I'll admit it up front... I've never been a fan of the Parker 51. For all it's popularity, and it may well be either at or very near the all time number one spot among fountain pen among collectors, the 51 has never managed to add me to it's list of admirers. A lot of this has to do with size, I find a wider pen more comfortable to my hand, and the 51 was the pen that brought the "slim lines" into fountain pens. I'll also admit to having a predilection for seeing a big ol chunk of gold hanging off the front end of my pens. Maybe with a touch of flex to it, as well. It may be shallow, but I like knowing that I'm writing with a fountain pen!
All that aside, I've found myself with a Parker 51 riding in my pocket lately. And not just every once in a while... We're talking about every single day! What has led to this change of heart?
Well, it's not really a change of heart... I still find a wider pen more comfortable when writing for long periods of time.
Of course, what I noticed was that when it comes to an "everyday" pen, I'm not really writing for long periods of time! A short note now and then, mostly filling out a few blanks in paperwork, that's what daily use is for my pen. A narrow pen isn't really a handicap in use.
OK, so the above facts make a difference, but the clincher was that I found a really great deal on a Flighter 51. It was clear that it was past time for me to give the definitive classic Parker a try.
The Flighter is of what most would call the "second generation" of the Parker 51, the Aerometric filler model. Made from 1948 through 1969 in various versions, the Aerometric filler, first dubbed "Foto-fill Filler" is without a doubt one of the most durable of vintage pen filling mechanisms.
Consisting of simply a sac with a metal housing that allowed the pressure bar to be depressed directly with the fingers to fill the pen, the Aerometric filler didn't require any levers, buttons, or pumps to work. Once you had unscrewed the barrel from the section, you were ready to fill the pen.
In addition to simplicity, the Aerometric filler had the advantage of durability. In fact, it is one of the few "vintage" pens that when found today, can be simply cleaned out and put back into use.
As you might imagine, this makes the Aerometric filler 51 a very popular pen among collectors. The lure of a pen that usually does not require complicated (or even simple!) restoration is hard to resist. The Aerometric 51 is probably the easiest way to get into vintage pens, and usually ends up very high on any list of "must haves" for the beginning collector.
The Flighter version of the 51 is simply your basic Aerometric filler 51, but with both the cap and barrel in Lustraloy steel. The Flighter proved to be a very popular model, and has lived on through Parker's history since, with models in the 61, 75, and Sonnet lines, among others. The Flighter was very popular for many reasons. It's good looking, of course, but was also first offered at a time when aviation was a very strong part of American culture. Commercial air travel was beginning to be an everyday reality for many Americans, and the idea of a pen with an aviation tie-in was hard to resist.
Today the Flighter 51 is a sought after version of the 51. For many reasons of course, probably almost as many reasons as there are collectors! But for the most part, it's relatively easy to see the appeal of this pen. It's got classic good looks, it's durable in use, and even better yet, can often be found "in the wild" ready to put into daily use with nothing more than a good cleaning. In addition to all these practical attractions, the Flighter 51 has historical significance, as the first all steel Parker pen, and is available in several versions, giving the "serious" collector several versions to accumulate.
My example is far from perfect, and in fact, would probably not appeal to the "serious" collector at all. But for an inveterate user, it's just right. The cap has a few slight dings, and of course there are quite a few scratches on the steel of the cap and barrel. Add in some brassing on the cap band and clip, and you're left with a pen that's far from "mint".
On the other hand, the nib is a nice, smooth broad tip, and it puts down a very wet line. Just perfect for my hand!
The 51 Flighter is a great pen, and whether you seek the perfect example to tuck away behind glass, or a workhorse to put in a pocket every day, you really cannot go far wrong with one!
copyright 2005 William Riepl