Profile: The Parker Duofold

(This page revised December 28, 2012)

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1920s Duofold advertisement Magnifying glass
This 1920s Parker adver­tise­ment features the Duo­fold and includes men­tion of the Duofold Jr., “smaller in size,” and the Lady Duo­fold, “with ring for chatelaine.”

Manufacturer logo In 1921, the Parker Pen Company took a risk by introducing a new pen based on the design of the company’s successful Jack-Knife Safety Pen. The new model, proposed by a Parker district manager named Lewis M. Tebbel, was to be called the Parker Duofold. It would be identical in most respects to the Jack-Knife Safety No 26, an oversize pen; the differences centered around the nib and the color.

Unlike the Jack-Knife Safety, which could be fitted with a manifold nib but was more usually sold with a flexible nib or an ordinary firm one, the Duofold would be offered with only a manifold nib. This move would permit Parker to offer a 25-year warranty on the nib by reducing the number of pens returned for nib damage, although Parker did not implement such a warranty at the time of the Duofold’s introduction. (In 1920, Sheaffer introduced its Lifetime models, on which the lifetime warranty extended only to the nibs — also manifold.)

Parker tanager ad iconBut the feature that would forever distinguish the Duofold from its predecessors was the color that Tebbel proposed: instead of the ordinary black, it would be red, seriously red, a bright Chinese red that is today sometimes called “Tanager” from Parker’s advertising claim that it “rivals the beauty of a scarlet tanager.” Perhaps the biggest risk was that the pen was to wear a “window sticker” price tag reading $7.00, a dollar more than the tariff for the Jack-Knife Safety No 26. (But the Jack-Knife Safety came without a clip, which was 75¢ extra; there may also have been a surcharge for a manifold nib, rendering the two pens equal in price or possibly even reversing the price advantage.) Tebbel insisted that the Duofold would sell, but most of Parker’s management was dubious, and Janesville initially declined his proposal. Eventually, after traveling a circuitous route that included some persuasion by George Parker himself, the Duofold entered production. Tebbel had been right — it became an overnight sensation.

An Ancestor or Two

The Jack-Knife Safety, which gave birth to the Duofold, did not appear full grown like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus; it had evolved since its 1910 introduction. Originally, it was a clipless eyedropper filler with a rather cumbersome two-piece cap (U.S. Patent No 1,028,382; see also Design Features: Safety Pens). To cap the pen, the user screwed the outer cap on until it reached a stop and then screwed the inner cap down until its open end sealed against the flat end of the section. The inner cap’s attractively carved protruding knob has earned the pen the nickname “Turban Top.” Shown here is an early Jack-Knife Safety:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

By 1917, the Jack-Knife Safety had acquired all the distinguishing features that make the Duofold so recognizable: the (optional) washer clip (U.S. Patent No 1,197,224), the button filler (U.S. Patent No 787,152), and the two-piece cap that functions as a unit. Here is a Jack-Knife Safety No 2512:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Enter the Duofold

Like its parent, the Duofold was initially bandless. Shown here are a bandless red Duofold Senior, a bandless black Duofold Senior (lent by Howard Edelstein), a bandless Duofold Jr. (lent by Susan Wirth), and a later hard rubber Duofold (made in about 1924, by which time the standard Duofold had acquired a cap band). The red color of the hard rubber varied between 1921 and 1925, and the 1924 pen here is distinctly brighter than the original color.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In 1922, Parker augmented the Duofold line with the smaller Duofold Jr. and the ringtop Lady Duofold. The Duofold Jr. here was probably made in 1924 or 1925.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Part of the Duofold’s aura — and a major element of collectibility today — is the barrel imprint. Parker used at least three recognizable imprint patterns for the Duofold, beginning with one that was quite large and elaborate and progressing through a medium-sized version to a small one. Shown here is the “medium” imprint of the Duofold Jr. above. (This imprint is highlighted with white material for visibility; Parker did not customarily color its imprints.)

Duofold Jr., large imprint

Then, just in time for the 1922 Christmas season, Parker introduced the Duofold Deluxe, featuring a cap band fully 12" wide that extended all the way to the lip, completely covering it and protecting it against splitting when the cap was posted. As shown later in this article, the Lady Duofold shared this broad-band design.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Duofold line continued to expand. Among the additions were a new model, the Duofold Special, the same length as the Senior model but smaller in diameter; and some new colors. The first new color, introduced early enough that the default Duofold had not yet acquired its cap band, was actually the old reliable black, which Parker pumped up for the Duofold by advertising it as “Flashing Black and Gold.” (A slightly later black Duofold, with a cap band to give the full effect, is shown below.) It sold because, although people liked the Duofold, not everyone wanted a bright red pen! It is worth reiterating that the differences between a black Duofold Senior and the Jack-Knife Safety No 26, which the black Duofold actually replaced, were relatively minor — but Parker’s aggressive marketing of the new model worked to erase the older pen from the buying public’s memory.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In about 1925, Parker began producing pens made of a DuPont celluloid, which it called Permanite. In 1926, the company began advertising the new material heavily, touting its “unbreakable” qualities in ads featuring pens dropped from tall buildings or thrown out of airplanes. The Lady Duofold shown here is Permanite, and it was made in 1926 or later.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Although its dual-purpose use didn’t give rise to the Duofold name, it is nonetheless interesting to see a Big Red fitted out with the desk taper Parker made for it. Shown here is a 1926 Permanite Duofold in “desk dress,” along with an onyx Duofold desk base (not photographed to scale with the pen):

