March 31, 2016

The Parker ‘Thrift-time’

  , and the Parker Duofold Family.


        In an earlier post I hinted that, “While I was looking at the 1930-35 Eaton’s catalogues, I had found some Canadian listings for the Parker depression pens, including one for the ‘Thrift-time’, which got me thinking about those pens as well, and I thought maybe I’d take up that topic again in a post here, later”.  Well, here it is, and again, I hope these are just the facts.
        Something has been bothering me for years, now, and I have to make my apologies for it.  In September 2004, there was a discussion on Pentrace about various Parker depression pens.  In the years since then, I noticed a curious thing in the listings for depression pens on Ebay and on other pen websites.  There has been a rash of misuse of the word “Thrift-time pens”, everywhere I look.  That name, or some variation of the spelling, is being used as a synonym for “depression pens”.  I hate to say it, but some of the well-respected dealers on Ebay are some of the guilty ones.  In an Ebay auction for a “Premiere” set, Henry Gostony used the name “Thrift Time”.  He’s not the only one, though, just one I don’t mind teasing a bit.  But that misuse of the word was not my intended end result, so let me revisit the whole issue again, and reappraise, and revise, and restate my stand on these types of pens.  A few of the people on Pentrace took me too task about this, but I don’t want to name names because I don’t want to rattle their chains, and pick a fight, and wage that war all over again.
        I asked whether a pen I bought at an auction was a Duofold, or a depression pen, in spite of the fact that it had the BHR tips and washer clip of a typical Parker Duofold, or such lesser models as the Moire, Pastel, and True Blue.  Vance Koven called these latter pens “Sub-Duofoldoids”, an appropriate name.  The grey pearl with red flecks color is the same as Waterman’s “Steel Quartz”.  Parker and Waterman were both members of a cartel that purchased, cured, and provided plastic stock to the industry, so the color was commonly used by quite a few pen companies.  The color is also seen on US-made pens, so the pen is not an exclusive Canadian variant.  My pen has a single cap band, but there are ads that show the same pen with split cap bands as well.  It’s probably the first in the series of what we now call depression pens, and cannot be equated with such pens as the True Blue, or the Challenger, because those were considered Student Pens and carried the Lucky Curve imprint.  They are in the same vein, though.  Here’s another picture of just a
pen cap without a clip, but it’s in the ivory-and-gold color.  The cap is slightly longer than the cap on my Steel Quartz pen, but its diameter and thread are compatible. Here’s a Thrift-time pen and pencil set, another good example of the ivory-and-gold color.
        One participant wrote that he believed this pen had nothing to do with the Duofolds, which is going a bit far because they are related in style.  He meant that they were not Duofolds “anymore than we might wish to say the Modernistic Blue, seen first as a Lucky Curve flattop, later a non- Lucky-Curve streamline, was a Duofold.  They are different pens for different niche markets, i.e., the low-price-point pens from after 1930, or whenever streamlining and loss of Lucky Curve logo occurred, with pens marked just “Parker” without a model name, including at least the Raven, the various Modernistic Blue models, the pens we might with some accuracy label “Thrift Time” pens, the “$3 Pen”, the
Moderne and Premiere, the Televisor, the “Three-Fifty”, or True Blue, and the mutated Challenger”.  My list also includes the Parcos, Parkettes, Parkette Deluxes, DuoTones, Deluxe Challengers, Zephyrs, $5.00 Pens, and $3.00 Pens, or the Thrift-times.  I hope I didn’t leave any out.  If so, it was not intentional.  The Thrift-time is not a Duofold, but it’s based on the Duofold streamline series, and it’s the closest thing to a Duofold in style within the depression line.  They could, however, be described as “Depression era pens”, as Alex Zipperer called them.


