Monday, January 2, 2017

Before Streamlined Meant Round

I recently asked Joe Nemecek if he had any requests for articles I should write at my blog.  Without hesitation, he emailed me a picture of a few of his Parker Duofolds:


You’ve seen this picture before - it was in The Catalogue at page 112.  In the caption, in addition to crediting Joe with the picture and ownership of the pencils, I noted that a few of the pencils in the picture had slightly shorter and less ornate bell tops:


“[Joe] believes these to be the earliest Duofold Streamline pencils, before Parker redesigned them to more closely match the pens,” I said.  After years of searching, Joe still craved chapter and verse on the subject, and if there was a more definitive answer to be found, he said he’d like to see it.

The Pen Collectors of America’s online library contains two Parker catalogs of interest on the subject.  The 1927 catalog shows, without exception, flattop pens accompanied with “normal” bell top pencils:


Note that the ringtop at the right has a cap with two ribs - it's just shown with the cap end pushed down flush with the end of the plastic barrel.  A shorter catalog bearing a print date of March, 1929 shows the same models - the only change on the comparable page is the switch of the color name from “Chinese Yellow” to “Imperial Mandarin Yellow.”


There’s another catalog in the PCA Library attributed to 1929 (we’ll get to that later), which shows, without exception, streamlined pens accompanied by newly redesigned streamlined pencils:


The most tangible lead Joe had turned up was a page from the October, 1929 issue of the Parkergram, Parker’s in-house company magazine.  Joe says he got this from Dan Zazove two or three years ago:


Yes, this page shows both bell top pencils - with the shortened caps - and streamlined pencils.  But it falls short of establishing that the short-capped pencils were intended to accompany the first streamlined pens.  In fact, the lower left corner shows Duette sets, one with each style of pencil . . . but both with flattop pens, not streamlined ones:


When I went to the PCA library to scour the rest of that October, 1929 Parkergram, I found that issue isn’t (yet) included in the library – sigh.  However, I did find a couple of other things which answered the question.

The library contains a pamphlet titled “Graphology: Reading Character from Handwriting” by DeWitt B. Lucas, printed and distributed, according to the subtitle on the cover, “Compliments of the Parker Pen Company.”   The document is loaded with advertisements from only one advertiser (you don’t need to guess which one), and has a publication date at the end of June, 1929 – just a couple short months after the March 1929 catalog was published.  And look at this two page spread:



This is the earliest documentation I’ve seen of the shortened cap treatment, but they are already being referred to as the old-fashioned STANDARD Parker Duofold pencils here . . . “if you prefer the present style.” The headline, however, for “The New Parker Duofold Streamline Pencil that 72% picked at sight in first sales showings,” clearly indicates that the introduction of the Streamline pencil was intended to be an out with the old, in with the new . . .

While Parker’s entire dealership network had likely just stocked the redesigned old models with shorter caps.  Dealers likely complained about such swift planned obsolescence, and what Parker printed in the August, 1929 issue of the Parkergram (that issue is in the PCA library) appears likely to have been a response to such complaints:


In this piece, Parker indicated that both pencils would be offered (and note that the old-style pencil is shown with the earlier, pre-June, 1929 cap) to accompany the new streamlined pens.  “Now a CHOICE of Parker Duofold Pencils!  — the flashing Standard Gold-Capped Model, or Parker’s new Streamline Duofold to match the Pen!” this announcement proclaims.  “For customers who like the heft and looks of the Gold Cap models, Parker will advertise and push them as heavily as ever.  Both models will be featured heavily this fall.”

So there’s the answer.  No, the shorter cap bell-top pencils were never referred to as streamline pencils, but the “Standard Gold Cap Duofold” was offered to those customers who preferred it.  And as for the color catalog in the PCA Library dated 1929?  Nowhere on the document itself is there a publication date.  Does the PCA Library have the date wrong?  Maybe . . . unless Parker had it printed around June of 1929, while the company was printing its “72% prefer the new model” advertisements in Mr. Lucas’ pamphlet and was intending to entirely discontinue gold cap models in favor of the new streamlined ones.

I think Parker suffered some backlash from its dealers after the Lucas pamphlet was out and the new 1929 catalogs were printed in June, 1929, In response, I believe Parker tried to placate them in August with that bit in the Parkergram – promising to “advertise and push” the two models equally in the fall of 1929 – so that dealers would feel better about their chances of moving their recent stock of short Gold Cap models.

Did Parker keep its promise to equally “advertise and push” these short cap Duofold pencils?  The pencils are rare, and more than 85 years later it took some digging – to find proof only in a magazine distributed to dealers, not to the general public.  No, I think it’s fair to say Parker did not.

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