Geo. S. Parker and the Duofold launching

By Ramón Campos.

Parker Duofold cap bandless Pompeian Brown hard rubber. C. 1922.
Parker Duofold cap bandless Pompeian Brown hard rubber. C. 1922.

George S. Parker writes encouraging to his sales team with the first Duofolds. Right from the start, even months before they were publicized, and long before his departure to Orient trip in December 1921. Here are some of his writings:

August 4, 1921. DUOFOLD. «Distinctive looking pen built in a distinctive way and for a distinctive purpose. The price with clip is $7.00. The Duofold is a remarkably fine writing pen. I cannot tell you hoy many copies it would make for that would depend on how hard the writer presses down, but we believe it is going to be a seller and a big seller» (underlined in original).

August 4, 1921. QUERY. «If I see orders coming for the DUOFOLD from YOU, I will know that you read this issue on Proxy and not permit the good things to get by you

August 18, 1921. DUOFOLD. «This is to again call your attention to the DUOFOLD PARKER PEN. This is the name given by Mr. Tebbel to distinguish it from the other pens. The writer has been carrying one of this DUOFOLD pen. It is possibily the smoothest writing pen I ever had in my hands.

We had righ now the best gold pen in the whole United States…»

August 18, 1921. THE ARGUMENT. This pen is to the fountain pen industry what the Cadillac, the Packard and the Pierce-Arrow are to the patrician automobile buyers of the country. Not everyone can affort it, but the man who can affort it is showing just a much «class» in the fountain pen field as the Packard owner in the automobile world.

September 8, 1921. THE PARKER DUOFOLD. «You would perhaps be surprised to see how many orders we are getting for the PARKER DUOFOLD in a mail-order way. If you are not selling 75% of your customers a DUOFOLD pen it is because you do not have the proper spirit.

Of course Mr. Tebbel being the father of the idea of the Duofold its sort’s up to him to set the pace. Eleven dozen in fourteen days is a record no man need be ashamed of.

By the way, what is your record for the past two weeks?»

September 15, 1921. THE PARKER DUOFOLD. «This pen is actually selling faster than we have been to manufacture it. We have sent out large numbers of these, and up to the present have not received a single complaint. This is a pretty good record!«

November 1921. THE PARKER DUOFOLD. «We do not often deal in superlatives — the best, the greatest, a peerless leader, etc.— but now we feel like breaking the rule. We went ahead to make the finest writing in strument ever put together regardless of what it cost us, incorporating every good feature and considering every suggestion for betterment. Well, this Parker Duofold pen is the result.»

More clearly, on November 10, 1921, before leaving Janesville, George S. Parker was already aware of the Duofold success and the excellent reception in the market handwriting in Proxy, the circular addressed to his sales force: «The Parker Duofold. The largest selling high-priced pen in the market -and the best. More re-orders from dealers already sold have been received than for any other high-priced pen we ever put out.«

Based on an imprecise rumor echoed by Walter Sheaffer in his Life Story:

 “We can’t vouch for the authenticity of all the details of what we heard, but as we heard it the proprietor (George Parker) ordered them to discontinue making the red pen because the breakage would cause them a severe loss. But by the time he got home, their business had been so rehabilitated and the pen selling so wonderfully well that it brought their business up to many folds.”

And in a misinterpretation of George’s own words:

The writer has a confession to make, however, in regard to this. This pen was put out somewhat against his judgment as he did not think that a pen of this character would sell at the time it was offered to the market. «

We have come to think that the Duofolds were launched against George Parker’s opinion and in his absence. This is neither true nor factual.

George Parker went on a trip around the world on December 9, 1921, and by then the launch of the Duofold was already decided and it was George Parker who considered the idea of ​​its manufacture.

I shall not soon forget the interview here in my office, in which we decided on the pen. It was in the spring of 1921 —that trying year! and the district manager was proposing a pen that was to sell for more than twice what the ordinary fountain pen had been sold for.

The argument about its being a bad time was obvious. And he was ready for it.

