The first time I ever saw a Parker Vacumatic was three years ago, at Prof. Butch Dalisay‘s house, during Fountain Pen Network-Philippines‘ first anniversary. Butch (“penmanila” on FPN) and another member, George, displayed their collections of Vacumatic models in different colors and vintages. Now I’m not much of a Parker girl (more of a Sheaffer one), but I thought it would be nice to have at least one of these iconic fountain pens. I ended up with three vacumatic-filler pens.
Parker Vacumatics were manufactured from the 1930s-40s as a fashionable alternative to its Duofold line. Parker created a modern new filler system to complement the pen’s beautifully translucent body of clear and pearlescent celluloid. (The pearly stripes on the Vacumatic remind me of a city skyline at night.) The Vacumatic came in several different sizes and colors. One removed the blind cap at the end of the pen, placed the nib end into an ink bottle, and depressed a plunger several times to suck up ink into a rubber diaphragm inside the barrel.
My first was a Golden Pearl Vacumatic Debutante from the second quarter of 1940 – a small ladies’ pen. It came with a matching pencil, which fits a 0.9mm lead. The lady in this case was someone named “Esther M. C. Ward”. In my romantic imaginings Esther must have been either a teacher or a nurse. The pen was missing a bottom tassie (metal fitting). The nib probably started out as a fine, but had been worn down to a medium. It had lots of feedback, as if someone experimented on grinding the nib with low-grit sandpaper and inadvertently wore an an angled foot in the remaining tipping. I ended up taking my 12k grit micromesh to it and polished the rough edges carefully. Now it writes a consistent line without making scritchy noises, which used to annoy me so much I at first regretted getting it. Now I feel better about using it more often. I never thought I’d have much use for the propelling pencil, but I ended up using it regularly – sometimes more often than the pen!
My second is a standard-sized Azure Blue Pearl from the second quarter of 1945, with a semiflex medium nib (most probably Canadian-made, but I’m not sure). I got it from my friend Carl, who sold it because he realized his tastes ran to more modern pens. Another girl had had her eye on it, but decided not to get it at the last minute. At the time I acquired it, I realized it was a wet writer. It remained unused for several months because the paper of my journal at the time couldn’t handle wet, wide-nibbed pens – ink would feather or bleed through. Recently I started using a new journal with more fp-friendly paper (the local Yeah! brand notebooks, available in National Bookstore). I decided to fill up the Azure Blue Pearl with some J. Herbin Vert Olive ink, and realized they’re a good match. The color, considered a novelty for its lightness, came out a darker olive because of the nib’s wet springiness. Writing with it is a pleasure.
My last pen for this blog entry is a Parker 51 Demi with a Vacumatic-filling system. It’s a frankenpen, a gift from Bleubug, whose considerable repair talents include creating usable writers out of ersatz pen parts rolling around in his cabinet. This lady’s name is “Josephine E. O’ Hara”, aka “Demistein”, and she’s grey, blue and maroon. She’s part of an array of well-loved frankenpens Bleubug has created for his friends in FPN-Philippines. Demistein is a broad-nibbed pen. On my first use I stupidly filled it with Waterman Purple, only to discover that purple inks (and red ones) took forever to clean out of vacumatic-fillers. One day I just stopped flushing it with water and let it dry, and vowed I’d use friendly colors next time. I’ve since used grey (Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same) and orange (J. Herbin Orange Indien) inks to delightful effect. It sort of writes like a Sharpie, but using nice shading colors I can journal with it. No more dark colors in this one!
My pens are daily users, not display cabinet queens. They have faint use scratches and sometimes a ding or two. I try polishing them now and then, but I’m not fussed about it. What matters is that they write.
Vacumatics can be had on eBay from USD 50 and up, depending on whether or not the pen has been restored to full working order. Do your research first, there are different fountain pen forums and online sites sharing lots of information. As with most vintage pens, if you want to avoid the hassle of sending a pen out for restoration and repair, it’s probably safer to buy it from a local collector, who can let you try it out before you buy, or from overseas collectors at the FPN Marketplace or the Pentrace Green Board.