Parker should be a familiar name to anyone who pays attention to pens; their Jotter ballpoints are everywhere, and they have a pretty good reputation in the higher end as well. They were (and still are) one of the great fountain pen companies, and the arrow clip design should be instantly recognizable to anyone who pays attention to fine pens.
Parker was founded by George Stafford Parker in 1891. Early Parker pens had the unique patented "Lucky Curve" feed, which was an elongated conventional feed that curved back to touch the barrel wall. Supposedly this helps draw ink back into the pen when it wasn't in use. Parker used the Lucky Curve into the 1920s as a competitive market differentiator in a crowded pen market.
Unlike most major manufacturers of the era, Parker largely stayed away from the lever fill mechanism. Although they did produce some examples of lever fillers, they prefered their own homegrown mechanisms. During the 1920s and 1930s, this was the button fill mechanism, which used a button hidden behind a blind cap to compress the bar that the lever would have compressed.
The Duofold, introduced around 1922, formed the top end of the Parker line through the 1920s. The Duofold was a large imposing pen (initially released in a bright red color) with squared off ends. The rarer colors (especially Mandarin Yellow) are highly collectible today.
The Duofold line would be de-emphasized in the 1930s in favor of the new Vacumatic line, introduced around 1932. The Vacumatic incorporated a new filling mechanism with a diaphragm at the end that was pumped to draw ink directly into the barrel. In addition, the barrel itself was made with colorful celluloid with transparent lines that allowed the writer to see the ink level in the barrel. To add to the luxury, the new redesigned clips featured the feathered arrow that Parker still uses today, as well as an enameled "Blue Diamond" that signified the lifetime warranty.
The Vacumatic proved to be quite popular and many of the features, such as the visible ink supply, were imitated by other manufacturers.
Parker enthusiasts consider the Parker 51 to be the most significant pen that Parker has ever produced and arguably the most significant fountain pen of the 20th century.
The Parker 51 was first introduced in 1941 and displaced the Vacumatic as Parker's top end pen. For the first decade or two of its existence, the 51 was one of the world's most sought after luxury prestige pens; Parker advertised it as "The World's Most Wanted Pen." Parker marketing pushed the 51 in ads during World War II even though production could not meet demand, which only furthered the exclusive and desirable image they were trying to cultivate.
The Parker 51 featured a number of technical and design innovations. The nib was concealed under a hood, leaving only the point exposed. This limits air exposure, increasing the length of time you can leave the pen unused and uncapped before the nib dries out. The small tubular nib is encased in a collector with numerous thin fins (all concealed under the hood) that acts as a giant ink trap, further lengthening the uncapped time by keeping ink near the point and also regulating temperature and pressure changes more evenly by acting as a large buffer. The cap was a slip on cap instead of a screw cap and was made of metal with an internal clutch that lets it cap firmly with no danger of splitting or scratching the barrel, unlike any of its contemporaries.
The high desirability of the Parker 51 led the other manufacturers to rush out their own pens with concealed nibs. Most of these pens used a conventional open nib hidden under a plastic shell rather than Parker's superior tubular nib inside a collector. The Parker 51 was undoubtedly the most copied pen of its time; China still produces faithful Parker 51 clones to this day.
The Parker 51 is considered by many pen collectors to be the finest technological achievement in fountain pens. In practice, the 51 is an extremely practical workhorse pen; the nib/collector system that takes forever to dry out makes it ideal for editing, note taking, and other tasks with long pauses between writing.
Parker went into the cartridge pen business with the Parker 45 "Convertible" pen, which is still in production today essentially unaltered in design (parts from vintage and current 45s interchange cleanly). This gave uses the choice of filling from cartridges or bottle. Over time, Parker would dispense with integrated filling mechanisms altogether.
Like all fine pen companies, Parker was diminished by the advent of the disposable ballpoint. Parker was still able to succeed in this area with the popular and ubitquitous low-end Parker Jotter ballpoint, and many generic ballpoints use Parker-style refils.