        The above ad from the National Geographic from December 1931, and another from the Eaton’s Fall-Winter 1931-32 catalogue, call it “one of Parker’s newest streamlined styles”, and a “Pen with tapered end”.  But nowhere is it called a Duofold.  Even the Parker “D.Q.”, or so-called “Duofold Quality” pen, was not considered as part of the Duofold line.  They were said to be only “like [the] Parker Duofold in everything save size and [pen]point”, the massive, guaranteed nib of the Duofold.  In Glen Bowen’s book Collectible Fountain Pens, p.63, there is a reproduction of the Nat. Geo. ad, said to be from December 1932, but actually from 1931.  Although it isn’t called a Duofold pen in the ad copy, still, it’s definitely within the Duofold type, and the Duofold logo is prominently featured on the page.  The comprehensive list of all Duofold models by Fultz and Zazove in the Spring 1999 issue of The Pennant does not mention these Thrift-time pens.  There are two sizes of pen in the ad, one called the “Parker $3.00 Pen”, and another pen included with the $5.00 set.  The “$3.00 Pen”, also called a “new Parker Fountain Pen Desk Set”, was sold as a boxed set with both a cap, and a taper, and a desk base.  The price information for the set reads “$8.75” in very large type followed by “including Parker $3.00 Pen”, and in much smaller type “$10.75” followed by “including $5.00 Duofold Pen”.  There was also another “Ensemble” with a taper, a cap, a pencil, and a bottle of Quink ink, “the new quick-drying ink”.  The pen included with the $5.00 set was said to be a Duofold, probably in the Ladies size.  This set was listed with the price range “$5.00 to $15.00”, so it was probably also available with Jr. and Sr. sized pens.
        The main body of the ad copy does not call the Thrift-time pen a Duofold as such, but neither does it make a clear distinction between it and the Duofold line, nor does the ad copy imply that it is not a Duofold.  It’s the inclusion of both pen models in the same ad, the $3.00 Thrift-time pen, and the $5.00 Duofold pen, that causes all the confusion.  This ad is plainly selling the Thrift-time under the main banner, but the Duofold logo also appears prominently on the same page, in its usual place at the bottom of the ad.  I would argue that it is a Duofold ad first of all, and the model name is either the $3.00 Pen, or the Thrift-time, but that’s just my opinion.
        This ad is almost unique among Parker ads in this respect.  It is the only ad for a non-Duofold pen to have the Duofold banner.  The ads for the Pastel pens, and the Moires, and the Three-Fifty pen, the pen also known as the “True Blue”, don’t have the Duofold banner.  It seems to me that the name “Parker $3.00 Pen” is an extension of the type of reasoning being used when naming the Duofold Jr. as the “$5.00 Duofold Pen”, and therein my identification of this pen with the Duofold lies, and, some would say, the confusion with the Duofold arises.  Perhaps the term “Parker $3.00 Pen” now has to be adopted for these unmarked Thrift-time pens.  They are at least in the same tradition and styling of the Duofold, and an outgrowth of the Duofold.  That is exactly why Parker choose to advertise these two pens together in the first place.  It just seems to me that the Thrift-time pen is one of the first extensions of the Duofold line in an economy version.  Perhaps we can agree to call it the “Parker $3.00 Pen”, if not the “Thrift-time” pen.
        We need to differentiate between “Depression era pens” and the “Thrift-time” pens because several separate models can be identified within the group of pens often lumped together as such.  First of all, before the “Thrift-time” came along, there were the “Pastel” and the “Moire” and the “True Blue”, also known as the “Three-Fifty”, at first straight-sided and then streamlined.  Then came the “Thrift-time”.  Now, having reviewed all of that, let me tell you about my theory.  As the Depression set in, Parker responded to the downturn in sales of their more expensive pen line, the streamlined Duofold, with the introduction of a small version of the streamlined Duofold.  After having seen and heard about all the different versions of these depression pens, a certain progression suggested itself to me.  My original list of models in the evolution of the “Thrift-time” pen that I proposed consisted of four different models, all named “Thrift-time”, and numbered “Thrift-time #1” to “Thrift-time #4”.  And that’s where that misuse of the word “Thrift-time”, used to lump all those pens together, might have originated.  Thank goodness there’s no archive on Pentrace.  Now, I have revised that list, and this is what I propose instead, with apologies.
        At first, I postulated the existence of depression pen #1, which I called the Thrift-time #1, a small, streamlined pen in the strange depression colors that was otherwise known as the “$3.00 pen” in the December 1931 ad, but definitely imprinted as a Duofold.  They have the black tips and section, and in all other respects look like Duofolds, except for those unusual, unfamiliar colors.  Parker made its own Duofold-lookalike.  What gives me hope that there might be a “Duofold-imprinted-Thrift-time” is the fact that when Michael Fultz learned of this exchange on Pentrace, he invited me to visit him at his pen vault in Chicago to view all his depression pens, but sadly, that didn’t happen.  I retain the Thrift-time #1 imprinted as a Duofold in my model list because a major collector intimated that such a pen might exist, so I’m leaving my options open.  As I said, it’s just a theory, so it’s not written in stone, yet.
        Then soon after, the depression pen #2 appeared, Thrift-time #2, the exact same pen, the “$3.00 pen”, but minus the Duofold imprint.  If no Duofold-imprinted versions show up, this pen becomes the Thrift-time #1.
        Next comes the depression pen #3, the “Premiere”, the familiar depression pen with the metal rivet holding the washer clip, and the blind cap made of the same plastic material as the barrel, and the “Moderne”, with the plastic rivet holding the washer clip.  Only their sections are black hard rubber.  The black tips were eliminated, either as an economizing measure, or as a style change.  There is no Thrift-time #3.
        Last of all, there is the depression pen #4, or the “$5.00 pen”, a slightly upscale version of #3 with three cap bands, and stepped, plastic blind cap on the barrel end, and cap rivet holding the washer clip.  This makes it look somewhat like a smaller cousin to the Challenger, and Parkette, but it cannot be mistaken for either of these.  There is no Thrift-time #4.  We now know that #3 and #4 are known models with their own model names, the Premiere, the Moderne, and the $5.00 Pen, and we should use those names instead.
        So this is the progression, and all of these pens can be called depression pens.  Although others believe that the Thrift-time has nothing to do with the Duofold, I still say this pen started off as the last iteration of the Duofold style, the swan song, so to speak, of the pen that used to rival the beauty of the Scarlet Tanager.  And it ended up as a pen with its own proprietary model name after the fact, the “Thrift-time”, only because the Duofold imprimatur was denied to it, and not bestowed upon this economy line.  There, now, you can get out your long knives.
        Another participant wrote that he believed that we must have a common understanding, or we can’t move on, and by definition, and in accordance with a standard widely-held by vintage pen collectors, only pens imprinted “Duofold”, and called “Duofold” by Parker, are Duofolds.  Once we accept this, the ad in question is crystal clear.  There can be no question that the pen referred to as the “Parker $3.00 Pen” is not a Duofold pen.  It may well be an outgrowth of the Duofold in some respects, just as the majority of pen models are outgrowths of whatever models preceded them, but that question has no bearing on what the pens are properly called.  He was open as to what was the proper term for the specific pen in question, but was not, however, open to the term “Duofold”.

