April 10, 2014

The Pompeian Brown Duofold

[Posted on L&P on Mar 11, 2011.]
        [This article was originally placed online on the Pentrace homepage, Pentrace article #292, and was later revised and updated and placed on Ron Dutcher’s Lionandpen homepage.  The latter website is now down, and that version of the article is now available only on The Wayback Machine, minus some of the images.  Some discussion of the Pompeian Brown Duofold a while back on the Pentrace message board afforded me the chance to further update and revise the article with some additions and corrections, and to archive it and give it a new home here.]

 A later bandless Duofold, image by Len Provisor.

Some of you may be aware of the story of the early advertising strategy, merchandising campaign, and sales drive used by the Parker Pen Co. to introduce the Duofold in 1922.  The official story is that Parker decided to first test the pen in the Chicago area in the spring of 1922 using a combination of saturation marketing techniques.  If successful, they would then repeat the technique in other cities.  Salesmen armed with supplies of the pens and advertising ephemera visited those stores which did not have the pen in stock yet.  They postered the area with Duofold ads and placed advertisements in the Chicago Tribune in a certain sequence.  In those days, a newspaper page was much larger than it is today, and the first promotion was a large 800-line ad that took up two-thirds of the newspaper page.  This ad featured some Duofold copy, beneath which was a long list of all the stores in the area that stocked the pen.  This advertisement ran once in the first week of the campaign, thereafter followed by two 360-line ads each week for 3 weeks, and one 360-line ad each week for 8 weeks.  By the fifth ad in the third week, there was such a surge in sales that Parker didn’t wait to complete the Chicago trial before he went ahead with similar campaigns in New York and fourteen other major US cities.  So the story goes.
        This was the official version put out by the Parker Pen Co.  Explaining that fifty to sixty “universities and colleges offering courses in Advertising and Merchandising requested behind-the-scenes information” about the company’s Duofold ad campaign, their Advertising Department issued a booklet titled “Advertising & Merchandising Campaign On The Parker Duofold Fountain Pen, and An Analysis Of The Parker Duofold Copy”.  Here are some of the 
images and an OCR version of the text, placed online in 2000 by Paul Locasto.  The Chicago campaign was laid out in great detail in that booklet for future pen collectors to find, but it wasn’t the first campaign.  It was already a second campaign because there was a definite earlier phase.  Even if not a campaign, this earlier period was at least a first effort to introduce and test the Duofold on the market.
        If you look at the actual ads that appeared in the Tribune, another version of the story emerges.  After Lewis Tebbel made his proposal to the company for the design of this new pen in early 1921, a batch of prototypes was made up for him to sell in his sales area, Spokane and Seattle, Washington.  More batches were made up for him, and when he and other salesmen sold well over 12,500 Duofolds, Parker decided to test the pen in a larger market area.  The test area chosen was Chicago, but it happened in November and December of 1921.  And the first Duofold ad to appear was not in the Tribune, but actually a modest ad in The Saturday Evening Post, November 5, 1921, p.79.  The magazine page at that time consisted of four columns of text or advertising space, and the first Duofold ad consisted of one column only.  The pen in this ad was described as having a “red brown barrel”.  In “Proxy”, a newsletter for salesmen, in the August 4, 1921 issue, George Parker referred to the color of the pen as “maroon”.  Now, I would not describe an early red hard rubber Duofold as “red brown”, or “maroon”, so something curious is going on here.  Then a series of more-traditionally-shaped rectangular ads appeared in the Tribune between November 19 and December 22 that year, and all of them use the phrases “rich Pompeian brown”, or “red brown”, in the ad copy.  These are the ads familiar from the Glen Bowen book, which reproduces two of them, but I found five different versions of these ads.  There was another ad in The Post on December 10, this one also using the phrase “Pompeian Brown”, and then no more ads appeared for a while.
        In fact, the phrase “Pompeian Brown” appears only three times in all those ads, and one of those ads is an exact repetition of a previous ad.  So that’s just two unique uses of the phrase up to that time, a dis legomenon, a word that occurs only twice in the recorded corpus of a given language, and just one too many to be a hapax legomenon.  All that fuss from just two uses of the term!  Within a few years of the introduction of the Duofold, the Moore Pen Co. also had pens in a red-brown, terracotta color that were referred to as “Tuscan Red” and “Maroon”.  Another interesting point in all these Parker ads is that the Duofold was also advertised as “the patrician of all fountain pens”, thus preceding the Waterman’s pen of the same name by almost a decade.  Later in the 1920s, in the plastic era, Parker had a sub-brand pen called the “Patrician” that was available in a brown plastic.  It was a pen that looked exactly like a Duofold, but it was not the same thing at all.