Realizing that the fountain pen market was shrinking but still wanting to preserve an image of luxury and exclusitivity, Parker shifted its pen designs and marketing towards the luxury market with the famous Parker 75 in solid sterling silver. Although Parker continued to produce a full range of pens, marketing at the high end increasingly focused on images of luxury rather than gadget features (like the Sheaffer Snorkel), and Parker's marketing department worked aggressively on product placement into important events like nuclear disarmament treaty signings. Parker would keep its image as a brand of luxury and prestige until it was overshadowed by Mont Blanc during the 1980s.
Parker's current line includes designs that were inspired by their glory days. The Duofold is still being produced as one of their top end pens, albeit in a modern cartridge form. Parker also produces a modern cartridge version of the 51, and the modern Parker 100 is a contemporary restyling of the 51 aesthetic. Parker continues to make pens across the full range, from very low end school pens to high end limited edition collectible pens.
For a period of time in the 1990s Parker was owned by Gillette (the razor blade people), but is now owned by Rubbermaid's Sanford subsidiary (the makers of the Sharpie), which also owns Waterman. Like the other big formerly American pen companies, Parker is now based overseas, in the United Kingdom.
Being one of the major brands, Parker is widely collected within the fountain pen community. However, this also means that Parker pens are quite common and not particularly difficult to obtain unless you are being really picky. As you can imagine, Parker collectors are really picky, and the minute differences between various models is better documented in Parker pens than almost anywhere else.
There is an entire subculture within the fountain pen community devoted to collecting the Parker 51 in its infinite variations. To a casual collector, a couple examples each of Vacumatics and Aerometrics will suffice, but where's the fun in that? You can collect pens from each quarter of each year, or try to get every variant of every cap pattern, or any number of other obscure collecting goals. Entire books have actually been written about this one pen.
There is a similar subculture that collects Vacumatics in its equally infinite variations. However, most Vacumatics you find today will require restoration work, and restoring a Vac requires special tools and is decidedly not a beginner job. Finally, the Parker 75 is also highly sought after and collected.
A word of caution: counterfeit Parker Sonnets are quite common on eBay
and the current generation fakes are sophisticated enough that you
typically cannot tell at all from pictures and only with great
difficulty in person. To be safe, you should buy only from reputable
sources or private individuals (feedback is poor indicator in this
case, as there are high-feedback power sellers who sell
counterfeits). I would also avoid pretty much all of Asia; China and
Thailand are especially rife with fakes. The few identifying
characteristics we have left are the nib hallmarks (the diamond-cross
hallmark was never used by Parker) and the box design. As usual, if
the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. For more
Attack of the Clones Part III by Antonios Zavaliangos
At It Again: Fake Sonnets by Bill Riepl
Fake Sonnets Take III: Boxes posting on FPN by Antonios Zavaliangos
Methods to identify a FAKE sonnet posting on FPN
Finally, one valuable aid to collectors that Parker provides are the date codes on many pens. Many Parker pens, with some Vacumatics and Parker 51s through 1953, had date codes, as well as pretty much everything made by Parker France/UK since 1979. The date codes are somewhat mysterious, but follow a fairly simple pattern:
- For vintage Vacs and 51s, the last one (before 1950) or two digits are engraved on the imprint. The quarter is indicated by the number of dots around the digit, with 3 dots being 1Q and no dots being 4Q. They stopped dating pens around 1953.
- For 1979 onwards, the inscription is usually on the cap band or one of
the trim bands. The year marks the one's digit, using the
mnemonic "QUALITYPEN" (with 0 corresponding to Q and N
corresponding to 9). The quarter is denoted as follows:
- 1979-1986: E, C, L, I for 1Q, 2Q, 3Q, 4Q
- 1987-onward: III, II, I, (nothing) for 1Q, 2Q, 3Q, 4Q
The date code is pretty small, so you'll have to look closely. Also, there are ambiguous dates (IE could be Q1 1984 or Q3 1988, for example), so you may have to rely on your knowledge as a collector to figure out exactly when it was made.
Parker Pen Gallery
My Parker collection is large enough to warrant grouping by model lines rather than purely chronological order.
