Parker 51 Deluxe 2020 Edition

Trigger warning: I poke fun at fountain pen enthusiasts in this post, especially Parker fans. A lot.

Last year, Parker announced that they were releasing an updated version of their legendary 51 to much outrage, wailing, and gnashing of teeth by purists.

The problem with re-issuing a legend is it’s only going to be compared to its former self. I brought this up a bit when I reviewed the Aurora Duo Cart, and anyone who follows fountain pen news at all knows that anytime Kenro does anything with the Esterbrook brand hundreds of Esterbrook enthusiasts lose their minds and Richard Esterbrook himself rises from his grave to haunt the earth.

The P51 is immensely legendary, incredibly popular, and supported by a huge cottage industry that dabbles in nothing but vintage Parker. So Parker truly has some guts to try their hand at the P51 again. Honestly, if they’d called this pen the Parker 2020 or made up some other name, I bet there would have been way less drama around it. The Parker 20/20: Inspired by past, eyes to the future or some other marketing nonsense. (Parker, hit me up if you guys need a marketing consultant.)

Me? I just bought one because I like pens with hooded nibs. I’ve reviewed a lot of them. I don’t consider myself a Parker fanboy it just so happens that the original Parker 51 is a really good pen with a hooded nib. Because of this, I’ve compared the original P51 to tons of pens on my blog so it’s only fair that I compare the newest incarnation to its former self.

And the pen is okay. I don’t think Parker did anything earth-shattering, but I don’t think it’s blasphemy against George S. Parker’s good name, either. It’s an okay pen.

The pen is available in two flavors–the base model with a brushed metal cap and the Deluxe version, shown here, with gold plated trim. The base model has a steel nib, the deluxe has an 18k gold nib. I don’t know if the 18k nib was worth the up-charge ($160 more. Really guys?) but I like gold nibs and I like having a desk drawer full of black pens with gold trim, apparently. So I opted for the deluxe.

A closer view of the cap striations and clip. Everything is nice and smooth and well done.

The fit and finish is great. Everything is nice and smooth. The threads work like they’re supposed to.

Speaking of threads, the cap is threaded to the horror of P51 old-heads everywhere. There is a lot of talk about the cap being metal and the barrel being plastic and how that will lead to threads that will totally strip out and be worthless, but I think that’s largely a theoretical problem. I have probably half a dozen pens in my reach right now that have some metal component that threads into some plastic component and I’ve yet to have something strip out.

The dreaded threads. Note the scuffing on the section just from uncapping and capping. I don’t think this soft plastic is to going to hold up well long term.

The cap striations are tastefully done and very smooth to the touch. The modern arrow clip is springy and works. The cap twists off in one revolution and posts fairly securely. I’ve had the posted cap wiggle off a few times while writing, but I feel like the cap throws the balance of the pen rearward so I’d rather write with it unposted for longer sessions anyways. The cap almost weighs as much as the pen, and in my experience this generally leads to weird balance issues.

Cap lip engraving.
Cap lip engraving, reverse. The pen is made in France. Also shown is Parker’s date code.
Cap finial. Also shown is some vent holes in the cap.

My biggest complaint about the pen, and the complaint I see the most from other reviewers that are not diehard Parker aficionados, is the pen feels light and cheap. No precious resin or acrylic, here, it’s straight-up injection molded plastic. The soft, super lightweight, easily scratched, bleh kind of plastic. It doesn’t feel rough, there are no injection molding lines or sprue marks, it just feels unimpressive. I know Parker can make a pen that feels good in the hand. Their fit and finish is outstanding on this pen and their other modern, high-end offerings. But they cheaped out on the body of the pen. Not good. That’s the part that gets the most touch! Why make a lovely a cap for a pen body that, honestly, kind of sucks for the price? ($87 for a base model with steel nib, and $248 for the deluxe, by the way.)

Of course, the feel of the plastic is pretty subjective. But surely Parker knew that this pen was destined to be carefully compared to the acrylic vintage P51 and the leagues of cheapo Chinese copies? Knowing that, why would you make the body feel closer to the Hero pens of the world instead of the titular legend? Especially at $248.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of the design choices Parker made for this pen would be overlooked by the fountain pen community at large if the new model was made of acrylic. Or whatever plastic they made the Duofold out of. Just not…whatever it is. Especially considering that this pen writes very, very nicely.

Mine has a medium nib and it was just a touch over-polished out of the box–only enough that the pen hard-started on smooth paper like Rhodia but was fine on everything else. That’s a pretty easy fix for me, and many users probably would have found it completely acceptable.

The pen fills with Parker’s cartridge/converter system. I don’t like Quink so I don’t use Parker cartridges, but the converter works as it should despite its weirdly small capacity. Even though the host of vintage 51 fanatics will heartily disagree, It’s completely unrealistic to expect Parker to re-release the 51 with an aerometric filler (or, God forbid, as a vacumatic) when 99% of their customers will be happy with the effective, easily serviceable, and replaceable system. I take zero issue with Parker’s cartridge/converter system and their decision to use it.

Fills via Parker converter. No problems there. I added an o-ring to the converter knob so it doesn’t rattle against the barrel.

I am not a huge Parker devotee (my allegiance is to Aurora), so I can objectively say this pen is pretty decent. It’s not going to win over any vintage Parker addicts. It’s not the vile abomination said addicts accuse it of being, and it’s quite a bit better than the $2 copies floating around eBay and AliExpress. I give Parker a C plus–it’s not bad, but I know you guys can do better.

Pros:

  • Outstanding fit and finish.
  • A great writer.

