A new era for marriage registrations.

On May the Fourth this year, while many on Instagram were marking Star Wars day in their posts, there was another event which might have slipped under the radar. This was the coming into force of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act, 2019.

I awoke to a 6.30am radio news item from the BBC that for the first time, mothers’ details would also be included in the registration of a marriage, this being just one of the changes introduced by the Act, hailed as the biggest modernisation of marriage registration since 1837.

A Register of Marriages, with a bottle of Registrar’s ink and my two Parker Frontier fountain pens.

I mention this as for the past 10 years, I have been the Authorised Person from our church in Golders Green, London, to register marriages taking place at the church. I was quite proud of this role, although a little apprehensive at the responsibility involved to get it right. The Guidebook for Authorised Persons, issued by the General Register Office at that time, ran to 40 pages. I was particularly worried about the lengthy procedure to be followed in the event of a mistake being made in the registers after signing. Whenever registering a marriage, I drafted all the entries on a separate sheet first, in the same format, looking out for any unusual names and ensuring that addresses would fit in the required boxes.

I learned what I could from a brief conversation with a departing minister. I also attended a couple of annual workshops for Authorised Persons, hosted by our local Register Office which were helpful and lively, and included such topics as sham marriages, entered into to derive some advantage in immigration status for one or other of the parties.

I enjoyed familiarising myself with the conventions of recording details in the marriage registers, such as writing clearly and legibly, avoiding fancy flourishes; using capital letters for surnames and entering the groom’s details above those of the bride. I was excited to use Registrar’s ink, an iron gall blue black ink, from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies. I find the way that it darkens from a grey blue, almost to black, endlessly fascinating in a way that other more fountain-pen friendly blue black inks can not match.

I soon learned that Registrar’s ink needs to be used within about 18 months of opening a bottle and exposing it to air. After this, it gradually loses its colour and ends up a weak grey. I found this out by using an old bottle of ink at the church, which was past its best. However, I would never get through a 110ml bottle of ink in this time. I decanted some of the ink into a bottle to use at home and had to buy a new bottle when it had lost its properties.

In the very first marriage that I registered, arriving at the church very early to prepare, I found from the printed orders of service that the bride’s middle name differed from my notes and so was glad to have spotted this. Being early reduces last minute panics.

Registrar’s ink, apart from being permanent, is not kind to fountain pens and it pays to flush the pens promptly after use. I was told of one minister shaking a fountain pen to get it started and splashing Registrar’s ink on a bride’s white dress.

Ours is small church and over the past decade, having very few weddings, I was called into action only a handful of times. Mostly my role was to submit the quarterly returns to the Register Office, declaring that the number of marriages in the past quarter to be “Nil”, or if there had been one or more weddings, copying out all the details again by hand, and certifying these, in Registrar’s ink on the returns form.

Now, the new procedure means that the old Marriage Register books, completed in duplicate, are redundant. I was instructed to cross through all unused entries and to hand in one of the books to the local Register Office along with any unused stock of marriage certificates (drawn up and issued to couples on their wedding day), or any surplus quarterly return forms. The other copy of the Marriage Register remains at the church for record purposes.

Under the new procedure, paper marriage registers are withdrawn: it will no longer be necessary to fill out all the details of the marriage by hand in a Marriage Register. Instead, couples will be issued with a Schedule printed in advance. This will be checked and signed by the couple, the witnesses and the Authorised Person on the day of the wedding (still using Registrar’s ink). It is later returned to the Register Office, for the details to be uploaded on the electronic register.

I am relieved, that this occasional duty has been lifted from me, even though I was so seldom required to perform it. The anxiety of entering all the details quickly and accurately, twice in the Marriage Registers and then once more on a Certificate, whilst the wedding couple and their supporters and photographer waited in excited anticipation, was stressful to a non-professional Authorised Person, in a way that is hard to describe. For Authorised Persons, the changes are:-

  • We are no longer required to register marriages;
  • We no longer issue marriage certificates;
  • We no longer need to complete quarterly returns;
  • We no longer have to undertake corrections in marriage registers (these instead being carried out by registration officers).

One young bride-to-be has already commented to me that the new system seems a bit of a shame and less romantic in a way but a sign of the times. Perhaps it is the end of an era, but the dawn of a new one.

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).