My Duofold Duo.

Regular readers may recall that I was fortunate enough to find a new Parker Duofold International, Big Red on sale at half price, in John Lewis, Oxford Street branch in October. I wrote a post about it here. 

I have been very much enjoying the pen, these past two months. What had aroused my interest in the pen, just before I bought mine, was a post by Anthony on UK fountain pens blog entitled A Day with a Duofold.

Fast forwarding two months, Anthony advertised his Duofold for sale, as he was not getting along with the very firm nib. I pondered buying it myself and, after sleeping on it, was sure that this was the right thing to do. (“There is a Duofold out there and it needs my help!”).  At 07:42am the next day, I sent Anthony a DM offering to buy it, if it had not already gone. Within moments, he had replied that the pen was mine. He kindly sent it out to me that day and it arrived the next day. 

I felt like I knew the pen already. It is not often that you get a chance to own a pen not just of a type that you have read about online, but that very one. 

This differed from mine sufficiently to make it a very worthwhile addition. First, it is black, and a gleaming glossy black at that. Secondly it is a 2006 model and had a few subtle differences from my 2016 model. And also the metal furniture on it is gold coloured as opposed to silver on mine. 

They both have 18k gold, bi-colour medium nibs, but the silver and gold colours are reversed in the two versions:-

Parker Duofold Internationals. The black one is a 2006 model and the ‘Big Red’ is 2016.

Plating reversed. Excuse the ink residue, but these are both currently inked. 

I knew already that I would like the size, shape and weight of the pen. I use it with the cap posted, holding near the cap threads (which are not sharp) and find it very comfortable like this. 

The nibs ought to feel similar. My Big Red had been a bit skippy at first but, like my Pelikan M800 nib, I had written it in, a few pages a day and within a week or so, the skipping subsided until it was all but gone completely. It is now a joy to write with and has a distinctively pencil-like feedback. I use it with Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink now made by Diamine. 

Anthony had commented in his post about how the nib drooped or dips downwards, which it does. The nib of my Big Red has a more level profile. Perhaps this is what contributes to the nib on Anthony’s being quite so stiff. I recall hearing Stephen Brown say in an old YouTube review that the Duofold nibs were reputedly stiff in order to make carbon copies, through two layers of paper (back in the day) and hence the name “Duofold”. Also the tipping material, at least on the old vintage model Duofolds, was advertised by Parker as being harder than others. Perhaps the gold is thicker too than on other pen nibs and this is no bad thing. 

I do not mind the stiff nib. I have spent some time each day writing with Anthony’s Duofold (I must stop calling it that now) and am thrilled to have it. The tines are aligned. The tipping material is huge and so there is a lot of mileage in this nib yet. The nib is smooth, provided that you hold it level; if I rotate it clockwise a little, it starts to scrape the paper, which suggests that the outer edge of the tipping needs smoothing. I do not think this is such a problem as an inner edge being prominent (which causes not only scratchiness but a build up of paper fibres in the nib slit). I have a sense that the tipping material is shaped slightly like a garden roller with flat sides, rather than rounded like a ball. I am exaggerating but you get the idea. I am wary of doing any harm to the nib by my ham-fisted grinding and so for now I will continue to use it with nib angled the way it likes. 

Notwithstanding the stiffness of the nib, there is some very pleasant shading apparent, just from writing quite normally with no pressure. Looked at this under the loupe,  the shading from this blue black ink has a lovely vintagey iron-gall look which is in keeping with the whole 1920’s vibe of the pen. Thank you Anthony for passing this one on. I am delighted with it. 

From the black Parker Duofold. Tavy ink, Leuchtturm paper. 
And look at that shading 🙂
The same. But different.

Some early thoughts on the Parker Duofold International Big Red fountain pen.

This iconic beauty had been on my wish list for six months, although I was not actively looking for one and was deterred by the price. Then my interest was reawakened recently on reading “A day with a Duofold” on Anthony’s blog “UK fountain pens.” I was particularly interested in his comments on the similarity between the Duofold International and the Kaweco Dia2, as the latter is one of my most comfortable pens.

I could not believe my luck when browsing in John Lewis’ pen department, in London’s Oxford Street. A new Duofold, in Big Red colours, was reduced to less than half price to clear. A black model with gold furniture was still at full price.

It was not clear to me at the time, whether it was a Centennial or an International since there was nothing to compare it with. In fact I had forgotten again which was which. (The Centennial is the bigger of the two versions). There was no help from the packaging. I was amused to notice that where the words “Duofold Red FP” had been written on the outer box, someone had crossed out “Red” and written “Orange”. Bless.