Skip ahead to:
Parker Hooded Nib Pens (51, 21, 17)
The hooded nib (where the nib is mostly concealed by a plastic hood that is integral with the section) is a classic Parker design element that had proven tremendously influential for a time. The hooded nib was first introduced with the Parker 51; within a short time the streamlined look was all the craze among the pen-buying public. Other manufacturers responded by introducing pens with smaller or different nibs in an attempt to emulate the streamlined shape of the Parker 51; notable examples that may be inspired by the 51 include Sheaffer's conical Triumph nib and Waterman's small nib on the Taperite. Hooded nibs have mostly fallen out of fashion in today's market as they don't really look like the classic image of an open-nib fountain pen, but the Shanghai Hero Pen Company in China still produces pens that are close copies of the 51 in mechanical design.
The examples below feature the 51, the 21 (a lower-priced lookalike that employed a conventional nib cosmetically concealed by the hood), and the 17 (another low-end Parker offering).
Parker 51 Blue Diamond Q1 1946, 14k gold nib, acrylic/steel, vacumatic fill
A fairly representative example of a Vac-fill Parker 51.
Parker 51 Aerometric Q4 1948, 14k gold nib, acrylic and 1/10 12k gold fill, aerometric fill
In 1948 the filling mechanism in the Parker 51 was changed from the old Vacumatic system to the simpler and superior Aerometric system. The Aerometric system consisted of a transparent bladder (made of "pli-glass" which is basically nylon) encased in a metal frame with a squeeze bar. The bladder was originally expected to have a lifetime of 30 years, but in practice they last much longer, with the overwhelming majority of Aerometric 51s still in working condition and going strong after 50 years. The material is extremely resistant to the corrosive effect of ink and does not disintegrate and crumble like standard rubber ink sacs. Originally called the "Foto-fill" (because the transparent bladder allowed you to see the ink level), it was renamed to "Aerometric" by the first year so that marketing could claim that it was safe to use in airplanes.
The Aerometric system proved to be a very reliable system, and Parker used it in most of its pens until the great switch towards cartridge/converters (using, naturally, aerometric-like converters). It is actually rare to find a non-functioning Aerometric, which is almost never true for all other vintage pens.
I should note that it is not just the squeeze fill that makes it Aerometric; there is also a breather tube that runs from the feed through the inside of the sac. This provides an additional air channel separate from the feed and collector that (in theory) allows the pen to compensate for pressure changes more rapidly than one that lacked the tube. The sqeeze-bar converter lacks this tube and strictly speaking is not an Aerometric system, but common usage of the term refers generally to fixed squeeze-bar systems.
This particular one has a 1/10 12k gold-filled cap in the relatively uncommon Signet "converging lines" pattern. This was the top of the Aerometric 51 line on introduction.
Parker 51 Aerometric Q3 1949, 14k gold nib, acrylic/metal, aerometric fill
Most Parker 51s have the frosted "Lustraloy" cap with the thin shiny cap band. The satin-finished cap has an unfortunate tendency to pick up scratches easily.
Parker 51 Special Q4 1950, steel ("octanium") nib, acrylic/metal, aerometric fill
The Parker 51 Special is a slightly more downscale version of the standard 51. The principle difference between the Special and a normal aerometric 51 is that the Special uses a steel alloy nib instead of 14k gold. Assuming the caps have not been swapped (and they sometimes are in the wild), you can tell a 51 Special from the regular 51 by the all-chrome cap, which is unique to the 51 Special. It is extremely difficult to tell the difference in the body without examination of either the nib or the markings on the filler, but functionally they perform similarly.
Parker 51 Special late 1950s?, steel nib, acrylic/metal, aerometric fill
Here is a slightly later (post-1952) Parker with no date code. This is typical of most 51 Specials in the wild as they were only date coded for the first two years of production.
Parker 51 Special late 1950s-1960s?, 14k gold nib, acrylic/metal, aerometric fill
This 51 Special actually has a 14k gold nib even though the filler is clearly marked 51 Special. There is no date code on the body, so it is post-1952. I hypothesize that the original nib was either upgraded, or this pen was made towards the end of Parker's production run in the late 1960s and they stuck a gold nib on just to use up parts.
