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My First Fountain Pen...the Parker 51

I shall start with a confession: Until quite recently I had never used a fountain pen.

Somehow I had managed to get to the wrong side of 40 without ever having written a single letter using this particular type of pen. Contrary to popular belief, it is not compulsory to be taught how to write with a fountain pen in every school in the UK. Whether or not it should be is perhaps a subject for a different post.

So what changed after all this time to arouse my interest enough to actually think about using a fountain pen instead of one of the numerous ballpoints that filled the pen pot on my desk?

In short, a conversation with my work colleague Bob. Over a cup of coffee one day, he was telling me about his prized Montblanc pen that he uses at home. It was given to him as a leaving present from a former employer many years ago. He spoke about his Montblanc with such affection for a pen that I was taken aback, and my curiosity was aroused. After all, a pen is only a tool for writing with isn’t it?

So the die was cast. I decided that I must have one myself to try – but where do you start. With so many fountain pens to choose from and a whole new vocabulary to learn, it was a daunting task.

I thought about maybe visiting a specialist pen retailer to get some advice and try a few out. But somehow that seemed a little clinical and unadventurous. I wanted the anticipation of waiting for it to arrive in the post and the wild excitement of opening the box when it finally did to see my newest acquisition in all its glory.

After reading of a few of the excellent pen blogs, I was still no closer to making a decision. There were several that really interested me, but I wanted the first one to be special. Then Bob came to the rescue.

“You know, the first fountain pen I ever used was a Parker 51,” he said casually, while looking over my shoulder as I was reading yet another review.

He added that, although they stopped making them in the early 70’s, they are a bit of a collector’s item these days. The words had barely left his mouth, and I was already entering "Parker 51" into eBay and filtering the fountain pen results.  There were so many to choose from but which one was it to be?

Then I saw it. The advert simply said “1957 Parker 51” and in the description it went on to say that the pen had belonged to the seller’s late father and was in the original box with its receipt. The seller was not sure if the pen worked, but it looked in good condition.

I knew then that I wanted it. This would be my first fountain pen, and I was going to have it at all costs. It was bought by its original owner nearly 10 years to the day before I was born. But, being a Yorkshire man, we are still brought up with a healthy respect for the value of money, so I waited till the last few seconds of the auction before showing my hand and bidding for it.

Success! The iconic Parker 51 was mine and arrived in the post several days later.

It was, if anything, over-packaged. It took a while to remove it all, and then there it was, perfect. Not a mark or a scratch upon it – but did it work?  I gently lifted it out of its box, and the first thing that struck me was how well-balanced it felt. Then I unscrewed the barrel and inspected the filler. It all looked to be in pristine condition. I probably should have cleaned it with some cold soapy water first (I read this afterward on the Fountain Pen Network), but filled it with some Parker blue black Quink Ink that I had purchased as soon as the eBay auction had finished.

At first, I could not write with it properly. I had the pen held at too steep an angle, and, in my haste, I was rushing to put my first words on to the page. I was beginning to get a little frustrated and wondering what all the fuss with fountain pens was about. I stopped writing, took several deep breaths and tried to relax, and then started again. I changed the angle of the pen and started to slowly write. The ink flowed smoothly onto the paper. As the pen glided across the page, it felt like the it was meant to be in my hand.

I knew then, in that instant, that things would never be the same again. A  whole new world had just opened up to me and strangely enough it made me look at the pens that I was already using in a different light. I have started to think about why I use a particular pen and what I like and don’t about the way it looks, feels and writes.

I am now hooked.  I am still obsessed with running to keep fit but I have found that I am becoming a bit of a pen junkie and need the new fix of trying something new. However, my Parker 51 is still my favourite pen and will always be special as it was my first ever fountain pen.

What was your first fountain pen? Do you still have it and use it, or was it something inflicted upon you by an overzealous English teacher at school?

10 thoughts on “My First Fountain Pen...the Parker 51”

  • Julie (Okami)

    I love the way you describe how you came to love fountain pens. I can remember using fountain pens as a kid, but the passion began a few years ago. It was originally a quest for more freedom with available ink colors, but as you so deftly noted in a prior post, it quickly blossomed into a full blown addiction.

