Tag Archives: vintage pens

Apologies to a Parker 51

Time and again, I’ve mentioned the fountain pen that got me hooked into this crazy lifestyle. It was my mother’s father’s Sheaffer Balance Lifetime. Yet, I have another grandparental pen that never gets much publicity. It is a Parker 51 from my father’s side of the family.

This Parker 51 once belonged to either my father’s mother or father. I suspect it was Granddad’s, but either way it is a treasured keepsake.

The Parker 51 showed up in my life about 15 years after the Sheaffer. It was right around the year 2000. My father’s mother was getting sick and had to live with my parents. As they packed up her house, they discovered a Parker 51 in a desk drawer. They knew I liked old pens and sent it to me in Montana. At the time my collection was meager. My only other pens were a Sheaffer Imperial, a Rotring, a Waterman Phileas, Lamy Safari and Cross Townsend.

I recently pulled out the aforementioned 51 to write a letter and was struck by how little I knew about pens in 2000, when it showed up in my life. It would be several more years before I learned how to restore pens. I had never heard of a Parker 51. I had heard of Parker Duofolds because I had seen a modern Parker Duofold MacArthur Special Edition at Marshall Fields in Chicago. It was well out of my price range, and although its literature mentioned the original Duofolds, I assumed that none were left in existence! Honestly, I assumed that my Sheaffer was such a rare treasure that no other old-fashioned fountain pens could possibly exist. Good Lord, when I saw that modern Duofold in 1994, I was 18, and my 60-year-old pen might well have been what the dinosaurs wrote with.

That’s how little I knew. The internet only barely existed. I didn’t know a single soul who liked fountain pens. My parents thought they were archaic and messy. My friends parents thought the same. My relatives thought the same. I had not stumbled into any of the early pen catalogs and mailing lists. Only bank presidents wrote with Montblanc 149s to show off. In my tiny world, I was the last hold out.

Enter the 51, and my ignorance was on full display. It still worked and had an Aerometric filler with a silicon (sorry, pli-glass) ink sac. I assumed it was some deranged promotional pen my grandmother must have gotten in the 1980s for one of her many charitable donations. It didn’t look like a vintage pen to me. I didn’t know how to look for and understand a date code then. I didn’t know that the 51 was originally released in 1941 with the advertising stating that it was 10 years ahead of its time! The design certainly fooled me, as I thought it was from the 1980s. The date code that I now understand said it was made in 1950.

My paternal grandparents were both very formal people. The black barrel and lustraloy cap could have belonged to either of them, but as my grandmother was far more into flowery and feminine design, this pen, I now understand, was likely my grandfather’s.

My granddad, as he was called, died when I was only 8 or 9 years old. I never got to know him very well. He was always nice, but he was of a generation and upbringing that children were meant to be seen and not heard. He wasn’t the type of guy to romp around on the floor with me, but I don’t have any bad memories. As I grew up, I learned he had a business in professional sales in New York City. He was into electronics, fast cars, Broadway, a little bit of baseball and cocktail parties with witty conversation. As an adult, I’m surprised at how much we have in common, and I wish I could have known him as an adult. Our similarities baffle my own father, who wonder’s how his father’s tastes could have so completely skipped a generation.

My own father and I share the love of writing. My dad prefers ballpoints and typewriters to fountain pens and computers, but, hey, nobody’s perfect. All the same, I don’t think my grandfather likely wrote much besides orders, quite possibly on carbon copy paper. This might explain why the Parker 51 has such a firm extra-fine nib. The pen barely looked used when I got it. I suspect Granddad put it away as soon as he could get his hands on reliable ballpoint pens. I wonder if in the things left behind were a first or second-year Parker Jotter. I can see him zipping down the road in his much-beloved candy-apple red 1955 Ford Thunderbird and a Parker Jotter in his shirt pocket.

Of course, it would be nice to have that Thunderbird or any one of the myriad Lincoln Continentals that he drove over the years. I am very happy with his pen, but he sure had great taste in cars, too.