Parker 51 Aerometric demonstrator circa 1955, 14k gold nib, Lucite/steel, aerometric fill
Demonstrator pens are limited production pens made by a manufacturer for the use of pen shop sales staff to "demonstrate" the inner workings of a pen to a prospective customer. This demonstrator is manufactured in clear plastic, showing the tubular nib and enclosing collector, also in clear plastic. This makes it clear (without disassembly) that the guts of the Parker 51 are radically different from a conventional open-nib fountain pen.
Due to their scarcity compared to standard production pens, demonstrators are significantly more collectible and command much higher prices.
Parker 21 Mk1 circa 1950, steel ("octanium") nib, polystyrene/metal, aerometric fill
The Parker 21 is a slightly smaller budget version of the venerable Parker 51. While it can be difficult to distinguish externally, there are significant differences between this pen and its more upscale ancestor. The nib is steel instead of 14k gold and is a conventional nib with a conventional feed, instead of the tubular nib and full collector in the 51. For the first-generation Parker 21 (1948-1951), a plain metal clip with a center ridge is used instead of the arrow clip. They are generally not as fancy as the 51, but are extremely inexpensive. The Mark 1 should have a date code on the barrel, but this particular example seems to lack one.
Parker 21 Mk2 circa 1950, steel ("octanium") nib, polystyrene/metal, aerometric fill
The second-generation Parker 21 is slightly different. The clip is now a crimped metal "trough" design.
Parker 21 Super 1960s?, steel nib, polystyrene/steel, aerometric fill
The later 21 Super variant has an arrow clip similar to the Parker 45. However, since the caps are all interchangeable, the reliable way to identify the Super variant is by the other design change: significantly less of the feed is exposed on the underside.
Parker 17 circa 1964-early 1970s?, steel nib, plastic, aerometric
If the Parker 21 was the cheap version of the Parker 51, then the Parker 17 is the cheap version of the Parker 21. Featuring a mostly plastic construction (not even a metal clutch ring), the Parker 17 was their low end pen. Early 17s (1962-1964) featured a small open nib, but the design was switched to a hooded nib in 1964 and most surviving examples feature the hooded nib.
The Parker 45 was Parker's school pen and entry level fine pen and their first pen featuring cartridge or converter filling mechanisms. It was one of Parker's longest running pen lines and featured pens covering the low to mid end of the price range, from simple plastic and steel to fancier engraved steel and gold plate, with nibs from plain steel to 14k gold. The overall design has not changed significantly through the entire production run; caps, barrels, nibs, sections, feeds, and most other parts freely interchange between pens produced decades apart.
The original Parker 45 "Convertible" was Parker's earliest cartridge/converter pen, using either disposable cartridges or an aerometric converter. Originally designed as a school pen, Parker soon realized that they had a great success on their hands. Within a few years most of the Parker line had switched to cartridges and the Parker 45 itself started coming in more upscale finishes. The Parker 45 has been in production for decades, first in the US, then in the UK, and was only discontinued in 2006. The trim on modern 45s is a bit nicer, although the nibs are gold-plated steel instead of 14k gold.
The Parker 45 was finally discontinued in 2006.
Eversharp Point *7 c.1960-1961, steel nib, plastic/chrome, cartridge/converter
What's an Eversharp pen doing in the Parker section? Well, Eversharp folded around 1957 as a result of the whole CA ballpoint fiasco and Parker purchased the company. For quite a few years afterward, you'd see Eversharp pens in packaging that says "The Eversharp Pen Company, a division of The Parker Pen Company." There are pens out there with both the Eversharp E and the Parker Arrow/Halo markings on the cap, and early Parker cartridges and converters say "Fits Eversharp and Parker." Parker apparently used the Eversharp name for low end student pens and experimented with more radical variants than they were willing to with their own cartridge pens until they dropped the Eversharp name (by the 1970s?).
If this one looks familiar, it should - this is the pen that the Parker 45 is based on. Parker acquired the design from Eversharp (who to my knowledge folded before they brought this design to market) and it was released around the same time (possibly before?) the Parker 45 and were sold at the same time. So similar are they that many of the parts, including the nib and feed, will interchange. Several other variants include the Tip-Wic (same cartridge pen but with a fiber tip instead of a nib) and the 10,000-Word (which may predate the Big E and has a very different notched cap).
