rather write with the added heft of the all-metal editions. Once you find a workable combination, keep the pen handy and I suspect you’ll find yourself reaching for the Jotter more often than you might have thought.

(Note – This review was prepared a few months ago just before That One Pen went into hibernation. It’s longer than most reviews will be from now on but it seemed like a bad idea to let this review go to waste.)

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Ti-Ballpoint Pen by BigiDesign

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The Ti-Ballpoint is my second pen from the folks at BigiDesign. I also have the Ti-Click Classic. While the Classic was designed with the Uniball Signo 207 in mind, it takes a whole host of refills. It may be the most refill-flexible pen ever made. I recall carrying both the snooty Montblanc fineliner refill (Is it me or are those things a giant rip off?) and the pedestrian workhorse Pentel Energel refills at some point in my Ti-Click Classic. At $89, the Classic isn’t cheap but it’s incredibly well made and the wide-range of refill options makes it worth investigating. The Ti-Ballpoint is a bit more purpose built in that it takes just Parker-type refills. That said, there are so many variations on the Parker refill that there is a good chance that any picky pen person can be satisfied. Personally, I’m going to grab the Ti-Ballpoint more frequently than the Ti-Click. Why? Well, I’ve discovered that I enjoy shorter pens with a bit of heft to them and the Ti-Ballpoint is exactly that – a shorter pen (at least when unposted) that still feels substantial in your hand.

The Ti-Ballpoint ships with a Fisher medium black refill which is a good choice because the pen feels like it has an EDC sort of vibe so a refill that writes in most any situation makes sense. (Tangent/Rant…Why is the default color for ballpoint refills black? Anyone know? Did someone do the market study and determine that more people prefer black ballpoint ink over blue?) What I really like about the pen, other than the obvious build quality, is how the refill tip does not wiggle one tiny bit when you write. With some pens that take a refill, there is often a bit of wiggle in the tip. 99% of the time it’s a minute amount of wiggle so it doesn’t much matter. But with the Ti-Ballpoint there is zero, zilch, nada wiggle thanks to a tight, spring reinforced, fit. You know how most refills just slide into a pen body and you screw it shut easily enough. Not so with the Ti-Ballpoint. It certainly isn’t hard to replace the refill, but you do need to apply a bit force as you screw the grip section into the body. It’s like the pen is saying, “This refill is mine now!”

The pen is actually called the Ti-Ballpoint + Stylus. So, it comes with a rubber stylus on the end of the pen that can be replaced with a flat end cap (see my picture) that you’ll want to use a flat head screwdriver to attach securely. The stylus works fine, but that bit of rubber doesn’t seem to jive with the whole sturdy, EDC thing the rest of the pen has going for it. Thankfully, the folks at BigiDesign were smart enough to include that end cap option.

At $75, the Ti-Ballpoint is not a casual purchase. The $59 I paid during the Kickstarter campaign made the choice a lot easier. Should you buy one? Well, you need to have a Parker-type refill you like. I like Fisher refills and Parker’s newer Quink refills, so I’m all set. You should also like slightly thinner pens that have a bit of heft to them. All in all, it’s a winner for me. Great job BigiDesign.

Parker 51

Parker51aHere, the teal blue Parker 51 has a deep green color

It’s simple. It’s perfect. It’s a fountain pen. It’s the Parker 51. Much ink and many pixels have been spilled and typed in the name of this fine pen. Frankly, a vintage pen ignoramus like myself can’t add much to the discussion other than my own personal experience and thoughts so that is what you’ll get here. I bought this restored pen with a new sac on ebay from a seller I have had positive dealings with in the past. Compared with the prices I saw for 51s at the Philly and Long Island pen shows, the $120 I paid seemed fair. Considering it may now be one of my two or three favorite fountain pens, $120 seems all the more reasonable. As for the age of the pen, the “Made in USA” followed by  “9.”,the teal blue color and the “Parker” imprint on the cap band makes me think the pen originates from July to September of 1949. As such, the pen body is made from poly(methyl methacrylate), also known as Lucite. Remember plexiglass? Same stuff, just not clear like plexiglass.

