A few months ago, I had only the most remote acquaintance with Parker 51 pens, one of the landmark models in fountain pen design. (I’m sure I handled one at a Triangle Pen Club meeting sometime, but just in passing.) I have several Parker 21s, which are very closely related to the 51 (and a very fine substitute if the 51 is out of your range, as it was for me for a long time). Though I kept my eyes open for bargains, I hadn’t seen any 51s in the wild.
So earlier this year, I saved up my pence, and combed my collection for pens that didn’t really fit in or that I wasn’t especially committed to, and brought them down to the Antiques Fair to Peter Crook’s booth, and traded in the pens and some cash for my first Parker 51. It’s a lovely pen, but I realised after using it for several inkings that the medium nib was broader than I like, so I put it aside for a while. Then almost immediately after, I noticed a pen on eBay that looked a lot like a 51, but which was not clearly labeled (a huge source of eBay bargains, and for some eBay scams where the seller lures alert scavengers into bidding for an apparently mislabeled pen that turns out to be a more pedestrian alternative) — so I put in a cursory bid for the might-be 51, won, and found that it was a 51 indeed. Again, though, it came with a medium nib, so I put it aside with my carefully-sourced 51.
Last month, I took both my medium 51s in to Peter for him to swap out the medium nibs for fine nibs, an operation that won’t be frightfully expensive but will make them much more usable for me. At that very Fair, I wandered past a booth with a pen that I recognised as yet another 51, and I casually asked the vendor how much he wanted for it. He didn’t answer right away, started pattering to size up my interest, so I went to put it down (I already had two of them), and he quickly got to the point — ‘Say, £3’. I made a slightly dissatisfied face, and grudgingly dug 3 quid out of my pocket, and received my next Parker 51, this one a stub nib from 1940 (according to the barrel’s dating marks).
Today I’ll stop by the Antiques Fair, pick up my newly-nibbed 51s from Peter, drop off the stub nib (its nib is slightly askew in the section, and wants a small adjustment), and will in short order be the custodian of three very fine Parker 51s, for little more than the fair price of a single example. I’m eager to put the fine nibs to work, and to see how the stub works once I get it back from Peter next month. This is part of the delight of collecting these specimens from forty, fifty, or more years back — with decent care at a craftsperson’s hands, they work perfectly, indefinitely, distinctively, and beautifully. But first I have to run off to church!