 «Look at the cars going up and down this hill,» he said. And we looked awhile, out on the drive running up by the Rock County courthouse. “They’re not the cheapest cars, many of them, you see,” he said, “and many of them are new. People have been buying these expensive cars this year. For all, we hear about hard times. they have had the money. Do you think they could not afford to pay, that they would not be glad to pay, $ 7 for a fountain pen that they could be proud to own and use? «

The whole Duofold business hung in the balance for a moment. And then we decided to try out the idea. The first of the pen made up was a handful, really made up for a test -were sent to the branch manager who had suggested them, and he sold them. «

Basado en un malediciente rumor del que se hizo eco Walter Sheaffer  en su autobiografía:

«No podemos confirmar la autenticidad de todos los detalles de lo que oímos, pero oímos que el propietario (George Parker) les ordenó dejar de hacer la estilográfica roja porque las roturas les causaría una grave pérdida. Pero para cuando regresó de viaje, su negocio había sido tan rehabilitado y la estilográfica vendida tan maravillosamente bien que llevó a duplicar su negocio

Y en una interpretación errónea de las propias palabras de George:

«El escritor tiene una confesión que hacer, sin embargo, con respecto a esto. Esta pluma se puso un poco en contra de su juicio, ya que no pensaba que una pluma de estas caracterìsticas se vendería en el momento en que se ofreció al mercado. «

Hemos llegado a pensar que los Duofolds fueron lanzados contra la opinión de George Parker y en su ausencia. Esto ni es verdad ni se ajusta a los hechos.

George Parker partió de viaje alrededor del mundo el 9 de diciembre de 1921, y para entonces ​​el lanzamiento del Duofold ya estaba decidido y fue George Parker quien había aprobado su fabricación.

«No olvidaré pronto la entrevista aquí en mi oficina, en la que decidimos la pluma. Fue en la primavera de 1921, ¡ese año difícil! y el gerente del distrito estaba proponiendo una estilográfica que se iba a vender por más del doble de lo que una pluma estilográfica ordinaria habría sido vendida.

El argumento de ser un mal momento era obvio. Y él estaba listo para ello.

 «Mira los coches subiendo y bajando esta colina», dijo. Y miramos un rato, en el camino que corre por el tribunal del condado de Rock. «No son los coches más baratos, muchos de ellos, ya ves», dijo, «y muchos de ellos son nuevos. La gente ha estado comprando estos coches caros este año. Para todos, oímos acerca de los tiempos difíciles. han tenido el dinero. ¿Crees que no podían pagar, que no estarían contentos de pagar, $ 7 por una pluma estilográfica que podrían estar orgullosos de poseer y usar? «

Todo el negocio de Duofold colgó en la balanza por un momento. Y luego decidimos probar la idea. Se fabricó un puñado de estilográficas y fueron enviadas al gerente de la sucursal que los había sugerido, y él las vendió. «

Lucius Crowell in his writing confirms Geo. S. Parker leadership on this matter: «One morning Mr. Parker came to his office, and sitting in a chair awaiting his arrival was Tebbel.» «Mr. Parker, I have come to sell you that idea of a super fountain pen,» he blandly announced. Mr. Parker called in Mr. Palmer, the late Russell Parker, then Vice President, Kenneth Parker, then Advertising Manager, Horace Blackman, Sales Manager and son-in-law of Mr, Palmer and Bernard Palmer, Mr. Palmer’s son. Tebball’s idea was discussed and debated. Finally it was decided to manufacture 100 or 150 of these super pens as a try-out.»

Lucius Crowell en su escrito confirma el liderazgo y dirección de Geo. S. Parker sobre la Duofold: «Una mañana, el Sr. Parker llegó a su oficina y sentado en una silla, esperando su llegada, estaba Tebbel. «Sr. Parker, he venido a venderle la idea de una super estilográfica». anunció suavemente. El Sr. Parker llamó a William Palmer,  al vicepresidente Russell Parker, Kenneth Parker, entonces Gerente de Publicidad, Horace Blackman, Gerente de Ventas y yerno del Sr. Palmer y Bernard Palmer, el hijo de Palmer. La idea de Tebbel fue discutida y debatida. Finalmente se decidió fabricar 100 o 150 de estas super estilográficas como prueba.»

Parker Duofolds furnished in Permanite celluloid. Circa 1925.
Parker Duofolds furnished in Permanite celluloid. Second half 1920s.

There is a wide spread that the Duofolds were released in the absence and ignorance of George Parker, and this is not only false but that unfairly disparages George’s memory. Before leaving Janesville on his trip in December 1921, George Parker had known the good reception of the Duofold. In Proxy -the Parker newsletter for its salesman- of August 4, George writes about the virtues and characteristics of the Duofold. Published its commercialization in Parkergrams magazine, Geyer’s Stationer and Office Appliances, also published ads of national scope with the Duofold as the flagship product, in the Saturday Evening Post (November 5 and December 10), The Rotarian (November) or Ladies’ Home Journal (December)

The Duofolds were launching and marketed with the knowledge, acceptance and presence of George Parker.