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Let’s talk about the writing experience. Mine is a Parker 51 Aerometric with a fine nib and it seemed to me that a classic pen deserved a fairly classic/conservative ink so I loaded mine with Waterman Florida Blue. If I had some blue Parker Quink I would have used that instead. (By the way, how the hell do I not have blue Parker Quink in my collection?! Seriously, isn’t a bottle of Parker Quink essential for any serious pen nerd?) In a word, the writing experience is…fantastic. I L…O…V…E the way this pen writes. The nib is stiff enough to feel like it will tolerate plenty of use and abuse but also produces a fair amount of line variation. Maybe it’s because my handwriting is entirely utilitarian (on a good day), but line variation and ink shading are not big deals for me. Still, it is fun to work with a pen that you know can be an everyday workhorse and still give your writing some genuine character. I have noticed that, after a day of disuse, the 51 takes a couple inches of writing to get going (see the word “Parker” in the picture below – it’s a bit lighter than the rest of the text). Otherwise, I have not experienced any issues with skipping or other typical troublesome nib concerns. As for weight, balance and feel, all are nearly ideal. While the weight is ideal for my hand, I do find the Lucite material to be a touch slippery and the length of the pen to be a tad too long. Perhaps the purchase of a demi 51 is in my future to address the length concern but neither the minor issue of feel nor the less than minor issue of length will stop me from using this pen every chance I get.

Parker51kHere, the pen has more of a deep blue color

Parker51lRhodia White and Rhodia Yellow – As you might expect, the pen releases more ink onto the thirstier yellow paper

Of course, you can’t talk about a Parker 51 without mentioning the hooded nib. Personally, I love the whole design aesthetic of a hooded nib as the pen manufacturer is saying, “Hey, we’re not trying to be flashy here. We’re going to focus on making a workhorse pen.” Is the Parker 51 a tad bit boring? Yes. If you want sexy, go for a modern Visconti. If you want understated simplicity and a pen that only draws the attention of genuine pen freaks, then get yourself a well-maintained/refurbished Parker 51.

Parker51fWait, now we have a softer teal color going on here.

Rating and Conclusion
I cannot recommend this pen enough. It’s an absolute “Carry It” pen for me and I plan to do just that every day. Give my this Parker 51 with Waterman Florida Blue, two Energel-Xs (one blue or black for general writing and one in purple or green for grading) and a TWSBI Mini with whatever ink is matching my mood that week and I’m good to go for all occasions. One last comment – how about that color?! It’s blue, it’s green, it’s blue-green…Depending upon the light, this pen has a anything from a midnight blue color to a soft teal complexion – very cool. Anyway, here’s my bottom line: find a way to budget a Parker 51 for your collection and find a way to do it soon. You can’t have this one, but thankfully there are many more like it out there. But don’t wait because I’ll be looking for more 51s in the days, weeks, months and years to come and I’d hate for us to be bidding against each other. 🙂

Parker51CollageNow the damn thing looks almost black in some of these pictures!

 

Parker Vacumatic

 

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I believe this is the first vintage pen I’ve reviewed on That One Pen and boy is it a nice one to start with. First, let me be honest here, I don’t know much about vintage pens. I’m certainly not a vintage collector but seeing so many Parker Vacumatics and Parker 51s at the Philadelphia and Long Island pen shows put the vintage bug in my ear. So, I spent some time surfing the fountain pen forums and ebay listings looking for a quality vintage pen and eventually came across this Parker Vacumatic on ebay. It has been wonderfully restored and, compared to prices I was seeing at the pen shows, I think I got a reasonably good deal. It wasn’t a steal by any stretch, but I feel comfortable that I got very good value for my dollar. Importantly, of all the Vacumatics out there, I’ve always liked the ones with the black and blue checkered look so I’m especially happy to find this little gem.

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I’ve been using the pen consistently for about a week now and, although not a perfect writer, it’s darn close. I’m thinking seriously about sending the pen off to get the nib tweaked a bit. Given the investment I’ve already put into the pen, a few more bucks to get the nib closer to perfect would make some sense. It is a fine nib but to me, it writes closer to a medium. Actually, the best way to describe the writing would be to call it a wet fine. So, I might send it off to get the nib thinned a bit and maybe get closer to a wet, extra fine writer. The pen is currently loaded with Kon Peki which flows especially well. I may try something like Parker Quink or Waterman Florida Blue that might be a bit stingier with the flow. I’m open to other suggestions as well. Do you have an ink you use in pens that write just a bit too wet for your tastes?

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In terms of size and feel, the Vacumatic is also close to perfect. The posted length of the pen is ideal for my relatively small hands. The grip width is just a touch on the thin side for what I prefer but still comfortable. The gold nib is fairly small and matches the overall design of the pen beautifully. Even though the pen has been restored, everything about the writing experience just screams vintage to me. It’s a cool feeling writing with something so old yet so effective.

