Thursday, September 12, 2013

Expensive Tuition: Part Two

I have nothing but good news to report to you concerning the Parker Imperial Vacumatic.

A couple days ago, I posed the question: whether an ordinary (but less than common) “squiggle line” Parker 51 cap posted atop an ordinary Parker Vacumatic would create a pencil indistinguishable from a Parker Imperial Vacumatic worth many, many times more than the sum of these parts.

The answer, for those who have been hoarding their brown Vacumatic pencils these last two days, is no – two plus two does not equal three hundred.  Three frequent contributors here at the blog – Matt McColm, George Rimakis and Daniel Kirchheimer, all emailed me to let me know how the Parker Imperial Vacumatic pencil differs from what I’d put together – and in the process, they gave me the opportunity to circle back around to something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long, long time.

Almost two years ago, Janet and I took a weekend getaway to Salt Fork State Park in eastern Ohio, where our wanderings took us to all sorts of obscure and colorful attractions, including the “Hopalong Cassidy Museum” in Cambridge, Ohio (see “Rite-Rite Threadline: New Finds from the Hopalong Cassidy Museum" on November 18, 2011 at

One of our other stops was an out-of-the-way antique store.  It had that great musty “gotta be something great in here” smell about it, and either the owners tagged everything with shabby chic beige price tags and faint lettering, or they hadn’t sold anything for a long, long time.

I’m being facetious.  It was the latter, and for the most part, it was clear why not.  But near the back of the store there was a showcase with a little pile of pens inside, and after I looked at all of them I was so excited (and even more so when I read the price tags) that I bought the whole bunch.  The following morning, back at our cabin deep in the woods at Salt Fork, I sat out on the screened in porch overlooking the lake, coffee in hand and enjoying the fall foliage.  I decided to get my little bag of pens and see exactly what I’d found, and I snapped this picture:

About the only thing I still have out of these is the Parker 51 set.  At $100 for a double-jewel set, I didn’t even bother to ask for a discount:

In fact, I was so excited that until that next morning, as I sat on the porch taking in the views, I hadn’t looked at them closely enough to notice something curious:

The Parker “51" imprint on the pen is at the very bottom of the blind cap, just above the tassie.  When we got back to Newark, I did a little bit of research to see what the story was behind that imprint, and I learned that my Parker 51 set was made during the first year the 51 was in production.  And that’s not the only calling card of a first-year 51:

Unlike later models, first-year 51s have a double-outlined rectangular “cartouche” on the back side of the caps, intended for engraving initials (score extra points when they are unengraved).

The cartouche proved to be the key to today’s story, too.  The Parker Imperial Vacumatic was a transitional model Parker introduced in 1940, just before the Parker 51.  Here’s the writeup of the Imperial Vacumatic from Parker’s 1940 catalog, from the Pen Collectors of America’s online library:

Although the catalog neither shows it nor mentions it, what you’ll find on the backs of the Imperial Vacs is that same engraving cartouche on the back side of the caps – a feature that was carried over into the first year Parker 51s.

However, the “squiggle line” pattern that is shown on these Imperial Vacumatics wasn’t introduced for the Parker 51 right away, so Parker 51 squiggle line caps don’t have the cartouche.  So if you have a pencil with a black or brown striped lower Vacumatic barrel, and the squiggle line cap doesn’t have a cartouche on it – it’s a mutt and worth the sum of its parts.

All of which brings me all the way back around to my squiggle line cap from my article the other day, which fit so perfectly on the Vacumatic pencil and just looked so . . . so . . . right.

None of the pictures I’d taken of my “ordinary” squiggle line cap showed the back side of the cap.  Since I didn’t know what to look for, I couldn’t even remember what the back side of the cap looked like – or even whether I had ever looked at it.   After the input I received from Matt, George and Daniel, I came home from work, dug out my pencil and gave it a closer look. Whaddaya know:

A cartouche.  Engraved, but what the heck – it’s the real deal!  When I bought this pencil at the Philly show last January, I thought it was a little weird that there was a Vacumatic imprint on the lower barrel.  I assumed someone had stuck a 51 cap on something else, but I liked the cap enough that I went ahead and bought it, figuring at some point I’d swap it over to a “correct” 51.  It was another one of those things I just never got around to doing, and it’s a good thing: I would have screwed up a legitimate Parker Imperial Vacumatic pencil.

No wonder that cap looked so right on my brown Vacumatic pencil – other than the date code, which is a little bit late, it was!

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