While I don’t think this was my first pen, the Parker 25 set certainly saw me through much of my teen school days. I’m certain at one point I had most, if not all the pens in the range, though alas at present I can not find the fibre tip or roller ball. Thus below you’ll be able to see two of my two fountain pens, plus the propelling pencil and ballpoint.
I suspect I received my first 25 when I started senior school at the age of 11. Whether I received just a fountain pen or a set I really can’t remember. I know more pens were added over time, some through presents and some bought with saved up pocket money. I know I also bought an additional nib section or two, from a stationary shop on South Road, Waterloo, Crosby, just down from the station towards Crosby Rd on the left. I suspect the shop is long gone – I have tried to find it on Google maps, but with no joy.
I seem to remember a love hate relationship. At first it was my main fountain pen. To a young teenager in the late 1970s it was all very modern and ‘with it’, especially compared to those plastic Platignums or the more traditional Parkers and Watermans. The only other option I seem to remember at the time which friends and classmates had was Sheaffer, with their mix of dated offerings and the cheap Pop. Over time I chopped and changed what pen I used, as school boys are often want to do, and eventually hit university.
It was at University where things changed for me. I now had a budget, freedom, and an innate rebellion to all things school days related (as is all too common with freshers). While I do remember still using fountain pens at the start of the course I rapidly went for what was quick and easy to use and more importantly, what was free. Cheap disposable ballpoints became the order of the day. This was the end to being used for my non-fountain pen Parker 25s.
My handwriting has always been poor, and with ballpoints it was just as bad, except the additional pressure I found I had to apply gave me RSI. In a finals exam. Near the start. I ended up on anti-inflammatories, taking my exams with those who needed extra time due to dyslexia and other reading/writing disabilities, and trying other writing implements. I was back on fountain pens. This is this time the 25 felt dated and my Parker 45 Harlequin looked and felt nicer. Also it wrote better.
Thus my time using the 25 ended, or had it. I started work and used the 45 at home and gel pens in the office. It was after the I bust the nib on the former that the 25 came back out. The replacement nib on the 45 was nasty. Problem was the various 25 nibs I had felt stiff and nail like. I inked up and used one for a while but then, on seeing the pen at a store, I bought myself my first new fountain pen in over 15 years. A Parker Inflection. Thing is I had started to use the 25 at work as I was now not only taking hand written notes, but also with increased seniority, reviewing the documentation of others (and yes I do work in IT). Work had stopped supplying gel pens and I found the balls would drop out of those too regularly for me to be willing to buy them. With the new pen, the 25 went back in to the drawer, more because I wanted to use what I had just spent cash on rather than any writing preference.
It was actually about 3 or 4 years and a job change later when I decided I wanted to use a second colour of ink. I was now working in the Aldgate area of London, not far from Liverpool St Station/Bishops Gate and Bank. The 25 came out and I found I had some spare non-Parker red cartridges. These I butchered open, getting the ink in to a pot and on my fingers, probably losing close to half of it, but it was enough to part fill the pen. It was by chance that I happened to wander all the way down Fenchurch St to the Leadenhall Market to grab lunch. At the time there was a branch of The Pen Shop there. We are talking back before their first lot of financial troubles, some time around 2007 (certainly before the banking related financial crash of 2008). Back then the store had a modest selection but was manned by enthusiasts. I asked about red ink and was promptly shown swatches of all the reds they stocked. Caran d’Ache Colours of the Earth Sunset was on clearance as the range had just been dropped. At half price it was expensive to me, but it was my preference from the ones I saw (which is odd as I wanted a dark red, where as Sunset is on the pink side). It was not all I bought however. The salesman caught me looking at the rows of pens, most being expensive ones as Leadenhall Market is a lunchtime shopping/drinking/eating place in the centre of ‘The City’. I mentioned I was just half looking when he said that if I was interested in another pen then to ignore the expensive stuff and look at this plastic pen which was just £8 or it’s metal twin, which I seem to remember was £12. He basically said that if I wanted a new pen but was unsure, these were so cheap that if I regretted it I would not be much out of pocket. These were Lamy Safaris and Al-Stars. It was one of the latter I walked out with and the Parker 25 went from being about to be filled and used to going back into the draw.
