Saturday, February 02, 2008

Parker Duofold Pinstripe Special Edition 2004 Mechanical Pencil Review

Parker Duofold Pinstripe Special Edition 2004 Mechanical Pencil Review

George Parker started his pen business back in 1888 in Janesville, Wisconsin, USA. In 1921 there was demand for an expensive impressive oversize pen and the Duofold fountain pen was created. It was very successful and the Duofold became one of Parkers long-lasting flagship models and today has a strong following amongst the pen collecting community. In 1923 the Duofold pencil was introduced. From the book ‘Parker Duofold’ by D Shepherd and D Zazove, “George Parker recalls, ‘Another branch manager came to see me some months later, much as the one I have already told of, with the idea of a super pencil – if I may use the expression. A pencil to correspond to the oversize pen. If people were willing to pay for a pen they could take pride in, he said, why would they not do as much for a pencil?...And one of our biggest sellers now is that (Duofold) pencil.’”

You will have noticed the wording Special Edition in the header. A Special Edition or SE is a special addition to a range and is different from the normal production of that model. Production of a Special Edition is limited to a certain time period, in this case the year 2004, whereas a Limited Edition or LE is limited to a specified production quantity.

Right then, onto the pencil itself.

Just look at her, she’s a thing of beauty – the styling just reeks of class; classical timeless class. The top cap is reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman columns, the pinstripes of high fashion, the well-known classical Parker arrow pocket-clip, the rich gold colour of the fittings and trims, phew, she’s pretty much got it all.

Parker certainly has not skimped on the packaging side of this item. When the courier knocks on your door and a few minutes later you open up the shipping carton, here’s what you get inside. A heavy white protective sleeve surrounds a black cardboard box. Push the box out of the sleeve to reveal that the box is embossed in pinstripe style and has “Parker”, the company logo and "Pinstripe Duofold" embossed into the black cardboard. When you take the lid off the black box, you are confronted by a layer of thick black velvet material. You can fold down the front side of the black box and lift up the front flap of the velvet cover to reveal a polished wooden drawer. Pull the drawer out and you have a pinstripe handkerchief with Parker logo. Underneath the handkerchief is your Duofold, sitting there on a light grey leather-look cushioned tray. Very nice.
Laid out on the floor, left to right – white card protective sleeve, black pinstripe box, black velvet drawer cover, wooden drawers (open to show pinstripe handkerchief and Duofold).
You can lift up the grey tray to reveal a storage compartment underneath with depressions for ink cartridges, etc. Also underneath is a small set of cards - your instructions, guarantee, and some whimsical pinstripe cards like “Custom (Pinstriped) Tailored Clothes for the Custom Tailored Man, 1943” as shown on the left.

For those who go the whole hog and also buy the fountain pen or rollerball, or have other Duofolds, you can turn the light grey cushioned tray over and that side has four pen depressions instead of just one. This is all great stuff. Let’s face it, you’ve paid a lot for your Duofold and Parker are really coming to the party, giving you a real experience, a complete package, something special. I take my hat off and salute Parker, but why couldn’t you toss in a free tube of Parker leads underneath there in the storage compartment?
The pinstripes are obviously the main aesthetic feature of this Duofold model. I spent quite some time trying to figure out if they were printed onto the body or somehow moulded into it. On my chocolate brown model the pinstripes are a stripe of mid azure blue separated from a thinner stripe of beige by a thin stripe of the base chocolate. The blue pinstripe has some sort of optical illusion about it, often looking like its edges are a little bit fuzzy, but under magnification they aren’t, they are nice and sharp. The choclate body itself is a very deep dark chocolate – obviously 75%+ cocoa mass, the good healthy chocolate :-)

My book on the Parker Duofold has 2 pages on the 2004 Pinstripe Special Edition. It doesn’t actually mention the pencil, just the fountain pen. Of particular interest to me though was that 1 of these 2 pages was a pictorial explanation of how the pinstripes get on the pencil. The out-of-date non-practicing engineer in me was rather pleased to find that it was basically as I had imagined. A quick sketch to help illustrate.You start out with a long square rod of acrylic (Perspex) plastic in the base colour – navy or brown in our case. Then 6 deep grooves or slots are cut down the length of the rod. Then long thin strips of acrylic in the pinstripe colours are inserted into the slots. The “pinstriped rods” are then subjected to the diffusion bonding process to join the pinstripe material to the base rod. Diffusion bonding doesn’t use any glue or solvent or whatever. Basically under the right conditions of heat, pressure and time the molecules on the surface of each layer will bond with those of the other layer, basically ‘cold-welding’ together into one single piece. Sounds fairly easy but it’s pretty serious technical stuff to get it right. The square rods are then machined down into round rods, and their centres drilled out and that’s pretty much it, you’ve got yourself a pen body.

