Let me be bold and say this: the Parker Jotter is a pretty bad fountain pen.
But before I explain why, let me clarify a couple of starting principles:
- I have deep, fond memories of Parker fountain pens from when I was growing up. As many Brits do, no doubt. Nowadays they may just be a Newell Rubbermaid brand, but I still want them to do well. They still carry the Royal Warrant and, well, Parker shouldn’t do crap pens. I owned Vectors and 25s and 45s and loads of others, and they never let me down, never broke, always wrote well. And the ballpoint Jotter is an awesome little pen, utterly ubiquitous yet a design classic.
- Beginner fountain pens (under £25) are perhaps the most important category of pens. I fiercely believe that these pens should be inspiring enough to make newbies want to buy their second pen. If your first pen is crap, you will go back to your ballpoint. That is a bad thing for the hobby.
So I’ll start with the price, because it’s a defining part of the argument. I bought two Parker Jotter fountain pens from Amazon this week, paying just under £10 for one and just over £10 for the other, on special deals. Nothing about the pens or their packaging suggests that these pens are fake, used returns, or anything else untoward. If you go to Ryman or another high street stationer, you’ll pay up to £25 depending on whether it’s all-stainless, plastic, or some variation.
To me this puts the Jotter in direct competition with the Lamy Safari, Kaweco Sport and Perkeo, TWSBI Go (or even Eco), Platinum Preppy and Prefounte, and dozens of other competent pens from established European and Asian manufacturers, as well as ones like Dryden and Hongdian that are filling up Amazon — and of course the Jinhaos, Wing Sungs and Delikes of this world making varieties of knock-offs from a couple of bucks up.
With this kind of competition, you have to make a good product. And this is where we get to the Jotter itself.
First thing to say: if you’re going to buy a Jotter, do not buy one of the plastic-barrelled ‘Originals’, no matter how much you like one of the colours. The barrel is so thin you can literally squeeze it out of shape with your fingers.
One drop of a schoolbook and that cap will be cracked or in pieces.
It is poorly finished, the barrel lip is sharp, and the blister pack is uninspiring.
The metal-barrelled version I bought, in ‘Kensington Red’, is definitely better feeling in terms of quality (and even weight). The barrel end is better finished for sure.
It comes in a little cardboard box that would be easier to wrap for a kid’s birthday.
But it too is poorly finished.
The cap lip is sharp, the clip edge is rough and lumpy, the PARKER imprinted around the cap edge is faint and uneven.
On both, the threads that attach the barrel to the section are rough and weak-feeling. I don’t know how many cartridge changes they’d survive.
Depending on which version you get, you get either one blue or one blue and one black cartridge in the pack. At this price, a converter is out of the question, but the packaging doesn’t make mention of one as an option either, so newbies will never learn of the joys of ink choices to match their brightly coloured pens.
Inserting the cartridge is mushy and, given how flimsy the pen feels, it’s difficult to know how hard to push to get it fully home.
Both of my pens have steel medium nibs, and they wrote identically, leading me to believe this is how they all come. They look OK, with a visible tine gap, aligned tipping, and no difference in performance before and after flushing with warm water. With the included cartridges, they write dry and somewhat rough, leaving an unsaturated line. They never skipped, hard-started or showed any bad behaviour, though.
The writing experience is noticeably worse than a good rollerball, let alone a good fountain pen. There is no personality to the nibs in terms of bounce or line variation, although perhaps a tiny bit of stubbishness.
I emptied the cartridges and syringe-filled them with Diamine Pelham Blue, a solid performer, and Otto Hutt Rose Red, one of the wettest inks I own. The pens sucked all the life out of them, leaving them faint on the page of Tomoe. So it was the pens at fault, not the ‘school blue’ and ‘black-grey’ Quink cartridges.
I understand that rigid, dry nibs are probably a better choice for bad paper in exercise books and bad writing practice by people brought up on ballpoints, but in this case I feel the dial has been turned just that bit too far.
In the hand, the Jotter is a simply tiny pen.
The barrel is skinny, the section even skinnier, although quite long.
The nib is teensy. The cap posts, but does nothing to improve the comfort at the finger end. Although for people used to skinny ballpoints, I doubt this will be an issue — and of course, entry-level Parkers are often used by kids.
I see some glimmers of positives in the Jotter. The brushed stainless finish on the cap is a robust choice for school bags and pockets. The push-pull cap action has a positive click closed. The modernised arrow clip is a good looker and very springy.
And the almost tubular arrow nib, while tiny and very simply decorated, is pretty.
The overall silhouette is clean and sleek. And each pen is still marked ‘France’, which at least suggests Parker hasn’t booted production to the cheapest bit of China and is instead paying a living wage in a country with labour and environmental standards.
But that’s not enough to make the Jotter a good pen. It just doesn’t feel robust, an essential characteristic for rattling around in handbags and schoolbags. More importantly, it’s a frankly dull and tiring writer no matter what ink you throw at it, which undermines the entire point of going for a fountain pen in the first place. If this had been my first fountain pen, I wouldn’t have bothered buying a second.
This is not my first fountain pen, so I donated both Jotters to my daughter before I could answer my final question about it: does the big hole in the cap make it dry out?
If you’re planning to spend £15 on a fountain pen, get a Kaweco Perkeo with a delightfully bouncy nib, or a Safari with its bulletproof construction and smooth nib. If you were going to spend the Jotter’s full £25, splurge an extra £3 and get a TWSBI Eco, and benefit from proper reusable packaging containing everything you need to service the pen, a piston filler and great nib.
I like Parker. I like the Jotter ballpoint. And I appreciate that I am not Parker’s target market for this pen. It’s not what I’m looking for in a pen under £25. But I’m afraid the Jotter fountain pen is not the beginner pen you’re looking for, either.