How Do I Start Collecting Pens: Why Are Some Pens More than Others?

A good friend recently asked me why some pens cost more than others. The cheeky, glib and true answer is supply and demand. But, it is more than that. Sometimes it is marketing. Sometimes its trends in the marketplace.

This is a “Big Red” senior Parker Duofold made of orange Permanite.

However, he was asking for something more specific. When looking at vintage pens, he saw wildly fluctuating prices for pens that looked almost the same to him. Why does the average super-famous senior Parker Duofold “Big Red” (orange) go for $100 or $200 and the average senior Parker Duofold in Mandarin Yellow go for $800 or $900?

Big Reds are pretty common, especially the later 1920s’ version made of “permanite.” Most vintage collections have several of these pens. Mandarin Yellow versions of the same pen are fairly rare. They didn’t make as many, and the material used to make the yellow turns very brittle with age. As such, a large percentage of the senior Mandarin Yellow Duofolds broke. Nevertheless, these are still beautiful pens, and their scarcity makes them all the more desirable. Senior-sized Duofolds cost the most back when they came out, so many people bought the smaller Junior and Lady Duofold models to save money. As such, collectors have chosen the rarer senior models to be the favorite, which is why junior and Lady Duofold versions of the pen in mandarin yellow sell for much less than the seniors.

Mandarin yellow was a much more fragile substance to make Parker Duofolds, and it didn’t age well. These Mandarin Duofolds are much more sought after because they are more scarce.

This also is a good place to demonstrate trends in the marketplace, too. I am writing this in October of 2022. Where as a reasonable price to pay for a senior Mandarin Parker Duofold is $800 to $900, five to seven years ago, these same pens were getting $1,200 to $1,500. These pens were in higher demand back then, and dealers couldn’t keep them in stock. The market has softened some since then. Why? 2 factors. 1.) Just about everybody who wanted one of these pens back then got one if they could afford it. 2.) Sadly, we are starting to see a passing of a generation of vintage pen collectors. There are more and more of these pens on the market, and younger generations of pen users and collectors are not as excited about vintage pens. ALSO, the younger generation is paying off insanely large sums of college debt and paying tons more for skyrocketing housing prices. In their hierarchy of stuff to pay for, a rare 100-year-old pen is not as pressing as next month’s rent or feeding a young family.

Staying in the Parker Duofold family, Senior Big Reds made of orange hard rubber are usually much more valuable than the more common and less fragile “permanite.” Streamlined Senior Parker Duofolds are rarer and tend to get more than the “traditional” flat-top designs. Pristine Lapis (blue) Senior Duofolds can command a lot more money due to the fact most Lapis Duofolds turned dark and nearly black in some cases. The same goes for the Pearl and Black Duofolds. They turned brown with discoloration. If you find a pristine one, those are going to get a lot more money. Another feature on a Parker Duofold that is highly regarded is the bandless senior Parker Duofold Big Red. These pens are also really hard to find. Most Duofolds had one, two or even three bands near the lip of the cap. The bands help to protect the cap when posting it on the tail of the pen. Bandless models weren’t common, and the caps often broke when people posted them. Soooo, many people will pay top dollar for a bandless senior Duofold.

We haven’t even left the Parker Duofold family, yet.

Flexible nibs, such as this Conklin #4 nib, are in high demand in 2022.

Flexible nibs are king right now. Everybody wants one, and so few pens came with flexible nibs over the years. All flex nib pens command top dollar. Basic Waterman 52s would sell for maybe $50 ten to fifteen years ago. Yet, many of their tiny #2 nibs have a little to a lot of flex, and these same pens now get between $100 and $150.

Conversely, one of the several Waterman pens that really draw big bucks are early 1920s Waterman #7 Pink pens. These were oversized…or close to it…. The distinguishing feature of these pens is a pink ring around the top of the cap AND the word “Pink” imprinted on the 14k gold nib. Waterman made these nibs specifically to be very flexible writers. All of the color-ring Waterman #7’s are fairly desirable, but Pink is the most sought. As such, these pens command much more money. You can probably find a Waterman 56 or 58 in black hard rubber from the same general time period for less…with the same basic flex nib…and save a bundle over the Pink.

