Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Classic Parker "T-Ball" Jotter

The Parker Jotter is the Parker Pen Company’s first and bestselling retracting refillable ballpoint pen. Later they added a fountain pen, mechanical pencil and rollerball pen that match its design. As with many other ballpoint pens, it can be turned into a gel pen if its cartridge is changed.  Since 1954, over 750 million have been sold worldwide.

 Its refill, called T-Ball (T is for tungsten), is the first textured ballpoint and is now a standard in the industry.  Also, the external design of the T-Ball is a standard design for many brands of refillable pens.


The Jotter is distinguished by a button and cap made of stainless steel, chrome or another metal, a stylized arrow-shaped clip, a smooth styrene or metal barrel and a metal nozzle. . If styrene, the barrel originally came in black, blue, green and red. Over many years of production, the jotter has been produced in numerous colors, some quite rare.

One popular version, scarce in early models, is identified as the laboratory or "flighter" version. These pens have an alloy cap with a matching alloy barrel. The all-alloy bodied pens come with a gold or chrome clip. Another version is the clear barreled "demonstrator," usually sold to dealers to show the inner workings of the pen.

The so-called "girl's" Jotter is a smaller version of the original. It was manufactured in the early 1960s and was popular for a time. It came in nine colors (the rarest being brown, yellow and white), as well as a clear "demonstrator." The girl's jotter shares its barrel with the Parker Tiara. Theoretically, both pens came in the same colors. However there is some question whether or not the "girl's" jotter was available in orange, white or yellow. However, such models have been found and were perhaps the result of enterprising Parker employees who took it upon themselves to "create" new colors. This area requires some research and elaboration.

It appears that the employees occasionally experimented with their own combinations of colors. These pens have a marbleized appearance and are the result of cleaning the production machinery. If the production run called for blue, and they had been making gray jotters, the last of the gray plastic would blend into the blue creating what were sometimes called "lunch room" specials. These pens are considered quite collectible, but they are usually not "prototypes" as commonly thought.

Management was always trying to expand the market for this pen and commissioned the design department to explore new designs and materials. Several of these prototypes exist and are also coveted by collectors.

There are many variations of these pens and a large collection can be assembled by the serious collector.
The variety is immense if a collector includes the advertising variations. All versions of the pen were used in advertising for a long list of organizations.

Additionally, the Jotter has been manufactured in Canada, England, Australia and Argentina and these pen's caps are stamped with their point of origin. The Jotters manufactured in Australia and Argentina are difficult to find and command higher prices than the United States or English versions. (locations of manufacture require further research).

The refill comes in ball pen and gel styles, as well as in three point sizes. The pen also comes in a boxed set with a mechanical pencil which is collectible in itself.


  • In 1954, the Parker Jotter had an inverted "V" style clip without the arrow engraving. The 1954 Jotter came with red, green, light gray, dark gray and black barrels, made of grooved nylon, not smooth plastic. The following year, because of the popularity of the pen, the choice of colors was extended to include bright red, mustard yellow, bright green and bright orange. These later colors are more difficult to find. At least one example has been found in white, perhaps a "nurses'" model, indicating that there was at least a brief run of white nylon jotters, a subject requiring more information. Another model was recently advertised on eBay for a substantial sum of money. It was a flighter model with a grooved barrel and cap. There may be other models not commonly known. There are also cap variations resulting from differences in imprints, most noticeably the Parker arrow. These represent different examples making it difficult to obtain a complete set of variations.
  • In 1956, the company made the Jotter barrel smooth plastic and changed the clip to the "21" style. This clip used a reversed "V" rather than an inverted one. It incorporated a ball for pocket retention. This clip remained in use for about two years. During the period this variation was in production a metal barrel end was added in response to complaints that the plastic tip broke from pressure. Examples without the metal tip and the "21" clip are relatively rare. There are also some examples of the grooved nylon barrel being mated to the "21" clip and the inverted clip being mated to smooth barrels without tips. One can only conjecture that this was an effort on the part of the factory to use up surplus parts from different series. Barrels and caps all interchange during this period.

Coincidentally a jotter was introduced with a substantially larger diameter barrel. Most found to date have an unusual moss green barrel. Black and White versions of the large diameter jotter have also been found.

According to experts, this model was known as the "Industrial Jotter" as opposed to the standard diameter version known as the "Commercial Jotter". Parker's sales staff never liked the original jotter because the grooves made imprints on the barrel impossible and required clip devices if sold for advertising purposes. They were pleased when the smooth barrel was introduced which permitted advertising imprints.

Subsequently the marketing department successfully lobbied for a model with a larger diameter barrel which would allow more space for corporate messages. Apparently this version was not popular and was discontinued after a short period of time (est.<than two years)due to relatively weak sales. It is believed that this model was illustrated only in the commercial catalog and not available to retailers. They remain rare and can be recognized by the sharp taper at the end of its barrel. Recent sales of these large diameter jotters have been in the $200 range if and when they are available.

