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.
As this is intended as a review of the Parker 21 it's probably a good idea to get the 21/51 comparison out of the way first. The overall shape of the pens is very similar, the caps less so. Every other feature, materials, filling system, nib shape, feed, collector etc. was completely different and the 'baby 51' image was a matter of perception rather than fact, similar to the 'New 51' produced seventy odd years later.
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:
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.
The review will focus on the Mk.1 pen, it is much less common than the later versions and a little more interesting.
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 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 a very good writer.