Apparently, even cheap TWISBI fountain pens made in China are falling down this pricing rabbit hole. You can buy most TWISBI Eco fountain pens for around $15 to $20 brand new. However, just the other day I saw a “limited edition” transparent orange cap TWISBI Eco sell at an auction for more than $230! It was a discontinued color that people love enough to get into a bidding war over.

Most TWISBI Eco fountain pens are pretty inexpensive but this rare color model goes for more than $200 on some auctions sites.

There are probably hundreds of vintage pens (and modern) such as these to ask these questions of, and so I shall revisit this topic and question from time to time to help sort out why some pens are so much more valuable than others.

Pen Books: Waterman Past & Present

Staring at a shelf full of pen books, it struck me that I ought to share with you some of what these great tomes have to offer. As such, I would like to start with a pen-collecting classic.

Here is the cover to “Waterman Past & Present,” a definitive guide to Waterman pens spanning 1883 to 1958. It is a great resource for identifying each model of Waterman pens.

“Waterman Past & Present: The First Six Decades” by authors Max Davis and Gary Lehrer.

If you are just getting into vintage pens and/or Waterman pens, this book is an absolute must. Most professional collectors and dealers I know still use this book as one of their favorite references to identify classic Waterman pens.

The book’s authors are among the most trusted dealers in vintage pens. Max Davis once owned a pen shop in New York City, before moving to Europe to start several very successful websites. According to the book, he contributes most of the European advertising for Waterman and most of the ink displayed in one chapter. The rest of the book was completed by renowned pen expert Gary Lehrer, whose personal Waterman collection was possibly second-to-none. He also created with his wife Myrna one of the most successful vintage pen catalogs online and in print. I had the good fortune to know Gary and Myrna on the pen show circuit, and I was very sorry to learn of Gary’s passing earlier this year. He was an honest, kind and hard working pen man who helped to build pen collecting into the hobby it is today. He also was an excellent pen repairman.

Published in 2008, “Waterman Past & Present” is a 236 page book. Hardbound and coffee-table book size, it sports full-color on almost all of its thick, quality paper pages. After a very brief history about Louis Edson Waterman and his pens from 1883 to 1958, there is very little writing in this book.

Instead, it is a feast of images from common Waterman pens to some of the only known remaining rare models. Most of the pen photos are printed at their actual size, with specific details called out to help differentiate between models that might look similar. Along with the photos of pens are clear, easy to read images of original Waterman catalog pages AND magazine advertisements. Additionally, many of the original bottles of Waterman ink are present.

The only thing missing from this book appears to be Waterman pencils. Some appear in the ads and catalog pages shown, but few are photographed or given much thought.

Nevertheless, this remains a phenomenal resource for identifying Waterman pens, and it is wonderful to be able to see real samples of some rare pens that you and I might never seen in real life.

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 2

The sequel to my story in Pen World Magazine is now on news stands. Click each photo to read each page of the story. We have permission to reprint it here from Pen World editor Nicky Pessaroff. Be sure to subscribe to Pen World to read this and many other great stories about pens.

Click the image to better read the story.

Click the image to better read the story.

Click the image to better read the story.

Front Page News

News about ThePenMarket.com is spreading. I was lucky enough to be honored by a front-page feature in The Norwich Times! We’ve been featured before in “Pen World” magazine. However, I think this is our first time in a newspaper. Check it out: https://www.theday.com/local-news/20220406/norwich-resident-specializes-in-modern-vintage-pens

ThePenMarket.com makes good front page news in The Norwich Times. It is such an honor to get a nice write-up in the local paper.

