What We Can Learn From a Copper Pearl Frankenpen

We came across an interesting pen the other day, “in the wild”, which is to say in an antiques mall. Not exactly a beautiful pen: not in great condition, nor very valuable, in terms of dollar value. But a pen which is important for a couple of reasons.

Some Background: the Parkette Deluxe

Parkette 1934 Catalog

The Parker “Parkette Deluxe” was originally issued in 1933. After the profitable heyday of the 1920s, many pen manufacturers had to make serious concessions to the new economic realities of the depression. Parker, always fairly nimble, issued several models at a much lower price point than the Duofold, and the Parkette was one of these.

The Duofold was steadfastly a button-fill fountain pen, and the now-famous Vacumatic was still in development. So, perhaps as a way of differentiating the line, the decision was made to issue a lever-fill pen—the first time Parker did so. The Parkette Deluxe was additionally distinct in initially having full-length fluting along both the barrel and cap. They were issued in celluloid, in four main colours: red, green, grey, & black.

Blame Canada

It has been said that, when it comes to Parker, the only rule is that there are no rules. But when it comes to Canadian production, it sometimes seems as though the only rule was that all rules should be deliberately broken. Additionally, there is very little available in the way of contemporary documentation. As a result, the journey through Canadian pen variants can be a bit wild.

So, when Parker developed the lower-end depression-era pens, Parker Canada decided to issue an extra, undocumented, colour: what some have suitably dubbed “Copper Pearl”.

There are a few questions about this colour: Was it actually a colour proper, or just a discolouration of an existing, canonical colour? How long was it used? For what models was it used? The answers are often just guesswork.

Some Copper Pearl Evidence

Copper Pearl Parkette Deluxe

Knowing these things, when we catch a glimpse of “Copper Pearl”, our interest perks up. And this one definitely caught our attention, for more than one reason.

The colour is one obvious reason. “Copper Pearl” without a doubt. But something was just not right; something an expert would see in a moment, but that would not necessarily be obvious to everyone. The barrel is fluted, and has the Parkette Deluxe imprint. However, the cap is just wrong. No fluting, fitting slightly too tight, and a totally incorrect clip configuration: it’s a Parkette Deluxe body with a Challenger cap stitched to it. A genuine ‘frankenpen’, but what a treasure-trove of information!

Parkette Deluxe Body

Challenger Cap Detail

In one cobbled-together pen is evidence that, rather than being a mistake, a trial, or a discolouration, “Copper Pearl” was a genuine production colour out of Parker’s Toronto plant. This pen (or, more accurately: these pen parts) show that “Copper Pearl” was used in two models from the 1930s: the second form of the Parkette Deluxe (1934) and the Challenger (this cap is the earliest version, from 1934).

Of course, the more evidence there is, the bigger the resulting picture. And we do have a bit more.

Pencils Are Invited To This Party

Parkette Deluxe Pencil

Our introduction to “Copper Pearl” was not, actually a pen, but a pencil. Again, it was the unusual colour which caught our attention. We only learned later just how unusual the colour is.

When combined with the Parkette Deluxe body and Challenger cap, this pencil gives us a slightly wider view of the extent of the use of “Copper Pearl”. This pencil is the earliest version of the Parkette, with a band of white plastic at the finial, rather than gold-filled brass. This means that the use of this colour lasted through two versions of the model, lasting possibly throughout that production year. Far from a mistake, or sun damage!

A Final Detail

Parkette Deluxe Nib Detail

As a final note of esoteric interest, the nib on the Parkette Deluxe also breaks a few rules.

The nibs on these pens were issued with partial platinum plating, similar to Sheaffer’s two-toned nibs. Except in Canada, because we can.

A Lesson For Us All

It can be easy to diminish the value of pens which are incomplete, worn, or cobbled together from parts. And pencils, sad to say, often get ignored completely. But measuring the worth of artifacts like these—and they are, indeed, artifacts—by their collectible-market value alone is a mistake.

Likewise, it can be easy to assume that we—as an individual or a community—know all there is to know about any given aspect of pens and their manufacture. This, too, is a mistake.

Even eighty years after their manufacture, new understandings of pens, their manufacture, and marketing, are coming to light. Some speculations are put to rest, and others arise. Sometimes this can be a result of a lauded pen consigned by an important collector. But other times, it can come from a chance encounter with a quick-and-dirty repair job, of a pen in dubious condition, in an antique mall pen-pile.

The important thing is to keep looking, and then to keep thinking about what we see. And never to assume that everything is known.

Parker Copper Pearl Group

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