Monday, February 18, 2013

Don't Be Too Quick to Dismiss This One

I picked this one up from Terry Mawhorter at the Philadelphia Show. He sold it to me primarily as a curiosity, since he’d indicated that a couple of Parker Vacumatic specialists had looked at it and dismissed it out of hand as cobbled together from parts:

I’m no Vacumatic expert, and I realize there’s a couple dozen guys who have spent a significant part of their lives figuring out all of the subtle variations of the Vacumatic, which was introduced by Parker in 1933 and wasn’t discontinued until the mid-1940s, long after the Parker 51 was introduced.

However, there are times when looking at things from a "pencil perspective" makes it possible to see things that pen experts just never think about.  When I put everything together that I see in this pencil, it all adds up to one thing:  I think this is the real deal.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Yes, I hear the protest emails hitting my inbox even as I’m typing this – but bear with me and see if you don’t see the same thing here in a minute.

The first thing you notice about this pencil is that it is freakishly long for a Vacumatic pencil. At just a hair less than 5 3/4 inches, it towers over all my other Vacumatic pencils – only the desk pencils are longer. Here it is, posed next to what is now the second-longest Vacumatic pencil I’ve got:

The celluloid portion of the lower barrel is a full 2 5/8 inches long, and there’s no Parker imprint on it. The three bands in the center are consistent with the earlier Vacumatics, as is the striped jewel on top of the clip:

And then there’s that clip . . . that CLIP . . .

Viewed closely, it’s easy to see the seam where two of the early feathered "art deco" arrow clips, which were used on Vacumatics from their introduction through 1937, have been spliced together in order to create a super-long arrow. But the welding is as precise as it could be and as sturdy as it needs to be:

Better than the average hobbyist crafting a frankenpencil on his workbench? I think so – but we don’t really need to debate the point because there’s much more here. It’s the other end, believe it or not, where things get really interesting:

At top is a typical Vacumatic pencil. With the exception of a few cap actuated repeater-style Vacs, this is what most Vacumatic pencils look like. Notice how the barrel is tapered down much more, and the tip is much smaller.

The reason for that is surprising:  while all twist action Vacumatic pencils I’ve ever seen have been rear-drive pencils, meaning the top half of the barrel is twisted to advance the lead, today’s mystery pencil is actually a nose-drive pencil – twisting the tip itself advances the lead. Sure, you can twist the top half of the barrel, but it’s just held on there by a non-functional steel tube.

Aha, you may say – Parker did no such thing! Not so, dear skeptic:

Here’s our pencil posed next to a Parker Depression-era "stepped end cap" pencil (that’s a collector nickname, not an official Parker moniker), an interesting mix of streamline Duofold and Thrift Time pencils from the early 1930s - contemporary to the early Vacumatics. The "stepped end-cap" pencils operated exactly the same way, with a nose-drive mechanism and a dummy metal tube on which the upper half of the barrel just sits.

But, you may say, the tips are different:

Yes, they are slightly different, so let’s look at another example. Here’s a Parker Parkette posed next to it:

On a side note, this Parkette is double-stamped, which is pretty unusual in itself:

But for our purposes today, it’s the tip that it the important bit:

A dead ringer. And this Parkette is a nose-drive pencil with a dummy metal tube to secure the upper barrel, just like today's Vacumatic.

So if you add it all up:

1. A very well done splicing of two early Vacumatic arrow clips;

2. Striped end button and three trim rings consistent with early Vacumatics;

3. A nose-drive assembly and dummy metal tube to secure the upper barrel, consistent with no other Vacumatics BUT consistent with some other Parker products.

4. A lower barrel made from a piece of Vacumatic pencil celluloid that's longer than any other piece of Vacumatic celluloid I've seen (excluding desk pencils), specially machined to fit a larger tip not seen on any other Vacumatic pencil;

I don’t think there’s any other explanation. Whether you call it a prototype, a "lunchbox special" or what have you, this pencil may have been cobbled together, but it wasn’t pieced together on some hobbyist’s workbench . . .

it was made this way by Parker!

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