Like many Parker bodies, these pinstripe bodies are made by Carville Ltd in Britain, who are big players in technical plastics, diffusion bonding, etc. Some of the plastic fluid manifolds they make for medical or laboratory equipment cost thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars each, so just like muck-metal versus Grade 440 stainless steel, when it comes to plastic, there’s the cheap stuff and then there’s the real stuff.
In the hand, the acrylic body provides a reasonable amount of grip. There aren’t any grip enhancements and it is a nice shiny smooth plastic surface, but with that in mind the grip is surprisingly good. The long tapering tip means that I end up holding the pencil quite high up - about 45mm (1 ¾ in) up from the lead which is definitely higher up than normal. But I’ll be honest and say that for the review week that I used the Duofold this higher than normal grip seemed to add to the sense of experience, of something special and classic. Maybe a year down the track I might change my opinion :-) The weight and balance are basically as expected, i.e. medium weight and a neutral balance. Actually, technically the balance point is relatively top heavy, but the higher grip position seems to counteract that.

The lead sleeve is a 2mm round tube so you could possibly use this Duofold as part of your attempt to be the best dressed draughtsperson in town. The sleeve is retractable for pocket safety. It would obviously be a nonsense if your Duofold pinstripe could not be safely stowed in your pinstripe suit. Speaking of which, the pocket clip is Parkers trademark arrow design, not spring loaded and thus a very strong solid affair. Like all the other metal trims, it looks great in deep lustrous gold. The lead advance mechanism is twist action ratchet. You twist the metal end cap to activate the lead advance. 10 activations will get you 9mm of lead. The lead diameter is 0.7mm, and there are no other choices. I must say that this is not a particularly convenient twist action mechanism. Most twist actions use the whole top half of the body as the twister, but with only the top cap twisting in this case, it made it just that little bit less convenient and harder to use one-handed. There is quite a bit of cushioning in the lead mechanism. I could easily feel the tip retract when I slammed down a particularly definite full stop (I believe that’s a ‘period’ for American readers).
The top cap is a feature of the Duofold pencil, its something quite stylistically different to ‘matching’ Duofold fountain pens. The deep gold looks great and as I mentioned up above, it reminds me of architectural columns. (Tuscan, Doric?) The stylised Duofold name is embossed into the end of the cap. Around the circumference is the wording “Parker”, the letter “A” and “Made in UK” - possibly Carville assemble the whole pencil under contract to Parker? You pull the top cap off to reveal a decent sized eraser and access the lead storage chamber. Just look at that – even the eraser looks fantastic!I once read on a Rolex discussion board something to the effect of, “Now that you’ve just bought your first Rolex you are consumed by doubt, by questions like, ‘Am I mad, is it as good as I think it is, and is it really worth what I paid for it?’ The answers are, in order, yes, probably, and no.” I think that equally applies to my Parker Duofold, and kind of weakens my feelings about not ‘wasting’ money on a Mont Blanc. My friends, seriously, if you are ever in an economic position to buy a Duofold, then do it, and just be happy about it. Celebrate the history and the madness.

  • Best Points – The looks.
  • Not So Good Points – The twist action isn’t the most convenient.
  • Price Range – Way up there in the stratosphere.

Dimensions – Length 135mm, diameter 11mm at main body. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.
I mentioned before that under the pen storage tray was a small set of cards. These cards are a celebration of pinstriping, from pinstripe detailing on cars to high-street fashion. Here’s a couple of examples;
“A Stripe of Stockbrokers”

Ladies in Pinstripes, 1968 (Pinstriped) Woman Walking Across the Street in New YorkAll this fashionable pinstripe talk reminds me of my time in the fashion game. Now this may well have many of you questioning my veracity, calling me “Dave the Teller of Non-Truths”, but bizarre as it may sound, many moons ago, I did a stint as the manager of one of my countries most prestigious fashion houses. Yes it’s crazy, but I did my time amongst the beautiful people! A thorn amongst the roses :-) Anyway, said struggling fashion house had a corporate uniform section and somehow my employers (industrial distribution company) got carried away, and bought them for the uniform side of it. The fashionable people were quite good at getting orders, but when it came to then organising the product, getting it dispatched to the customer and getting the money, well, let’s just say these weren’t their strong points. Not too surprisingly the industrial hierarchy spoke a completely different language to these new “fashionable employees”, and finally they got so exasperated with the operational and logistical debacles...yes well, that’s how an operations guy like me ended up sitting atop the crumbling remains of fashion.Whoa, let me tell you, some of those stereotypes really are true. The impossibly thin models…YES, they really do shoot-up in the stairwell, and many of them really are prepared to “do anything” to get the photo-shoot. Luckily I was a secure redoubt atop the moral high-ground - but I tell you, it had it’s moments, some great times, faaaaan-tastic! A real eye-opener for your average young pencil guy :-)
Yes, I did oversee the launch of a new pinstripe suit range!!!


Anonymous said...

Well done! Quite a nice essay.

I'm sure a few of us have checked online for this pencil after reading your post. It looks like it is still available - or at least is still listed in some online catalogs. Less expensive than I guessed, though definitely not cheap!

It seems there is also a navy blue version.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Stephen

Yes it was released in navy and brown. I think you'll struggle to find navy, but there are still a few brown ones around. These days they are generally being specialled off to get rid of old stock at half price etc so they are something of a bargain.

I haven't done a lot of research but later SE's don't seem to have a pencil option, implying it didn't sell well, and maybe the Duofold pencil has reached the end of the line, at least for the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

nice dave. checked the 'Bay. 192.00!! yikes!!! still cool, though.

present for you in the mail.