I believe this one, an early model with a chrome cap and plastic body, is called the Point *7, on the basis of having seen a boxed gift set with the exact same pen in black with supporting documentation clearly identifying this model. Richard Binder on his website shows this pen as an early Eversharp Challenger, but I am unable to uncover any supporting information for this, and nothing as authorotative as a mint-in-box pen with clear paperwork (sadly, I do not own that set, but I have pictures)
The Eversharp Parker 45 variants include:
- Point *7
- Big E
- 10,000 Word Pen - has distinctive truncated cap and an "anti-hooded" nib
- Tip-Wic (replaceable felt tip cartridge pen)
Eversharp Big E ? circa 1961, steel nib, plastic, cartridge/converter
I think this one is the Big E, a later Parker 45 clone with all plastic parts. Richard Binder identifies a very similar pen as the Eversharp Challenger, but this one has a removable 45-compatible nib unit and I've seen vintage ads showing this model and identifying it as a Big E.
Eversharp 10,000 Word circa 1960s, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
Of the Eversharp variants of the Parker 45, the 10,000 Word is probably the most far removed. The body is similar, but the nib hood is inverted, the nib is non-removable and is attached with tabs on the side, and the cap is truncated. Nevertheless, there is still a vague family resemblance.
Parker 45 circa 1960s, 14k gold nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
This is a typical example of an earlier Parker 45. In the 1960s, these retailed for about $5, which made them an excellent bargain for a pen with a 14k gold nib.
Parker 45 GT circa 1967, 14k gold nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
A very handsome pen, a dressier version of the usual Parker 45, with gold trim. A nearly identical (but less well appointed) version was still in production through 2006.
Parker 45 Classic circa 1970s, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
Some later models of the 45 sported steel caps with chrome trim and steel alloy nibs.
Parker 45 Brazil 1960s?, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
I guess Parker must have had a factory in Brazil cranking out 45s; the top one has "Parker" on the front of the cap and "Ind. Brasileira" on the back. The second lacks this engraving, but if you pull out the nib you'll find that it is made in Brazil. The engraving is somewhat cruder than on other 45s I've seen. One common difference between these and the US-made pens is that the arrow clip doesn't have a triangle drawn in at the arrowhead. Everything else is more or less the same.
Parker 45 Flighter CT circa 1970s, 14k gold nib, stainless steel, cartridge/converter
The 45 Flighter came in several variants; this one is in chrome trim with black barrel end and a gold nib.
Parker 45 Flighter CT circa 1980s, steel nib, stainless steel, catridge/converter
This is more or less the same thing as above, but instead of a black tassie the entire body is steel, and it is made in France.
Parker 45 Flighter GT circa 1970s?, 14k gold nib, stainless steel, cartridge/converter
And here's the 45 Flighter with gold trim and a gold end tassie.
Parker 45 England 1970s-1980s? 14k gold nib, plastic, cartridge/converter
Many UK-made Parker 45s had matching plastic caps and barrels. These are distinct from the American-made Arrow/45CT variants as they have nicer gold trim instead of chrome trim. I am not sure if there is an official model name for this variant.
Parker 45 TX Q3 1981, steel nib, epoxy on metal, cartridge/converter
The short-lived (1980-1983) TX variant had a matte (epoxy-based, I hear) finish on a metal barrel and cap, not to be confused with the 45 Coronet metal variants. I do not know if any colors other than blue were made for the 45 TX
The Parker 75 was introduced in 1964 and named for the company's 75th anniversary in 1963 at the then-outrageous price of $25. The original pattern (and the one most instantly identified with Parker) is the sterling silver Cisele (engraved grid lines) pattern.
The Parker 75 features a number of design elements from preceeding pens, including the molded grip and adjustable nib from the VP and the cartridge/converter system from the 45. Marketed as a super-premium pen at a time when ballpoints were killing fountain pens in the market, it was nonetheless a great success and remained in production for thirty years until it was replaced by the Sonnet.
