The Parker Pen Company is a conundrum. Once a venerable U.S.-based manufacturer, the past ten-plus years have not been kind, to put it charitably. While Parker's higher-end pens such as the Sonnet and Duofold have done ok, and certainly have their fans, the company's entry and mid-level offerings have been subpar. I'm specifically talking about the Parker Urban and the Parker Vector, which you may have seen in - or even purchased from - the "luxury writing instrument" section of your local big box store such as Staples or Office Depot.
A few years ago I purchased one of the "Urban Premium" fountain pens in the special edition "Mandarin Yellow" color, which bore absolutely no resemblance to the iconic "Mandarin Yellow" Parker Duofold: it was a cheap looking gold. The nib was mediocre at best, and suffered from skipping and ink starvation. I managed to turn it into a serviceable writer with some extensive tinkering (and using extremely wet inks), but it was never going to make it into my rotation so I sold it off at a steep discount to what I paid. Lesson learned, right?
Well, maybe. In late 2016, Parker announced a complete redesign of it's entire pen lineup. The design of its higher-end pens (i.e., the Duofold, the Premiere, and the Sonnet) didn't change much, though Parker tweaked the engravings on the nibs. The lower-end pens (the Urban and the Vector) saw the most drastic changes, and, supposedly, the greatest improvements in quality control. Massdrop sent me one of the new "Urban Premiums," so I decided to put it through the paces and see whether the "new Parker" was for real, or just more of the same.
Pros and Cons
Short answer: I like the new Parker Urban much better than the old one. This is a good fountain pen, but the current price point is going to hurt its market share. I'll break it down further.
What I like:
- New Nib. Parker has abandoned the tubular-style nib on the old Urban for what looks like a standard No. 4 or No. 5. The nib on my Urban Premium has a cross-hatching pattern etched into it, and writes what I would call a fine-medium line. (The nib is labeled a fine.) It's a smooth, fairly wet writer - the direct opposite of the old Urban.
- Solid Cap. At least with respect to the Urban Premium, this isn't a flimsy pen with a thin aluminum cap that will warp and dent from the slightest knock or drop. I'm not sure what the material is (probably still aluminum) but it's got a nice weight to it and feels substantial. The cap posts easily, and is friction fit with very little wiggle. The clip is tight.
- Overall Redesign. Parker ditched the "hourglass" shape of the old pen in favor of a tapered design that sits very comfortably in your hand, posted or unposted.
What I don't like:
- The Price Point. This is a good pen, but not a good value. I've seen the Urban priced at anywhere from $40-50 for the standard pen, to $60-100 for the "Urban Premium" featured here. (The Urban Premium features the chrome cap and section.) The Parker Urban is not a $60+ pen, period, just like the Parker Sonnet is not a $300 pen. It could, however, be a very good to great sub-$50 fountain pen. I'm curious to see what the street price will be once these pens become more widely available, OR whether the high MSRP combined with Parker's history of QC issues on their cheaper pens will scare retailers away from stocking them in the first place.
- No Converter. If you're pricing a pen in the $60-80 range, include a damned converter, especially if the cartridge you're including with the pen is only going to be 1/3 full of ink.
- Slippery Section. While the brushed metal section has some texture to it, it's still pretty slick. The step between the body and the grip is also sharp, which may cause problems for some people depending on how they grip the pen.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
Given that I went into this review prepared to dislike this pen, you could fairly say that I've been blown away by how well it writes, especially given my past experiences with the Parker Urban. The current price point is way too high, in my opinion, but pricing can change, and if that's the cost of improving Parker's quality, it's probably better for them to have an overpriced $60-80 fountain pen that writes well and functions as intended than to sell a $40-50 piece of junk that makes people write off your brand (or worse, never want to pick up a fountain pen again). The new Urban has placed Parker back on my radar and has me thinking of moving outside my Sonnet comfort zone. (That new "Big Red" vintage-inspired Duofold is calling my name....)
So far, Parker's new lineup appears to be regularly available only from non-U.S. retailers and Amazon, with U.S. retailers still stocking the old product line. Even Parker's U.S. online store shows only the old offerings. I assume they're trying to sell off old stock before introducing the updated lineup, but I'm still surprised that it's taken this long. For now, taking into account shipping costs on a pen at this price point, Amazon is probably your best bet, and certain colors are less expensive than others.
The Parker Sonnet is still my favorite pen in Parker's current lineup, and I've done a couple reviews of different models. Here are some links to my reviews of the "Great Expectations" edition, as well as the Chiseled Sterling Silver version.
Disclaimer: I was sent the pen featured in this review free of charge by Massdrop, which is not currently running a drop for the Urban. This post contains affiliate links. Any discussion of price and availability is current as of the time of publication of this review, and subject to change.