Profile: The Parker 180

(This page revised April 24, 2013)

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Manufacturer logo “It’s two — two — two mints in one!” If you remember that TV-commercial slogan for breath mints, you were around when Parker tried to do the same thing with fountain pens. In 1977, a new, elegantly slender pen appeared, called the Parker 180. The 180 was a strange beast. Instead of an ordinary fountain pen’s arched nib, it featured the radically different nib shown to the right here, shaped like an arrowhead and almost flat, with a very slight lengthwise crease but no arch, and with a feed along one surface and a stainless-steel reinforcing bar along the other. Parker 180 nib The principal selling feature of the Parker 180 was that it could write in two orientations: normally, nib upward (the usual way); and finer with the pen turned 180° so that the feed faces upward. whence the pen’s model designation. Two nib configurations offered the purchaser a choice between Fine/Broad and Extra Fine/Medium point sizes, with the sizes marked on the under surface of the feed.

At first glance, there would seem to be a certain irony in the pen’s very existence; virtually any fountain pen, if its nib is properly shaped and polished, can write in two orientations. From the 1920s to the 1940s, companies such as Parker, Sheaffer, and Waterman produced such flippable nibs (commonly referred to as duo-point nibs). Parker’s famed Vacumatic featured such a nib (left) from its 1933 inception until its withdrawal after World War II. Parker Vacumatic nib But after the war, as pen users’ sophistication declined, fountain pens — especially duo-points — declined in favor of the ballpoint pen. Thus the 180, a fountain pen designed to withstand the kind of stress that a ballpoint-pen user might inflict. Because ballpoints require a significant amount of pressure to create the friction that will rotate the ball while fountain pens require virtually no pressure beyond the weight of the pen itself, a writer habituated to ballpoint pens can press a fountain pen firmly enough to bend its nib (called “springing” the nib). The 180’s reinforcing bar prevents springing the nib by providing support from above when the pen is oriented with the feed below.

The 180 is clearly a product of the Space Age, slender and angular from one end to the other:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

This 180 Flighter says “Space Age Modern” with its
high-tech brushed finish and straight-line angularity.

(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to an image, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

Like most fountain pens made since the early 1960s, the 180 fills with cartridges or a converter. It takes standard Parker cartridges, unchanged in profile since the 1960 introduction of the 45, and it also accepts a converter for bottle filling. But Parker’s converter of that time was very thick, and the 180’s extreme slenderness compelled the company to develop a new hoop-style squeeze converter that bears a strong resemblance to the filler of the “51” Special:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Appearance notwithstanding, this converter, like all
squeeze-type converters, lacks a breather tube and
therefore is not truly Aero-metric in function.

Later 180s were fitted with the more usual Parker squeeze converter that resermbles a very thin fully shrouded “51” filler. (Today’s collectors are somewhat handicapped if the pen’s converter fails because the current piston-type converter does not fit into the barrel. The solution is to use the syringe-type converter that Parker includes with its lower-priced models.)

At the 180’s initial release, Parker offered the pen in a selection of metals and a range of French lacquers (the Laqué Collection): Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Red Quartz, Tortoiseshell, and Woodgrain. These pens were marked on the back side of the cap, near the lip, with a Chinese character. Parker soon began changing the color palette, doing away with the more costly hand-applied lacquers and using plainer colors without the Chinese character on the cap.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

This deep blue 180 was produced after Parker had begun
scaling back the cost of colors. It is, however, relatively
early; it bears a Chinese character in red on its cap.

The 180 had a short life, but before its discontinuation in 1985 it wore virtually all of the colors that also bedecked the 75 during that period. Among that panoply were many of the more beautiful metal treatments as well, such as an elegant engine-engraved sterling silver “tartan” pattern called Ecosse (the French name for Scotland) and this parallel-line engraved finish called Classic Milleraies:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

One of the many metal 180 treatments was
this chromed Classic Milleraies version.

As most manufacturers do, Parker created various prototypes to do market testing of possible new designs and finishes on its pens. Among these prototypes is the pen shown below, in a gold-plated version with a deeply grooved guilloché finish called Écorce (Bark):

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The guilloché finish featured on this 180 prototype was
put into production, fitted with the correct flared tassie.

Barrel-end trimsNote how short the prototype pen shown above is when it is posted; it actually posts shorter than its capped length. This specimen was made without one of the 180’s better features, a slight flare of the barrel-end tassie. The flared tassie snaps into the inner cap in the same way as the section’s trim ring, holding the cap securely in place without the need to force it down onto the barrel and possibly scratch the pen’s finish. Shown to the right are the barrel ends of the Bark prototype and a chromed Milleraies production-model pen.

Truth in Advertising?

Readers of Fischler and Schneider’s Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments, if they are not personally familiar with the 180, may be misled by the book’s statement that the pen does not write satisfactorily in either of its possible orientations. This condemnation, coming as it does from such respected authors, does a disservice to the collecting community. While it is true that many 180s are poor writers, the same statement can be made about many other vintage models as nibs have bent feeds downward over time, allowing the tines to come firmly into contact and throttle ink flow. As with most of those other pens, it is possible to get a 180 to write remarkably well in both directions with a minimum of adjustment.

Who’s on First?

The desirability (and marketability) of a pen like the Parker 180 was not lost on the innovative and capable engineers of Japanese pen makers. Both Namiki and Platinum had produced their own two-sided pens some years before Parker’s version hit the scene. These pens may actually have been the inspiration for Parker’s entry into the market. Shown here is a Platinum from the mid-1970s:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Japan’s Platinum Pen Company produced this two-
sided pen that may have inspired the Parker 180.

It is also possible that Parker was inspired by competition closer to home, in the form of the Sheaffer Stylist. First produced in 1966 and taking many of its styling cues from the lines of the Parker 45, the Stylist featured a nib formed from sheet stock and sandwiched between an upper and a lower feed. This model, which lasted only about two years, acquired a reputation for leaking through the gasket that supposedly sealed the nib unit to the gripping section. While it was on the market, it was offered in a variety of versions, from gold-plated models with the White Dot to basic plastic-bodied “school” versions like the pen shown here:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

This Stylist was at, or very near, the bottom
of the line in terms of the model range.

Colors of the 180

At its 1977 introduction, the 180 came only as a Flighter or in the gold Imperial trim. The five early lacquers and other metal finishes appeared in the catalog in 1979, each pen bearing on the back of its cap two Chinese characters whose combined pronunciation represents “Parker” in Chinese. At that time, Imperial was renamed Millerais. In 1981, the lacquer line was revised to solid blue, red, and green, with Thuya continuing; by 1982, the earlier colors had returned but without the hand-marked Chinese characters that distinguished the earlier pens.

I do not yet have sufficient documentation to illustrate the complete range of colors used for the 180 during its product life. The following table shows the five lacquer colors that were have been used in the first-generation production of the 180, later lacquers that I have verified, and metals that I can be sure of.


Early Lacquer Colors
Color Name

Black

Lapis Lazuli

Red

Malachite

Blue

Red Quartz

Green

Tortoise Shell

Gray

Woodgrain


Later Lacquer Colors
Color Name

Deep Blue

Deep Blue

Matte black

Matte Black


Metals
Finish Name

Flighter

Brushed Stainless Steel (Flighter)

Chrome Plated (Milleraies)

Chrome Plated (Milleraies)

Gold Plated (Ecosse)

Gold Plated (écorce)

Gold Plated (Milleraies)

Gold Plated (Imperial, later Milleraies)


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