A red marble color that has depth. Celluloid never looked so good.

This, A School Pen?

Boy, those who live in the 1940’s must have a very refined taste. I am well beyond the student age and I would not hesitate to bring this pen to an important business meeting or in formal occasions.

Parker Challenger is often overlooked by people who collect vintage pens. They are not as sought after as their upperclassmen, the Vacumatic and the DuoFold. I feel that it’s time to do it justice with this review.

I have two Parker Challenger pens, one grey and the other red.  It is not yet that often that I was mesmerized by the look of a pen. The red one above just captivated my attention with it’s deep shimmering pattern.  The grey one is not bad either by the way, and it’s the first pen I’ve ever send out to be restored by a professional, who, encouraged me to give pen restoration a try.

Which brings us back to the red one. It is a “milestone” in my fountain pen “journey” as it uncovers another aspect of fountain pen collecting which has grabbed my attention so thoroughly.  And not only I enjoy restoring vintage pens, but I find that I possess just enough curiosity and patience to go through the disappointments and failures to push on and eventually enjoy some successes.

The button filler after a bit of buffing. I don’t over-polish my vintage pens.

This pen is one of my success stories.

I was able to not only clean the pen, but I also: remove the section — without cracking the barrel, clean up the inside, replace the sac, adjust the button filler mechanism to the new sac, and finally polish the gold trims.

As a side note, the above list of things I listed only scratched the surface. The professional pen restorer who worked on the grey Challenger told me various hairy problems that he had to contend with when dealing with vintage pens (easily) costing thousands of dollars.

Enough background, on to the pen.

The Look and Feel

Whichever celluloid supplier Parker dealt with when producing the Challenger, is a high quality one. For a pen that is close to 70 years old, it looks absolutely stunning.  Everything design-wise just speaks to me.  The gold trims on the red one (and chrome on the grey one) are just perfectly proportional to the body dimensions.

The pen itself is not heavy but very solid in the hand.  As I delve deeper into the vintage fountain pen world, I discovered that a lot of pens made in the past are small in the hand, but they don’t look small in pictures because they retain the proportion as their larger friends.

The Parker Challenger is exactly 5 inches when capped. Putting it in the category of medium-sized pens.

The engraving on the barrel is another nice touch that only a few modern fountain pens have.

The Button-filler

Unlike the super popular lever-filler vintage pens, button-filler ones has the advantage of a seamless look without the lever cluttering the barrel.

The button is hidden inside a cap at the bottom end of the barrel (often referred to as the blind cap).  When pushed inside and held, the button operates two metal plates inside the barrel which in turn squeeze air out of the rubber ink sac.

When let go, the button ease the pressure on the metal plates and those fold back into the barrel wall and  the rubber ink sac began to expand back to its original diameter while creating a vacuum which sucks the ink into the pen.  It is a very simple and elegant mechanism that works very reliably.

The grey one with the older style clip which I like a lot

Let’s Use It

I inked up the red one with Diamin Oxblood. It seems fitting that a stately red pen to be writing with an equally regal red ink.

I haven’t started to write about inks yet, but I feel the urge as I did the writing sample below.

The Parker nib is smooth, the line width is a bit thick for my usual writing, so I have to switch to my up-sized writing, a skill that I acquired since I start collecting fountain pens.

What I like also about the nib is that it’s a bit springy. The good kind of springy (or “soft” as some manufacturers call it) is the kind that makes you feel that you’re writing effortlessly yet still allow your hand to control the strokes fully. This Parker nib is like that. It’s soft but not “mushy”.

The feed, after I flush it, not surprisingly keeps up with the ink flow. The writing is continuous, never I feel that the ink is going to thin out due to feed problems.

The flex on the nib is functional, and it’s what I call the shading flex, the kind of flex that showcase the ink shades, which is far preferable to me than the “dump more ink” flex.

Oh, and even though it does not say 14K on the nib, I believe this is a gold alloy one.

What about the cap? The cap posted securely on the pen as I write, but I find that with many pens, I like to write with the cap unposted, this one is no exception.

In Short

So here is my summary:

  1. Is it cool or stylish?
    Yes, Absolutely. Something about the design of the pen attracts me from the get go. The clip, the barrel material, the proportion, nib, everything seems high class, which is cool today considering this pen was marketed as the second pricing-tier back in its day.  Interestingly, the most popular Parker of all time, the Parker 51 holds no appeal to me whatsoever.  That just shows to me that fountain pens are interesting because they seem to be very conducive to our exercising our personal preferences.
  2. Does it feel cheap?
    No. Any way you cut it, Parker Challenger pens do not feel cheap. Even compared to its more expensive siblings like the Vacumatic and Duofold.  If anything the pen looks more expensive than the price (even today) due to the quality of the manufacturing and materials used.  The nib performance is also a testament to the excellent production standard.
  3. Is it comfortable to write with?
    Yes. The pen feels very nice in the hand, mine writes in regular M line width with a bit of flex for expressive writing. The length of the pen is just right in my hand, whether with the cap posted at the end or not. Also, I can use this pen — with the same ink — on good paper, or on cheap paper without any noticeable feathering or bleed-through.
  4. Is it a good value?
    Yes. A good restored Challenger cost about ~$75 or more depending on the condition. Compared to most modern pen in this price range, the Challenger has that vintage cachet in addition to be able to offer an excellent writing experience. The pen is easy to maintain and clean up, and when the ink sac is replaced, it’s good to go for another 10-20 years. So a well-maintained Parker Challenger will outlast the owner and would make a nice heirloom for the next generation.
  5. Who would I recommend it to?
    This pen would be a good next vintage pen after Esterbrook J. If you inherit one from your parents, or rescue one from the wild, it’s worth it to get this pen restored and ready to use for the next decades.




Written by will