A survey of vintage magazine advertising (try National Geographic from 1965-1975) shows clearly how Parker was trying to position this pen: as an expression of high luxury and a pen for the most discerning and exclusive tastes. The 75 was also the basis for one of the earliest modern limited edition pens with the Spanish Treasure pen in 1965, made from silver recovered from a Spanish fleet wrecked off the Florida coast in 1715. Other 75-based LEs include the RMS Queen Elizabeth (made from brass recovered from the wreck) and the Bicentennial (featuring wood recovered from Independence Hall in Philadelphia during renovations for the bicentennial). Although Parker has long since been displaced from the very top of the luxury market by other companies, Parker used the same sort of marketing and had the same cachet back when Mont Blanc was just another German company.
The 75 came in a wide variety of designs in metal and lacquer and collecting them is a daunting task. By far the most recognizable variant is the original Sterling Cisele (grid pattern), which is the iconic modern Parker pen.
Parker 75 Sterling Cisele (flat tassie, zero mark) mid 1960s, 14k gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter
Early Parker 75 has flat end tassies and a zero reference mark on the section. These are worth more than the later versions with the dish indentation in the tassie.
Parker 75 Sterling Cisele (flat tassie) late 1960s, 14k gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter
Within a few years, Parker had eliminated the reference zero mark on the sections in Parker 75s.
Parker 75 Sterling Cisele (dish tassie) circa 1970s, 14k gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter
This particular US-made example features the "dish" tassies, has the Parker engraving moved to the back of the cap band, and lacks the reference zero mark on the nib dial, which places it somewhere in the middle of the US production run before the move to the new plant in Meru, France.
Parker 75 Insignia circa early 1970s, 14k gold nib, 14k gold fill over brass, cartridge/converter
The Parker 75 Insignia is basically a gold-fill version of the Sterling Cisele but with a much lighter engraving. This model is not to be confused with the Vermeil, which is gold fill or gold plate over sterling silver with a full and deep engraving. Obviously, the Vermeil is considerably more expensive. The second of these two has a zero mark on the section, a feature in early 75s.
Parker 75 Grain d'Orge Silverplate circa 1975, 14k gold nib, silverplate over brass, cartridge/converter
This is one of their earlier French production (Place Vendome) pens in a barleycorn pattern. The silver plated version is plated with 30 microns of silver and is marked so on the cap band. Later versions have a gold-plated clip and tassies in place of the earlier silverplate.
Parker 75 Thuya 3Q 1984, 14k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
Starting in 1979, Parker began making the 75 in lacquer finishes from their French factory. During the first two years, the Chinese characters for "Parker" were painted on the pen; this was omitted in later pens. The "thuya" pattern consolidates their earlier tortoiseshell and woodgrain brown patterns from the first two years and was made from 1981-1990.
The section on this pen is not original to the pen. This version has three smaller grip points but is not very sculpted and is functionally similar to a more textured round grip. This section, with the thin gold band, was introduced in the late 1980s and uses a very different feed from prior 75s and is the last variant before production ended.
Parker 75 Burgundy 1Q 1985, 14k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
The Parker 75 in burgundy lacquer. This pen's section retains the sculpted grip of earlier 75s but replaces the chrome graduated ring with a wide gold band. This band would be phased out in favor of a thin gold ring further down as the wide plated band was vulnerable to unsightly corrosion.
Parker 75 Milleraies Goldplate Q2 1986, 14k gold nib, gold plate over brass, cartridge/converter
The Milleraies pattern consists of engraved lines running lengthwise. The lines are place all around with no gaps and the density is far greater than the other parallel line patterns like the Filette, Florence, Godron, or Grosse Cotes (which are often confused for each other).
Parker Premier Sterling Cisele 1983-1991, 18k gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter
The Premier can be considered a variant of the 75 as the nibs and sections are interchangeable. However, the Premier is larger and more cylindrical in shape. The trim bands are faceted and the end tassies are finished with an onyx insert. Finally, Premiers usually ship with an 18k nib and have the section pictured here with a faceted wide gold trim ring.