        There is a serious lack of formal data in this area, except maybe in the collections of a few serious Parker collectors.  The problem is that we haven’t seen enough examples of these pens.  Only access to large numbers of pens, or images of them, will solve problems such as this one, of the Thrift-time pen.  We also need to standardize our nomenclature.  I do not wish to see pens labeled thrift-time pens, or depression pens, if they have real model names.  We should always use the correct model names whenever they are known.  But what we’re talking about, and what’s at issue here, are the nameless, or no-name, or unnamed, or insufficiently marked Parker models.  If the term “depression pen” can be used for any and all pens made in that decade, then that term becomes debased and is useless in its inclusiveness.  I realize, now, that I also often use the term “depression pen” when I mean to use a specific term, or model name, such as “Thrift-time” pen, and don’t mean to invoke the full stable of depression pens.  What we have to find out is whether the “Thrift-time” pen qualifies, at least, as a Duofold-type pen, a pen in the Duofold family.
        The “Thrift-time” pens represent the continuity of the old style.  They were also a last gasp of the Duofold style, or look, and a pronouncement of the impending death of the Duofold line, figuratively speaking.  In the same metaphoric sense, it was also a pronouncement that heralded the coming of something totally new, the “Vacuum Filler”, soon to be renamed the “Vacumatic”.  “Thrift-time” is not the official Parker model name for the pen, but it’s the best we have in order to distinguish this particular model.  This was the beginning of the retraction of the Duofold “Guarantee For Life”.  It remained nameless because it was the victim of this retraction of the lifetime guarantee.
        I found a curious little Parker Duofold catalogue dating from 1930 titled “New members of the Parker Duofold family”.  The brochure has eight pages and four folds arranged in two-page spreads, the
front & back cover, spread 2, spread 3, and spread 4.  The back cover also uses the ad lines “Note the Streamlined Shape”, and “Pen [Nib] Guaranteed For Life”, and makes a big deal of the fact that each pen and pencil is “instantly convertible for pocket or desk use” by slipping on the taper or removing it.  For the most part, all the pens and pencils in the catalogue are indeed Duofolds, but take a look at the pens and pencils on spread 4.  The Moire and the True Blue were also included as new members of the Parker Duofold family, even though, if you look closely at the barrel imprints, they are not called, or marked, or imprinted as Duofolds.  Now, the catalogue was published in 1930, just a year too early to include the “Thrift-time”, which was also said to be “instantly convertible”, but if a catalogue similar to this one were published in 1931, it’s a distinct possibility that the Thrift-time would also have been included in the “Parker Duofold family”.
        I propose that we call this model of Parker depression pen the Parker “Thrift-time”, with a capitol “T”, exclusively.  We can still call the other depression pens “thrift-time pens”, with a small “t”, the same way that we call the other pens depression pens, with a small “d”.  In fact, the Parker “Thrift-time” is a “depression pen” and a “thrift-time pen”.  The Parker “Thrift-time” may not be a legitimate Duofold, but it is part of the extended “Parker Duofold Family”.  It’s just a thrift-time version of the Duofold line without a guaranteed nib.


George Kovalenko.