Returning now too the subject of My Father and the things that he wrote during his relatively brief time on Earth:
One of the most “famous” of my father’s works (which is to say, famous within the family) is the letter that he wrote to the Parker Pen Company while a student at the University of Illinois in the fall of 1940.
December 6, 1940
The Parker pen company
As you can see I am writing a letter to the company that makes (by its own admission) the finest pens in the world – by using a typewriter.
I do this not because I do not have a pen., No, gentlemen right here in my left hand I have a pen. Said pen is called in one of your ads which I just happened to read, quote, a Jewel of Pendom, unquote. However, if I were to attempt to write this letter with this pen, the pages would be so smudged up with ink that it would be totally impossible for you to read it. But allow me to explain the case a little more fully.
About two years ago (or possibly a few months less) I wandered into a bookstore on our campus – that of the University of Illinois – and purchased a Parker pen. Since this memorable date, I have had nothing but trouble with the amazing instrument.
The trouble, to sum it up briefly, is that this pen leaks – leaks torrentially.
Gentlemen, I did not buy a pump, nor did I intend to purchase a water pistol. What I wanted was a device that would keep the ink inside except when being used for writing. I received no such device. A whole drawer of ink-stained handkerchiefs offer ample proof of this statement. From day to day – for as long as I carried your pen – I roamed the campus, a member of the legion of ink-stained fingers. After a while of course, I became used to my blue fingertips and blue handkerchiefs. However I do not feel that merely acclimating myself to indigo-dyed hands and azure-stained clothing is a proper solution to the problem.
Nevertheless, during all the time that I was going about in my “Deep Purple” condition, I was not idle. Four or five (I don’t recall exactly) times I returned the pan to the bookstore whence it had originally come and asked them if something could not be done. At the bookstore I was met with a barrage of questions mostly pertaining to my knowledge on the correct method to fill a pen. This, even if I did not know then, I most certainly am up on now. Yes, I have well-learned how to be careful and don’t dunk the pen into the well so that the level of the ink is over the pen point etc. etc.
Then the bookstore sent the pen to you. You returned it to me. You returned it to me, I might add, in a very handsome, cellophane wrapper. I paid the nice man at the bookstore thirty-five cents ($0.35) which no doubt covered handling, mailing, and the cost of the cellophane. I took the pen home and again tried to establish a friendship with it. But again it spat ink at me. Thus the ink (which had been wearing off my finger so nicely ever since I had sent the pen to the factory) was again upon my hands.
Now, gentlemen, imagine this process repeated over five times and perhaps you’ll understand why I am writing you this letter. Each time the pen came back with its shining, cellophane wrapper. Each time I lay down $0.35. Frankly, gentlemen, $0.35 is a whale of a lot of cash to put out for cellophane wrapper. For thirty-five cents I can hie me off to the nearest dime store and purchase enough cellophane to make bags for 100 pens. Also after laying out thirty-five cents four or five times I have enough money to start saving for another pen. Or don’t you think so??
The truth of the matter is, gentlemen, that I don’t like Parker pens. I don’t give a hoot if the Army, Navy, and even the Marine and Air Corps think they are the greatest pens in the world. I don’t care if 11 out of every 10 college students swear by them. (Here is one that swears at them.) I don’t care what the devil Robert L. Ripley writes about them. If they’re strong enough to have a herd of wild elephants trample over them, or delicate enough not to scratch silk, I am still unimpressed. That is, they still leak all over my fingers.
The “Jewel of Pendulum” eh? Well, when I want a jewel I shall go to a jewelry store and purchase one. But when I want a pen, I go to a stationary store and ask for a pen. And you can bet that the next time I do it, it won’t be for a Parker
Now to make my place clear. I would gladly return you the pen and would deeply appreciate your making full restitution on it. However, I suppose that this is impossible. Other than this I have very little to suggest. You are not going to suck me in again on that thirty-five-cents-for-a-cellophane-bag stunt. I am wise to that one. But I wish that you would do something along the lines of returning me some cash for my slightly used combination of Parker-pen-and-sieve. If again you cannot do this how about sending me a couple of dozen handkerchiefs and a cake of soap for my hands (soap of course that will remove ink)?
Hoping to hear from you in the near future, I remain your ink-stained customer,
P. S. Now don’t go blame it on the ink. I’ve even used your Quick (a whole bottle) and found that it leaks out just as well, and stains just as prettily as anything made by your competitors.
Unfortunately, I can’t find anything in the archives that would tell us what the outcome of this particular missive was. There were certainly no ads in the New York newspapers.
But I do recall the family getting a pretty good laugh out of it some decades later:
At some point when I was either in college or shortly thereafter (i.e. sometime in the 1970s) I wrote a letter to (I think) SONY in regards to an issue I was having with one of their audio products. And SONY very graciously sent me a gift to compensate me for my troubles. They sent me a SONY logo-branded …. wait for it…. Parker pen.