Compared to the 75, the Premier came in only a few finishes. It was marketed as an even more luxurious and upscale version of the 75.
Parker Premier Chinese Lacquer 1983-1991, 18k gold nib, natural lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
Interestingly enough, the Chinese Lacquer finish shown here was priced higher than the sterling silver version. Only the solid 18k gold version cost more.
The Sonnet replaced the 75 in Parker's line in 1993 and shows clearly similar styling. Early marketing materials bill it as the "Writer's Pen" with a more springy and flexible nib than most contemporary pens.
The Sonnet comes in a bewildering array of finishes (mostly lacquer) and collecting and cataloging them all would be a daunting task. The major changes to the line involve the size of the cap band (from the early thin band, to a wide band in the late 1990s, to the current medium-sized band with "Parker" on the front) and the nib engraving, but there are several exceptions to these rules and many possible combinations.
The Sonnet remains one of Parker's best selling pens today and can easily be found in any store that sells fine gift pens.
Parker Sonnet Chinese Lacque Vision Fonce Q4 1993, 18k 2-tone gold nib, natural lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
One of the highest-end Sonnets (these are often costlier than the sterling silver pens), the now out of production Chinese Lacquer pens were made with natural lacquer in black, red, and amber. Most unusual for Sonnets of the time is the wide cap band that would later be adopted across the rest of the line.
Parker Sonnet Lacque Moonbeam Q4 1993, 18k gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
As far as I know, the Moonbeam (mottled grey) pattern was only in production for a few years towards the beginning of the Sonnet line.
Parker Sonnet Matte Black circa 1993, 18k single-tone gold nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
This particular pen is very early production model with the thin cap bands that have no room for an imprint or date code.
Parker Sonnet Deep Red Q2 1995, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
Among the many lacquer patterns in the Parker Sonnet series are the "Deep" colors, in red, blue, and green. These pens usually ship with the gold-plated steel nib shown here. The pattern is more like a mottled pattern than marble or swirl, and is not to be confused with the Sonnet Premier patterns in the same marbled colors. The Sonnet Premier pattern is different and the Sonnet Premier is fitted with an 18k gold nib instead of the steel nib here.
Parker Sonnet Deep Green Q2 1997, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
Another Sonnet, this one in the Deep Green (mottled green) pattern with a plated steel nib. I am not sure if this nib is original to the pen; the engraving is identical to the nib on the Insignia and is rather unlike the the standard plated nib for the Sonnet.
Parker Sonnet Deep Blue Q2 1997, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
The mottled pattern is also available as Deep Blue. This one features the correct gold-plated nib for the time.
Parker Insignia Custom Q2 1997, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer/gold-plate, cartridge/converter
The Parker Insignia fountain pen is not nearly as common as the ubitquitous ballpoint version. I an classifying the Insignia fountain pen in the Sonnet family as they are very similar in appearence and their parts all interchange. The primary differences are that the Insignia has a more squared off barrel end, the Insignia's tassie is different and is gold instead of the Sonnet's black, the Insignia always uses a gold-plated nib with the diamond pattern, and the Insignia's section has no additional trim bands. Insignias are identified as such on the cap band. The Custom finishes are single-colored barrels matched with a gold-plated cap.
Parker Insignia Green Bronze Q2 1997, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
Another Insignia, this one in a funky green and bronze swirl. The Insignia line featured significantly more exotic patterns than the more conservative Sonnet.
Parker Insignia Swirled Blue Q1 1998, gole-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
This Insignia is in a blue-black swirl pattern.
Parker Sonnet Athens Q1 1998, 18k two-tone gold nib, goldplate and enamel over brass, cartridge/converter
The Sonnet Athens featured a gold lined pattern broken up by enameled black lines. This was one of the very top-end Sonnet finishes, and would be discontinued a couple years later.
Parker Sonnet Sterling Fougere Q3 2001, 18k two-tone gold nib, sterling silver, cartridge/converter
The Sonnet Fougere is made of solid sterling silver over plastic with an engraved wavy pattern that is a great departure from their usual square grid (Cisele) pattern. This was the top-end regular production Sonnet but is no longer in production; the top spot has since been replaced by other fancy metal designs.