Listing for the trademark after being filed, but before being issued.

        One thing that’s conspicuous by its absence in all these ads is the phrase “resembles Chinese red lacquer”.  Another missing element in the ads is the image of the familiar Scarlet Tanager with outstretched wings, and the line “Rivals the beauty of the Scarlet Tanager”, or “the black-tipped redbird”.  All of these design elements and lines of ad copy appear only in the ads from spring 1922.  The next Duofold ad to appear was the 800-line ad in the Tribune, March 27, 1922, p.13.  It lists over 150 stores where the pen is available, but the “Pompeian Brown” color is nowhere to be found in the ad.  Instead, the “Chinese Lacquer Red” color replaces it.  It even goes so far as to say, “Note how soft [is] this shade of Chinese-red”.  Now, that’s the orange-red color that we are all familiar with! Parker had two earlier large red hard rubber pens that preceded the Duofold, the #28 and the “Red Giant”, but they experienced a lot of cap breakage with these pens.  Could they have been apprehensive about using the same bright red hard rubber when they first test-marketed the Duofold, and so released it first in that darker red-brown shade?  Visconti chose a darker shade of red hard rubber for their Alhambra for the same reason.  They thought it might be a stronger hard rubber because of the inclusion of some black pigment in the mix.  Could it be that somewhere between December 1921 and March 1922 Parker switched to a brighter orange rod stock?  And could it be that all the Pompeian pens date to that early marketing period in mid-to-late 1921?  Or did they continue making the two colors concurrently well into 1922-23?
        After this large ad, there was a series of smaller ads that appeared in the Tribune, one every few days from March 30 to June 13.  As a punctuation mark to end this series, a small postage-stamp-sized Duofold ad appeared in the Tribune on June 30.  It was not an official Parker Pen Co. ad, but was part of the jumble of mixed-product ads included in the large half-page ad for Walgreen’s Drug Stores in Chicago.  That’s how quickly the pen had passed into the area of commonly advertised products.  At the same time, there were one-column ads in The Post on April 22, May 6, and June 3, but then no ad in the July issue.  Something big was being prepared, the first full, one-page ad for the Duofold!  This was an ad for the large-format magazines such as The Post and Collier’s in the US, and MacLean’s in Canada, but downsized versions of these ads were also placed in such small-format magazines as National Geographic.  The ad made its debut in the August 26 issue of The Post, and a one-page, or two-page Duofold ad was to appear every month for the next 11 years, until the appearance of the Vacumatic in March 1933.
        Before 1921, Parker had a very low market share, around 15 to 20 percent of all pen sales, mostly because their product line consisted of over 400 different models in many sizes, and their production facilities were too diversified.  After the success of the Duofold, however, their market share soared to around 50 to 60 percent, and their product lines shrank to about 100 different models.  The Duofold was so successful that any company that wanted to survive had to have a Duofold look-alike, a red pen with black tips.  Waterman’s already had an all-red pen, but it was only in this era that the color was marketed as “Cardinal”, and in 1923, it came out with its red and black “Ripple” line of pens to compete with the Duofold.  Morrison had its “Tourist”, and Conklin its “Duragraph”, and Eclipse and every other no-name brand had to have a red-and-black pen in order to compete.
       The Parker Pen Co. filed an application for a trademark for the word “Duofold” on January 14, 1922, and received trademark no. 155,044 for the word only on May 16, 1922.  The Statement And Declaration for the trademark claims that the word was first used September 1, 1921.  They also applied for a trademark for the red-black color scheme on May 23, 1922, and received trademark no. 163,481 (Serial no. 164,344) on October 17, 1922.  The description of this mark in the index to the trademarks reads in part, “[The] Trade mark consists of a fountain pen having a red body portion and two black end portions”, and states that this color scheme was in use since August 25, 1921.  Now, if the claims can be taken for fact, then the filing dates came much later than the first uses, and much closer to the time when the Duofold started to skyrocket, and all the competitors and imitators and scavengers came out of the woodwork.  They applied for the name-trademark earlier as part of the normal course of giving their new product a name, but the later color-trademark came about in response to the mimics, and the plagiarists, and the rip-off artists.  Big money was at stake, so they had to act quickly, and they weren’t just “folding around”.

A Duofold pen without the “DUOFOLD” imprint on the barrel, image by Rob Morrison. 

