Parker was a pen-maker, and as much as I am a partizan of fountain pens I have to occasionally admit that other sorts of pen exist. Occasion arises when considering Parker, because they did an a couple of unusual things with their entry into the world of the ball-point.
The first unusual thing they did was to utterly eschew the ball-point bandwagon that passed through Penville in 1945. This was a conscious decision, it seems, as Kenneth Parker responded to Time Magazine’s questioning of this unexpected behaviour thus:
I sort of resent being charged with napping, the evidence being that Parker Pen has not brought out a ball pen [TIME, May 13]. It’s like charging you with napping because the Curtis Publishing Co. brought out a magazine called Holiday and you didn’t. Maybe you didn’t want to.
Earnings, I think, are still the best way to show how you’re doing, and the box score in the pen business for the 12 -month period ending Feb. 28, 1946 was: Net Earnings Before Taxes After Taxes Parker $7,3O1,548.72 $2,331,682.99 Eversharp 5,602,444.56 1,805,444.56 Sheaffer 1,606,946.43 847,460.14 Others Unknown but smaller As long as two years ago, our management realized (between naps) that we could make a quick fast bulge in sales and profits by marketing a ball pen. You don’t have to be the seventh son of a seventh son to sell things in a tailwind market, even a pen which has been described as “the only pen that will make eight copies and no original.” If & when Parker brings out a ball pen it won’t resemble anything now on the market.
This is not the first time the Parker Pen Co. has turned thumbs down on making a lot of easy money. We voluntarily produced many millions of dollars’ worth of munitions on a no-profit basis. It’s things like that maybe that enable one to take a nap without bad dreams. Also, we want to stay in business another 58 years
As that bandwagon very shortly thereafter caught fire and drove into a swamp, horribly injuring many of the riders, Kenneth appears to have had the right end of the stick on this matter.
However, there was an inevitablility to the ball-point, and Parker did research a way to make a good one. This included a positive means of retraction, having observed Sheaffer get in trouble with a pencil-style twist mechanism (shortly thereafter replaced with a fountain-style cap). This was a button at what I will call the tail of the pen, being most distant from the writing end. The interior mechanism was such that the cartridge rotated with each activation, making for more even ink distribution and ball-wear; since writing has rather more up-down that side-to-side in it, previous ballpoints saw the balls become oval and then stop working altogether when the newly-made long axis fell into the hole the ball rode in.
There was one other big step forward in the Jotter, or rather in its cartridge, and that is the ball itself. While the earliest versions relied on the rotation of wear for reliability, in 1957 a “T-Ball” was introduced. The T might stand for a couple of things; it was made of tungsten, which is an extremely hard metal, and it was textured for better traction on paper and better transport of ink-goo.
One more point about the Jotter that saw it to broad acceptance; Parker did not ask the world for one. While the first round of ball-points had been ferociously expensive shells for rather expensive cartridges, the first Jotter (with a vinyl barrel) cost $2.95. That’s roughly $24 in 2011 terms, but given the $7.00 and upward Sheaffer had been asking in 1949, it’s still a step in the right direction.
I am second to few in my distain of ball-points, but I will admit that the Jotter is a sterling example of decent design. I appreciate that they have stuck with the same cartridge design from the very beginning, so that (in a fountain pennish way) not the whole pen has to be discarded when the ink runs out. Since introduction, the Jotter mechanism has found its way into a lot of different housings, some of them rather expensive, and while I can’t say I approve of the physical requirements or the inherently wasteful nature of the ball-point, my socialist portions slightly tingle at the notion that the user of a Jotter in name is getting the same feeling out of the pen as someone using a more expensive barrel.
Production Run: 1954 – present.
Size: Standard Jotter- 12.9 cm long retracted, 13.2 cm deployed.