From its initial launch in 1941 as “The World’s Most Wanted Pen”, the Parker 51 fountain pen is now firmly established in the annals of fountain pen history as one of the most iconic. Its distinctive design and innovative engineering for its time has secured its place amongst the well-known vintage pens to date. With the 2021 reissue of such a quintessential classic, the fountain pen world was understandably abuzz with excitement, expectation, and opinions.
Before anything else, I would just like to say that I’m not an expert on vintage pens, nor have I had much experience with them. My knowledge of the Parker company’s fountain pen models are likewise limited to what I have read about, tried during previous pen meets, and the small collection that I currently have, which did not include a vintage Parker 51 at the time of this review. The original and modern iteration that share the same name of Parker 51 are both new to me, and although comparing the two is a given, I would also endeavor to evaluate them separately, based on their own qualities. In other words, my perspectives on the vintage Parker 51 and 2021 Special Edition fountain pens are mainly based on their inherent design features and functionality.
EndlessPens has loaned me a vintage black Parker 51 and a Parker 51 Deluxe Black GT, both with fine nibs for the purpose of this comparative review.
Aesthetics of Vintage and Modern Parker 51
At first glance, these two fountain pens have certain similarities. They share the smooth silhouette that Parker 51 is known for. Both golden caps have a subtle linear texture to their metal surfaces, although the 2021 edition has a more obvious effect. This one also has more weight, lending a relative top-heaviness to the modern Parker 51 fountain pen when capped.
The jewel of the finial has been changed, from the pearly grey version in the vintage, to concentric metal with breather slits in the 2021 version. The clip has likewise been updated from the classic, detailed arrow design to a longer, more contemporary configuration. The thin, clutch ring of the vintage Parker 51 has transformed into a decorative gold band on the 2021 section. The modern Parker 51’s grip area is shorter, with a step-down from the plastic threads of the barrel. The pen body itself is now made of shiny and lightweight “precious resin”, and is shorter than the vintage Parker 51’s by almost a centimeter.
Functional Design of the Vintage and Modern Parker 51
There are two main features that distinguish one version of the Parker 51 from the other. Firstly, the 2021 model has a twist cap while the vintage one has a clutch or friction-fit design. The modern twist cap can offer more security, and just a few turns uncaps the pen. The clutch closure of the vintage Parker 51 enables easier access to the nib, and still fits well for this particular pen in spite of its age. The second major difference is the filling system, where the distinctive and original Parker 51 aerometric system has been replaced by a proprietary converter or cartridge method.
Writing Experience with the Vintage and Modern Parker 51
To my mind, this is the most important factor to consider when evaluating any fountain pen. Proper functioning is the core of its relevance as a writing instrument. The stylistic features, ink reservoir system, and additional elements should build upon a strong foundation, and work together suitably to make the total writing experience a pleasurable one.
Both pens, upon inking with Parker Quink Blue-Black, wrote immediately “out of the box”. The vintage Parker 51 nib wrote with buttery smoothness, and with a generous, consistent ink flow. The modern fountain pen nib was also smooth, but with a slight hint of feedback (which I actually prefer). Ink flow was likewise more than adequate. Given that both fountain pens had F nibs, the line written down by the vintage one was slightly wider. Interestingly, the sheen of the Parker Quink Blue-Black ink was easily seen when using the modern Parker 51.
One other distinguishing feature of the Parker 51 2021 edition was the nib configuration. The nib protrudes further forward and there is a slight space between the fountain pen nib surface and the hood. Some adjustment to the writing position might have to be made if one has been accustomed to a different writing angle.
Another detail was the difference in the feel of the two fountain pens in the hand. The vintage pen offered a better tactile experience for me, from the sensation of the pen body’s material to the weight of it in my grip. The modern Parker 51 was lighter than I would have liked. Whether either pens post well or not and/or which one feels more balanced posted weren’t taken into account as I do not post as much as possible.
Both the vintage Parker 51 and the 2021 Special Edition have their own particular features that would appeal to different fountain pen enthusiasts.
Personally, I enjoyed the sensation of the vintage Parker 51 in my hand. Although both nibs were smooth, I preferred that touch of feedback from the 2021 edition. The friction-fit cap worked better for me, as well as the more convenient cartridge/converter filling system. I was a bit concerned about how the threads on the plastic body of the modern Parker 51 will hold up to regular use.
I found the aesthetics of the vintage Parker 51 more attractive. In itself, the Parker 51 2021 Special Edition/Deluxe Black GT is a good writing instrument. With all the features taken into account however, I personally prefer the vintage Parker 51 fountain pen.
All in all, our choices are shaped by our individual tastes and opinions. At the most, I appreciate what Parker has done in adding a new fountain pen to their line. With this homage to a legendary fountain pen, they have brought the Parker 51 series into focus once again and made the fountain pen community more aware of its place in our collective past and present. In time, we shall see if this 2021 iteration of such an archetypal fountain pen can hold its own.
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Written by @lekzumali
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Thank you for your article. I have both a vintage and new 51 in front of me and I have to say that the new pen is about as exciting as a Parker Vector and feels just as cheap. My perception is not helped by the pen, stainless-steel nibbed variety shipping without a convertor, which adds to the feeling of cheapness. I hate the threaded cap – it just feels wrong for a 51 to have such a cheap-looking and feeling set of threads on the body.