Beginner fountain pen buyers deserve better than the Parker Jotter

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.

14 thoughts on “Beginner fountain pen buyers deserve better than the Parker Jotter

  1. I totally agree with your overall sentiments, but there’s one aspect where I diverge…the size of the pen. If we see, or judge, the Jotter as a school pen, then it isn’t necessarily for full grown hands. Also…if we look back at the size of vintage fountain pens…pretty much everyone had to deal with short, narrow pens back in the (hey)day of fountain pens. And pencils. Many children transition (or used to) from pencils. A narrower body of pen to help the grip adjust makes sense for that too. In a way I am making a general point as I often see comments on various sites of pens being too thin or short and then think of the pens I see in trays from vintage sellers. Sometimes I wonder if we forget pen history a little.


    • Yeah, and I did make the point that a slim grip would be good for kids and ballpoint users coming to a fountain pen for the first time. But it’s a fair observation about vintage pens. I have a Geha that is just dinky, and that was a normal schoolpen. Much like wristwatches, modern pens are larger than their vintage cousins, despite human anatomy being exactly the same…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, you definitely made the point about kids – I flogged it to death a bit because of thinking about pencils Sorry! And to be fair, given that I read of people with arthritis who are glad of fatter pens, I imagine that narrow pens or quills would have been pretty tough.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, all those poor scribes in cold monasteries must have developed terrible cramp, on reflection! The reason I didn’t hang on the kids thing too much was that I see a lot of Parker Jotters in the workplace, so I expect it to be a natural first FP for young professionals who remember Parker from school, look at the Jotter ballpoint on their desk and put 2+2 together. So I was thinking of adults as much as kids when I judged the comfort.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I spend more time than I should do being grateful that I am not a scribe in a cold stony monastery! I am also somewhat envious that you are seeing fountain pens in the workplace. In my case it is pretty much me and one other person – though the family of one good friend are fanatics which is lovely and a steady supply of inks and cheaper pens may possibly have flowed in that direction… 🙂


  2. Fair comment. I bought a Parker Jotter fountain pen and found it disappointing. It was only inked once. I was far happier with the Parker Reflex although that was not without faults as the cap rim can crack.
    The Faber-Castell Grip is a good alternative and costs around £15.00.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Review: Parker Jotter Fountain Pen – MIKE'S OPENIONS

  4. I agree with your points. I love the Parker brand. I have tried the diverse range Parker has to offer, from the simplest Vector up to the Sonnet. I must say that the Jotter fountain pens I have had (one in Royal blue stainless steel and the other in the older SS version) were quite disappointing. Were it not for the logo imprinted around the cap of the Jotter (which was faint as well) and the trademark arrow clip, I never would have thought that the Jotter fp I’ve had came from a ‘once’ reputable company. I was never able to reconcile my expectation of an entry level Parker pen with the actual experience I’ve had with Jotter that I ended up selling my Jotter fps and was quite surprised that they got sold!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s one thing I find weird about this review (and a few others that expressed a similar statement) – these Jotters’ nibs were criticized for a lack of personality. I’d like to ask, is lacking personality really that bad of a quality for a nib to have? I’d like to make an analogy with cars – there are tons of boring cars at the low price point; would it really be fair to criticize a car that does its job well for not being exciting (which were the actual criticisms I’ve seen people making towards these sorts of cars)? A pen’s main job is to write, and write reliably; if a pen has no issues with that, I’d say its nib is at least decent, even more so if the pen performs well on “bad” types of paper (I’m not into buying specific types of paper for pens to write on personally, and I believe that shouldn’t even be a concern at the low price range). I believe nibs as dry as Jotter’s would be a nice fit for left-handed people, reducing the risk of smearing for them. Also, based on my own observations of Parker’s tubular nibs (I have a Parker Esprit and a Parker Beta, both of them use this type of a nib), these seem to be able to withstand a considerable amount of pressure without physically deforming, which I believe would make pens with these nibs a good choice for longtime ballpoint pens users, who might have a hard time shaking the habit of pressing on the pen while writing. Sure, I would also love my Parkers to write more vibrantly (as they also have the same issue of writing with a noticeable hint of bleakness, just like Jotters you have reviewed), but I’m more than willing to forgive them that for the qualities I’ve talked about. And I would certainly take versatility and reliability over springiness and line variation. Perhaps I just prefer workhorse types of pens over the ones aimed for enthusiasts.

    On an unrelated note, it truly is shameful that the plastic Jotter’s body can be so easily deformed. Parker Beta fares much better in that regard – I could not deform its body with my hand at all. Surprising for a pen with a cheap-as-dirt retail price made in India.


    • That’s one way to do it — but for a beginner, buying vintage pens on eBay can be a scary prospect, and one dodgy used pen can be enough to put them off fountain pens for life.


  6. I have 2 old Jotters in my collection, which are unused now. I found both were drying out after just a couple of days, yet a cheap Chinese Wing Sung 3008 TWSBI ripoff I purchased to chuck in a bag works every time, even after a couple of weeks. I bought 4 for £17.00 online. For a few quid each, they are marvelous, with only 1 having a scratchy nib which was easily sorted.
    I also bought a couple of Jotter ballpoints last year. What a disappointment. They are nothing like the quality of the old Jotters, or Parker as a whole. They feel cheap, unfinished, have sharp edges between top and barrel, feint stamping of the “Parker” name, and worst of all, that clip that used to be solid metal is now a shaped piece of thin metal, nothing like the old ones. Cost cutting all round. I’d have sent them back but had had them engraved. The mighty really have fallen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s