Notwithstanding this question, I decided to snap it up. I had looked at the nib with my loupe and the indications were that it would be smooth and reasonably wet. This was confirmed when I dipped it, but a dipped nib is not representative of how a pen will write when filled normally. I could not wait to get it home and try it out.

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Unboxing the Duofold. A converter is inside the pen. Two black cartridges were included beneath the booklet.

Appearance and design

This is an acrylic pen, not very much changed in overall appearance since it was introduced in 1921, although there have been many changes, such as to the finial, the cap bands, the nib scroll work and the barrel text. The shape and proportions are as classic as they come. The cap has a black crown to it with an inset metal finial bearing the name Duofold and the shape of an ace of spades in fancy scroll work. Then there is the classic 1920’s Parker arrow clip. The current model Duofold has a single, wide cap band with the Parker name and logo.

The cap screws off in just over two full rotations. The threads have a reassuring grip at the end and so there is no worry of the cap coming lose. The barrel is of the same orange acrylic, reminiscent of the red lacquer original of the twenties, then made of a supposedly indestructible material called Permanite. A nice feature, dating from the original is the engraved text on the barrel, now reading DUOFOLD Geo. S. Parker, Fountain pen, and in a little banner, Parker Pen . There is a black grip section and black end cap, although only for decoration, this now being a cartridge-converter pen.

Unscrewing the barrel, I was pleased to spot what appears to be a serial number, 16210079, FRANCE on the metal holder for the converter. I believe this pen to be the 2016 edition. Apart from this number, I have not found the usual Parker date code anywhere.

The nib

My pen came with a medium nib, in 18k gold with bi-colour finish. The text says Duofold, Parker 18k 750. The tines looked to be very nicely set up. It has a huge blob of tipping material, particularly for a medium nib and so looked to be built to last. The plastic feed has an unusually slim profile and is smooth, with no fins visible.

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Serious tippage.

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The business-end of the Parker Duofold International.

Filling

The pen was supplied with a very superior, Parker branded converter with a smoked grey ink reservoir, knurled black plastic turning knob and knurled metal collar. The plunger had a nice tight feel to it and the black plunger has a red O ring in it. I have not had any leaks from it.

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Parker Converter. Also showing what I hope is a serial number.

Weights and measurements

When I got home, I looked at the specifications given for the Centennial and the International, on The Writing Desk web site. This is how I found out that my pen is the International. It is 132mm long capped, 124.5mm uncapped, and has a barrel diameter of 11.8mm. Posted, it is 164.6mm. The visible part of the nib is 20mm long. It weighs around 23g of which about 8g is the cap.

Personally, I find it just a little too short to use unposted. Also, if I do hold it unposted, it means that I hold it around the section which is a bit too narrow. So instead, I post the cap and then hold it a bit higher up, around the cap threads, with the section resting on my second finger. This, I find comfortable for longer writing sessions and is how I use my Kaweco Dia2. Incidentally, to those who say that the nib of the Dia2 is disproportionately small, the Duofold might be what you are looking for!

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Parker Duofold International (top), with Kaweco Dia2 below.

Although the Duofold’s cap does post securely, it only just covers the black end piece and ring. It does not go on very deeply. It does leave the pen looking rather long and if you were to hold it lower down than I do, you would probably find it too unbalanced and top heavy.

Writing performance and conclusions

There was no way I was going home without this. In use, I filled it the first couple of times with Parker Quink blue-black, which flowed well. I know that people say that when filling a pen, you should turn the the piston back a little at the end to release a drop of ink back into the bottle, and then wind it up again so that you do not have a saturated feed. I tend not to bother. However with this pen, you will get a very saturated feed and it does then write very wet for the first couple of pages. In fact, this has suited my purposes well because the nib was otherwise a bit skippy at first. I remember the advice that I read on buying my Pelikan M800, that you do need to let it wear in, by using it for a few weeks or a month to get rid of any “baby’s bottom”. It is already improving and the nib is now settling down nicely.

I now have it inked with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine and rather prefer this darker blue-black to the Parker version.

I am very much enjoying the pen. Although smooth, it has a distinctive feedback which can be heard on my Leuchtturm paper. It is very firm with very little flex. I have had several hour-long sessions, filling pages with it just for the pleasure of feeling and watching the words go down on the page in glistening new ink.

I have also enjoyed looking at the old advertisements for the 1920’s Duofolds. You can spend an entertaining evening Googling “Parker Duofold Advertisements.” I also learned that it was the most expensive pen of its day, at $7.00 back then. So confident were Parker of their nib (the tip of which involved over twenty separate operations) that they offered the pen with a 25 year guarantee. The tip was supposedly three times harder than the usual, and three times more expensive, so that you could lend the pen without any qualms. I lap up all this stuff. (As a ten year old, I once wrote off to Parker, to ask for some more information about the Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian man image that they were using in their magazine advertisements for the Parker Jotter at the time. But enough about me). Here is the pen again.

