Nine years with the Parker Frontier fountain pen.

There are several reasons for my writing about this pen today:

  1. I have been looking through my accumulation and rediscovering pens which are like old friends.
  2. I added an Index of Pen Posts to the blog menu recently and noticed that this is a worthy pen not covered before.
  3. I thought that it was coming up to ten years since I bought the pen, although it turns out to be nine.

Background

I bought this pen at Rymans, our local stationers in May 2011. It cost £22.99 normally but there was a discount of £6.00, which was a bonus. I had some previous experience with other versions from the Frontier range. I used the plastic barrelled ones for registering weddings at our church, a duty that I had taken on a few years earlier. I had liked it, as a plain and simple but respectable pen, for use with iron gall ink.

Parker Frontier, in stainless steel with gold coloured nib and clip.

The story of the Parker Pen Company is a long one and dates back to 1888. This particular pen bears the production date code E which denotes the year 2008, (using the “QUALITYPEN” system with Q being a year ending with zero). The cap also states that it was made in the UK which would be from the Newhaven site, which was to close in 2011.

Make and Model name shown here…
and the place and date of production.

Thus at the time of manufacturing this particular pen in 2008, Parker had a history of 120 years. Apparently, this milestone was celebrated with a souvenir DVD of the company’s history, a copy of which was given to all the employees at the Newhaven site along with a twin set of a Parker Frontier fountain pen and ball pen. The Parker film (about 51 minutes long) on 120 years of Parker, can be viewed on YouTube. It is somewhat dated now but gives an interesting insight into the company’s origins in Janesville, Wisconsin, the introduction of the Duofold, the vacumatic and the Parker 51, the management buyout, visits by dignitaries including Margaret Thatcher and culminating in the production of 40 million pens a year.

The Frontier was to fill a place in the market at the lower end of the Parker range, sitting above the Vector but below the Sonnet. I remember reading a number of reviews of the pen on Amazon at the time. I was very happy with mine and it became my main pen, for several years.

Construction and design

My model has the brushed stainless steel barrel and cap with a gold coloured pocket clip and cap finial. Some people do not like “mixing their metals” but I liked the gold and silver colours together, (a feature which Cross calls “the medalist”). Parker did also make a version with all-silver coloured fittings which was the model that SBRE Brown owned and reviewed and with which he wrote his final exams in high school.

There is no cap ring. The rim of the cap is quite sharp but sits almost flush with the barrel when the pen is capped. It also posts deeply and securely. The length is around 131mm capped, 123mm uncapped and 149mm posted. Despite the steel body, it weighs only around 22g in all, or 14g uncapped.

The barrel seems to be made from a single piece of steel and has no seams, and has a rounded end like a bullet. When capped the pen feels very robust and protected, encased in steel.

The nib is stainless steel but on my version, has a gold colour plating or coating, matching the arrow clip and bears the name Parker and logo. The nib grade can be seen on the feed as M for medium.

Nicely finished nib.

The black grip section is slightly tapered with no facets but features a non-slip surface. This is not a rubber grip, but a thin skin giving a slightly sticky feel. This does eventually blister unfortunately.

Nib and feed unscrewed. Grip section showing blistering of the non-slip coating.

The pen takes Parker proprietary cartridges or a Parker converter although not included with the pen.

With Parker Quink cartridge.

I enjoyed mine and used it a lot. The nib wrote very smoothly with good flow, showing how good a steel nib can be when set up correctly. The nib and feed can be unscrewed for cleaning or maintenance.

Likes and dislikes

This seems a fairly straight-forward pen but one which presumably benefited from Parker’s 120 years’ experience of nib and feed design. It looks smart, is sturdy and durable (apart from the covering on the section) and is comfortable to hold. Being able to unscrew the nib and feed is a nice feature. Above all, it writes smoothly and well with good flow. Mine is currently inked with Waterman Serenity Blue.

Writing sample, with Serenity Blue on Radley notebook paper. Extract from John Milton.

On the downside, the tendency of the non-slip coating to wear and blister eventually leaves unsightly gaps. I would prefer a grip section without the rubbery layer, such as on the Sonnet or Duofold.

Conclusions

This pen has seen a fair amount of use. Later, I was to move on to a Parker Sonnet, in burgundy. That also had a steel nib which performed similarly but a more luxurious body.

I went through my secondary school days using Parker pens and grew up believing that a Parker pen was special. After my Sonnet, as I began to discover the fountain pen online community, online pen dealers, YouTube reviewers, and pen shows, my pen accumulating gathered pace. It escalated for a good five years or so. However it is nice to revisit our beginnings once in a while to keep a sense of perspective. Anyone can buy a new pen but to have one for nine years, takes a little longer.