Fountain pen
Fountain pen desk base

In 1926, as part of the process of converting production to Permanite, the company marketed a pen in Jade Green. Unsure whether the public would accept a Duofold in such a newfangled color, Parker initially introduced the new pen as Mottled Green (and later Black-Tipped Jade), emphasizing in adver­tise­ments that it was a Duofold in all but name. The pen was a success, and it very quickly received the Duofold name; although with a slightly darker, richer green color. As time went on, other colors appeared: Lapis Lazuli Blue, Sea Green Pearl and Black, Moderne Green and Pearl, Burgundy and Black, Moderne Black and Pearl, and the infamous Mandarin Yellow (also called Chinese Yellow). Highly collectible today, Mandarin Yellow was not well received at the time, and Parker discontinued it relatively soon.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Keeping Up with the Times, or, Dynamic Obsolescence

In 1923 or 1924, to keep the buying public buying, General Motors invented Dynamic Obsolescence, the restyling of a product solely to make it look new and different. Pen manufacturers, never slow to adopt good merchandising tactics, picked up the idea, and soon annual styling changes appeared on the pen counter. After 1922’s broad band for the Duofold Deluxe, the next cap band Parker added to the Duofold was a “raised” band; it stood out a little from the surface of the cap. (This band was actually offered for $1.00 extra for a time before it became standard.) The raised band gave way to a flush band in 1927, and in 1928 Parker modified the design to use two very narrow bands:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Streamlining, Sort Of

1929 saw the introduction of Sheaffer’s Balance (the first truly ergonomic fountain pen, as Sheaffer put it), Waterman’s Patrician (with a distinctly Art Deco look), and the Streamlined Parker Duofold. Retaining the same essential design, Parker rounded off the corners a little, shortened the pen a little, and called its revised pen new. Compared to the Balance, the Streamlined Duofold is still pretty much a flat-top; but along with several “interesting” band changes (including a narrow-broad-narrow triple-band configuration), it kept sales going well into the 1930s.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Littlest of Them All

In 1930, Parker saw a need for a tiny Duofold and introduced a pen that was only 312" long capped. Initially produced with a single cap band, the “Vest-Parker” Duofold later acquired the same narrow-broad-narrow triple band that decked its larger siblings. Most of these tiny Duofolds were made either as ringtops or with clips; but according to at least one source, the Parker factory actually did make a few with both clip and ring, as shown here.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Knockoffs

The Duofold’s phenomenal success led innumerable other manufacturers, most of them bottom feeders, to jump on the “red pen” bandwagon. These companies produced their knockoffs mostly — but not entirely — in the late 1920s when the ready availability of celluloid made such a venture easy and cheap. Shown here is a relatively early hard rubber Diamond Point pen that could easily be mistaken for a Big Red.

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Decline, Fall, and Resurrection

Parker withdrew the Duofold from its U.S. catalog in 1936, but the company still made Duofolds at least into 1938. In 1939 a truly new Duofold, the Duofold Geometric, or “Toothbrush,” made its appearance. The Geometric, while it was smaller and more modern in appearance, was still an ordinary button filler, just like the earliest Duofolds.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

But the Geometric was hardly the flagship of Parker’s line; that position was still proudly held by the Vacumatic. And in 1940 the Geometric disappeared, to be replaced by the Striped Duofold.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Made in both button- and Vacumatic-filling models, the Striped Duofold lasted into 1948. Then it went out of production along with Parker’s other Vacumatic-filling models. Not until 40 years later did the Duofold name resurface in Parker’s catalog. In 1988, to celebrate its 100th year in business, Parker rolled out the Duofold Centennial.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Followed by a slightly smaller version called the Duofold International, this great retro pen has appeared in numerous colors and with slight trim variations every year since 1988. Who knows how long the Duofold will go on?


The Colors of the Duofold
Color Name

Tanager (hard rubber) Chinese Red/Lacquer Red (hard rubber)
Tanager (Permanite) Chinese Red/Lacquer Red (Permanite)
Black Black (plain or chased until adoption of Permanite;
thereafter, plain only)
Jade Jade
Lapis Lazuli Lapis Lazuli Blue I (White on Blue)
Lapis Lazuli Lapis Lazuli Blue II (Blue on Blue)
Moderne Green and Black Sea Green Pearl and Black
Moderne Green and Pearl Moderne Green and Pearl
Burgundy and Black Burgundy and Black
Pearl ands Black Moderne Black and Pearl
Mandarin Yellow Mandarin Yellow/Chinese Yellow


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. My thanks to Daniel Kirchheimer for his assistance in the preparation of this material.

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