Towards the end of 2020 rumours then photos started to appear that caused one of the biggest stirs in the fountain pen world for a long time. Word had it that Parker were relaunching the ’51’ almost 45 years after previous production was stopped. Pictures appeared and the reaction was not good, especially after it became known that the cap would be threaded and the pen would come with a steel nib. Accusations were made of design laziness and there were even rumours (later shown to be false) that it was just an existing pen from a Chinese cloning factory.
I was leant this pen by Bernardo ‘Mr Teal’ Gomes of FPUK fame and a fellow member of United Inkdom. I was intrigued on how I would feel when it arrived as I do own four ‘original’ 51s, however all were inherited over time, none bought with the result that while I had some loyalty to the model, the level may be not as much as for those who actively buy and use them. Now there will be some comparisons in this review, it would be hard and also wrong not to do so, but writing will not be one of those areas as mine all have gold nibs (as was the norm until towards the end of Production).
The pen arrived in a white outer box with company info on one side and a model/version label at the end. Inside that was a dark brown/black cardboard clamshell box reminiscent of those I remember from the 1970s and early 80s before the smaller plastic ones started to appear. It suits the pen well and adds to the ‘heritage’ feel while at the same time providing more eco friendly credentials to those who care. Not an issue or worry for me however it does prove you can keep to tradition and satisfy the younger generation at the same time.
Opening that lid was a moment of trepidation. I was unsure both on what I was expecting and how I would feel. I’m not sure if it was pleasant surprise or relief as the 51 was revealed to me. It looked and felt decent enough and even when mingled in with original pens it still largely looked the part, in fact without the plain band at the bottom of the cap it could hide amongst my collection (see photo towards the end of this article). In the hand it feels about the same weight.
Removing the cap and the differences start to show themselves, but it is not all bad. The cap screws on/off rather being pushed/pulled and while there are threads at the start of the barrel they are no more intrusive than the clutch band on the original. The cap itself is more substantial. The use of cheaper materials and methods actually gives the impression of better quality. I know the purists will point to the stamped clip moulded metal jewel, but if you did not have an original to compare with then you would see nothing wrong and the overall effect works. In fact, and I may upset some people here, I personally think size wise the clip is better proportioned to the cap/pen on the 2021 pen when compared to the original [note to self, look for some fireproof clothing].
Uncapped the differences are a lot more obvious, partly because the 2021 pen is shorter and partly because the nib is only part hooded. The whole length of the grip on the new pen is the same as up to the clutch on the original, though why I assume is just for modern aesthetics and cost reasons as the clutch ring is part of the section, where as the threads are on the barrel for the 2021 pen. Again the barrel is shorter. Proportion wise the new pen is fine but it does look a little clumsy when compared to it’s older sibling. Additionally people with larger hands may have to post this one, not so with the original. I will not be trying this as some reviewers have reported barrel scratching and this is not my pen.
With the nib, I can’t comment one way or another if it is the same as in the £13 Vector and £18 Jotter (prices from WH Smith) as I have neither and also would only be able to compare the underside of the feed. As this seems to be going unchallenged on the Internet I can but assume someone has taken a 2021 Parker 51 apart. Certainly to fit within the hood the nib needs to be thin and it would make more sense on a lower priced pen to use an existing unit than go through the costs of creating a new one. Does make me wonder what Parker have used in the Deluxe model with it’s gold nib. Visually how well the steel nib fits depends on the angle you look at it. Top down it does remind you of the original pen. Start rotating round and all looks good until you get to about 60 degrees then things start to go awry. The curve/angle of the plastic seems to be fine but it does not work with the nib and feed, making it look like there were separate designers for the two parts unaware of what each other were doing. I suspect if a dedicated nib was created for this pen or more time had been spent on finishing the design then things would have looked better, but as sold it feels like cost cutting has not helped.
