What follows here is really little more than a cursory examination of the various Parker pens bearing the name “Duofold”– there is after all a bloody great book devoted to the topic. Even in merely brushing the topic, I find I have to divide things into several sections:
- 1921 – 1933: The flat-topped first appearance
- 1939 – 1940: Did you pack your toothbrush?
- 1941 – 1948: Earning its stripes
- 1946 – c. 1971: The English side of the family
- c. 1948: Those crazy Canucks
- 1988 – Present: Atavism
The inital Duofold was, if legend is correct, an example of bottom-up creation; a salesman got a pen turned out of scrap red hard rubber for him at the factory, and it was so striking that everyone who saw it wanted one. True or not, the Duofold with its red body and black ends was a stand-out in a time of mainly black pens. Indeed, it was so much of a stand out that it also appeared in some markets in a more subdued brown colour until the popularity of the red (or “Scarlet” as Parker preferred) proved as popular as hoped.
A deeper mystery to the Duofold than its genesis is its name. It might be due to the two-tone colour pattern. It may be from the possibility of having it as a desk or pocket pen, since the conversion hinged mainly on the shape of the blind cap covering the filler button. It may be that the point was capable of leaving an impression through carbon paper. It may be that the pen could be converted to eyedropper filling in case of mechanism failure. It may have been named after George Parker’s favourite aircraft of the time. It may be something else entirely. There is a quite reasonable speculation at the bottom of this page, offering “Duo-” as a preferred marketing prefix of the day, used much as the suffixes “-matic” or “-tronic” would be in later decades. Inquiries to Parker in the recent past have provided nothing more than speculation; apparently if it was written down at the time, the memo has since been lost.
Apart from the colour, the Duofold was mainly a development from the existing line of “Jack Knife” pens that Parker had been producing for some years. A slightly larger point was applied to the Duofolds, as well as a larger price; $7.00, which brought with it a 25 year guarantee. The filler and feed remained the same, the latter being the “Lucky Curve” that Parker had been using since 1894.
Very shortly after introduction, the line grew some offshoots. The first year’s pens had no band on the cap, but in 1922 there was not only a band but a possible upgrade to a Deluxe Duofold with a very wide band. There was also a shorter Junior, also available in a Deluxe trim. By 1924, there was a Senior, Junior, Lady (with several subvariations of length, width and trim) and Special (long as a Senior, slim as a Junior), and one could have them in black or red.
With the introduction of plastics in 1925, the colour range of Duofolds expanded, sort of. Initially, there was a jade pen which was not officially a Duofold, and technically it was still only available in black and red. In 1927, not only was jade admitted to, but it was joined by lapis lazuli and yellow, and in 1928 by a black-shot pearl. In a very technical sense, 1928 was the last year for the first version of the Duofold, as in 1929 production began of a “streamlined” version of the pen (if my catalogues’ dates are right, that would have been for the 1930 model year). This amendment involves a very slight tapering of the cap from mouth to top, and a similarly slight tapering at the tail with the curve of the barrel continued through to the end of the blind cap. For my part, I don’t countenance this slight change as a call for a new chapter in this history. What marks the end of this chapter is the removal of the Duofold from production in 1933 to make way for the Vacumatic at the top of Parker’s heap. This is not to say that the pen ceased to be available then, as production continued outside the US for, in some cases, several years, and they continued to be available in the US as stocks of parts were used up.
Functionally, the first Duofolds are creatures of their time. The points are extremely nice, and they are extremely light pens for their size which allows prolonged use without fatigue. The Lucky Curve feed is not altogether reliable as a means of undoing flooding, and it really doesn’t do anything to prevent it from happening in the first place. One needs to pay some attention to the pen in a long write, lest it dribble on the page, although there is usually a warning in terms of how damp the writing is.
Production Run: 1921 – 1933 (more or less)
Cost When New: $7.00 initially, thereafter $5.00 to $10.00 depending on size, colour and trim and one could pay as much as $45.00 for a twin-mount desk base (for modern value, try this calculator).