  • MaryMG

    Unlike you, we were required to use a fountain pen in school from 3rd grade on. The pen they gave us was an Esterbrook SJ. I've used a fountain pen ever since. While the Parker 51 is my favorite pen, I often find myself using my old Esterbrooks. Great blog post.

  • Edith

    The 51 is a good pen, but my favourite is the 65 - a more flexible nib, which I think allows for greater more expressive handwriting!

  • The Pen Warrior

    Thanks Julie your passion for fountain pens shows in abundance on your blog "Whatever" and the photography is stunning. I highly recommend to anyone who's reading this to take a few minutes out and go and have a look if you haven’t already done so, you will not be disappointed.

  • The Pen Warrior

    Hi Mary thanks for leaving a comment. I think it would be a good thing if it were compulsory for children to be taught how to use a fountain pen in schools. It sounds like your Easterbrook SJ has been a lifelong friend and today’s youth is missing out on this.

  • The Pen Warrior

    Edith thanks for sharing with us about the nibs on the 65 being more flexible. I am still a novice and have a lot to learn about using different pens, nibs & inks but that’s all part of the fun.

  • GregT

    Well,I must admit I share the passion for pens. I sense you are a strung out imbiber of "all things pen". While the Parker 51 sounds excellent,I always attached the human manipulation of the pen as the two fold ingredient that stirs my blood.
    People I have admired,either for their organization, or brilliance, or just their neatness in record keeping, has prompted me to focused on their use of certain pens.
    I would bet that those individuals who invested in the Parker 51, were skilled in ways that demanded their choice of a quality instrument. Of course like most instruments they are extensions of a person, the output of the internal.
    Thanks for sharing and confirming that I made a good choice of following you on twitter. While I find less use for pens in today's world, your website speaks to something beyond the obvious....GregT

  • The Pen Warrior
    The Pen Warrior April 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for commenting Greg “a strung out imbiber” now there is a phrase that you don’t hear every day. It’s a good point about the pen being an extension of the person; I never considered the output of the internal when writing the post. I am delighted that you like the blog; we try to keep it fresh and different.

  • Dave

    Who, having used a 51 would ever want to go back to a ballpoint - a device, which , if used properly interposes the hand between the eye and the paper. The 51 strokes the paper and a line appears, without effort, and the eye follows it accurately. Having said that, I did find some Chinese ballpoints, many years ago, which had a useful curve on the tip, allowing them to be used at the same angle as an ink pen, with the same amount of control. The downside for the 51 is that known possession of one of these immediatly makes one a target. I have now had four 51s stolen from me. I hate pen thieves with a loathing that can barely be expressed. Learning to write in early school years was a 'dipper' time, with inkwells, ink monitors and horrible scratchy steel nibs which could leave the paper a mess of blots, splatters and holes. A fountain pen was a distant dream then, with realisation of the dream being the culmination of hours of research, and many many more hours of pedalling the paper round. But, but ... there is still something missing. Writing could then have an additional dimension of expression, where a nicely set up nib could produce a line of widely varying width, so that every sentence could reflect emotions like a well played musical instrument. - Solve that one Parker pen company ! A parker pen with a nib as flexible as my Osmiroid music writer nib.

  • Glenda

    I love your description of your first experience writing with a fountain pen.

    My first was a Sheaffer school pen, with a translucent red barrel. They used to be everywhere, in all colors, for cheap, and I wish I could find one now. My fifth-grade teacher said we were old enough to learn how to write with a fountain pen, and there we went.

    I didn't appreciate, at that age, the world she was opening up to me. I didn't get into fountain pens seriously until graduate school, when my hand would cramp up while I was madly scribbling notes in class. My sainted father gave me one of his old 51s... it was almost a religious experience writing with it.

    [brief moment of remembered ecstasy]

    But I was a pen loser and also the victim (I think) of a couple of pen thefts, and I've spent the last decades searching for a Parker 51 that writes like my daddy's and feels like his did in my hand (and that I can afford). Along the way I've gathered up several also-rans that I quite like, but the 51 is my first love.

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