Pen Review: Parker “51” Special

I love a good antiques store find, and this pen is no exception.  This Parker “51” Special is in pristine condition on the outside of the pen.  When I found the pen (in the box with the original paperwork!) it appeared as though the pen had been filled once with blue ink, and never used again.  The ink was completely dried and crusted on the inside, but other than that, it was in great shape.  So, I pulled the pen apart, cleaned and sonic-cleaned it, and reassembled the pen, and now it is like brand new.

The Parker 51 is such an iconic pen profile, that there really isn’t another pen even remotely close, except for the Hero 616, which is a blatant knock-off. As an aside, that’s why you’ll never see me do a review of any Hero pens. From a strictly ethical point of view, I find it offensive that they make their money simply by knocking-off the work of other companies.  Not cool, Hero. Not cool.

Anyway, this pen isn’t your regular “51” Special.  The Special had a steel alloy nib, and a stainless steel cap with a black jewel.  As you can see from the photos below, this pen has a lustraloy cap with a silver jewel.  And, perhaps most surprising to me, it has a 14K gold nib.  Really, the only thing that would keep this pen from being a full “Standard” version of the 51 is the fact that it has that “Special” Aerometric filler on the inside.

As for the way it writes, well, the ink flow is very generous.  However, the nib is rather scratchy.  One of the difficulties with this pen is that adjusting the nib while the pen is assembled is very difficult.  And it’s just a hassle to have to disassemble the pen every time I want to work on the nib a bit, particularly as that requires softening the shellac that holds it together.  I like the look of the hooded nib, but the practicalities of adjusting the nib or, even more importantly, cleaning the pen, tend to make me think that Parker was looking at more of a “Form Before Function” sort of thing with this pen.

In any case, it’s comfortable to write with, and a nice weight (uncapped, it’s 12g).  I like it.  I don’t love it, but perhaps once I’ve managed to get the nib completely adjusted, I’ll feel differently.

  • anaximander70

    Great find! I have a P51 that’s almost identical, except that it’s a vacumatic-filler and not in nearly as pristine shape. I’d rate it among my top 10 pens.

    Fun fact about 51s: When you hand one to a non-pen-person to jot a note, he or she will not freak out until the split second before the nib touches the paper. Some of the less observant will forego freaking out altogether. The hooded nib keeps the borrower from realizing that he or she is holding a strange and potentially dangerous implement.

    Only recently found your site and I’m really enjoying your reviews! Keep ’em coming!

  • Sidney

    I believe that the Chinese government took over the Parker factory in China and the Hero “51” and “61” style pens are made using the original Parker machines. The Hero 100 filling system is identical to the “51” standard Aerometric filling system.

  • I just noticed that someone was writing with a Parker 51 in James Bond “You Only Live Twice” which we were watching last night. I shouted it and my husband rolled my eyes that I was identifying pens in movies.

    • That’s just awesome. 🙂 In season 1 of “Smash” one of the characters signs a check with a fountain pen. I remember it being a fountain pen, but that was before I had started using them, so I couldn’t identify it. I probably could now.

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  • Prashanth Panicker

    A lovely Navy Gray Parker 51 Demi Special was my first pen (I got it for my birthday last year) and I absolutely love it! The hood prevents nib dryout since it hold a huge amount of ink right next to the feed making it the perfect note taking pen.

  • Isaac Yochelson

    I have a 1946 Parker 51 special vacumatic filler that also has a gold nib, so I don’t think its necessarily the case that yours has been frankenpened. It could be that its just older than the era of the resource that told you the specials don’t have gold nibs. Also, yours is very nice looking, mine looks distinctly used.

  • Christeeeeeen

    There is another pen that at first glance looks like a “51” and has, in fact, occasionally tricked people browsing ebay into thinking they were buying a “51”. Don’t know if it can be considered a knock-off, though, since it was also designed and manufactured by Parker: the Parker 21–particularly, the Parker 21 Super. Made with different materials and a different filler, but to the untrained eye can appear to be a “51”. 🙂

  • Knewbie

    I found you searching for this pen. I have the exact same pen, along with the matching pencil. (They were my mother’s.)
    Do you have a recommended ink?
    I noticed the scratchy bit, myself, but it varies with the paper I’m using. If I hold it perfectly, it’s wonderfully smooth.

  • My dad used a “51” as his sole pen for decades. I have the pen now, and it still writes like a champ, and is as reliable a pen as I own. I hold it right at the clutch ring to keep myself from choking my grip all the way to the tip of the hood.

    There is hardly a better tool for writing than a “51”. But it was designed for an era when people used fountain pens as tools first and foremost, and they filled their pens with the same ink over and over and over and over (Parker Quink Permanent Black with Solv-X in Dad’s case). Once you’ve got the nib adjusted, find an ink for the pen and stick with it. A “51” will frustrate anyone who wants to change inks regularly.