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(This page published December 1, 2008)
|This rather whimsical Parker VP advertisement appeared in the October 1963 issue of The National Geographic Magazine.|
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. In about 1953, with the capillary-filling 61 well along the path to its 1956 release, the G. S. Parker Pen Company’s engineers went back to work to create a truly different pen. With convenience and people’s individual writing characteristics foremost among the design goals, they spent almost a decade developing a high-quality pen that had the potential to revolutionize the fountain pen industry, and in 1962 the company announced the Parker VP (“Very Personal”).
Priced in the middle of Parker’s range at $10.00, the VP introduced ergonomic features that have still, half a century later, not been offered by other manufacturers. To nestle the pen comfortably between the user’s fingers, the gripping section is triangular; its gently rounded cross-section lines itself up perfectly in the hand, the same way every time. The triangular shape was not in itself new; Triad pens of the 1930s were triangular along their entire length except at the section, and school pens in several European countries had sections with flattened areas to guide the pupil’s fingers. But Parker engineers, realizing that a self-aligning section might present a fixed nib to the paper at the wrong angle for many writers, fitted the VP with a user-interchangeable screw-in nib assembly that the user can rotate in either direction to compensate for any degree of rotation. There are even hot-stamped gold-foil indexing marks (easily visible on the pens illustrated above and in the following table) so that the pen’s owner can remove one nib and install another, orienting the replacement to the same angle. Nib swapping could be a very attractive proposition, given that Parker offered VP nibs in 15 grades:
|14K Nibs, U.S.|
|Stub Thin Music||70|
|Medium Oblique italic||75|
|Reverse Medium Oblique Italic||79|
|Extra Broad Executive||88|
Although other manufacturers have since produced triangular pens, those pens have nibs that either cannot be rotated or must be rotated by a professional repairer. The simple and remarkably effective personalization that a rotatable nib offers is unique to the VP and its successors, the 75 and the 75-based Premier.
The ascendancy of ballpoint pens, with their clean drop-in refills, led makers to produce designs that would eliminate the mess associated with filling a fountain pen: Sheaffer’s Snorkel, Waterman’s C/F and its cartridge-filling imitators (including Parker’s own 45), and the Parker 61. These designs were more or less successful, the 61 being perhaps the least felicitous of the lot. For the VP, the engineers worked out a new system that combined the economy of bottle filling with the cleanliness and ease of cartridges. They adapted Parker’s venerable squeeze filler to a removable unit that they named the Parker Clean Filler. Made of clear plastic, the filler has a Pli-Glass sac and a pressure bar that are encased in a metal sac guard like that on the Aero-metric filler of the “51”. (The VP’s filler is not truly Aero-metric in function.) A thin black plastic rod runs internally the length of the filler to ensure that capillary action draws ink from the sac to the pen’s feed and nib. To fill the pen, the user removes the barrel and pulls the friction-fitted filler out of the back end of the section to fill it. After it has been filled, the filler slides back into the pen. On goes the barrel, and writing can recommence. No muss, no fuss!
The Parker Clean Filler was a clever concept, but it was also the key weakness of the VP. The clear plastic of which the filler’s body is made turns out to be extremely fragile. The “snout” can break quite easily, and warranty replacement of broken fillers must have been a nightmare for Parker’s service department. In 1964, with the better-engineered 75 launched and doing well, Parker retired the VP. Today, finding a VP with an unbroken filler is a challenge, and such pens do not come at bargain prices. The relative scarcity of working VPs, combined with a production run lasting only two years, makes the VP a desirable pen for history-minded collectors, especially those who collect 75s.
In contrast to the broad range of hues offered on Parker’s popular-priced 45, the VP’s color palette was limited to only four relatively restrained colors: black, gray, blue, and red. (This was, of course, partly due to the VP’s short lifespan.) The VP, as a higher-priced model, did offer two cap finishes, the gold-plated style shown above and Parker’s bread-and-butter matte Lustraloy (stainless steel):
Both caps feature gold-plated clips and have the letters VP engraved in roman capitals near the “cap band,” in line with the clip. This arrangement differs from that on many other pens of the period, including the 61, later “51” models, and the 65; these pens also have the model identifier near the “band,” but it is on the side of the cap.
The following table shows the colors of the VP. The range is surprisingly limited, but this pen was not only short lived but also contemporaneous with Sheaffer’s PFM, whose color range was similarly restricted. As a top model, perhaps the VP “wouldn’t be caught dead” in the bright colors that soon appeared on Parker’s low-line model, the 45.
|Colors of the Parker VP|
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