In the hand the pen feels comfortable and well balanced however the converter does not fit in to the section neatly with the result that it rattles against the inside of the barrel. I would be very surprised if the same did not happen with a cartridge. While there is one in the box I do not have a spare myself to try. The issue comes down to a combination of the barrel and the metal components of the section. The barrel is the same width as with the original and I can appreciate this, however the section is thinner, losing the aeroplane inspired aerodynamic design. The metal ring is not actually decorative but the start of the guide/container for the cartridge or converter. Thing is the inner gap is too wide and so does not hold the converter properly, allowing it to bounce around with the results of an audible sound if you tap/knock the barrel. Parker get this right on much cheaper pens so why they couldn’t on the new 51 I do not know. Worryingly the same problem almost certainly exists on the much more expensive Deluxe model (anyone able to confirm ?).
The whole idea behind a hooded (and even semi-hooded) pen is the nib has less exposure to the air and so stays wetter longer. I would like to say this is the case here. Alas just a few second unused or a couple of hours capped and the nib starts dryly or even hard starts. Additionally once the ink starts to flow it is a gradual increase. Not such an issue if this were to be a nice writer, but while dry the nib is unpleasant and scratchy. After about 10-20 seconds it transforms into a smooth writer though one with very nail like characteristics. I should note this is the standard feel for steel nibbed Parker pens and if you enjoy using a Jotter, Vector, or IM then you’ll be happy with the new 51.
The pen is filled by either a converter (not included even with the Deluxe version) or cartridge, both Parker proprietary, however as these are about as common as Standard International (in the UK anyhow) I can not see this being an issue and they do provide a decent capacity.
On the cap, I might get in to a bit of trouble as I personally think the clip is better proportioned on the new pen than the original, though not as good looking. Sure the cap jewel (which did not photo well here) has been replaced by a raised dimple and the clip itself is of a cheaper construction however the latter works and works well.
And now on to the real elephant in the room. The cost. This pen is £85. Now I can hear you saying “ah but you spend a lot more than that on Leonardo or Franklin Christoph with a steel nib”, however we’re not taking hand made, lathed from a rod creations here but an injection moulded mass made product with all signs it was made to a price. Parker are very much trying to cash in on the past and the general fashion for retro. Arguably the Parker IM is a better made pen for half the price. If you’re looking at plastic/acrylic pens with the same nib, then you can buy four Jotters for the same amount of money. OK sure the cap here is metal but I bet the cartridge doesn’t bounce around in the cheaper pen. It could be argued that the steel nibbed Sonnet costs more, but quality and component wise that is in a different league, plus the gold nibbed version is actually cheaper than the Deluxe 51.
Let us be honest. If you knew little about fountain pens and received this as a present then you would be quite happy. It looks as a fountain pen should, though because the original 51 set a standard, if feels comfortable in the hand, and it works (assuming the initial ink flow problems are just with this particular pen). I do wonder if that’s the market Parker are aiming this pen at, after all in the UK and Europe if you want to buy some one a fountain pen as a coming of age or graduation present, then Parker is traditionally the make many to go for, much like Cross is in the USA.
Personally I think Parker have been really lazy, else desperate to get a new model out and that latter option does worry me as it would indicate the company could be in trouble. I hope I am wrong but they’ve taken a long standing existing design, modified it very slightly, used cheap components and released a pen that has signs it may not have been fully user tested. The biggest surprise of all is the pen is not being made in India, but rather in France, where in recent times only the high end models were being produced. This can be seen on the cap band.
The shame of it all is it is actually not a bad pen, it’s just not a good one and also seriously over priced. Even with the link to the 51 heritage I can not see how they could charge more than £40 for this pen or £150 for the Deluxe version with it’s gold nib, though my view on the latter might change if I can find one to try. The catch is most of my big issues with the 2021 model are nothing to do with the nib.
Would I recommend one of these? Well being a Parker there are chances of heavy reductions over time and I think if you can get one for around half the MSRP then you may well be quite happy with it, but at full or near full price, no, especially when as others have pointed out, you can pick up a recently reconditioned original (which will have a gold nib) for around the same price.
- Classical looks based on the Parker heritage.
- Parker might use a proprietary cartridge system but they are cheap and very easy to find, plus Parker converters tend to be reliable.
- Eco friendly packaging (for those who care).
- Semi hooded nib looks clumsy from certain angles.
- Converter not included (more normal in UK, Europe and Japan, but unusual in the USA)
- Hard/poor starting nib.
- Loose cartridge/converter.
- Almost as cheap to buy a reconditioned original, which will be a better writer and is better made.