Vintage Parker 51 Pens - The Classic Fountain Pen
The original Parker 51 pen was the biggest selling and probably most practical fountain pen ever made. It never leaked, always worked and rarely broke. With sales in excess of 20 million pens, it was ‘like a pen from another planet!’ It rapidly became 'the world's most wanted pen'
The Parker 51 Vacumatic
It was first launched to the American public in January 1941 in just four colours: India Black, Cedar Blue, Dover Grey and Cordovan Brown with a wide choice of cap styles. As demand grew, premier models in Buckskin Beige, Nassau Green and Yellowstone (Mustard) were added along with some stunning cap designs in solid 14k gold such as the famous Empire State and the Coronet pattern owned by Dwight D Eisenhower. These colours and cap designs are highly sought after today and are the focal points of many 51 collections
The Vacumatic filling system was developed by Parker in the early 1930s. Ink is drawn in to the pen by repeated pushing of a plunger at the end of the barrel. This flexes a rubber diaphragm attached to the plunger with the partial vacuum drawing ink into the barrel. Ink is held directly in the barrel - the pen does not have a conventional ink sac
Above: Parker 51 Vacumatic in buckskin beige (also known as tan) with double jewels. Vacumatic 51s - with the filler under the blind cap at the end of the barrel - were in production in the USA from 1941-48
Above: Another Parker 51 Vacumatic in black with a coin silver cap and single jewel. In production in the USA from 1941-48
First Year 51 Vacumatics produced in 1941 differed in some respects from the 1942-48 production. The most obvious variations were that the barrel imprints were at the filler end rather than next to the clutch ring, and both jewels were metal rather than plastic
Above: In 1947-48 Parker produced a demi-sized version of the 51 Vacumatic. All parts except for the barrel and cap were identical to the full sized 51. An uncapped Demi is about 11.2cms long whereas the full sized 51 is 12.8cms
The Parker 51 Aerometric
In 1947, Parker’s factory in England also started producing 51s for the British and European markets and, with the Vacumatic filling system being seen as overly complicated, Parker worked towards a new type of filler which was longer lasting, more reliable and simpler to use. In 1949, the ‘New Aero-metric Parker 51’ was launched in the USA and described as ‘a clear case of improving on perfection’. Instead of the button operated rubber diaphragm filler, this new 51 came with a PVC pli-glass reservoir with a 30 year life expectancy - an astonishingly long life given that most pens then required a service every 5 years or so. In the event, even this projection proved to be a little pessimistic as 51s continue arriving here every month for their first service and sac replacement in 70 years! English production of the Aerometric commenced at Newhaven in 1950.
This aerometric filling system was used in virtually all 51s until 1978 when production in the UK ceased. Small changes and improvements to the 51 continued almost annually from 1950 on with the major redesigns in the late 1960s with a streamlined Mark 2 followed by the final Mark 3 version in around 1975. A wide range of 51 variations were produced in both the UK and USA with slightly different timelines, and it is not unusual to find different colours, cap styles and imprints in US and UK production
Above: A 51 Aerometric Mk1 from around 1950 showing the long clip which was in use from 1948 to around 1951
Above lower: In addition to the full size 51, Parker also produced a demi aerometric version. This was identical to the larger pen, just proportionally smaller in all respects including the cap, and was in production until around 1960
Above: A 51 Aerometric Mk1 from the mid 1950s showing the shorter clip. Most 51s found in the UK are similar to this, with production running until probably at least the late 1960s
Above: In 1961, Parker USA introduced a cartridge/converter version of the 51. This does not seem to have been a commercial success and was discontinued in 1963
Above: The 51 Aerometric Mk2 introduced in the late 1960s featured a 61 style cap with plastic jewel, a slightly shorter barrel with flattened rather than rounded end amongst a number of other differences. Importantly, the front shell and barrel were still made from lucite with the barrel threading being the same as on the Mk1
Above: The mid 1970s saw the final version of the 51 Aerometric - the Mk3. This had the later 61 cap with metal clip jewel. One important change was that Parker changed the type of plastic used for the shell and barrel to a softer version which is prone to shrinkage and also distortion from the pressure of the metal clutch inside the cap. Threading on the front shell and barrel was also coarser than on the Mk1/Mk2, so parts from these models will not fit the Mk3
Later Parker models paying homage to the 51
Parker 51 Special Edition (2002)
Parker 51 (2021)
This is only intended to be a very brief overview of the key immediate visual features of the various 51 models to help with a quick initial identification. In describing the main aerometric design changes as Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 we have opted to follow Andy Lambrou's classification in Fountain Pens of the World. Colour ranges, cap styles and the timing of design changes vary between Parker's factories in the USA, UK and elsewhere: detailing these variations are way beyond the scope of this little summary
Popular and practical 51s for everyday use
Our most popular vintage Parker 51 pen is this Aerometric Mk1 with the Classic steel cap or the Custom rolled gold cap and rounded end to the barrel as shown here. Standard colours in the UK were black, burgundy, teal blue and grey. This model, with many variations, was in production in the USA and UK from around 1948 to the late 1960s. We sell, service and refurbish more of these Mk1 models than any other make or model of pen. The sophistication of their design and the outstanding quality of the materials make these, in our opinion, the best pens ever made!
Parker 51 Sales and Servicing
- David Shepherd's book on the Parker 51
- Detailed history of the Parker 51 on David Nishimura's site
- The Parker 51 colour range on Tony Fishier's site
- How did the Parker 51 get its name?