Parker Vacumatic Blue Diamond Major 1942-1948, 14k gold nib, celluloid, vacumatic fill
Parker used the Blue Diamond to symbolize the lifetime guarantee, and their high end Vacumatic pens were positioned at the top of their regular line.
Parker La Plume circa 1950s-1960s, 18k gold nib, plastic/metal, aerometric
The La Plume is a small French-market pen made during the 1950s and 1960s. The cap is usually inscribed DOUBLE OR LAMINE (double laminated gold), which is often the only identifying mark beyond Parker France on the pen.
Parker 15 Q1 1980, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
The Parker 15 is also sometimes labeled the Jotter, after the more famous ballpoint. It is a small school pen that was sold primarily in the European market.
Parker Arrow TX Q3 1986, gold-plated steel nib, epoxy over brass, cartridge/converter
The Parker Arrow was an entry-level gift pen with a mostly tubular design and a conical nib. The arrow clip is very simple in design. The Arrow would be revamped in 1987 to be somewhat fancier.
Parker 95 Flighter Q3 1987, gold-plated steel nib, stainless steel, cartridge/converter
In 1987, the Parker Arrow was redesigned to be fancier and was renamed the Parker 95. This was a midrange pen for the gift market. The 95 remained in production from 1987-1994. This pen, with a 1987 date code, was probably one of the earliest 95s and likely did not make it to market until 1988 proper.
Parker Classic TX Q3 1988, gold-plated steel nib, epoxy over brass, cartridge/converter
The Parker Classic line of slim pens was most frequently seen as a ballpoint/pencil set. The fountain pen is an evolution of the Parker 180 and was made from 1986-1992.
Parker Classic Stainless GT Q3 1991, gold-plated steel nib, stainless steel body, cartridge/converter
Yep, here's another Parker Classic, this time in stainless steel.
Parker 95 Q1 1992, gold-plated steel nib, epoxy over brass, cartridge/converter
Another typical Parker 95.
Parker 88/Place Vendome Q3 1993, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer and plastic, cartridge/converter
The Parker 88 was introduced in 1988 and is essentially a dressed up Vector. The Place Vendome typically refers to the fancier plated metal versions; however, Parker appears to have used the Place Vendome name for otherwise ordinary Parker 88s as well (the original packaging for this pen uses the Place Vendome name). The 88 line was switched to all-black sections and ends in 1993 (from the previous burgundy and other off-colors) and would be renamed to Rialto after 1995.
Parker 88 circa 1993, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer over brass, cartridge/converter
This pen appears to be a later model 88 (the threading is different from the Rialto) but oddly contains no date code.
Parker Frontier (old style) Q1 1996, gold-plated steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
The Parker Frontier is a low-end introductory fountain pen, usually retailing for a little over $20. It is considerably nicer and more durable than the Vector and is an excellent bargain for an attractive daily user pen.
Parker Vector Calligraphy Q1 1998, steel italic nib, plastic, cartridge/converter
Parker made a very classy calligraphy set based on the Vector. The set features a pen with 4 nibs, a bunch of cartridges, a converter, an instruction manual, all in an attractive storage case.
Parker Frontier Q4 1998, gold-plated steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
This color was, to my knowledge, never marketed anywhere and is likely a test model or prototype pen made in Parker's design shop.
Parker Inflection, yellow c. 2002, gold-plated steel nib, plastic, cartridge/converter
The Inflection was briefly Parker's lower end gift pen, but was replaced fairly soon afterward with the similar but more conventionally styled Latitude.
Parker Rialto Dusk Lacque Q1 2004, gold-plated steel nib, lacquer and plastic, cartridge/converter
The Rialto is a slightly updated and renamed version of the Parker 88, which in turn is a dressed-up version of the Vector.
Parker 15 Q2 2005, steel nib, plastic/steel, cartridge/converter
A recent model Parker 15 (Jotter) pen, with the new swoosh-P logo.
Parker Frontier Q3 2007, steel nib, stainless steel, cartridge/converter
One of the current production Parker Frontiers, with chrome trim.