The top and front sides of a Parker 51 ink box.
[Posted on L&P on Aug 3, 4, 6, 2005, and Feb 9, 2006, and on Pentrace on Mar 7, 2014.]
There has always been some confusion among pen collectors about the names of Parker’s “Quink”, “Super Quink”, “Double Quink”, “Parker 51”, and “Superchrome” inks. All the talk of different ink names was getting confusing, so I offered up the patent numbers for Superchrome, 1,932,248 and 2,528,390, issued to Gaylen H. Sayler. Olle Hjort also offered up US patent no. 2,489,463 by William B. Reynolds for an azo dye for a stable blue alkaline ink. Personally I think the names “Parker 51” and “Superchrome” are one and the same ink, for all intents and purposes, just under different names. Both are highly corrosive inks. They are basic, or caustic, or alkaline, which is just as bad as being acidic. They are both meant to be quick drying, but the second Sayler patent is also supposed to be less aggressive to the rubber parts of a pen by inhibiting the catalytic action of free copper radicals in the ink. “Quink”, as it says right in the name, was also marketed as a “Quick drying ink”, but was, however, relatively mild.
Now, what about the names “Super Quink” and “Double Quink”? I got the name “Super Quink” from a Parker patent list written up by Daniel Zazove, but I think it was a slip of the pen. He meant to write “Superchrome”. David & Mark Shepard’s book Parker “51” says on p.102 that Quink, the first ink developed by Gaylen Sayler, was launched in 1931. What might have thrown Daniel off was the fact that the first patent for Superchrome was also applied for in 1931. There are also pictures there of Double Quink ink bottles and boxes on p.102, and Super Quink ink bottles and boxes on p.104. The Shepherds also complicate matters further by revealing that Parker’s first alkaline ink was marketed in 1939 as “Double Quink”, but was renamed and repackaged as “Parker 51 Ink” in 1941 after the launch of their new pen. But Super Quink is actually just Quink in the cobalt-blue-glass, diamond-shaped ink bottles.
Quink with Sol-X is one of the safest and gentlest inks ever made. If you find an old bottle of this ink, it’s almost always good to use. It almost never has sediment, or Snot-In-The-Bottle, but make sure that it hasn’t dried out and thickened up. Sometimes if an ink is frozen, it can be spoiled. But otherwise it’s almost indestructible. It’s one of those vintage inks that Frank Dubiel swore by and recommended, along with Sheaffer’s Skip, and Waterman’s Washable Blue. Since Quink was mostly water, Frank used to say that you could drink it without any harm, except maybe for stained tongue and teeth. This is not true of the highly alkaline Superchrome and Parker 51 inks. You wouldn’t want to try the Frank Dubiel taste test with those inks. There is no patent for Quink because it’s so simple, and there’s nothing new there to patent. The only patent number for a non-alkaline ink such as Quink is Gaylen Sayler’s patent no. 1,972,395 for some formulas for brilliantly colored permanent inks.
But what is the mystery ingredient in Parker’s proprietary brand name Solv-X? I remember reading somewhere that the special ingredient in Quink might also be called “A-11”. Once when someone was visiting the Parker repair department in Janesville, he noticed a container with the label “A-11” sitting on a shelf. This was the secret ingredient that improved ink flow, “All” laundry detergent. Gaylen Sayler calls these wetting agents “flow promoters” in his patents. Solv-X, or “A-11”, was in Quink, but not in the other alkaline Parker inks. Quink has a fragrant, soapy smell because it has some sort of detergent in it. What we need to find out is whether Gaylen Sayler’s Parker Quink with Solv-X was ever patented.
Mark Z. wrote, “I’ve done a little research about whether Super Quink, and Double Quink, et al, were the same as regular Quink. In the electronic archives most of the direct questions about whether Quink and Super Quink were the same went unanswered, but something by Naphtali Hoffman turned up in the Zoss archives. “Super Quink and New Quink are Quink. Parker actually created a great marketing story many years ago when it introduced “New Quink” while regular Quink was still on the market. You guessed it, they were the identical inks at different prices. Parker was trying to determine the price elasticity of demand for its ink. I recall the case being cited in an old edition of a textbook in Intermediate Microeconomics out of which I once taught. Sadly, I have discarded the text”. Unless someone else has a better source, I think this takes Super Quink and New Quink out of the mix.”
And I wrote, “If we could only finish the documentation of this by finding Naphtali’s obscure reference to that “old edition of an Intermediate Microeconomics text”. So Super Quink and New Quink = Quink, and Double Quink and Parker 51 Ink = Superchrome.”
Matt McColm wrote, “Here’s an eyewitness account of the special ingredient called “A-11”. Quoting from Vincent Fatica’s website, “A-11” was used to condition Parker 61 fillers. “If ever the term “gentleman” were appropriate, it was appropriate to describe Bob Jones and Romain Brunett. In 1980-81, I was fortunate to live in Chicago, which is a couple hours from Janesville.
I visited Parker’s customer service department several times, and the folks there were delighted that someone took so great an interest in pens. Bob Jones was manager of the customer services department. He would take me into his office where he’d show me the manuals for the various Parker instruments and tell stories as he made a list of the parts I needed. Romain Brunett was the chief repairman and had been so for a long time. He would take me to the work-benches, show me the tools and techniques, and occasionally let me in on a “secret” or two. My favorite was the “A-11” secret solution with which they would condition the 61 fillers so that they would more readily accept ink when they were returned to the customer. On a shelf near the work area was a canister of crystals, unceremoniously labelled “A-11”. In it was, and here’s the secret, “All” laundry detergent. Both gentlemen are now deceased, but I remember them with much affection.” Detergents, which act as wetting agents and emulsifiers, were first introduced during WWI, and were an advance over lye soap for cleaning. Solv-X was probably a detergent [or wetting agent,
or some other sort of surfactant that Parker added to their ink to make it flow better, but not necessarily “All” laundry detergent].”
And I wrote, “Thanks for jogging my memory, Matt. I knew I had seen that story somewhere.
There weren’t that many pen websites in the early days of online pen research, and I used to visit Vince Fatica’s website a lot in the early 1990s, when I just started getting online. Early on, it was one of the few scholarly pen websites around. Another one at the time was Tony Fischier’s Parker and Montblanc Penography website. [Here are two earlier versions on wayback.] It’s nice to see that these sites are still around today.” [And now it’s ten years later, and they’re still around!]