Existe una amplia difusión de que las Duofold fueron lanzadas en ausencia y desconocimiento de George Parker, y esto no solo es falso como hemos visto, sino que maltrata el excelente recuerdo del que se hizo merecedor. Antes de dejar Janesville en su viaje en diciembre de 1921, George Parker había conocido la buena acogida del Duofold.  Había escrito en Proxy -el boletín Parker destinado a sus vendedores- del 4 de agosto, sobre las virtudes y características de la Duofold. También publicó su comercialización en la revista Parkergrams, Geyer’s Stationer y Office Appliances, asimismo publicó anuncios de alcance nacional con la Duofold como el producto estrella, en el Saturday Evening Post (5 de noviembre y 10 de diciembre), The Rotarian (noviembre) o  Ladies’ Home Journal (diciembre)

Los Duofolds se lanzaron y comercializaron con el conocimiento, la,  aceptación  y la presencia de George Parker.

Another question is the campaign contracted with the Saturday Evening Post —by the way, where Geo. S. Parker previously advertising for 20 years– for thirteen coloring pages to be used every four weeks for one year at the cost of $ 110,500, decided by Vice-President Russell Parker, Secretary-Treasurer William F. Palmer, together with Horace Blackman, Palmer’s son-in-law and Sales Manager, and the Advertising Manager, Kenneth Parker… but as I say, it is another history.

Otra cuestión es la campaña publicitaria contratada con el Saturday Evening Post para trece páginas a todo color que se publicarían cada cuatro semanas durante un año con un coste de $ 110,500, decidida por el Vicepresidente Russell Parker, y William Palmer, Secretario y Tesorero, junto a Horace Blackman, yerno de Palmer y Gerente de Ventas, junto al  Gerente de Publicidad,  Kenneth Parker… pero como digo, esa es otra historia.


1921 11 00 The Rotarian
1921 11 01 Parkergrams Duofold.
1921 11 05 The Saturday Evening Post. 2,100,000 readers
November 1921.
1921 11 24 Geyer´s Stationer.
1921 12 00 Ladies Home Journal. 1,900,000 readers.
1921 12 01 Office Appliances.
1921 12 10 The Saturday Evening Post. 2,100,000 readers.
1921 12 22 Geyer´s Stationer.






A battery of Automatic Screw machines operates various tools on crude Permanite stock—finishing barrels, caps, etc., with absolute precision.





Some of the milling machines, lathes, diamond grinding machines, etc. used in making the tools required.

It must be understood that to try to describe the many detailed and intricate operations necessary in making a Parker Duofold in a few paragraphs is a Herculean task. Many operations must be left out completely and many more can only be touched very briefly. We must of necessity confine ourselves to the most important or most interesting operations —hitting the “high spots” only in an effort to get a general view.

The rough material used in making barrel and caps is called Permanite which is practically non-breakable, unfading in color, light in weight, and unaffected by most acids.

This Permanite comes in solid rods or tubing according to what part of the pen it is to be used for. It is carefully inspected when received and all of it which does not meet the exacting Parker requirements, such as stock with pores in it or of a color that does not agree with the master color sample, is shipped back to the manufacturer. 

After the inspection, the stock is placed in a huge storage room until its turn comes to be “ground.” This grinding is done to ensure absolute uniformity of the stock when it goes through the various machining operations, thereby ensuring accuracy undreamed of in the olden days of “hand-turning».


Although these “grinding” machines weigh approximately four ton they are capable of being set to such exactness that a variation of 1/10,000 of an inch from the size wanted, is exceptional. After grinding, the rods or tubes are cut to the lengths required for the various parts, and these lengths go through several drilling operations and then to the curing room for “seasoning”.

In this curing room, a very high temperature, controlled by automatic thermostats, is maintained so that these lengths will have the exact amount of seasoning to be able to make them stand the hardest kind of use or abuse.

This curing, drilling, counterboring, etc. is repeated several times, each time bringing the parts more nearly to the correct final size. These little and extra precautions of not trying to hurry an operation or to see with what speed a batch of parts can be “run through” add materially to the time-required to finish the parts, but the higher standard of quality in the finished Parker Pen or Pencil is the invaluable reward.

Automatic screw machine’s complete the operations on the barrels and caps, such as threading, final boring, tapering, etc., and then each part is given a high polish, by a long buffing on wool disc wheels driven at a very high rate of speed. After the polishing, skilled opera tors mount the gold bands that beautify and strengthen the caps and the complete holder has actually the resemblance of a fountain pen, with the blind cap, outer and inner cap and barrel completely assembled for another inspection.  





Applying the acetylene flame to the ball of iridium on the tip of the gold point.






View showing gold pen grinders at work.  


