Profile: The Parker Parkette and Writefine

(This page revised November 29, 2017)

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N. Shure catalog page, 1933 Magnifying glass

The N. Shure Company was a huge catalog wholesaler located in Chi­cago, Illi­nois. Page 654 from the company’s 1934 catalog shows the complete Parkette range, including the dramatically new fluted Par­kette De Luxe.

manufacturer logoWhen the stock market crashed in 1929, dozens of pen companies failed. Those that did not go under immediately retrenched wherever they could. Many phased out higher-priced pens and dumped their remaining stocks into the market at “fire sale” prices to recoup as much of their investment as possible. Even Parker, which refused to devalue the Duofold by dumping it at heavily discounted prices, was feeling the pinch. It began selling a model called the DQ (for “Duofold Quality”)‚ and in 1932 it followed up with the Duette Jr. and Sr., known together to modern collectors as the Thrift Time pens. (In Canada, these pens were called the Moderne and the Premier, respectively.)

Step Down

But there was a need for an even less costly line, and in the same year, along with the Duette, Parker began producing its first lever filler, a model that it named the Parco. The lever-filler design was an obvious choice: because it was favored by many consumers, it gave Parker an opportunity to drive a wedge into a market segment that was then owned by Sheaffer, Wahl-Eversharp, and Waterman. Placing its new $1.25 lever filler at the bottom of its product line gave Parker an opportunity to take a dig at its arch-rival, Sheaffer, which until 1934 made only lever fillers. Parker advertising implied that lever fillers were inferior to the Vacumatic’s compact pump filler because they did not allow a pen to hold nearly as much ink as the Vacumatic.

Despite being a bottom-line pen, the Parco was not cheap in appearance. It had a sharp-looking round-ball stepped clip, and the cap had two narrow bands at the lip and two more at a flatly conical crown that was mirrored by the flatly conical barrel end. The new model was successful, and in 1933 it became the Parkette. By 1934, the Parkette became the Parkette Junior, having undergone a slight styling change in the form of a stepped barrel end and a stepped cap crown that had lost its two bands. Shown here is a 1934 Parkette Junior. The gripping section of the pen shown here, made of celluloid with a hard rubber “collar” around the forward end, answered the common desire of users to see when the pen was nearly out of ink; Parker called this feature the Visometer Ink Supply.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Step Up

Realizing that it had a hit on its hands, Parker did not stop with just a “junior” Parkette. To fill the “senior” rôle, the company introduced the $1.75 Parkette De Luxe. This step-up model featured triple cap bands, white bands adjacent to the cap crown and barrel end (both now no longer stepped but rather rounded slightly), and an unusual fluted shape. The black version got chrome-plated trim, while other colors retained the gold-plated furniture of 1933. The Parkette De Luxe was offered in two sizes, the standard and a shorter, slenderer, Lady size. The pen shown here is the standard size.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The white decorative bands lasted only one year; they were soon replaced by gold-filled bands that added to the luxurious look without breaking the manufacturing budget. The pen shown above has the gold bands.

A distinguishing feature of the Parkette, as a low-line model, was a 14K gold nib that distinguished it from many of its competitors. The Parkette Junior’s nib was plain gold, but the De Luxe went a step further, with platinum plating on the tines for a much costlier appearance. The N. Shure catalog page illustrated at the top of this article called it “The Pen with the Platinum Pointed Nib.”

The late 1920s and early-to-mid-1930s were the apex of the Art Deco era, producing such magnificent examples as New York City’s Chrysler Building, opened in 1929, and the Wahl-Eversharp Coronet, introduced in 1936. The design that the Parco bequeathed to the Parkette, with its stepped cap crown and barrel end, fitted the aesthetic of the time perfectly. But it lasted only until 1935, when Parker retooled it. The new 1935 Parkette got a face lift to modernize it and also, with the disappearance of the Visometer Ink Supply, to reduce the cost of manufacture. The pen shown below is typical of the vast majority of Parkettes still in existence.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

By 1938, however, the luster of Art Deco was fading rapidly. The Parkette De Luxe’s fluted design, with its Art Deco styling, was passé — and fairly costly to manufacture — and Parker replaced it with a new, more streamlined version that was much like the original Parkette; but it was fitted with a single broad cap band and a clip of a different design. A year into its life, it lost the cap-crown trim bands, as shown here.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Interestingly, the Parkette De Luxe version shown above brought with it a return to the Visometer Ink Supply, a feature of the original Parkette that had disappeared in 1935. This time, however, the section was a single piece of clear celluloid, with the black portion dyed.