Pen World: Defining Vintage Part 1

Just what is it that makes a pen vintage? Many people are asking that question these days. As time advances, are the old definitions of “vintage” and “modern” really holding up? My article in Pen World Magazine is the first of a two part series. In Part 1, I put the question to 4 legendary experts who helped to build the pen collecting hobby into what it is today. In part 2, I will put the same questions to a new generation of collectors and users. Yet, for now, here is Part 1, reprinted here with permission from Nicky Pessaroff, editor of Pen World Magazine.

To better read each page, click the individual images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pen Collecting Time Capsule

Here are two 5″ X 7″ pen catalogs from 1994! I was intrigued by the Menash catalog as I don’t know what became of that company.

Leaving the pen-collecting life behind, a friend of mine has given me his stash of catalogs and advertising from 1992 through 1994. Its contents blew my mind.

Most of the material was from 1994, the spring I graduated high school. While it is difficult for me to comprehend that was 27 years ago, what is harder to comprehend was how big pen collecting was becoming that long ago!

I found my first fountain pen in 1985 when I was 9 and adored it. It belonged to my late grandfather, and it still worked: a 1928 Sheaffer Lifetime Balance. I used it until it finally broke down, and I became obsessed with finding other fountain pens. They just didn’t exist. Not in my 10-year-old world or the various circles I moved in. I asked adults for them, and all the adults laughed and said they threw their fountain pens out years ago because ballpoints were “so much better.” Even then, I knew that was heresy.

Sheaffer sent me an Imperial to replace my grandfather’s pen, which they could no longer fix. I snatched up those terrible Sheaffer Student Pens at the grocery store. Yet, I was the only person of any age I knew who loved fountain pens. Studying German while in a San Diego high school, my teacher told us that most German kids and adults still preferred using fountain pens. San Diego had no pen stores that I knew of, and the internet did not exist. I worked a part-time job and saved most of my money to pay for my trip as an exchange student to Germany. Most of my fellow American exchange students saved up their money so they could drink heavily in a nation where the drinking age was 16. I begged my German family to be taken to a proper stationary shop. I gleefully purchased a stub-nibbed elegant black Rotring and a bottle of Pelikan royal blue ink. I wrote with that poor beast until its threads wore off. It wasn’t until the internet got more advanced that I could search for fountain pens and finally start finding them in about 2005.

A 1992 edition of “Pen Finder” by Glen Bowen.

And sooo, it surprises me now to see that while I was searching the world over for fountain pens, there was a ground swell of people who did still love fountain pens…and vintage pens, at that! Plus, many of the people I know on the pen show circuit were innovators of the vintage pen revival.

For example, when I first met Glen Bowen, I did not know he founded “Pen World” magazine. He had already sold his stake in it, but his wife Susan was still the circulation director at Pen World. She and I bonded over the fact she went to journalism school at Northwestern with my father. When she later introduced me to Glen, I thought he was just a pen newbie helping his wife at the Pen World table. Ooops!

In this stack of publications is a protean “Pen World” magazine catalog he published in 1992 called the “Pen Finder.” It was printed at the same time as the early “Pen Worlds” but was a catalog of vintage pens he restored that collectors could buy. You had to subscribe to it. There were simply several glossy photos of capped fountain pens and some inner pages that served as an index of what the pens were and how much they cost. No nib photos. As people didn’t yet know the history of the pens as well then as they do now, I think I even spotted a few pens with mismatched caps and barrels.

The catalog index of pens for sale in “Pen Finder.” Back then it was too expensive to print color on every page of a magazine. As such there would be color pages and B&W pages.

Without the internet, vintage pen research was a slow and ongoing process. So many of those early collectors had to do their own research into the histories of pens. And much of that was very hit and miss. The internet really made it easier for everyone to get together and compare notes and research.

I love the low-tech feel of these publications. The world-famous Fountain Pen Hospital vintage pen catalog was just a photo-copier copy of pens and prices. Bexley Pens advertised new models with a beautiful glossy photo paired with a home-printer list of features and benefits.