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Filling the Vacumatic could not be easier. Insert the nib into the ink bottle and depress the plunger 5 or 6 times and you’re ready to go. Being a restored pen, the tension of the plunger is tight but not too tight. I don’t have a lot of experience with Vacumatic plungers, but this one seems to work as well as these systems should. As you can see, there is a cap that covers the plunger and there is no discernible seam between this cap and the body when closed. Again, an old pen that just plain looks and works great.

Rating
I really, really dig this pen. It most certainly would be a “Carry It” pen for me, but the cost of the pen and the fact that it is vintage most likely means that it will not spend a lot of time in my pocket. For now, I’m keeping it in a pen case and leaving it safely on my desk when not in use. I suspect, as time passes, the reins will be loosened.

Analogy
Frankly, I’m having trouble with coming up with an analogy here. The Parker Vacumatic may be the oldest thing I own. It’s certainly the oldest thing I own that gets used on a regular basis. So, think of something old that is also cool looking and still works like a charm and you’ve got a good analogy for the Parker Vacumatic. In short, it’s a winner!

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Pelikan Souveran 405 Ballpoint

Pelikan3Here’s the deal – everyone needs to keep a ballpoint pen handy so why not make it a great looking one.  Enter the Pelikan Souveran 405 in black/blue/silver.  Like many folks who are a bit picky about their writing implements, I have a love/hate relationship with ballpoint pens.  I love them because they’re reliable, come in too many styles to count and, unlike fountain pens, aren’t all that fussy about paper choice (try writing on those self-stick Christmas tags with a fountain pen).  I hate ballpoint pens because…well, frankly, they’re as boring as a Bravo reality show.  To make matters worse, some refill makers have tried to glam up the ballpoint with a variety of colors and refill materials, most of which are just embarrassing.  More on this later.

Back to the Pelikan Souveran 405.  Like all my crummy pictures, the ones here do not do this pen, and it’s Pelikan ballpoint cousins, justice in the least.  I love, love, love the looks of the black/blue/silver combination.  For reasons I do not understand, I just don’t dig gold trim on my pens.  Now, a buttery Sailor nib made of gold is another matter completely, but gold trim doesn’t do it for me.  (If I stated my feelings on this matter using a combination of chemistry and social media syntax it would read:  Ag +1; Au -1.  Note:  the material on the 405 is actually palladium but we’re just talking color right now.)  For me, the success of the Souveran 405 and similar Pelikan ballpoints is all about the simple shape and perfect size.  Imagine if a Parker Jotter ate right and worked out a bit.  The result would be a Pelikan ballpoint.  The brands are similar in length but Pelikans are wider and therefore easier to hold.  Combine the ideal size with quality plastic materials, celluloid acetate to be specific, and the pen fits and feels wonderfully even if it’s “just a ballpoint”.Pelikan2

Alright, let’s talk refills a bit.  As you know, ballpoint refills come in many shapes and sizes and it seems that every year brings new hybrid, easyflow ballpoint inks.  Many of these proprietary ballpoint refills write wonderfully but, for now, let’s limit ourselves to the ubiquitous “Parker-style” refills.  Let me say this plainly – gel inks using the Parker type refills are garbage and even if they weren’t, they would remain a stupid idea.  Of all the ballpoint refills, Parker QuinkFlow are the best.  Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 are very good but I think QuinkFlow wins by a nose.  I’m fairly sure I’ve tried every gel ink Parker-style refill available in a variety of point sizes and they all, I mean every single one of them, do not work consistently well.  I occasionally get a blue Parker brand gel refill that writes well but it’s just too hit and miss and they also ooze silicone.  How Parker gets away with selling refills with such poor quality control is beyond me.  If all this wasn’t bad enough, we also have the dumb idea of colored  refills.  Why would I put a purple ballpoint or gel refill in a classy pen like the 405?  On the rare occasion I need something that isn’t blue or black, I’ll grab a fountain pen and a bottle of ink that fits my needs and/or mood or a purpose-built Pilot G2 or Pentel Energel.  Purple Parker refills that “bleed” like some sort of horror movie pen refill?  No thank you.

Pelikan1Once again, back to the Souveran 405…

Rating
You need to have a ballpoint handy.  This is a great looking one and with the right refill it works just dandy so “Carry It“.  There may not be a lot that separates one ballpoint from another other than your preference for looks.  I think the black/blue/silver Souveran looks great and the size and shape work for me.

Analogy
The Souveran 405 is like a really good cheeseburger.  There are plenty of ways to make a decent burger but at the end of the day we’re still just talking about a cheeseburger.  I’m happy to pay a little extra for the angus, grass-fed beef and the fresh bun, even if we’re only talking about meat and bread, but putting a fried egg or a pork chop on the burger is the wrong way to eat a burger, egg or a pork chop.