The final Frontier (photo).

A quick look at the Parker Reflex fountain pen.

I spotted this pen in the window of a shop selling mostly greetings cards and only a few pens, most of which were ball points. It was in a small grey Parker gift box, with the clear plastic lid and appeared to be rather dusty and in need of rescue.

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Parker Reflex fountain pen

I was surprised to see this model currently for sale. I remembered the Parker ball point pens with this distinctive rubbery grip section. I had one which has lived in my camera bag, for some 10 years or so. It was good to use outdoors, for jotting down exposure details, when using old twin lens reflex cameras. I did not remember there being a fountain pen. I have had the ball point pen for so long that I had forgotten that it was called the Reflex and had to look that up.

I decided to liberate the pen which at just £11.00, was less than I had paid for two hours’ parking at London Gatwick Airport earlier that day. I was particularly attracted to the grip section, having been thinking a lot lately about the problem I am having in gripping the slippery but otherwise enjoyable Lamy aion. I had even toyed with the idea of buying rubber thimbles, as used by clerks in post offices for counting paper.

At home, I gave the Reflex a good wash. What I had thought was dust, was actually the result of the cap and barrel having faded in the sunlight, except where the barrel had been covered by the posted cap. You can see the tan lines. I flushed out the nib section with a bulb blower.

Examining the nib under a loupe, I was delighted to find that the tines were level, that the tipping material looked symmetrical and that all looked generally well. I have often found that inexpensive modern pens do not write well straight out of the box, due to poorly finished nibs. Not so with this Reflex though.

It did not come with a converter, or even a cartridge, or any paperwork, which makes me wonder about this one’s history. There is a date code, TII on the cap. This is a bit of a puzzle. I understand that T denotes a year ending in 5 (under the QUALITYPEN system, where Q is zero). The II means that there were two quarters of the year remaining and so this was made in the second quarter. The cap is also stamped PARKER, MADE IN UK. I have read that the Newhaven factory for Parker production in the UK was closed in 2011 and so if this pen was made in the UK, in a year ending in a 5, that would suggest 2005. Could it be that this new pen had not yet been sold in 12 years?

I inserted a basic Parker converter, with the slider fill and metal agitator ball. The converter pushed in nicely, but so deeply behind the long threaded collar that the entire clear plastic reservoir area was covered. Thus you could not see how much ink it was holding.

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With Parker converter inserted, (the ink reservoir being entirely covered by the threads)

I decided on a royal blue ink to match the barrel colour and chose Aurora Blue. It wrote nicely, smooth and with ideal ink flow! That is often the gamble, part of the risk and thrill of buying a fountain pen. I enjoyed trying it out on various notebooks. At 132mm long unposted, the pen is a good length and pleasant to use. However, the cap is very light and posts securely and deeply and I prefer to use it posted, for that extra length, weight and comfort.

The rubber grip section works well. It has an unusual finish, like cross-hatched tyre treads. If you want any more grip, add snow chains!

The nib appears to be the same as in the currently available Parker Vector fountain pen. You do not expect marvels at this price level but if you are lucky enough to have a Vector style nib that performs well, it can be a real joy, with lightweight and effortless writing, if you just want a simple writing tool, to write without much flex or character.

Viewed in profile, the nib and housing are reminiscent of the Parker 45 fountain pens that I used through my secondary school years and give a very similar writing experience.

Description

This is an entry level cartridge-converter type fountain pen (although neither cartridge nor converter was supplied in my case). The pen is a good size and has a light plastic body, but features an easy to grip rubbery section. The cap simply pushes on and off with a snug fit, over the chrome ring behind the rubber grip. The pocket clip features a modern look Parker Arrow. The clip is sprung, making it easy to use. The cap is not airtight and this might be due to a design decision to reduce risk of choking, or perhaps to avoid pushing air up through the nib each time the pen is capped. The stainless steel nib in my model is a Medium. The threads on the section are plastic and very long, needing about ten twists to unscrew the barrel.

Specifications (approximate)

Length closed: 141mm

Length opened: 132mm

Length posted: 155mm

Weight, capped and with converter: 14.5g

Uncapped: 10g

Cap: 4.5g

Conclusion

The Parker Reflex is a good answer for anyone who likes the Parker Vector nib but who wishes that the body was slightly wider and that the grip was fatter, easier to hold and more comfortable. I am delighted with mine and think it was excellent value.