The more professional catalogs for new merchandise were more sophisticated, but I sure as hell wish I could get my hands on some of this Montblanc and Omas at their original pricing. Brand-new, factory-fresh Montblanc 164 Classique models for $99. Omas fountain pens for $325 to $100! FPH was selling a stash of 14k gold #5 Waterman MUSIC NIBS for $50 a piece!

Vintage pen prices were all over the map. There were rare pens for $100 or $200. Really common pens for up to $800. And, yet, other pen prices haven’t changed. Standard Parker Vacumatics went for around $125.

Ads for the Bexley Giant. Note the glossy one-page sheet paired with a home-printer fact sheet. That was not unusual advertising back then. It was fairly slick and affordable.

When I finally got some guidance from my buddy Hans who taught me about vintage pens and how to repair them in 2005, I felt like we were the last two people on earth who loved old fountain pens. With his instructions, I felt as if I was somehow reinventing the wheel or reviving a long dead religion. Yet, this is evidence I was never truly alone back then. I was just searching in all the wrong ways and places.

It is easy to be glib and say, “Oh, gee, I wish I knew in 1994 what I know now.” While that wouldn’t be untrue, I really wish I knew my pen tribe then and could take the journey with them to where we are today. Fountain pens have always brought me joy, and they clearly bring many other people joy. And while I am very happy we have found each other in this grand and glorious age of the internet, it would have been nice to have learned and shared at an even earlier age.

 

Decameron 2020: Four Guys Walk into a Bar

Four Guys Walk into a Bar
by Art Cerf

Sunset au Groton…Connecticut. As usual just a pretty picture to enjoy with the story.

A priest, a rabbi, a TV evangelist and an agnostic walk into a bar.

Sounds like the beginning of a great joke but in truth, it’s the beginning of a story.

The four were fast friends back in college some 35 years ago and once a year in the fall, they’d meet on campus to update each other, tell old stories, drink, play cards, curse and spit. They all agreed to get a Covid test before this year’s gathering and three of the four did so. The fourth meant to but got busy and forgot. But he was feeling great and had been nowhere near anyone with the virus.

The tele-evangelist was the last to arrive and saw his friends at a table down at Morrie’s…their agreed upon rendezvous.  After handshakes and hugs, they called the barmaid over. The  evangelist– a millionaire many times over–ordered the most expensive bourdon in the house and a double at that.  The priest ordered a white wine. The rabbi–a recovering alcoholic–stayed with a diet Coke and the agnostic had a beer.

After much laughter, a second round was ordered and after those drinks were finished, the TV preacher dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table and told the waitress to keep the change.

They then walked over to the best hotel in town where the evangelist had booked a suite big enough for the four of them. The agnostic said even if they split the cost four ways, he couldn’t afford it. The rabbi and the priest agreed but the preacher waved them off and said he’d pick up the tab and write it off on his taxes.

They went upstairs and soon were playing the game of Hell at ten cents a point like they had 35 years earlier, youthening as they played.

Hours later, everyone was hungry so the preacher called down to room service. He ordered a large Porterhouse steak for himself. The priest just wanted a bowl of soup. The rabbi said he’d have a Rueben and the agnostic said that sounded good to him and added a side of cole slaw. Then the TV preacher added a bottle of champagne.

The young waiter wheeled in the feast and the preacher opened the champagne with a pop and poured for everyone, including the young waiter. He thanked the group but said he wasn’t allowed to drink on the job. The minister said rubbish, tucked a $50 in his pocket and said, “Drink up.”

The young man removed his mask, took two sips, thanked everyone and left.

The weekend was fun for all and as they left their separate ways, the preacher thought though he loved them all, he was surprised on how depressingly ordinary their lives were.

The priest admitted to himself that he was jealous of the TV star for each week, he preached to millions while the priest drew 200 to Sunday services on a good day.

The rabbi just looked back on the weekend as a wonderful break from his real life.

The agnostic loved them all but thought the preacher was in for a big fall…making millions for his church, buying his own plane, a mansion, a Rolls and who knows what else, writing it all off as church expenses.