This was not the end though. You see I, like too many others, have found the build quality of modern Parker pens to be some what poor. Especially with ink evaporation and hard starting. I started having to clean out the Inflection on a semi regular basis (by cleaning out – we’re just talking holding the nib under running water and filling and emptying it with plain tap water lots of times – it was all I knew back then). I decided that the gunmetal Parker IM (original not newer shape) looked nice and as my Lamy Al-Star was the ‘red ink’ pen I treated myself to one to replace the Inflection. It never worked that well (I will try and remember to link back my memories/reviews of those two pens here). Problem was both the new Parker pens suffered badly from ink evaporation, we’re talking a whole converter in just a week or two, plus the Parker Quink black ink I was using was forming crystals on the nibs and hard starting (I even bought a new bottle and cleaned the pens out before trying it, to no joy – and yes I’ve not touched Parker ink since). I bought a bottle of Lamy black and that seemed to improve things, but not the evaporation, so the 25 once more was brought out. I now showed my naivety in pen cleaning. I realised a little washing up liquid and warm water could help improve removing stubborn ink, and I went to clean all my pens and nibs. One of the three 25 nib units was particularly bad with the ink seeming to refuse to let go so I put it in a pan of water and put the heat on. Now in fairness it was just to warm the water up and for the brownian motion effect and I had already done this on some of the other nibs. Except I forgot and the plastic feed and housing melted in the now boiling water. In hindsight I should have kept the actual nib, but I never realised I was soon to rejoin the fountain pen world and so it went in to the bin.
I still did not enjoy using the 25. It was the feel of the nib Sure the Inflection and IM were like nails, but this was to a different level. It went to work but then was swapped out once more for the IM. I now was in another job (working IT in banking when the 2008 crisis hit was not conducive to employment) and had been browsing the FPN forums off and on for a few years over possible ink options, though never buying anything. It was now, while looking for a burgundy ink, I saw a review of a new pen, the TWSBI Diamond 580. Something clicked and an order went in to The Writing Desk for one, plus a bottle of J. Herbin Poussière de Lune (Moon Dust). While it might not have a grape type name, this is the closest I have seen or sampled to what a dark red wine, like Pinot Noir, actually looks like, including both in the glass (as the TWSBI is a clear demonstrator) and dried on paper. All my Parker pens were now retired.
This is actually not quite the end of the story as the pens have been brought back out occasionally for pen club meets. One was even inked up. Alas the nib on my original pen (it has a breather hole so must be an early mk1) is bent and so not usable, maybe not even repairable (I’m not sure if it is worth the cost of sending it to a specialist), so just the one was passed around. In keeping with the school pen theme it was loaded with Camlin Scarlet Red – an traditional Indian mainstay which a colleague brought back for me when he visited home. I still find the nib to be too stiff, but I have warmed to the pen more. One thing I have noticed though, there is a sweet spot on the nib and go outside of that and the writing experience becomes rough. Problem is ordinary hand motion causes this effect. Sure I could probably cure it with some micro mesh, but part of me does not want to risk it. Perhaps if I ever get the original nib fixed I might.
Side note – while until about 5 years ago I had 3 nib units (grip section and nib – they were bought and sold like this), over time I actually had four as one of the my original nibs was pranged at school and replaced by a pair from the shop I mentioned near the start of this article. Another thing is colour. I only ever saw blue Park 25s until the mid eighties when I saw a white one in a shop (the WH Smiths in Southport,
MerseysideLancashire, UK) – I thought they were launched to celebrate something but I can’t find any info at the useful references I’ve found here, here, plus of course here.
A further note – the caps on both my fountain pens are dimpled, yet I have a MK1 nib, from when the plastic on the finial was flat. I suspect the caps could be swapped with the ones for the roller ball and fibre tip and one of those (where ever they have got to) has the correct cap. It is also possible I just swapped caps with a friend at school – though I have no memories of that.
As a post script, aside from realising I forgot to mention any background on the Parker 25 model, Parker were in trouble and decided to launch a new low end mass market pen to help them out of it – check the links a couple of paragraphs above for a lot more information, I will also update this article IF I can locate my roller ball and fibre tip. I am actually due to travel up to my parents place in the near future and will have a look around when I do.