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The Parker Duofold International, Big Red. The current version of an old classic.

Back to basics, with the Parker Junior Duofold and a bottle of Quink.

One of my lucky finds at the recent Cambridge pen show was this lovely Parker Junior Duofold, in dark green with gold fittings.

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Parker Junior Duofold

The pen is lovely in its own right, but had a particular attraction for me, being a close match to the pen that my mother bought for me in 1970 on the occasion of going to a new school. Sadly and inevitably, I managed to lose it within a few weeks and for the next seven school years, used a succession of less valuable Parker fountain pens.

Description

The pen has a classic, timeless look, in British Racing Green resin (think of a 1920’s Bentley at Le Mans), with a 14k gold nib, which looks like a Broad but has no width description showing, and a simple, fixed aerometric type squeeze bar filler. It has a screw cap, a shortish gold coloured arrow clip and a single gold coloured cap band with some engraved pattern but no text. The cap has two small drilled air holes in the sides which I presume are to avoid air pressure building in the cap. It is not a particularly big pen, by today’s standards but forms a generous length when posted and is smooth, light and comfortable to hold. The nib reads “PARKER, 14K, ENGLAND, 10”.

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Still lots of mileage in this nib.

The pen measures 135mm long capped, 120mm open, or 160mm posted. It weighs just 15.5g closed or posted. Uncapped it is 10.5g and the cap alone weighs 5.0g.

Buying a vintage fountain pen can be a bit daunting. At a pen show, tables filled with row upon row of vintage pens can seem rather overwhelming unless you are looking specifically for something. There is the worry (assuming that you are buying a pen to use) of whether the nib writes well, whether the filling mechanism is still working and (unless you have researched any given model before hand) whether the price is right.

Being at least slightly prepared, I had a magnifying glass with me and was able to have a look at the nib and the tipping material, which looked to be in great shape. I also looked at the barrel and there found the very faint imprint, barely visible to the naked eye, “PARKER, JUNIOR DUOFOLD, MADE IN ENGLAND”. That clinched it.

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I had to hold a torch in one hand while holding the camera in the other.

I have heard it said that the Parker aerometric sacs rarely have anything wrong with them. You can test them by removing the cap and barrel, putting the nib to your ear and giving the squeeze bar a press, to feel a small puff of air, assuming that it is not inked, of course.

At home, I flushed the pen in clean water a few times. I was pleased to see that the sac filled easily with a few presses.

The writing experience

I filled the pen with Parker Quink, Blue-black, a rather obvious choice, I know. The glass bottles with their chunky plastic caps and 57ml of inky goodness, seem not to have changed much (if at all) since I was a child, except that they are now sold in ugly blister packs instead of carboard boxes.

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Parker Quink Blue Black suits it well.

To my great pleasure and delight, this little pen wrote like a dream. It has a lot of what fountain pen enthusiasts crave, namely a buttery smooth nib, ideal ink flow, a little softness to the nib giving beautiful shading, comfortable handling, reliability and a bit of historical interest too.

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A bit of Keats. Beautiful shading with Parker Quink Blue Black on Tomoe River paper. [should read “but still will keep”, not “with”, demonstrating that errors are only visible after publication].

In fact, looking across at my (ahem) 18 other currently inked pens, I could almost convince myself to put all the others away and just enjoy the Parker with its bottle of Quink. That is all I need, really.

I did not know very much about this range before buying one. Reading up afterwards on FPN, in a post by Malcy, I learned that Parker Duofolds of the 1950’s came in a range of models, with a corresponding number on the nib as follows:-

  • Lady (4)
  • Slimfold (5)
  • Junior (10)
  • Demi (15)
  • Standard (25)
  • Senior (35)
  • Maxima (50)

Conclusion

Armed with this information I am interested now to handle some of the others in the range. It is nice to have something specific in mind to hunt for next time a pen show comes to town. Parker Duofold pens have been made for a long time and I feel that I have a lot more to learn.

Last Saturday I had another browse in the sumptious fountain pen department at Selfridges in Oxford Street. (No, I managed to resist buying anything this time). I did linger in front of the current Parker Duofold, International, Big Red in a glass display case, but at £500.00 it is a lot of money. Happily, my vintage Junior Duofold cost me only £50.00 which seems a small price to pay for the pleasure it gives and for entry to the Duofold owners’ club.

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My work here is done.