About a week later, one of the four got sick, really sick with Covid. A day later, two more of the group got ill and two days after that, the fourth was in the hospital. Two would die. The other two would face a lengthy recovery.

Contact tracers looked at all four and who they had contact with while on campus. They traced it to the young waiter who had shared a glass of champagne with them. He was doing fine.

Decameron 2020: The Price of Guilt

The Price of Guilt
By Art Cerf

Here’s the first snowfall of the year in Connecticut. It has nothing to do with the story. We just think it is beautiful and as good a way to illustrate this story as any.

Mike and Jill had been married for almost two years and still behaved like newlyweds. They treasured each other.

One morning Jill woke up with a headache and a slight fever. She said it’s just a cold and went on with her day. But the headache got worse and her fever climbed so Mike rushed her to the hospital. It was the last time he would see her for four weeks.

He checked about every four hours with the hospital staff but she was showing no improvement. In fact, three days in the doctors said they had to put a tube down her throat because her oxygen levels had dipped so.

Mike was worried sick. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t read or watch TV. About all he could do was go outside and walk…and walk…and walk.

One day, he ran into Maggie, one of Jill’s acquaintances and she asked for Jill and he told her how she was now hospitalized with Covid. She looked at him…gaunt in appearance, he hadn’t shaved in days nor eaten much.

She said let’s go back to your place and I’d cook you up something. He followed her and she rummaged through the fridge and came up with bacon and eggs.

She told him to go upstairs, shower, shave and change his clothes. When he returned, he suddenly realized he was ravenous and quickly ate every bite.

After the meal, he asked her if she’d like a beer.

“No, but if you have any gin, I’d take a martini.”

So they both had martinis and talked. And then a second martini and then a third.

The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed to pee while nursing a terrible hangover.

As he returned, he saw a sleeping Maggie, one bare breast peeking out from beneath the sheets.

He tried to dress quietly but she awoke smiling, saying, “Good morning, lover.”

Mike turned scarlet and stammered, “We shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have…”

She stopped him, saying not to worry, it was a one-time thing and she had no desire to break up his marriage, adding, “As for me, I really enjoyed myself and apparently, you did too…twice!”

Maggie then said she’d take a quick shower and be on her way.

Those were the longest 25 minutes in Mike’s life until she went out the door.

Then he worried, “What if the neighbors saw? What if she had a social disease or, God forbid, Aids?”

And then he realized he had used no protection…what if she’s pregnant?

Just then the phone rang and it was the hospital. A doctor told him Jill had been taken off the ventilator and was doing much better and though still very weak, could go home in two or three days.

Mike ran upstairs, stripped the bed and washed the sheets…twice. He then scrubbed out the tub to make sure none of Maggie’s long, chestnut hair was stuck in the drain or anywhere else.  Then he cleaned up the kitchen, washing pots and dishes, again trying to erase any sign of Maggie’s presence.

Three days later, Jill came home and went straight up to the bedroom to lie down.

Then the phone rang and it was Maggie.

“Mike,” she said, “I had a Covid test at work after our night, and I’ve tested positive but asymptotic. However, they warn that I may have past the virus to anyone I’d seen or spent time with.”

A Very Parker Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton, Conn.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been this chaotic and stressful for everyone in America since at least World War II…possibly since the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic. There’s the Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, recession, open-rampant-growing racism, civil unrest and climate disaster for many recovering from wildfires and hurricanes.

It feels more important than ever to take a day to recognize all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. Me, I’m thankful for my fiancé, her mother and I all being healthy and well together in our new home. I’m thankful my parents, sister and her family are healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for all of my friends, whether we know each other from before ThePenMarket.com or because of it.