- Senior– 13.9cm long capped, 17.4cm posted, 13.1 cm uncapped.
- Junior– 12.0 cm capped, 15.2 cm posted, 11.5 cm uncapped
- Lady (excluding mounting for ring)– 11.5 cm capped, 14.6 cm posted, 10.6 cm capped
Filler: Button, capacity approx. 1.2 ml (Senior), 0.9 ml (Junior)
For reasons one may only guess at, Parker reintroduced the Duofold to the model line-up in 1939, demoting the Challenger which had until that point been playing second fiddle to the Vacumatic. In point of fact, there is little to differentiate this pen from the one it replaced; in almost all particulars they are the same. However, there is one aspect in which they stand out: the colours. Apart from the black models, these pens bear a very odd set of markings, a repeated series of black… well, doodads. These markings give this era of Duofold two regularly applied nicknames, “Geometric” or “Toothbrush”, neither of which is quite there in describing what appears. They came in two sizes, Standard and Slender, the latter very similar to the Slender Challenger, but the former rather slimmer than the predecessor.
Another small advance over the previous Duofolds was a window in the section which would show when the pen was about to run out of ink. While new to Duofolds, this feature had been in Parkers for some years.
In quality terms, these are absolutely second-string Parker pens. The points are small, but extremely well-made, and the clips are a very plain relative to the confections on the Vacumatics.
Production Run: 1939 – 1940.
Cost When New: $3.50, either size (for modern value, try this calculator).
Size: Slender– 11.9cm long capped, 14.0cm capped.
Point: 14K gold
Filler: Button, capacity approx. 0.7 ml (Slender)
With the turn of the decade, Parker did away with the strange geometric Duofold and introduced a set of attractive longitudunally-striped bodies. These striped Duofolds came in two different fillers, the traditional button-filler of long use and the Vacumatic; pens with the latter sort are occasionally referred to as “Duovacs,” although in the catalogues they are called Sac and Sacless. In the button fillers, ink level continued to be indicated with a little section-window, while in the Vacumatic versions alternate stripes were transparent, showing the actual level of ink (meaning the black models were indeed striped). In this respect, they may be said to have caught up with the Sheaffers, which had been offering a similar combination of diverse fillers and ink monitoring since the early 1930s.
There was rather a lot of variation in size in this line in the first couple of years of the striped Duofolds, in keeping with what appears to have been Parkers policy at this time to provide a pen for every hand as well as every wallet. By 1942, the eight different sub-types were pared back to just a couple, and the initial double-jewel trim had also been reset to unadorned blind caps.
From the US point of view, this would be the last pattern for the Duofold, and when production ended the name would lay fallow for forty years. The rest of Parker’s global empire was, however, less willing to let the name go.
Production Run: 1940 – C. 1948
Cost When New: $2.95 to $8.95, depending on size and trim, in the initial assortment of levels; after 1941, with only two to choose from, they were $2.95 or $3.95 (for modern value, try this calculator).
- Standard Vacumatic– 13.5 cm long capped, 15.5 cm posted, 12.4 cm uncapped
- Standard Sac– 13.1 cm long capped, 15.5 cm posted, 12.1 cm uncapped
- Short Vacumatic– 12.1cm capped, 13.6 cm posted, 10.9 cm uncapped.
Point: 14K gold.
The dates on this chapter are a little misleading, as Duofolds had been made in England as early as 1930. They were, however, different only from the American-made examples of the “Streamline” early pattern in the colours available and the imprint on the body indicating where they were made. One might also make an argument for the division between UK and US Duofolds beginning in 1939 when the American side began with the Geometric models, but there is still the matter that the UK pens were mere continuations of the old form. In 1946, though, something interesting happened; the Newhaven plant designed a pen rather unlike anything being made in the US, stuck the Duofold New Style (or NS) name on it, and cranked out quantities for consumption only in the overseas market (from the US point of view).
These pens were shaped rather like early double-jewel Vacumatics, including the decoration on the cap bands and arrow clip, but came in solid colours. They were still button-filling pens. The button amended slightly in 1948, with the appearance of the aluminum filler as seen on the American VS, and the shape changed to that of the later Vacumatics with a rounded, unjeweled blind cap. This shape persisted with the switch to press-bar fillers in 1953, and would remain in place for more or less the rest of the model’s life.
There were several sub-sizes of this Duofold variant, as was so often the case, and these were not altogether consistent throughout the production run. The smallest, the Slimfold, is frequently considered a separate model entirely, and did not appear until 1961. The precise end of the run of the UK Duofolds is a little hard to pin down, as the “17” began its life as yet another variant, and there were some late appearances of the name on things that were more closely allied to the 45. One also finds items of similar shape made in France and Denmark; the former have 18K gold points, while the latter differ mainly in the markings on the barrel.
One of the few problems with these pens is a weak cap mouth– cracks are extremely common, although they are usually arrested by the band. These cracks are often very subtle, and require inspection under magnification or tactile searching to notice.
Production Run: 1946 – c. 1971
Cost When New: Pictures of a couple of Seniors from before the switch in fillers show a chalk-marked price of 37s. 11p. An advertisement from fairly late in the run shows the Maxima (which ousted the slightly smaller Senior in 1958) costing 50 shillings, the Junior 35 s., and the Slimfold 27s. 6d. (for modern value, try this calculator)..
- AF standard size: 13.0 cm long capped, 15.1 cm posted, 11.9 cm uncapped.
- Senior: 13.9 cm long capped, 15.7 cm posted, 12.8 cm uncapped.
- Junior: 13.2 cm long capped, 15.5 cm posted.
- Slimfold: 12.4 cm long capped, 14.5 cm posted. 11.3 cm uncapped.
Point: 14k gold.
This is the pen equivalent of an evolutionary effort that produced little lasting evidence, and what there is requires a lot of digging after; a sort of Homo floresiensis of pens. It appears to have been an exercise exclusively of the Canadian plant, and is somewhat inconsistent in its nature. The example I have is a very primitive item, with a flat piece of metal for a clip and a mere protrusion at the joint to provide friction to keep the cap in place. However, there are examples of a rather more splendid version, as seen in this thread on a pen forum, which seem to be more like a plastic-capped expression of the VS, but without that pen’s aluminum filler.
Whatever the motivation behind it is, it doesn’t seem to have caught on particularly, and I can’t recall having seen one with a date-code for any year other than 1948, but it did show up in the mighty T. Eaton’s catalogue at least as late as 1950.
Production Run (if we may call it that): c. 1948 – c. 1950
Cost When New: The 1950 Eaton’s catalogue offered it for $3.75 (which was about $3.50US; for modern value, try this calculator).
Size: 13.7 cm long capped, 15.1 cm posted, 12.4 cm uncapped.
Point: 14k gold.
Body: Some kind of plastic, but that’s as much as I dare say
Filler: Button, capacity approx. 0.8 ml
When the Parker company came into its Centennial, they chose to mark the event with more than a moderately fashionable pen, but also revived one of the great pens of the company’s past. The new Duofold was a conscious throwback to the old, with the flat-top styling of the original form. Apart from some rather odd choices of colour pattern, the easiest point of distinction between new and old is the use of a stylized arrow-clip in the new ones.
The modern Duofold comes in two different sizes, called Centennial and International. The reason for not just calling them “Standard” and “Slim” does not appear. Parker can be lauded from resisting the frequent urge in producing modern flagship pens to add weight to the pen just to add to the sense that one is carrying a substantial item. The section has a lot of brass in it, making these pens heavier than their vintage counterparts, but it is not a whole pen’s-worth of brass, and it keeps the point of balance well forward which is much more comfortable than a top-heavy pen.
Production Run: 1988 – present.
Cost When New: $500 and upwards.
Size: 13.7 cm long capped, 17.3 cm posted, 12.8 cm uncapped (Centennial model).
Point: 18k gold
Filler: Cartridge (1.4 ml) or converter.
If you are relying on the preceding information to win a bet or impress a teacher, you should read the site’s scholarly caveat. Remember, this is the internet, and it’s full of bad information.