Cons:

  • It feels too cheap. This could be rectified by using a better plastic or dropping the price. All of Newell’s fountain pens suffer from the same problem: The MSRP is too damn high.
  • Weird balance–the cap is too heavy for the pen. Or, more accurately, the pen is too light for the cap.
  • Anything remotely Parker-51ish will always live in the shadow of the titan that is the Parker 51. Also annoyingly, I have to forever more clarify that I’m talking about the original P51. Thanks a lot, Parker.

Alternatives:

Higher-end alternatives that are better pens for less money include:

  • Vintage Parker 51, the obvious choice. You Parker folks happy? I’ve conceded that the old-school P51 is still the king of this mountain.
  • Lamy 2000. Helluva lot better for helluva lot less money.
  • Pilot E95s or Vanishing Point.
  • Pretty much any hooded-nib Aurora. Take your pick from this huge family, including the modern, commonly available, and cheaper Duo Cart.

There are dozens of Parker copies of varying levels of quality that might scratch that itch. My favorites are still the Kaco Retro and the Wing Sung 601.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Gold plated metal with striations.
    • Base model is brushed metal.
    • Threaded, one twist to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Hooded, 18k on this model, steel on the base model.
    • Fine or medium, shown in medium.
  • Body:
    • Injection molded plastic.
    • Deluxe model available as black or plum.
    • Base model available in blue, teal, burgundy, or black.
  • Filling system:
    • Parker’s cartridge/converter system.
    • Pen came with a piston converter, but apparently the base-model does not come with a converter. That’s pretty crappy, Parker.
    • Converter capacity is 0.5mL.
    • I’ve also checked and confirmed that the Parker slide converter and Aurora cartridges and converters (including the weirdo Trik-Trak converter) all fit in the pen. If the user is so inclined.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 140mm
    • Uncapped: 118mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 23g
    • Pen: 12g
    • Cap: 11g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 8-10mm

This is the last post on pens with hooded nibs for awhile, I promise. I don’t have any more to review.

Original P51 versus the new.
Ink is Platinum Mix Free Earth Brown, a lovely red-brown. It appeared very red in this scan but is true to color in the photos above.

Parker 51

Some say that the Parker 51 is the best pen ever made.

So, do I think it’s best? “Best” is subjective. If we define “best” as “a no bull-shit pen that writes a consistent line every time, holds a crap load of ink, is virtually indestructible, and has otherwise stood the test of time” than the Parker 51 is easily in the top ten, maybe the top five. I love the streamlined fountain pen aesthetic and rigid, hooded nibs but that’s not for everyone. Some people accuse pens like this–the Lamy 2000, Pilot Vanishing Point, vintage Montblancs, Auroras, and the titular Parker 51–of being glorified roller ball pens because of their aesthetic. This isn’t a philosophy of aesthetics blog: love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that the Parker 51 didn’t revolutionize fountain pens and set the trend for fountain pens in the 1950’s and 60’s.

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My P51 is a vacumatic, dated to 1948, which is late for a vacumatic. In ’48, Parker introduced the aerometric filler, which is a simpler, more durable filling system. Many of the original aerometric fillers are still functional today whereas vacumatic filled pens invariably fail and require specialized tools to replace. Most 51s are aerometric fillers. Vacumatic pens hold a ton of ink–my P51 holds a whopping 1.6mL–but are impossible to clean out. I just use blue in mine.

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The nib is a fairly rigid 14k medium, or it was sold to me as a medium. Vintage American pens tend to be ground finer than modern German equivalents, so a medium Parker 51 is going to appear pretty fine on paper. Parker also produced 51 Specials, which are the same pen but with high-quality steel nibs.

Parker 51s are made from Lucite, a brand of acrylic. When compared to injection molded plastics, it feels high quality and robust. Compared to a celluloid or ebonite material, it feels cold, hard, and lifeless. It doesn’t feel cheap in any case, and the material has a proven track record of durability. Mine is dove gray and has a few areas of discoloration, which isn’t entirely uncommon on the lighter materials. They came in twelve or thirteen different colors during their production, with gold trims or not. There is also a smaller version of the 51, called the Demi.

The cap is a clutch mechanism–the cap is “locked” onto the barrel’s clutch ring with “lugs” on the inside of the cap, which is sort of opposite of the Lamy 2000 that has lugs on the pen that lock onto the cap. This isn’t the perfect way to describe this, but suffice to say capping and uncapping the P51 is quite satisfying compared to a typical friction-fit snap cap that just gets smooshed onto the pen. It posts well, too.

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I like the Parker 51. It–along with the Esterbrook J series–is the prototypical, indestructible vintage American pen that is both easy to collect and a sensible choice for everyday writing. Every American pen brand and many European brands had a pen that was inspired by the 51’s looks (including the Aurora 88 that was legendary in its own right), and the pen itself has been copied ad nauseam; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

If one is looking for a beautiful and responsive open nib or gorgeous, deep materials, however, one will have to look elsewhere.

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Pros:

  • Great writer.
  • Lightweight and well balanced.
  • Huge ink capacity.
  • Durable.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • Aesthetically, it’s not for everyone.
  • Vacumatic pens are impossible to clean and wear-out over time.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Clutch type.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14K Medium on this pen.
    • Parker 51s almost always have fine or medium nibs, although Parker made other grades including broad, stubs, and obliques; these nibs are extraordinarily rare and usually insanely expensive.
    • Octanium nibs are common, too. Octanium is Parker’s proprietary steel alloy.
  • Body:
    • Dove Gray Lucite on this pen.
    • Other colors exist on both the full sized 51 and Demi model.
  • Filling system:
    • Vacumatic with 1.6mL capacity.
    • Only 1941-1948 pens had vacumatic systems, the rest are aerometric.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 140mm
    • Uncapped: 130mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 19g
    • Cap: 8g
    • Pen: 11g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11mm
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