February 25, 2015

Trench Pens, and Pompeian Orange

[Posted on L&P on Feb 10, 2006 and Feb 21, 2006.]
        Parker’s “Trench Pen” is an eyedropper pen that fills, as most do, at the section-end of the barrel.  The blind-cap-end is not drilled out and is not able to receive a button-filling mechanism, and the blind cap is especially long because it is meant to hold a few solid ink tablets.  That’s another feature that Parker promotes to the boys in battle, and is advertized in the ads in another up-coming post in this blog about button fillers, twist fillers, and the duo-fold filler.  This ink-tablet pen had nothing to do with converting a button filler as an eyedropper, but was marketed in parallel with the
duo-filler conversion feature.  The “Trench Pen” does, however, have some features in common with the early Duofold, so here are a couple of pictures to illustrate these features.  This picture of a BHR Giant “Trench Pen” demonstrates the early “Lucky Curve” threads that the first Duofolds also had.  These threads are not compatible with the later Duofolds.  But the picture of the RHR version of the pen is the really interesting one.  This pen sold on Ebay in 2003, and the image is very low resolution.  The pen had a broken cap, so a very proficient pensmith made a replacement cap from a RHR Duofold Jr.  The RHR material in the Duofold was a much brighter orange color, so that’s why there is a color difference between the cap and barrel.  This pen is a perfect example of the difference in color between the earlier, darker RHR that Parker used in the Lucky Curve era, and the later, brighter orange color they used in the Duofold era.  In fact, that darker shade is probably the color of the Pompeian Brown Duofold.  It’s not as brown as one would expect from the name, so maybe it’s time that we started calling it Pompeian Burnt Orange.
        Rob Astyk said that at a pen show two years earlier he saw a Parker trench pen owned by Stephen Overbury that was the negative image of the “Pompeian Orange” model with a black barrel and cap and RHR Jack-Knife Safety inner cap and ink pellet container.  He went on to say that it is worth noting that, “The Trench pens were made on the same machines that turned the Parker button fillers of the era.  The only differences being the longer blind cap on the barrel end, and the fact that the barrel is not bored through between the ink chamber and the blind cap”.
        At about the same time, Parker also had a Nurse’s Pen that had a BHR cap and barrel, but with RHR tips, or ends.  An example of the pen from the Parker Archives was on display at the visit to the Parker Archives and factory in 1991.  I might also add that the RHR ends on this Nurse’s Pen are probably some further examples of this
Pompeian Orange color.
        And John Danza wrote, “First, I must say sorry for the long post, but that this is a favorite subject of mine.  This pen is not just a button filler with the hole not bored through.  The diameter of the threaded portion on the barrel that the blind cap meets up with is considerably larger than that same piece on the button fill Jack Knife Safety #20 pens.  The blind cap of the trench pen goes right over the top of the regular button fillers without coming close to engaging the threads.  What I’ve been able to learn from Mike Fultz and from various Parker publications is that the Trench pen was made between mid-1916 and 1918.  The
1918 catalog is the last time that it appears.  While it’s cataloged specifically as “The Trench Pen”, none were ever marked as such, and instead have the normal Jack Knife Safety markings.  There was also an information page that was printed in Pen World, July-August 1996, p.60, with a picture of an actual Black Giant Trench pen.  Talk about large!  This thing probably required a whole container of tablets to fill it.  This picture came from Fultz, but I don’t know whose collection the pen came from.  This is one of those unique combinations in collecting, a rarity layered upon a rarity.  There are so few Trench pens of any style known that to lump one in with a Giant is pretty exciting.  All that’s left is to find a Red Giant Trench!  Okay, I’ll stop dreaming now.  According to Fultz there are no known versions of this pen with a RHR blind cap.  All the known RHR trench pens have BHR blind caps.  If that pen Rob saw did have one, it would be a first”.  You call that a long post?  You should see some of the other posts around here.  Fultz also had an article about Trench pens on Penbid, which is now archived in the Wayback Machine.  And here’s a picture of one of his Parker BHR Giant Trench pens.
        Rob said that he saw the pen for only a few minutes, but he believed that what he saw was a Trench Pen in BHR with RHR ends.  Then he added, “As an aside, I always wondered why Parker didn’t produce a BHR Duofold with RHR ends as a standard model, simply reversing the standard Duofold pattern instead of the all-black, it’s-only-a-Duofold-because-it’s-in-the-imprint variety.  

I figure that it has something to do with the relative weakness of RHR parts and the strength required for the end pieces, but that’s only a guess”.
        I thanked John for posting the extra info and pictures because I noticed that the pen illustrated in the 1918 catalogue had a different type of ink-tablet compartment.  Instead of a blind-cap compartment, the compartment was inside the end of the barrel.  And the blind cap is reduced to a barrel-end plug that screws into the internal barrel-end threads, instead of onto the external threads of a button-filler remnant.  So there are two different styles of the Parker Trench Pen, and many different sizes to find.  It all makes for a very interesting sub-collection.  David Nishimura said he had never seen a Trench pen with the alternative end plug arrangement, and wondered whether any were known.  John also said that he thought it was unlikely that this variation of the storage style was ever produced.
        However, after I reread the Fultz article on Penbid cited above it looked like Rob’s memory might not have been deceiving him after all.  Fultz writes, “Parker’s advertising indicated that he had given a large quantity of these Trench Pens to the American troops sent to France.  The ads said that those pens were black but had the blind caps holding the ink tablets made of red hard rubber.  It is unclear whether Parker ever got his pen gifts to the troops, or if so, whether they actually had red blind caps.  Parker Trench Pens are quite rare today, and none of the existing pens seen by the author has a red blind cap.  In fact, the Trench Pen in the factory archives is made of red hard rubber but has a black blind cap”.  So the Trench Pen in black with red ends should exist after all.  Now, can anybody find some of those ads?  In the meantime, here’s a modern BHR Giant Trench pen with RHR ends recreated by
Chris Thompson.  And for good measure, here are two pictures of a RMHR version, picture 1, and picture 2.

George Kovalenko.