Reviewing a vintage Parker Vacumatic from 1943
I love modern fountain pens. The quality, selection and cleanliness seem much better than my childhood nightmares of high-school-required fountain pens. I have horrid memories of my white school dress shirts with blue stains on the breast pocket from fountain pen leaks. But time and discussions with other fountain pen users that enjoy vintage pens had me curious to whether a properly-adjusted, quality, vintage pen would be as disastrous as the school pens that haunt my dreams.
I came across a 1943 Parker Vacuumatic on the Pen Addict Slack buy and sell. The pen looked very clean and attractive with the striated blue colour in the body. The seller advertised this pen as a good writer with a fine steel nib and was sold at an affordable price tag that I felt comfortable to gamble on. I took a chance and pulled the plug - still nervous about what the writing and use of the pen would be like.
The 1943 Parker Vacummatic
The Parker Vacuumatic is a pretty pen. It is predominantly black but contains striated blue sections along the body and cap. As you rotate the pen, these alternate between more or less visible. This may be the way the pen was made or just a factor of being 75 years old, but I tend to think age has dulled the pen a little bit. The finish does show it’s age, as the pen shows slight scratches and dents from years of writing, however, there is not any significant damage. I am debating polishing up the finish, but haven’t done that yet, as the pen has natural patina and there is something is pleasant in writing with the old pen.
The pen is rather small - capped it is just under 5” long. Uncapped the length is 4-5/8”, but the pen does post at a satisfying 5 3/4” long. The body and section are unadorned, but the cap is trimmed with gold furnishings - a decorated cap band and a top finial and clip. The clip is stunning in the iconic Parker arrow decorated with the blue dot on the rectangle above the Parker name. The top finial is a domed black acrylic button.
The short section is flared at the end to allow for a comfortable grip. The threads on the body at the top of the section are subtle and do not distract from the writing experience, even if your fingers touch them. As the pen is acrylic, it is comfortably weighted, even when posted. It is surprisingly one of the most comfortable pens I have written with, though a little shorter than I would typically use.
The Vacumatic filling system is interesting - you unscrew a blind cap on the back of the pen to reveal a plastic button. This button is the vacuum activator, and you fill the pen by holding the nib in ink and pressing and releasing this button several times. I found it is best to hold the nib in ink after releasing the button to get the best fill. Filling the Vacuumatic is easy, but I find the ink capacity to be a little small. As there is no ink window, I have run out of ink several times at my jobby job when I don’t have access to a bottle of ink to refill the pen.
Unlike many highly desired flexible vintage nibs, the nib on this Parker is as hard as a nail. However, it writes a wonderfully fine line and is buttery smooth. Given the advanced years of the pen, I feel that the nib is likely to have been tuned, but I like how it writes. Is this typical of vintage pens? I don’t know, but am I curious to find out. The nib is gold coloured and is approximately a No. 5 size. The arrow design of the clip is engraved into the nib, with the tip representing the arrowhead. Below the arrowhead is written Parker USA. The writing is very subtle against the gold coloured background. Parker installed a standard black feed along with the nib.
I have been a little careful about which ink I have been using. I chose Waterman Serenity Blue as it a fairly conservative ink while still being an attractive blue colour. I have refilled this pen several times, and have been happy with this combination of pen and ink. This pen looks sturdy, but why risk any accidents with a vintage pen.
I am delighted with my first purchase of an authentic vintage pen (I consider any pen older than me to be vintage). I am even ok with it not being perfect, as the historical wear and tear give the pen a lot of character. If I think that this pen was new during World War II, it truly gives me an appreciation for the craftsmanship and durability of historical pen makers. That this pen is still writing well is a terrific legacy to the company.
Most importantly for me is that the pen writes flawlessly. I like Japanese fine nibs, and this pen writes a fine line in line with a Japanese fine and exhibits no scratchiness at all.
If you haven’t tried vintage fountain pens, maybe give them a second chance. There are a certain elegance and sense of history that comes with them. Unfortunately for me, I see this new aspect to fountain pens to be another deep dark hole to explore! I am sure I will be writing about more vintage pens in the future.