Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Expensive Tuition: Part One

This article is really going to upset some people, so for now, I’m going to call this “part one” on the subject of Parker Imperial Vacumatic pencils.    When someone comes forward and explains to me why you can’t build a Parker Imperial Vacumatic pencil out of about $20 worth of spare parts, I’ll clarify that in part two.

But I wouldn’t be writing this article if I wasn’t pretty sure there wouldn’t be a part two.

The Imperial Vacumatic is pretty rare, and the pens cost hundreds of dollars.  I caught up with one of the pencils at the 2012 Ohio Show, but I don’t remember who had this one.  Forgive the quality of the pictures – these were shot in the dark, dark hallway outside the ballroom:

There were a couple reasons I didn’t bring this one home.  First and most obvious, while this one wasn’t priced at several hundred dollars, if I recall it was priced at around three – more than I wanted to spend on something I don’t know much about.  Second – again – I don’t know much about it.  Third – probably because I don’t know much about it – to me it looked a lot like a Parker 51 cap on a Parker Vacumatic lower barrel, and I didn’t like the way the top jewel fit (or rather didn’t fit):

The cap was marked “Made in Canada,” and it had what appeared to me the same engraving as what you’d find on a sterling cap Parker 51:

While I passed on this example, my curiosity remained piqued about the Parker Imperial Vacumatic. When this pencil turned up in an online auction, I decided it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the Imperial Vac:

The price tag was kind of steep, at fifty bucks.  The cap has a few dents and is missing the cap jewel.  But in everything I’d read about Imperial Vacumatics, I hadn’t seen one in green:

It has the same fully lined cap as the one I saw at the Ohio Show, even though this one is plain at the cap lip.   I thought I was worth the risk (even though, in case you didn’t hear me before, I didn’t know much about it), because the seller didn’t appear to know anything about pens and pencils, so I thought it was pretty unlikely that she would have thought to stick a Parker 51 cap on a Parker Vacumatic.  I was sure I’d be getting my money’s worth out of it, evenif the cap was a little messed up.  After all, since all the Parker Imperials I had seen had either black or brown lower barrels, a green one would have to be more rare, right?

Wrong.  I’m going to conceal the names of the expert I consulted after this pencil arrived at my doorstep, but what he told me was (1) they don’t come in green and (2) they have the “squiggly line” caps like a Parker 51.  Does this mean the the example I saw at the Ohio Show wasn’t right, either?  I don’t know – with a “Made in Canada” imprint, that one might be a different story entirely.

But as far as my pencil goes, what I had, my unnamed expert told me, was a beat-up Parker 51 cap on an ordinary green Vacumatic pencil.  The cap was worthless, but with the clip and other parts that were there, I had maybe ten bucks in parts on a good day.

I call it “paying tuition” whenever I make an expensive mistake like this, because the lessons I learn in the process do have some value.   Still, I was pretty dejected, because it’s been a long time since I’d goofed this badly.  But then I got to thinking . . .

Wait a tick . . . I have a spare brown Vacumatic pencil, and I picked up a “squiggly line” Parker 51 at the Philadelphia Show in January:

I swapped the caps, and the 51 cap fits on the Vacumatic pencil . . . perfectly.

When it comes to Imperial Vac pens, it’s easy to see why they are special because the metal caps are put together differently than you’d find anywhere else.  While the caps on the Parker 51 caps slip on and are held in place by a clutch ring, a Imperial Vac cap is threaded to engage on a Vacumatic pen.

While the Imperial Vacumatic pen caps were specially fabricated, I don’t think the pencils would have been.  Is it posible that Parker just cobbled together the pencils from parts out of the standard Vacumatic and 51 lines?

I’m begging someone to tell me what the difference is between the top half of a squiggly line Parker 51 cap and the top half of a Parker Imperial Vacumatic.  Please, please someone tell me what differentiates a standard brown or black Vacumatic lower barrel and mechanism from an Imperial.  Because until someone does, in the future I’m not going to pay big money for a Parker Imperial Vacumatic pencil.

I’m just going to make one.


George Rimakis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian McQueen said...

The Imperial cap has a cartouche for engraving. The 51 cap doesn't.

Jon Veley said...

Hey Brian, thanks for the comment. Did you read part 2?


Brian McQueen said...

Ah! Well, no I didn't. Who'd have thunk it?