The Parker Vacumatic is one of the most distinctive and sought after vintage pens. It was produced between … and …. and stands out because of its translucent stripes. These look like a New York skyline at night and, as well as being pretty, give Vacumatics a romantic and nostalgic aura.
I picked mine up last year, knowing nothing about it’s date or model. What follows is part review, part detective story, part mystery.
What’s striking about most vintage pens is their size. They’re smaller than you expect. The Vacumatic is no exception. This one, to be fair, is the Slender size, coming in at around 12cm capped, but the Standard size isn’t much larger (about 13cm-ish). Fortunately the pen posts securely and is a comfortable size when posted. The section is very short but the threads are hardly noticeable and so the grip is comfortable.
The clip is quite strong, even after all these years. The cap screws on to close and pushes on to post.
Of course the defining feature of the Vacumatic is the filling system. Mine is an early model (more of that later) and has a lockdown system. To fill the pen, you unscrew the blind cap, give the internal rod a short twist and pull it out. Dip the nib in ink and give the rod a few pumps.
Then push the rod back in and twist it to lock it in place. (Later models did away with this twist-to-lock feature.) Even though the pen’s small, it holds a surprisingly large amount of ink.
The nib on mine is 18k gold and I’ve never had a problem with hard starts or skips. It has excellent flow. It could perhaps do with a little smoothing but it’s still pleasant to write with, even after all these years. One day I’ll take it to someone who knows what they’re doing to have it tweaked and cleaned.
All in all this is a beautiful looking pen with a good clip, large ink capacity and a good nib. An excellent pen by any standard, modern or vintage.
Size and colour are the most obvious clues. At just under 12cm long and with the green striped cap and barrel this pen looks to be a Slender Emerald Pearl. Parker produced a ‘high end’ version of the Vacumatic, which had these features: jewels in the cap and blind cap that matched the colour of the barrel, three gold stripes on the barrel and a section that matched the barrel. They also produced a ‘low end’ version which had these features: black jewels in the cap and blind cap, black section and two gold stripes on the cap. My cap has three gold stripes and a coloured jewel but the barrel has a black section and a black jewel in the blind cap. This suggests the cap on mine is from a high end pen and the barrel is from a low end pen. Perhaps the cap was replaced at some stage in its life? If so, the colour was matched extremely well.
The clip is the ‘art deco’ style. This, along with the colour and the lockdown filler, puts the date of manufacture of the pen as between 1935 and 1938.
The nib, however, is a mystery. It’s a two-tone nib, which from what I can tell is a feature of the high end range from around this era. This lines up with the cap but not the section. It’s also marked, from tip to base, “18k Parker Vacumatic”. I haven’t been able to find a nib with these markings anywhere.
It might be that I have a hybrid pen that wouldn’t be of much interest to collectors. However, it writes well, looks gorgeous, and has been through who knows how many hands over the eighty years since it was made. It’s now in my hands and I’m planning on keeping it that way for a very long time, before handing it on to the next lucky custodian.
If you have any ideas about the age or model of this pen, please do let me know! I’d love to solve the mystery.