Making its début in the 1938 catalog was the Parkette Duo-Tone, a solid black pen with the purchaser’s choice of a chrome-plated or a gold-plated metal cap. This third-tier model was not the first Parker pen to be made of metal; that honor went to a range of all-metal Jack-Knife Safety pens made before 1920. But it does have the distinction of being the first Parker model to be fitted with the modern Parker metal cap. Duo-Tones were apparently not very popular; today they are considered highly uncommon.

Parker catalog page, 1940 Magnifying glass

This 1940 Parker catalog page, showing Challenger (top) and Par­kette Zephyr (bottom) pens and pen­cils, touts the Zephyr as the ideal pen for school use and points out that the pen has a gold nib.

The 1939 Parker catalog was devoid of Parkettes, including the previous year’s Duo-Tone, but the Parkette name reappeared in 1940, when Parker introduced a new military-clip school pen, the $1.95 Parkette Zephyr, and an even cheaper pen, the Writefine. Also fitted with a military clip and a Visometer section but made only in solid colors, fitted with a steel nib, and sold for $1.00, the Writefine was technically not a Parkette, but it was — like the Parkette Zephyr — a lever filler. Very cheaply made, with thinly gold-plated furniture whose plating could easily be rubbed off, it lasted one year, fading into oblivion with the release of the 1940 catalog. Shown below are a blue Parkette Zephyr and a green Writefine; note the brilliant, attractive swirled appearance of the Zephyr’s body material.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Dead and Reborn

America’s entry into World War II saw the demise of several Parker models, including the Parkette Zephyr, as the U.S. government slashed pen production in 1942 by limiting quantities to 46% of 1941 levels. But the durable Parkette was not yet dead. It saw a rebirth in 1950, this time using postwar technology (no more marbled colors) and featuring a hooded nib in a barrel that was cut away on the underside for much of the feed’s length, lending it an unusual appearance when viewed from the side.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

This new Parkette was also bizarrely complicated internally, with the sac attached to a separate nipple or thimble piece that was pressed into the barrel and sealed against the section by a rubber seal similar to an O-ring. Despite its streamlined look and bright chrome-plated metal cap, at $3.50 the Parkette did not appeal to the buyer of the early 1950s, and the model died its final death in 1952.

Afterword

Given its long history, with many model and color changes, the Parkette is a highly collectible pen, with the Duo-Tone thrown in as a rarity to be sought out. Because many collectors focus on the higher model ranges, most Parkette models are today quite reasonably priced. In addition, Parkettes were well made and durable (except for the plating on later prewar models’ furniture). User-grade Parkettes are even less costly to purchase than collector-grade examples, and they make very pleasant writer’s pens when restored and tuned.

Colors

The following table shows the colors of the Parkette and the Writefine. Original Parkette color names are taken from the 1933 and 1937 N. Shure catalogs. Parkette Zephyr color names are taken from the 1940 Parker catalog. All of the non-solid colors are from photographs of actual pens. 3D highlighting was added with a computer.


Colors of the Original Parkette
Color Name

Black Black
Burgundy I Burgundy (1933 Parkette, 1934+ Junior)
Burgundy Pearl Burgundy Pearl (Fluted De Luxe)
Marine Green Marine Green (1933 Parkette, 1934+ Junior)
Green Pearl Green Pearl (Fluted De Luxe)
Gray Gray (1933 Parkette, 1934+ Junior)
Gray Pearl Gray Pearl (Fluted De Luxe)
Gray and Red Gray and Red (1933 Parkette, 1934+ Junior, Fluted De Luxe)

Colors of the Parkette Zephyr
Color Catalog Name

Black Black
Brown Brown
Blue Blue
Gray Gray

Colors of the Writefine
Color Name

Black Black
Maroon Maroon
Green Green
Blue Blue

Colors of the 1950s Parkette
Color Catalog Name

Black Black
Red Red
Blue Blue
Gray Gray

Notes:
  1. Sheaffer’s riposte was to advertise that its sac-filling pens were better than pens that used the barrel as the reservoir (leaving the reader to infer that the Vacumatic was meant) because the sac insulated the ink supply from the heat of the user’s hand, preventing leakage. For obvious reasons, this tack stopped working when Sheaffer introduced its plunger-filler line.


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