Okay, so many of you may have visited my friend Dan Smith’s blog and learned that he grinds custom nibs and that he loves to restore Parker Vacumatics, but one day over lunch not too long ago, I asked him why he loved Vacs as much as he does. This was his answer. It’s a great read and he’s got some great eye candy in the article, too!
Let me start off by saying this is not going to be an essay about why the Parker Vacumatic is the greatest pen in the word, because it’s not. It’s not even the greatest pen in the the world to me, but I am completely infatuated by it and it is and probably always will be the core of my collection.
I suppose the main reason I collect Vacs is because there are so many different variations. What initially attracted me to the Vacumatic was the celluloid they’re made from. There’s so much depth and character to the celluloid. You can clearly see the difference between the real thing and a cheap alternative. The bargain pens that are made to look like the Vac celluloid look like an image has been printed on the pen. There’s no depth, no character, nothing special to them. One of my favorite aspects of the Vacumatic is there’s not a color I don’t like, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be a close call between the Burgundy Pearl and the Azure Pearl. The celluloid just mesmerizes me like a deer in headlights. And when you find one with excellent barrel clarity it makes it even better.
My favorite Vacs by far are the first generation models with the section, blind cap, and jewels all made from the same celluloid, especially the oversize Vacs. My least favorites are the third gen, single jewel, plastic fillers. I don’t care for the non-jeweled blind cap, and the plastic filler looks out of place.
If you get lucky you’ll find some with spectacular nibs. For me that means flex. I have two Vacs with super-flex nibs: a ’34 Silver Pearl Oversize and a ’47 Emerald Pearl Junior. I also have a ’38 Burgundy Pearl Shadow Wave with a semi-flex nib, which is the pen I used to write the first draft of this essay with.
The one thing Parker deserves props for is building a solid pen. They were not intended to be fancy collectors items. They were designed to write and write and write and write. There’s not a single item on the pen that feels cheap (except for the plastic filler on 3rd Gen pens). They have good weight, feel great in the hand, and are very well constructed. Their system for dating pens was an ingenious idea. On very early models they used a two digit system where the first digit indicated which quarter of the year the pen was made and the second digit indicated the year. This system was used in the mid to late ’30’s. Parker then moved to a slightly different system where they utilized a single digit to indicate the year and then up to three dots around the number to indicate the quarter. Three dots = 1st quarter, 2 dots = 2nd quarter, and so on with no dots meaning the pen was made in the fourth quarter. It was done this way so that Parker could grind one dot off the stamp and keep using it throughout the year. I wish more pen companies had implemented some type of system to accurately date their pens.
So now that I’ve gushed about all the good, its time to bring it back to reality because there are a few things about Vacumatics that I can’t stand. The biggest being the filling system. Go figure. The filling process is so tedious and time consuming, especially if you’re trying to clean the pen out to switch colors from, say, black to orange. Thank God the lock-down filler only lasted as long as it did. Why didn’t they just start with the speed-line filler? Who knows, probably for the same reason it took Apple until 3.0 to get copy and past and MMS into the iPhone. The thing that bugs me the most about the lock-down filler is that once you have the pen completely filled you have to push the filler back down, emptying a good amount of ink in the process.
The other minor thing I don’t care for is the Vacumatic cap band. Not the cap band with the actual word “Vacumatic” stamped into it but the one with all the stupid ///\\\\///\\\. The triple, and even the double, cap bands were so much more elegant. Oh, and I’ll take mine in silver, please.
So, should you go out and try to find your next vac, or maybe for some of you your first one, on ebay? No, you should buy one that is restored and polished by me (what a plug, eh?). Seriously though, Vacumatics are not for everyone. I collect them because there are so many variants and quirky uncatalogued pieces. Its easy to start collecting them yet some people may never have a what can be considered a comprehensive collection even after a life time of collecting, unless you’ve got some serious cash to drop. If you want my recommendation, go out and find a really good example of a first or second gen Vac and play with it for a while. You’ll either be in love or it’ll just get a “meh” from you.
If you really want to get into some cool items then look for the desk sets made entirely from the stripped celluloid. Or, the Ripley versions made from alternating Burgundy Pearl and blue celluloid. Then, there’s the Imperial (one of my grail pens) which is sort of a 51 with a traditional nib and made from celluloid, or you could think of it as just a Vacumatic with a slip cap but closer in dimensions to a 51 than any Vac.
So there. In case you ever needed a great reason (or three) to buy a Vac…I think you just read it!