It is believed that this version was also available in red. In keeping with the practice in the pen industry of issuing models in red, blue, green and black, there are probably blue and red versions in existence.

In 1957, the company launched the T-Ball refill, which contained reformulated ink and a textured tungsten carbide writing ball.

In 1958, the company added an arrow to replace the ballclip design. The arrow has remained on all production Jotters since then. Occasionally a jotter slipped through with a clip that had no embossed arrows (some collectors believe that this was an marketing effort by Parker). These are now collector's items. Recent production (English manufacture) have clips in the shape of an arrow, but no feathers.

At some period the interior diameter of the Jotter was reduced and a new refill introduced. There are two primary variations, the large diameter version and the smaller diameter. This was probably done to increase refill sales as the initial refill had a very large capacity. Be aware that some barrel colors were not made in the wide diameter versions. Some pens have been found with early caps fitted to the later small diameter barrels and represented as rarities. Additionally, there are several cap variations resulting from changing the imprints on the cap. The period from 1958 to 1973 has many slight changes making it difficult for the collector to obtain a representative example of each production specimen. Some collectors believe that caps without lettering are used to present samples to a prospective customer.
  • In 1965, the company launched a Jotter desk pen in brushed chrome.
  • In 1973, the company flattened the dome-shaped plunger and placed an imprint of the Parker logo on the plunger.
  • In the 1980s, the company changed the inner cap threads from brass to plastic. At this time they introduced a date code on the cap. From about 1979 through today there are at least four cap variations for each year of production. This adds to the challenge of collecting an example of every Jotter. To further complicate matters, some later barrels have a small extraction notch on the rim of the threads, while others of the same color do not. It appears that all of the Jotters currently in production in England have this notch. Also be aware that some older style plungers are mated with later caps; creating yet other variations.
  • In 2004, the Jotter's Jubilee, the company released limited edition designs in boxed sets. The dome shaped button was restored to its original rounded shape that it had prior to 1973 when the flattened dome shaped button took over. The sterling silver Jotters were made for only one year, 2004.
Sterling silver Jotters were available in the United States in the 1970s. Threads are silver.

There were several barrel colors issued to celebrate the Jotter's 50th anniversary. The plain anniversary clips have been seen attached to later barrels, and earlier and later plungers attached to later caps, creating even more variations. Earlier colors have been found with later caps indicating that Parker was cleaning out their old inventory.
Recently, a series of 24-kt gold plated models have been distributed in the United States. Both the cap and the tip are plated. They have been found in several colors. There is another variation from England that has gold clip attached to chrome caps. The barrels of these pens have chrome tips. These are in addition to the black version with the gold clip and tip.

Today's Jotters are similar to the popular, "ruggedized" version that first came out in 1954. Over 700 million Jotters have been produced since 1954 and production continued at Parker's plant in Newhaven, England after being transferred there from Janesville, Wisconsin in 1999.

Parker closed its factory in England late in 2010 and production was moved to Nantes, France. Jotters are now imprinted with "Made in France", giving the collector another opportunity to expand their collection. Recently one was offered on eBay at an inflated value. As time progresses the new variation will become available at more reasonable prices. Probably, it will first be released in blister packaging to the national stationery chains. The collector can check the reverse of the packaging to determine if the Jotter is of French manufacture. Additionally some Parker products are produced under license in India and China for consumption in the Far East. Production from these licensees is not imported to the United States or Europe, but has been available from Australia. At this time there is no information as to whether the Jotter has been or will be manufactured by these licensees creating possibly even more variations (ths discussion about Far East variations requires elaboration).


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Comments by users of the Parker Jotter and many suggestions for using superior refill poducts such as the refills from:

Schmidt 9000
Visconti gel
Fisher space pen
TUL ballpoint cartridge

are listed and discussed at: http://penaddict.com/blog/2012/1/18/parker-jotter-ballpoint-review.html

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A Note by the Blog Author

The Parker "T-ball" Jotter was something of a status icon and almost a membership symbol to suburban public school students in the 1960s.  Particularly in vogue with the children of parents with white collar jobs, the Parker Jotter wrote many school notes and term papers in those days.

Appreciated by adolescents and teenagers was the supreme balance of the Jotter.  The center of gravity was almost exactly at the point where the stainless steel cap met the colored barrel.  This made the pen fun to play with, especially to flip or spin while being thrown into the air and then caught by the throwing hand.

This "flippability" of the Jotter got millions of students through tedious "social sciences" classes without the embarassment of falling asleep in class.  Modern Jotters have maintained this balance. 


  1. Nice post!!Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures with us.
    Pens with logo printed

  2. Not all T-Ball Jotters had push-button caps. Some advanced the refill simply by pushing down the upper part of the pen. I have one in all stainless steel, so that's how I know.