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Parker 21 Review

Parker 21 Review

The Parker 21 first saw the light of day in 1949.  It is said that Parker, becoming fed up with other companies attempting to copy the Parker 51, decided that, as a company,  they were best equipped to produce a '51 copy' at a competitive price and so entered the '51 copy' market themselves.

If this was the case their reasoning seems to make perfect sense.  A good number of pen companies were offering pens with hooded nibs and varying degrees of similarity to the 51 at much lower prices than the original.  Presumably, however, these companies had to be watchful not to impinge on Parker copyrights whereas Parker had no such obstacles to negotiate.  The Parker 21 could go right ahead and 'steal back' the market for cheaper Parker 51 lookalikes.

 The Parker 21 was made in three versions, now referred to as: Mk.1 (1948-51), Mk.2 (1951-56) and Super (1956-1965).  The three models are shown below, Mk.1at the top, Mk.2 centre and Super at the bottom:

The most obvious difference is the cap, specifically the clip.  The first model had a 'ridge' clip that was, more or less turned inside out to give the inverted ridge on the Mk.2.  The Super clip was the same as the one used in the Parker 45 although the earliest Super models used a flatter clip with the arrow stamped onto it:

                                                       Mk.1 Cap

                                                     Mk.2 Cap

                                                    Super Cap

The super cap is engraved with the number '21'.  An interesting feature of the Mk.1 clip is the ball of metal welded to the inside of the end of the clip, presumably to make a smoother contact with the shirt pocket:

 Whilst the cap is the most obvious difference in the Parker 21versions it is the design of the feed and hood opening that is the most significant.  The Mk.1 has a large opening exposing a large, somewhat bulbous feed:

And the later versions have a much more enclosed arrangement with a smaller feed:

The photographs also clearly show that the nib is not cylindrical, as in the Parker 51 but are a more conventional shape.  The second arrangement is probably more efficient in preventing drying of the feed when not in use but I personally find the quirky earlier design more appealing.

This shows a disassembled view of Parker 21 Super during restoration, note the Parker 51 style ink collector:

The changes in the details of Parker models did dnot happen 'overnight'.  They were phased in over a period of time, allowing the company to use up old components on the new models wherever possible.  This pracrice makes it difficult to put an exact date on a pen and gives rise to a number of 'transition' versions.

Parker 21 Mk. 1

The first section of the review will focus on the Mk.1 pen, it is much less common than the later versions and a little more interesting, although it was updated to solve some of it's less desirable traits.


The pen is 132mm. capped and 142mm. posted, a very respectable size.

This example is finished in green, I have seen it described as 'Forest Green' but this is incorrect, it is a shade or two lighter.  It is not, however, the same 'green' as used in the U.K. Parker Duofolds, the Duofold colour has more of a blue tinge. I haven't found a Parker in the same colour, perhaps it is unique to the 21.  It may be relevant that this pen was made in Canada and there may be some colour variations between countries.  The English and American versions of the Parker 51 'Burgundy' colour spring to mind.  Correction! I've now compared an American green 21 with the Canadian one and the colours are identical.

The 'Lustralloy' cap has a bright cap ring stamped 'Parker' and 'Made in Canada'.  The ridge clip is secured with a polished steel, slightly domed cap stud.

The steel filler sleeve is clearly stamped 'Parker 21' along with filling instructions and an 'instruction' to use 'Superchrome' ink.  On the off chance that you find some Superchrome lying about I strongly suggest you ignore this instruction.  It was a quick drying ink that was very alkaline and quite corrosive.

The material used for the nib is 'Octanium', Parker claimed it was an alloy with eight components, hence the name, but it was probably stainless steel with small amounts of this and that added to make up the numbers, literally.  Octanium is now the brand name of a fuel additive designed to add 'octanes' and increase power output.


The nib has a generous ball of tipping material and appears to be well finished, it writes very nicely with a smooth, medium line.

The Parker 21 is a light, well balanced pen although when the cap is posted it can feel slightly top heavy, not necessarily a bad thing as it somehow makes the pen feel more secure in the hand.  It can be used quite comfortably with the cap removed.  It is important to remember that, at the time this pen was produced, light weight was highly a desirable property for a pen that was to be used for long periods.  Quite a few modern pen producers actively design pens to be heavy, I can only think that there is a perception that weight equates to quality in the eyes of their target audience.

The Parker 21 Mk.1 is a good choice as a vintage every day user.  Perhaps it lacks a little in the area of 'robustness' but it is reliable, attractive, and generally very good writer although it can be a bit 'finicky'.  


Parker 21 Mk. ll and Super

The Parker 21 Mk. ll and the Parker 21 Super can be treated together as the differences in the pen are purely cosmetic and have no effect on performance.

 Parker 21 Super in Red

The red colour used for the 21 super is, most definitely, red.  Most of the Parker red pens of this era are some sort of maroon or burgundy, with the exception of the 'rage red' Parker 61.

The cap has a metal cap stud wjich secures an 'arrow' clip in a style that was to be used later on the Parker 45. The rim of the cap is clearly engraved '21'.

The cap does not have the 'frosted' finish found on the parker 51 'Lustralloy' caps but is more of an even semi gloss brushed steel effect.

The modified 'aerometric' style filler is simple and effective but experience has shown that it is better to hold the pen by the sleeve cylinder with one hand while filling and squeeze the bars with the other hand,  The filler bar is secured at one side only and filling by holding the bar and squeezing will, eventually lead to the bar becoming bent and inefficient.

The Octanium nib on the Super is smaller and more cylindrical than that in the Mk.l pen, and is usually an excellent writer.  One of the most significant innovations in the design of the Parker 51 was the inclusion of a multi finned ink collector, or 'ink governer' as Parker chose to call it.  The purpose was to act as a 'second ink reservoir' so the pen would start easily, keep the nib moist, and improve ink flow leading to consistent writing.  The hooded design helped to prevent the collector drying out.

This design is present in the the Parker 21, it can be seen in the disassembled pen above. It is a very succesful feature and contributes to the excellent writing characteristics of the 21.  The smaller opening for the feed in the Super, compared to the Mk.l, enhances the effect.

I have tried to avoid comparisons with the 51 in this review as the 21 stands alone as an excellent, modestly priced fountain pen.  However, there is one comparison that should be noted. The photograph below shows that the wall of the barrel appears to be significantly thicker in the 21 than the 51, and the bevelled edge gives a better finish to the joit with the clutch ring.  It may well be that the plastic used for the 21 is not as tough as the 'Lucite' of the 51 and a thicker wall was needed to prevent cracking.

 A final comparison of the 21 and 51 shows the clear family resemblance:

The Parker 21 is a good pen, it writes well, is practical and well built with an impeccable pedigree and is the first choice of many collectors as an every day writer so it comes well recommended.  In terms of practicalty and robustness the Parker 21 Super would probably be the best choice, although the somewhat quirky Mk.l has some appeal.