Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nice To Think About, But No

At the Philadelphia Show in January, Joe brought this Parker Vacumatic along for show and tell. He doubted its legitimacy, but wanted a second opinion:

What was unusual about the pencil was the lead size: a full 2.0 millimeters, comparable to a modern drafting pencil:

The tip appears to be all original and all there - there’s the typical ring of crimp marks you’d expect to see on a Vac-era Parker pencil, and there’s no marks indicate that it was a regular tip that had been modified to accept a larger diameter lead. Yet, as Joe noted, that tip just doesn’t look like it fits quite right.

Hmm, I said. Hmm, John Hall chimed in. Yes, hmm, Joe nodded sagely.

All of us agreed – we’d never seen a Parker Vacumatic equipped to accept lead as fat as this. The action smoothly advances the lead, as if it was always meant to do so, but unlike other Vac pencils, this one doesn’t retract. When I disassembled the pencil to see why, I found that the internal workings were identical to a regular Vacumatic, complete with the propel-repel feature, but it was a regular 1.1 millimeter mechanism. That means even though the lead wouldn’t fit in the collet, the entire assembly was still effective at pushing the lead forward, even without the lead seated into it. There just isn’t anything inside the pencil capable of pulling it back.

And then Joe pointed out one other thing to consider:

The imprint notes it was Made in Canada. Now those of you who know me know well my fondness for our friends north of the border, but I believe I can make the following statement without fear of contradiction or accusations of xenophobia: Canadian subsidiaries of American pen companies did some really, really weird things. Would it be extremely unusual for Parker’s Canadian subisidiary to turn out something this crudely made? Yes. Would it be outside the realm of possibility? I don’t believe so.

If the tip were something found nowhere else in nature and apparently specially fabricated for the occasion, I would suggest the odds favor a quirky, company-sanctioned experiment by Parker Canada.

Unfortunately, the tip does exist elsewhere in nature and it was not specially fabricated for this occasion.

Parker made two styles of Vacumatic pencils. In addition to the familiar twist-action pencils, Parker’s first cap-actuated repeating pencils appeared during the Vacumatic era. The majority of the cap-actuated Vacs, in my experience, are Canadian-made. As fate had it, I happened to have a cap-actuated Vac on hand at that moment, so I was able to take a picture of the two side by side:

An exact match. The scales tilt back in favor of someone, probably someone not affiliated with Parker, having a bit of fun putting something together. It’s still possible someone in Parker’s R&D department was fooling around with the idea, I suppose, but absent some provenance I’m left only with one inescpable conclusion:

Man, Joe’s pencil sure does lay down a nice line!


Matt said...

Jonathan, how is mechanism held in this pencil? Normally, the threaded cone/tip holds everything together. However, the cone/tip on the Non-Stop pencil is a press fit in the end of the barrel and is not attached to the guts.

Jon Veley said...

Good point, Matt. Remember that noses screw onto Cross-made mechanisms, but the three thin bands on this one show earlier production. My recollection is that this one had the two-stage mechanism that screws into the upper part of the lower barrel. The tip was permanently affixed to the end.