        What I have been calling the “Pompeian Duofold” and “Tebbel’s Duofold” is just shorthand for the pen produced for Tebbel as a prototype, before it went into mass production as the Duofold.  The bandless version of the Duofold is the one that most closely resembles Tebbel’s ideal pen, but while talking with machinist and pensmith Lynn Sorgatz about this issue, he added an interesting last distinguishing feature to the checklist of early Duofold characteristics.  He mentioned that, along with the other distinguishing details, the pitch of the cap thread on the early Lucky Curve pens was completely different than the thread of the production Duofolds.  The two thread patterns are completely incompatible.  And that last detail might just turn out to be the cinching characteristic of Tebbel’s brainchild.  If a red hard rubber #26 Lucky Curve pen with black hard rubber tips shows up, one with a Manifold #6 Lucky Curve nib, with a bandless cap with the correct “Jack Knife Safety” imprint, with no “Duofold” imprint on the barrel above the “Parker Lucky Curve” imprint, and with a thread pattern that’s incompatible with other later Duofolds, then we’ll know that it’s the real thing, no matter what color it is, whether orange or brown.  I don’t really care what color it turns out to be.  I would just prefer it if it were a bright orange color rather than brown.  In fact, the two colors that really need to be distinguished are the later Vulcafor Orange Duofold color and the earlier slightly darker red color of the rodstock used in such pens as the eyedropper and Jack Knife Safety pens of the pre-Duofold era.  The difference in color is almost imperceptible.
        “Fragly, Scarlid Tanager, I dode gib a dab” about Pompeian Brown pens.  I have come to the conclusion, and it is just an opinion, that the color of the rod stock used to make those prototypes was probably not brown, because Parker had never used anything like that brown color in their previous inventory of pens.  They probably just used any old brittle red rod stock that was lying around unused in their warehouse.  It’s just that the myth of the brown “Patrician” has dragged a red herring, or rather, a stinky old pompeian-brown herring, across the trail of the Pompeian Duofold, and now everyone expects there to be a brown Duofold as well.  The pen was probably the same color as the other red hard rubber pens that Parker was already producing before the Duofold, pens such as the “Red Giant” and the other special-order filigree pens from the late 1890s, and early 1900s and 1910s.  This color was slightly darker than the Duofold, but only marginally so.  It was still a bright red color, even if not yet the later bright orange Duofold color, but it was almost certainly not brown.  Perhaps all the pens were orange right from the start, but the ad department chose to call the color “Pompeian Brown”, likening it to the color of clay tiles, and it should more rightly be called “Pompeian Orange”.  And perhaps the early public that was exposed to those early ads kept asking why the pens were not brown, and the model shop was prevailed upon to do some tests with a darker color, but that color just didn’t fly when they tested the product with the public.  Let me also add that if the Duofold had been released in that brown color exclusively, it would never have caught on, not to the extent that the orange pen had.
        Starting off in black and white, the Duofold ads very quickly became two-tone ads, with the pens pictured in red and the ad copy accentuated and highlighted with red details. And when the celluloid colors came out, the ads were in full color.  Some months it was a two page spread, and during 1926 and 1927 the ads appeared regularly every two weeks.  The ads came back to black and white only in the Depression, and only became lackluster in the last year of its production while the Vacuum Filler, later the Vacumatic, was being developed and prepared for release.  But what a glorious run the Duofold had!

Early Duofold Ads.

“First Series”, 1921.
1. Saturday Evening Post, Nov 5, 1921, p.79.
2a. Chicago Tribune, Nov 19, p.4.
2b. Ch. Trib., Dec 5, p.2, same ad repeated.
3. Ch. Trib., Nov 24, p.12.
4. Ch. Trib., Dec 1, p.2.
5a. Ch. Trib., Dec 8, p.4.
5b. Ch. Trib., Dec 12, p.10, same ad repeated.
5c. Ch. Trib., Dec 15, p.6, same ad repeated.
6. Sat. Ev. Post, Dec 10, p.46.
7a. Ch. Trib., Dec 19, p.4.
7b. Ch. Trib., Dec 22, p.10, same ad repeated.
Ch. Trib., Nov ?, 1921, in Glen Bowen’s book, p.42, repeats the graphic with different ad copy.