So many customers became friends who beautifully color my life. In Chicago, I have a Civil-War studying, vintage-camera-loving buddy with fantastic wit and a social-working, philosophizing friend who convinced me to not give up on my novel. There’s the salsa-dancing police detective who specializes in tracking down child abusers in Arizona. A Heinlein-loving pen collector in Virginia. A virologist who is working on the Covid-19 vaccine. A certain retired urologist in Connecticut. A retired sailor in Virginia Beach. A school teacher in Germany. A Waterman-loving Oklahoman. The nursing home nurse in Texas. Several great paramedics in Washington and Colorado. I have a 3-fingered brother from another mother down in Texas, as well as a wonderful roommate and travel buddy who loves cars as much as pens. I’d have never guessed I’d have as many additional new and wonderful friends from the Deep South as I do. I am a Yankee city boy, after all. And, of course, there are many, many other pen friends whom I delight in getting to know through the site. 

The newest friend I think you’ll enjoy meeting is Camy Matthay. Camy reached out to me after reading my series of stories about the pens that ended World War II. Most of those pens were Parker pens, and she is reconnecting with her late father by doing the deepest dive into Parker pens I’ve seen in years.

Frank Matthay in his passport issued 1959. Matthay was the leader of Parker exports from 1928 through 1966.

Who was her father? No. Not George or Kenneth Parker. Her father was the unassuming sounding Frank Matthay…the man responsible for making Parker a global brand!

Her story is equally captivating as her father’s. Camy came along late in Frank’s life. And, unfortunately, he died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the mid-1970s when she was a teen. His memories were robbed of him by the disease, just as she was coming of age and really interested in getting to know her father as a person more than just Dad. Life moves quickly in one’s teens and twenties, and a little later in adulthood Camy decided to reconnect with her late father when she uncovered a treasure trove of boxes filled with his papers, passports, photos and other personal effects.

Frank, as it turns out, lived the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did he live well at a time when most of the world lived in crushing poverty, he saw the world before it lost much of its mystery. He met presidents and Nazis—generals and actual Amazonian headhunters. He helped give birth to the Parker Vacumatic, 51, 61 and 75!

Thankfully, Camy has shared her discoveries with me and is happy to share them with you, too. The following is my summary of her father’s biography with her full approval.

Frank Matthay (far left) with George Parker (white haired guy, founder of Parker Pens) circa 1929.

Frank Matthay was born May 10, 1904, in Beyenberg, Germany. Too young to fight in World War I, he was a talented student in what now would be considered a college-prep high school. Here he specialized in studying the classics, including the languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and his native German. Along the line, he also picked up English.

At the tender age of 19, he immigrated to the United States in 1923. He was sponsored by his uncle. Germany, at the time, was struggling desperately with the national economic collapse of post-WWI reparations and more. He moved to Chicago, where he was supposed to work in his uncle’s grocery store. However, it seems he never worked for his uncle, taking a job initially as a soda jerk and taking night classes at a YMCA. 

It is unclear when and where he mastered English, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and some Mandarin Chinese. Yet, his early training in the German school system likely made it very easy for him to learn any other language put in front of him.

Also unclear is how he joined the Parker Pen Company in January 1928, at the age of 23. His mastery of languages was what got him a job in the export department, and he was soon working closely with George and Kenneth Parker.

By all accounts, Frank was the life of any party with a natural gift of gab and always armed with a joke and amusing stories. He was tall and lean with a broad, easy smile and a glimmer of mirth in his eyes, plus he had a meticulously Teutonic attention to detail. All important traits for setting up a global distribution and sales network in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa!

After a year with the company, Frank was sent on his first assignment to Cuba on the two-year-old airline known as PanAmerican. His career would actually parallel the rise of PanAm. He rode on every glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) float plane they had including the very early Sikorsky S-38, Consolidated Commodore and the extremely lux Sikorsky S-40 “Caribbean Clipper,” which was the first of PanAm’s famous “Clipper” airliners.

Frank took this photo of a Sikorsky 38 float plane taxiing to the dock.

On the success of his Cuba trip, in 1930 he was sent to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico and Cuba, once again. During his trip to Europe on the SS Bremen, he witnessed one of the first, if not the first, aircraft launched from a ship at sea. It was a mail plane launched from a catapult to speed the delivery of the mail the ship was carrying. In 1931, he spent 6 months “on the road” building Parker’s network in Australia and Southeast Asia!