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Parker Reflex fountain pen, next to a Lamy Safari

Parker IM, black lacquer and gold trim. New version. First impressions

I was quite excited when news reached me recently, that Parker had launched a new version of the IM fountain pen. I have the basic, earlier model in gun metal finish as well as the twin metal chiselled (chrome cap) version which is in the premium range. Both are quite worthy, work-horse type pens although I was not overly keen on the design of the grip section. Also the nib is basically the same as you get on the Parker Vector. I have had mixed fortunes with these nibs. Sometimes they perform beautifully from day one, but otherwise you need to tinker and persevere with them to get better flow.

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This is a metal bodied pen with stainless steel nib. The new version however, has a much nicer, wider diameter grip section in matching metal with black lacquer finish and what appears to be a totally new nib, in stainless steel and available in medium or fine. I have seen online that there is a range of colours although so far in London I have found only the black with gold trim, black with silver trim or the brushed stainless steel version.

They sell for £39.99 in London. However a current promotion in Rymans means that with every new Parker pen, you get a gift box with a hard-backed note book bearing the Parker name.

I had read reviews of the old version IM black and gold version on Amazon, where people reported the gold plating coming off. Nevertheless, being a sucker for black and gold pens and in the interests of science, I decided upon this finish for my new IM and a medium nib. I shall watch for wear in the gold coloured fittings with interest.

I had read on FPN that the IM stands for Instant Modern, although I have found no verification of this as yet on Parker’s packaging. You would think it would say this on the box if you buy one, without having to find out from FPN.

The pen came in a small cardboard pack with a transparent plastic front, with a plastic tag to enable it to hang up on a display. However it was too difficult to open the box and see the pen in the shop without tearing the cardboard and so I took a chance on the nib being ok, hoping optimistically that with the new design, there might have been greater attention to quality control.

At home, magnifying glass to hand, the pen looked very attractive with a beautiful high gloss black lacquer finish and the gold decorative clip and rings contrasting nicely with the stainless steel nib. The nib had three chevrons vaguely reminiscent of the Parker arrow emblem on the Duofolds of old.

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I was very pleased to find that the production date code on the cap ring was IY, the Y denoting 2016 (hurray!) from the QUALITYPEN year codes (starting from Q for 2010) and the “I” meaning (I think) the third quarter of the year. As I understand it, the code III means first quarter (on the basis that there are three quarters of the year left to go); II is the second quarter, I is the third quarter and no mark means the fourth quarter (no quarters left to go). When I bought my previous IM in July 2015, the date code showed it to have been made in 2011 and so it had been waiting around for a while before I gave it a home.

As for the nib, there was a visible slit, albeit very small, running from the breather hole all the way to the tip such that you could see light between the tines even at the tip. This can make for a very wet writer. Also the pellet of tipping material seemed, under high magnification, to be very round, not flattened on top and so looked a bit like a clown’s nose, although you do not notice this with the naked eye.

I was slightly apprehensive on dipping the pen that the nib was going to produce an overly wet line. I chose a half full, trusty bottle of Parker Quink, black ink which seemed the obvious choice. The cap is a slip on one, as with the old version and posts securely to give a very comfortable length and weight. To my relief and delight, it wrote very nicely indeed and one prolonged dip kept me going for a good couple of pages of an A5 notebook. I have not yet filled the pen properly but do not expect any problems now. The pen comes with one blue cartridge but no converter and so this would need to be bought separately.

I had read of people encountering hard starts with the IM and suggestions that this might be due to a rectangular hole in the cap which is hidden beneath the top end of the pocket clip. I think this might be an anti-choking measure so that the hole stays open even if you find yourself having swallowed your cap. One reviewer said that he managed to stop the hard starts by taping over this. If the pen is in regular use there should not be a problem but I shall watch out for this.

As for the gift box, this has inserts for your new Parker pen and for the complimentary notebook. This is an attractive and sturdy cardboard box to keep for pen-related bits and pieces if you remove the plastic insert. The hardback pocket notebook, with cloth cover and elastic closing loop,  is almost too nice to use and I have not seen one before with the Parker name embossed on the cover. Beneath the notebook, is a small booklet with a nice rubberised cover, with some diagrams and filling instructions and nice affirming messages from Parker about your new purchase.

The price seems compatible with other metal bodied steel nibbed pens such as the Cross Bailey. It is more than double the price of the old basic version IM but for the improvements in nib and section alone, I think this is a fair price to pay.

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