“Second Series”, 1922.
8. Ch. Trib., Mar 27, 1922, p.13, large ad.
9. Ch. Trib., Mar 30, p.10.
10. Ch. Trib., Apr 3, p.12.
11. Ch. Trib., Apr 7, p.16.
12. Ch. Trib., Apr 10, p.14.
13. Ch. Trib., Apr 13, p.6.
14. Ch. Trib., Apr 18, p.15.
15. Sat. Ev. Post, Apr 22, p.46, strip ad.
16. Ch. Trib., Apr 25, p.3.
17. Ch. Trib., May 2, p.14.
18. Sat. Ev. Post, May 6, p.133, strip ad.
19. Ch. Trib., May 9, p.2.
20. Ch. Trib., May 16, p.6.
21. Ch. Trib., May 24, p.4.
22. Ch. Trib., June 1, p.2.
23. Sat. Ev. Post, June 3, p.53, strip ad.
24. Ch. Trib., June 6, p.5.
25. Ch. Trib., June 13, p.4.
26. Ch. Trib., June 30, p.7, Walgren’s Drugstore ad.
27. Sat. Ev. Post, Aug 26, p.31, full-page color ads start, etc.

The Duofold ad numbered 2a.

Addenda and Corrigenda.
        Any pen that purports itself to be an original Parker Pompeian Duofold has to fulfill certain requirements.  It has to be from one of the first batches of Duofolds made, and that means that it has to have been made in 1921.  That also means that it can’t have a cap band, because the cap with the narrow band known as the “Gold Girdle” wasn’t released until the middle of 1923.  The first ad for a Duofold with this cap band appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Aug 25, 1923, p.87.  So any pen with a narrow cap band is automatically suspect.  The pen must also be made of hard rubber.  There were some dark red plastic pens made by Parker in the late 1920s that had the narrow cap band.  This pen was not imprinted as a “Duofold”, but was sold as a “Patrician”.  I have seen some of these pens at pen shows, and some owners have claimed that they are Pompeian Duofolds, but they clearly aren’t.  There are also some other distinctive features that must be present. The first pens had “Lucky Curve” #6 nibs, because Parker hadn’t prepared the correct die to imprint the nibs with the “Duofold” name.  The Duofolds were the size of a #26 “Jack Knife Safety”.  The threads on the barrels were raised, the same as those on the early “Jack Knife Safety” Lucky Curve pens.  The threads were not flush with the barrel, and were a different pitch that was incompatible with those on the Duofolds that came out just a few months later.  And lastly, the pens did not have the “DUOFOLD” imprint on the barrel, and did have a large “Jack Knife Safety” imprint on the cap.  All these features must be present.  Nothing else can pass as a first-issue Duofold, Pompeian or otherwise.
        You must understand that my article was written in 2003, well before the Duofold book was published.  I updated and revised the article, and placed it on Ron Dutcher’s website, but even that article now needs to be revised in light of my correspondence with David Shepherd before and after he published his book.  He told me privately that the authors of the book no longer believe that the Duofold was ever placed on the market in that dark color.  The only examples of the pen in this dark color that have been found so far are all in the Parker Archives, and none of them are complete pens.  They are all missing their nibs and feeds, and some have no sections, which is why they are never shown with their caps posted on the barrel end.  They are merely examples of what the pen would have looked like in that darker color, but they were probably not produced in any number.  It is highly improbable that even a single sizeable run of the pen in that dark color was ever produced and placed on the market.  Many strange pens, however, have come out of the Parker model shop, and there may be stray, isolated examples out there in pen collections that somehow made their way out of the Parker Archives.  Here’s a picture of some of the RHR pens in the Parker Archives with a Pompeian Brown pen placed diagonally across the tray of lighter orange pens for contrast.

Prototype pens from the Parker Archives.

[Posted on L&P on Dec 6, 2005, and added on Jan 14, 2016.]
        I agree with those who say the whole issue is still very much up in the air until a complete brown hard rubber pen shows up in the wild.  Mark Silvert said that he knows of “2 or 3” of the early Duofolds that are reputedly from the initial trial run.  What I’d like to know is what color they are, dull orange, or bright orange.  Those are the only two alternatives.  There’s no possibility that they’re brown.  Rick Krantz wasn’t far off when he said, “Maybe the next in-vogue thing will be to try and differentiate between Duofolds that are ‘Chinese Red’ and those that are ‘Scarlet Tanager’”, because of the major change in the colorants used in the hard rubber Duofolds.  The early Duofold hard rubber was colored with the traditional heavy-metal colorants, and the later Duofold hard rubber was colored with the synthetic dye Vulcafor Orange.  That’s what I meant by dull orange and bright orange earlier, so maybe we can dub those “Chinese Red” and “Scarlet Tanager”, respectively.  And as for the brown hard rubber prototypes in the Parker archives, for all I care, they can call them “Illudium Fozdex, the shaving cream atom”.  I give up on Duofolds.  I’m going to stick to
all-red pens.  The Duofold has all those black bits that dilute the all-red look.

George Kovalenko.


The controversy continues.