If you were to take an inspection trip through the Parker Pen factory, the department in which you would probably want to spend the most time, would be the gold point or gold nib department.

Here, one could linger for hours and not get tired of watching the many, intricate operations. One marvels at the “craft” which converts a brick of raw bullion (gold 999.8% pure) into a gold nib which must be absolutely perfect in every respect. The slightest error in making a nib is almost immediately detected by one of the many inspectors so that it is impossible for an imperfect one to be sent out.

The raw bullion of 24k fineness is secured from the U. S. Assay Office in the form of small bricks which range in value from $300 to $700. The pure gold is alloyed to 14k in a special furnace and poured into molds to form ingots. These ingots are rolled and annealed to various thicknesses depending upon the size of nib they are made into. The nib for the Senior Duofold pen, for instance, must be larger and heavier than the one for the Lady size pen.

After rolling and annealing these strips are about 6 ft. long and as mentioned before, the thickness de pends on the size of the finished nib. The first rough blanks are then die cut from these long strips to have a shape illustrated in the diagram. Here again, the size of the nib (i.e., Lady, Junior or Senior) determines the size of the die cut blank. The tip of the nib is then grooved or notched and flattened to allow space for the iridium tip.


The iridium used is native and comes from Tasmania, Australia. It is the hardest known metal that can be practically used. The iridium is bought in very fine pellets about the size of a small pin head. About four dozen of the die cut blanks are placed in a row and a piece of the iridium is picked up by means of fine camel hairbrush soaked in borax flux. The pellet is placed in the small notch on the tip of the blank. The next operation is to turn a fine acetylene flame on these tips. The flame immediately softens the gold but does not appreciably affect the iridium, so that the gold “flows” evenly over the entire pellet of iridium.

The butt-end of the blank is then rolled and tempered to the shape shown in the illustration. The iridium, however, is not touched but remains as a small solid ball at the tip.

A punch press then die cuts the blank to the exact size desired and here the blank shows the first real evidence of being part of a fountain pen. A small hole is pierced in the nib and the name and size are stamped on it. So far, the nib has been flat, and the metal has been dulled.

The next process curves the blank to its proper shape and then it is given its first rough polish, then polished on a hard felt wheel and finally on a cotton buffing wheel.  





The Assembly Department where the final fitting of the feed, gold nib, sack, barrel, etc. is done.






This man’s word is law. The slightest imperfection in any part of the pen, means that pen will never leave the factory.


One of the most delicate operations, and the one that requires the most precision, accuracy, steady hand, and deal- eye, is the slitting operation. The nib is held against a copper slitting wheel about 4I/2″ in diameter and which revolves at a speed of about 2500 revolutions per minute. A very fine grade of carborundum and oil is used as a lubricant while the slit is made in the exact center of the ball of iridium, straight through the pen to the small, pierced hole. If this slit is not exactly in the center, or is slightly irregular, the nib cannot be used.

After this slitting operation the nib passes to the pen grinders who clean the slit, grind the gold off the iridium, smooth all rough spots and grind, the nib to one of the degrees of points —extra fine, fine, medium, broad, stub, oblique, and needle point.

It is understood, of course, that the nib is carefully inspected after every operation so as to be sure that an imperfect one will not be issued.  

The final polish or “rouging” is then done, and the nib is then tested by writing on paper. If the nib is not perfect in every respect, if it cannot pass every possible inspection and test, it is reground, repolished, until it can, or if that is impossible it is rejected for use.

The perfect nibs are then boiled in water and alkali, dried and weighed (so as to account for all the gold) and sent to the assembly department where they are mounted. Before the pen is finally shipped, however, it is written with again by six people to make absolutely certain that it is in perfect condition.


In this department the gold nib, feed, ink sac pressure bar and button are fitted and adjusted in the holders. The fitting of the feed and gold nib is one of the most particular operations for the accuracy and care taken here have much to do with the proper working of the pen.


 It has been noted that at the completion of almost every operation, the various parts have been rigidly inspected to make absolutely certain that they were all up to the standard of quality demanded in Parker products.

The final inspections are made when the pen is completely assembled. Each point is tested with ink on paper by several inspectors. Each ink sac is checked to make sure it is working properly. Each cap is screwed on and off to ensure perfect fit and then each barrel is given another high polish to bring out the full luster and to make doubly sure that no finger marks or sediment of any kind which may have accumulated will be on the pen which the merchant receives.

Parker Pen Co. Order Shipping Dept.
Parker Pen Co. Factory at Court Street, Janesville. Elevation drawing.
A 1928 Parker Duofold blotter.

(*) From a c. 1928 Parker brochure.