(This page revised March 3, 2022)
|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.”|
In 1921, a Parker Pen Company district manager named Lewis M. Tebbel proposed a dramatic new model that 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 but could, on special order, be fitted with a flexible 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.)
But 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.” In addition, chasing as a decorative surface treatment was beginning to fall out of fashion by the beginning of the 1920s; looking to the future, the Duofold would be offered only with a plain (smooth) barrel and cap.
Tebbel insisted that the Duofold would sell, but most of Parker’s management people were dubious—they saw his proposal as a risky venture, and Janesville initially declined to take on the new model. 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 standard 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. 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. But before saying more about the Duofold itself, we must step backward a few years to look at the development path that led to it.
The Jack-Knife Safety Pen, which gave birth to the Duofold, did not appear full grown like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus; it had evolved since its 1909 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:
The next technological step for Parker was its 1916 introduction of the button filler (U.S. Patent No 787,152, issued to John T. Davison in April 11, 1905), which Parker engineer Oscar B. Hjorth improved by making the button separable from the pressure-bar spring (U.S. Patent No 1,486,246). Initially, Parker called its button-fillers “Safety-Sealed” pens, not Jack-Knife Safety Pens. The “Safety-Sealed” range included cone-cap models like the one shown here, which were of course not safety pens at all:
By 1917, by dint of a little feature merging, the Jack-Knife Safety Pen had acquired all the distinguishing technical features that make the Duofold so recognizable: the button filler, the (optional) washer clip (U.S. Patent No 1,197,224),and the two-piece cap that functions as a unit (an adaptation of August Eberstein’s 1904 U.S. Patent No 764,227). Here is a Jack-Knife Safety No 25 (the identifying a chased model, not a more slender pen as in Waterman’s numbering scheme):
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.
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.
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.)
Then, just in time for the 1922 Christmas season, Parker introduced the Duofold Deluxe, featuring a cap band fully " (12.7 mm) wide that extended all the way to the lip as shown below, completely covering the lip and protecting it against splitting when the cap was posted. As shown later in this article, the Lady Duofold shared this broad-band design.
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.” For those who insisted on being old fashioned, the black Duofold was also offered with chasing, a Duofold, as it were. (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 Pen 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.
In about 1925, Parker began producing pens made of a DuPont celluloid material, 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.
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):
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). Mandarin Yellow entered the line as a result of a trip George Parker took to China, where he found the yellow color attractive. It was not well received at the time, and Parker discontinued it relatively soon, leading to a rarity that has contributed to its great appeal to collectors today.
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 at 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:
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 version called the Duofold Deluxe), it kept sales going well into the 1930s.
In 1930, Parker saw a need for a tiny Duofold and introduced a pen that was only 3" 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Given its immense popularity and the remarkable number of colors that the modern reboot has worn, there seems to be no end to how long the Duofold will go on.
|The Colors of the Duofold|
|Chinese Red/Lacquer Red (hard rubber)|
|Chinese Red/Lacquer Red (Permanite)|
Black (plain or chased until adoption of Permanite;
thereafter, plain only)
|Lapis Lazuli Blue I (White on Blue)|
|Lapis Lazuli Blue II (Blue on Blue)|
|Sea Green Pearl and Black|
|Moderne Green and Pearl|
|Burgundy and Black|
|Moderne Black and Pearl|
|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.