THE PARKER TRENCH

A PEN DESIGNED FOR THE WAR FRONT

By Daniel Zazove & Ramón Campos.

THE PARKER INK TABLETS AS PREAMBLE.

Ink Tablets are closely associated with fountain pen usage. It is preferable to use the best fluid ink obtainable; but when this is not available, Ink Tablets should always be provided.

World Armies have always been aware of the need for communication to maintain the spirits of the troops. The letters to and from the war front fulfilled this function. The soldiers had the practical impossibility of carrying ink bottles, so ink tablets were adopted as a substitute; an old solution that was already used by travelers, schoolboys, and in very cold weather zones where liquid ink could freeze and decompose. George Kovalenko has developed the ink tablets history and background in detail and depth and we refer to it.

Thus, explained by George S. Parker at the beginning of the commercialization of the Parker Ink Tablets:

Probably one of the best strokes this company ever made was being right on the job with an article for which there is universal need, viz: the Ink Tablets.

When war was declared between the United States and Germany, the writer happened to be in New York City. While there, he met an old friend, Mr. E. J. Preston, who had recently returned from across the water, and who by the way had put in fifteen months of service. Part of the time with England and for eight months, he was at the head of all the hospital supplies in France.

He said to the writer, “Do you know how many thousands of Parker pens there are in the firing line over in France? Practically every drop of ink that is used in them is made from Ink Tablets.” The writer had to confess that he was not familiar with this fact. He said, “It is impossible to carry fluid ink on the battlefield or in the trenches or in camp. Absolutely no incumbrance is taken on that is not a necessity. Consequently, carrying a fluid ink is barred.”

He said, “Naturally every man in the service has many friends at home who are exceedingly anxious to hear from him, so that the soldier’s leisure time, if he complies with half of the requests made upon him, must be devoted to writing letters to the members of the family or friends. Consequently, a fountain pen is something that forms a part of practically every soldier’s kit.”

With this information the writer lost no time in making arrangements for the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of these little Ink Tablets before any other manufacturer had awakened to the situation.”

Parker ink tablets for military use.
Parker ink tablets for military use.

Parker Ink Tablets were conveniently put in small, neat boxes or tubes and sold 36 for 10c. One or two tablets with water sufficient to fill the barrel made an excellent quality ink.

Parker recommended for soldier’s “kit” the combination of ink tablets with their Jack Knife pens in general, in combination with their «Safety Sealed» feature –No holes cut in the wall of the barrel –No openings, levers, or rings where ink can out to ruin clothes or linen.

They claimed that many Red Cross societies included ink tablets in their comfort bags, stating that no more appreciated or more useful present could be given to the loved one in the army than a medium-length Parker Safety Sealed Pen, that will lie flat in the pocket of the khaki uniform and a box of Parker Ink Tablets.

Parker pens safety sealed and ink tablets ad, in which we still have no news of the Parker Trench model. Great Lakes Recruit magazine, October 1918.

THE PARKER TRENCH.

More than two years after it first began the sale of ink tablets, in the Parkergrams of September 1918, the Company introduced the Trench model to its dealers and sales force, as a pen that carried its own ink supply in the attached barrel blind cap.

Parker Trench No. 20. Hard rubber red and black motled with black ends. Tsachi Mitsenmacher's collection.
Parker Trench No. 20. Hard rubber red and black motled with black ends. Tsachi Mitsenmacher's collection.

After supplying stock to the different points of sale, the Trench pen was announced to the public in November and December of 1918 through this ad published in the major magazines widely distributed:

Parker ad from November 9, 1918, announcing as new the Parker Trench. The Independent, back cover.

The catalogued Trench pens were No. 20—$3.00, No. 23—$5.00, No. 24—$5.00, and No. 25—$6.00, Although this does not prevent the existence of other models known such as No. 26, or this extremely rare Parker Giant Trench, photographed by Michael Fultz.

Parker Giant Trench published in Penbid.com by Michael Fultz.
Parker Giant Trench published in Penbid.com by Michael Fultz.

The solution adopted by Parker in their Trench models, carrying the ink tablets inside the blind cap, is the same as the one related to patent US1109033, filed in 1913, prior to  Parker. We are not aware that Parker was suited by the inventor of this design previously patented. The Company could not need to take advantage of any patent with the background that they had already been marketing for two decades, the Physician’s fountain pen, in which a thermometer was enclosed in a reservoir at the end of the barrel. Parker’s Trench models simply reduce the reservoir to store the ink discs and placed it in the barrel blind cap.

The Parker Trench has the honor of introducing the original Duofold color scheme.  George S. Parker in an open letter to all employees, referring to the Duofolds, stated, «The color of the pen -red with black ends- we inaugurated during the war in what we called «Trench pens«. This statement was corroborated by Helen Morrissey, employed by Parker for more than four decades, in her History Notes of the Company and verified by pen historian Michael Fultz who confirmed its existence: «In fact, the Trench Pen in the factory Archives is made of red hard rubber but has a black blind cap«

In January 1919 George S. Parker explained the genesis of the Parker Trench and, with the armistice already declared, pointed out to his sales force other market niches where they could place the stock of these fountain pens after the war.

“Our experience with the Trench pen has been such as to lead us to believe that outside of army circles there will be a very considerable sale on these goods.

We have made a radical change and a great improvement in these Trench pens. This improvement came about by a natural condition owing to some objections we found in the former type of Trench pen. We have, therefore, merely adapted our old form of thermometer fountain pen which we have used for many years into a Trench pen.

Instead of putting the thermometer into the receptacle at the end of the holder, we have made this receptacle smaller so that it will hold just three dozen ink tablets. It is about the neatest looking device we have yet seen. There is no danger of spilling the tablets when the cap is taken off as was the case with the old type. Each one of our generals will be supplied with a sample and we are in position to accept orders in any quantity for these.

The question arises who will buy these!

Almost any automobilist will be glad to have one of these because he can take his fountain pen and a supply of ink with him wherever he goes. Simply drop a tablet or two in the barrel, fill it up with good water and the tablets will soon dissolve and a very good grade of ink is the result. Practically every man who goes away on a journey would want one of these if his attention was called to it.

Keep this fact in mind — no matter how good an idea is unless a considerable number of people know about it and know its advantages, it will avail but very little. Therefore, if you wait for the dealer to ask you, for this new thing, you, of course, will sell none at all because the dealer knows nothing about it. There it will be up to you to explain these things to the dealer. Show him the possibilities that lie before him and the trade that is ready to buy if their attention is called to it.”

1919, the war was over. We will not hear about the Trench pen after the 1918 catalog and the ads of that winter. The peculiarity of the Parker Trench and the short time it was marketed make them a true Holy Grail for collectors.

A Parker Trench wallpaper. Photo-composition with Parker Trenchs and ink tablets as a motif.