Profile: The Parker Pastels

(This page revised June 30, 2016)

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Ivorine promotional sheet, 1921
This 1921 Ivorine pro­mo­tion­al sheet de­scribes the fea­tures and ben­e­fits of ca­sein but does not men­tion its prob­lems.
Parker Pastels advertising blotter Magnifying glass
This Parker Pastels ad­ver­tis­ing blot­ter was one of the pro­mo­tion­al items Parker made avail­able to its deal­ers; each deal­er would have his own store in­for­ma­tion im­print­ed.

Manufacturer logoIn 1916, venturing into pen materials with real color to offer the buyer an escape from boring black, the Parker Pen Company introduced its new “Ivorine” line of small pens. Ivorine was a then-current marketing name for casein, a plastic material made by using formalin to harden the casein protein from ordinary skimmed milk and widely used in making various small articles. As described in the promotional sheet shown to the left, Parker’s Ivorine pens came in six very bright colors.

Although not widely advertised, Ivorines apparently sold well and lasted into the early 1920s. But there was a problem: the material itself. Casein is rather unstable, shrinking or expanding in response to slight changes in humidity, and it stains readily even when used with benign inks. As soon as it became possible to replace casein with a better material, Parker did so. In the mid-1920s, Parker was among the many companies that began working with celluloid. The company began transitioning its manufacture to celluloid in 1925, and in the summer of 1926 Parker introduced a new line called Parker Pastels. Made of celluloid (which Parker called Permanite), Pastels were a great improvement over the discontinued Ivorines. Like the Ivorines, they came in several attractive colors, and they were offered as ringtops or with clips. Depending on the level of trim, ringtop Ivorines had cost 25¢ or 50¢ more than Ivorines with clips; but Pastel pens were all priced at $3.50, and matching pencils bore a $3.00 price. Boxed sets were $6.50.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The common practice of the time was that manufacturers advertised primarily their high-end models (e.g., Parker's Duofold), leaving the lower-end pens as something the dealer could switch a buyer to if the top line's tariff was just too high. Contrary to this practice, Parker advertised its Pastels fairly widely, especially targeting women because the pens were small and because their bright colors would harmonize with ladies' clothing and accessories. On the blotter illustrated to the right above is the phrase “Slender Pens and Pencils that fit slim feminine fingers." Sales were brisk.

The Evolution of Parker Pastels

First-generation Pastels featured monotone colors and were trimmed with a single protruding cap band 0.120" (3.05 mm) wide, like that on the 1926 Duofold. The Magenta ringtop shown above is typical of these pens, whose nibs were imprinted Parker Lucky Curve Pen Made In U.S.A.

In February 1927, Parker introduced a new set of colors, with a straight-line “moiré” pattern created by alternating lengthwise strips of colored celluloid with clear. The moiré design was changed in June to a true moiré with broken intersecting lines, illustrated by the Coral Moire pen below.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

In mid-1927 there were two other significant changes. The first was the appearance of a slightly heftier version of the Pastel, with a girth the same as that of the Lady Duofold (illustrated in the group of three pens below). This pen was available with either a single or double cap bands. The original, smaller version, often referred to as the Pastel Petite, received a stylistic upgrade in the form of a broader cap band, the same 0.125" (3.18 mm) width as the double bands on the larger pen but with a recessed middle painted black to simulate two separate gold-filled bands (illustrated above). This simplified method for creating multiple cap bands was used by several manufacturers, but few found it quite so stylistically effective as Parker.

In 1928, as illustrated by the Apple Green pen shown below, the black-lined band of the Pastel Petite was replaced with two separate bands like those on the larger model. The pen remained otherwise unchanged.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

With the 1929 redesign of the Duofold, Parker also redesigned its lesser pens, streamlining their ends.

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

The Design and Construction of Parker Pastels

In their design and construction, the Pastels were no different from any of Parker's other pens of the time. They were button fillers with a screw-in inner cap that secured the usual Parker washer clip (if present). The inner cap and blind cap were hard rubber, as were the section and the Lucky Curve feed. At some point after the first generation, Pastels began carrying a No 2 nib with a PARKER PEN imprint.

Parker Pastels desk set catalog page Magnifying glass

As it did for other models in the late 1920s, Parker offered desk bases with tapers to convert Pastels to complete desk sets. The 1929 catalog page shown to the right offers chrome-plated bases in Lavender (Mauve Moire) and Green (Apple Green Moire) for $4.50, with a third set featuring a gold-plated base and a Chinese Yellow Lady Duofold at $10.00 for the complete set or $5.00 for the base and taper without a pen. A complete travel set in blue, with a Naples Blue pen and a chrome-plated base, included a travel case and was priced at $10.00.

The Colors of Parker Pastels

As described in the preceding paragraphs, there were three generations of colors on the Parker Pastel pens:

The blotter illustrated above lists a set of six colors, separating them with commas such that there cannot be any confusion:

The blotter, which shows solid colors, was made before Green was added, dating it to no later than February 1927. Once Green, later called Apple Green, was added, the original solid-color Pastels actually offered a palette of seven colors.

With the changeover to moiré colors, Parker capitalized on the more subdued colors created by the presence of the clear areas. From the 1929 catalog:

In the softer colors the modern woman so enjoys — tints that blend with dainty gowns or colors of her boudoir.

Gray disappeared; and Beige, with the darkening influence of the clear areas, became Beige Gray Moire.

The color chips in the following tables were produced by photographing actual pens under flat lighting and adjusting the results until the on-screen images matched the pens under light with a color temperature of 3000° K. 3-D highlights were added with a computer.


Colors of the Pastel, First Generation
Color Name

Magenta Magenta
Mauve Mauve
Coral Coral
Beige Beige
Gray Gray
Naples Blue Naples Blue
Apple Green Apple Green

Colors of the Pastel, Third Generation (moiré/Moire)
Color Name

Magenta Moire Magenta Moire
Mauve Moire Mauve Moire
Coral Moire Coral Moire
Beige Gray Moire Beige Gray Moire
Naples Blue Moire Naples Blue Moire
Apple Green Moire Apple Green Moire

Notes:
  1. Parker catalogs used the word “Moire” without the nominally correct accent mark over the e.

  2. Parker discontinued the Lucky Curve feed in about 1929. To dispose of unused stock, the factory cut off the Lucky Curve portion of the feed, leaving a Christmas Tree feed that was flat on the back like competitors’ comb feeds but lacked the buffering capacity of a comb feed.

  3. Some modern collectors, not having seen a true Beige Gray Moire pen, mislabel age-discolored Mauve Moire pens as Beige Gray Moire.


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