Herbert Hoover’s motorcade drives through Port au Prince, Haiti.

An avid photographer, Frank took pictures of all of his travels. He has images of President Herbert Hoover’s 2-car motorcade in Port au Prince, Haiti. He loved exploring volcanos. On one of his trips to Peru or Ecuador he met and photographed a tribe of headhunters. He even bought a shrunken head from them for $25 (about $330 in our current money). The images look as if they could have been in National Geographic.

Frank took this photo of a tribe of headhunters in Peru or Ecuador. He bought a shrunken head from them for $25.

If you remember my stories about Kenneth Parker befriending Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the Philippines, Frank was with them!

Fans of the Parker 51 will love knowing that Frank was the architect of the 1939 and ’40 release of the preliminary Parker 51s in South America and the Caribbean! His itinerary in 1939 was packed with extended trips south of the border. His itinerary on PanAmerican Airlines alone cost nearly $27,000 in today’s money. That doesn’t count his hotels, meals, etc. Yet, it also laid the ground work for the sale of tens of millions of Parker 51s both abroad and at home.

Here is Frank’s copy of the PanAm route map from 1931. Odds are really good that he flew every leg of that route.

Financially speaking, Frank was very well paid for his efforts. At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, he was making $5,000 a year. That is just shy of $100,000 a year in today’s money. And that doesn’t count for his luxury travel and adventures paid for by the company. According to records from Janesville that Camy found, he was making more than local doctors. Parker’s famous nib grinders of 1939 made $2,400 a year. A typist at Parker would make $1,000 a year. (Other cool details she uncovered.)

Frank’s passports are works of art, colorfully illustrated with visas to scores of nations. More impressive than the stamps of many colors are the notes from customs officials. Chilling are the notes by Nazis and Italian fascists telling him where he can and cannot go. It also seemed to him at times that the Nazis had him under surveillance. As a former German citizen who became a naturalized American, he was suspicious to them.

As it turns out, they had good reasons to suspect him. He was very anti-fascism. After the outbreak of World War II, he worked with friends and family in Belgium to funnel money to the resistance fighting Nazi-occupation.

His post-war years were just as busy, as he rebuilt Parker’s global networks from the rubble of Europe’s and much of Asia’s destruction.

Check out the stamps from China to Nazi Germany on this heavily inked page from his 1937 passport.

Unfortunately, a life of travel and corporate empire building was rough at home. His first marriage, in which he had 3 children, ended in divorce. Later in life he remarried and had three more children, including Camy. Yet, that was difficult, too. He traveled around the world so much, a very, very young Camy thought he was one of America’s first astronauts for a little while.

In 1960, Parker opened a sales office in Paris, and Frank and his family were moved there to run the office until 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Frank’s memory started to fail. Very little was known about neurological diseases such as Alzheimers back then, and doctors actually thought his medical problems stemmed from diseases he might have picked up on his travels or from eating exotic native foods, such as, apparently, a still beating snake heart in Vietnam.

Frank retired as a vice president at Parker in 1966, after 38 years of dedicated service. He continued his hobby of collecting stamps and learning Russian and Sandskrit until his Alzheimers made it impossible. He passed away in 1974.

Frank is on the far right posing with the famed Parker 51 airplane. Among his many other hobbies, Frank was a licensed pilot, though I do not know if he flew the “51.”

Honestly, there are so many more adventures in Frank’s life, but I just couldn’t fit them all into this post without simply writing a book. I am so thankful for Camy’s reaching out to me and sharing her stories and research. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Parker’s international growth and its star salesman and leader.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. No matter how bad this pandemic gets, remember we are going to get through it. A vaccine is on its way. And one day, this pandemic will be nothing more than a bad memory. Thank you for visiting and supporting ThePenMarket.com. We can’t do it without you, and we are so grateful for you. Stay strong and keep writing.