Duofold a “reference in fountain pens”, continues to wow writers even after a hundred long years at, or at least very near the top
Imagine Arthur Conan Doyle writing. Imagine Sherlock Holmes coming to life on the paper. Imagine the twists and turns of the mystery – one that has captivated millions over generations, taking shape… Now imagine the fountain pen in the author’s hand. Yes, it was a Parker Duofold. By the way, Conan Doyle wasn’t the only one who wielded a Duofold. Graham Greene, regarded by many as one of the leading novelists of the 20th century was another dedicated to Duofold soul. As were, needless to say, countless others.
But why were such acknowledged masters of the craft of writing, so enamoured with a particular writing instrument, the Parker Duofold to be precise? What is it that makes for the enduring popularity of the Duofold? Why is it that even Parker, whose place in the fountain pen sun is undisputable, consider the Duofold as “a reference in fountain pens”? Why does the Duofold, even after a century, continue to be one of the most copied designs around the world with more people owning it in one of its incarnations or the other?
Well, some say that until the Duofold made its entrance, almost all pens were made of black, hard rubber. The Duofold, in its revolutionary red apparition, must have appeared to be quite a dandy and the rest, like they say, is history. Some allude to the fact that like Michelangelo curving the David from a single block of marble, the Duofold too was moulded out of a single block of acrylic, though twenty other components went into its making, which added to its enigma. Mind you, priced at US$ 7 when it was introduced in 1921, it was an expensive pen. Besides, the introduction of a red pen, was a bit of a gamble, considering the fact that Parker had burnt its fingers with one (the Red Giant) earlier.
The Duofold design too was not revolutionary in the real sense of the term – fact is, it was an offshoot of the Parker Jack knife safety line and did not, initially feature a cap band, though from the very beginning, the Red getup with the black section and cap screw was stuff that fads were made of. Legend has it that it was Lewis M Tabbel, from the marketing department who had got a machinist in the factory to cobble one up for him, using red rubber lying unused in the factory. The result was so liked by the dealers that he had ready orders in hand which was initially considered sceptically by the management and the go-ahead was procured only after lengthy deliberations.
But the management must be commended, for once they realised the potential, they had gone the whole hog. The colour variants that were introduced over the years is sheer mindboggling. The tinkering with the design elements – from cap rings to size variations is so vast that it borders on the incredible. To put this in the right perspective, it was Sheaffer who started manufacturing pens with celluloid around 1924 and Parker, not to be undone, jumped into the fray, branding the material “Permanite”. The rainbow offerings of the Duofolds from this period were parts of this colour offensive. The Lapis Lazuli Blue, the Jade Green and the Mandarin Yellow were, apart from the ubiquitous Red and Black models, the conversation pieces of the day and are still highly regarded as collectibles.
The Moderne Black and Moderne Pearl Duofold models were introduced in 1928. The following year, the entire Duofold line was redesigned – to align it to the raging Art Deco movement of the day and was characterised by slim lines and smooth, tapered ends. More colours were also offered, notable among them being Burgundy though nothing, even the Duofold could not stop an idea whose time had come – the Vacumatic which was launched in 1933. The Duofold was pushed down to the second tier, though in Europe it had continued to run for many subsequent years.
For me, the Duofold is something of an icon, one that never ceases to fascinate with its simple, oversized elegance. I will confess my weakness for the pen, its larger-than-life proportions and the compelling narrative that is woven around it. Yes, the colours and the different apparitions it had appeared in, is enough to get any collector salivating, a prospect made difficult by the fact that time has stolen many of the earlier models due to the problem of brittleness that technology had taken its own time to address.
A solace has been what I call the “tribute” Duofold’s pens that are replicas, which somehow never fail to fire the imagination of the pen makers. I have over the years collected many of this genre – from handcrafted ones to the hugely popular Kaigelu 316 or the Moonman M600S (based on the Duofold Centennial) and really have no compunctions about either my love for them or my affinity to put them on paper. And yes, I have many that take cartridges and converters, which though not the “real thing” seeks to bridge the yawning gaps that time has created. I will also fail in my duties if I do not acknowledge another thing here, though in passing – I have had almost all major Indian pen turners make their interpretation of the Duofold for me, each one a masterpiece in its exclusivity, in its own right.
The size and girth of the Duofold may look intimidating to the newbie, but trust me, it has a way of growing into one’s grip and write like… a dream. It is one of those pens that are balanced perfectly and “writes on its own” accord, requiring the least amount of pressure or effort from the scribe wielding it. Yes, it holds less amount of ink than the Vacumatic that that edged it out, but then again that is not really an issue that should stop one from picking up a bit of fountain pen history to write one’s heart out.
Note: advertisements and the picture of the red Duofold sourced from the net
Mannjitender Sethi, a fountain pen lover, collector and a regular contributor has added the following photographs of the latest Duofold which has been launched to commemorate the occasion: