I mentioned it in my post about holiday inks, but assuming you didn’t make it that far in my rambling, nearly incoherent babble, I like using Parker Jotters when using shimmering inks because they produce a fairly bold line, they’re wet writers, and above all else, they’re cheap, so I don’t worry about the feeds getting clogged with the ground bones of unicorns or whatever it is they put in inks to make them shiny.
And since I’ve been using Jotters a lot lately, I thought it would be a good time to go ahead and write a quick review. But first, maybe just a little bit of background. At least so far as I understand it.
The Parker Jotter was first introduced in the mid-1950s as a retractable ballpoint pen. I suspect it was intended to be a lower-cost alternative to the ballpoint pens offered simultaneously as part of both the 51 and 61 lines, but its name – “Jotter” – also referenced the fast action of the ballpoint’s click mechanism. Not like the slip caps on either 51s or 61s are particularly inconvenient, but I see the appeal in not having to mess with a cap regardless.
Anyway, fast forward 60 or so years and Parker has expanded the Jotter line to include a rollerball and mechanical pencil – most (or perhaps all?) manufactured in a number of materials and colors. The pens themselves became so popular that they were the “official” pen used by a number of U.S. presidents, beginning with John F. Kennedy and ending after the company’s headquarters was moved from Wisconsin to England.
At some point in the late 2010s, Parker – having by that time traded the Union Jack for the French Tricolor – decided to introduce a fountain pen into the mix. I’m finding it difficult to pin down an exact year that they came to the market, but all the oldest reviews I’ve found on other blogs point toward 2018.
But enough on that.
I affectionately refer to my Jotters as “Baby 51s”, and from a distance, it isn’t difficult to confuse the Jotter for its older, more celebrated cousin – especially when both are capped.
The differences become instantly apparent as soon as you pick the Jotter up, however, because this is a small, slim pen with a diameter barely larger than a cheapo Bic ballpoint. I don’t mind the size and actually find it fits into the pen slots in most of my portfolios that were designed with more common pencils and pens in mind – but the size did actually surprise me a bit when I first opened the package.
The differences between the Jotter and 51 continue after you uncap it. Where the 51’s nib is concealed by its famous hooded section, the Jotter has a small, exposed stainless steel nib that isn’t overly ornate, but does have some modest decoration that at least reflects Parker’s pricier modern offerings.
The pen comes packaged with one of Parker’s proprietary ink cartridges. I’ve seen reviewers who say theirs came with blue, some with black, and still others that said they got blue-black – so it seems like it may just be luck of the draw.
Parker sells two variants of the Jotter (more on that in a bit) – one version with metal bodies (available in the $20 range) and a second marketed as “Parker Originals” that have plastic bodies (available for around $15). So far as I can tell, both share the same cap and feed/section/nib unit, so really, all you’re paying for is an upgrade to the barrel material.
Regarding the section – it’s a molded, glossy plastic and very thin. I’ve never found it to be uncomfortable or overly slick, though it’s probably not the pen I’d be reaching for if I were writing a novel. Then again though, I don’t think this pen was ever intended for extended use. It was designed for quick notes or a few pages at a time, and at that, it does just fine.
Last, the cap posts very securely, and if you have larger hands, you’d probably want to post it given it’s a relatively short pen. Just as a general habit, I don’t post my pens, but posting this one doesn’t bother me too much because the cap is so light it’s virtually unnoticeable.
Things I Like
I love me a good snap cap, and the Jotter has a legitimately good one. It secures with a satisfying click and I don’t feel like it’s going to come off unintentionally, which is good because I very often just chuck it into my bag without much thought.
Second, I like the size. Again, this isn’t the pen I’m grabbing when I need to write more than a few pages at a time, but I almost always keep one inked up on my desk for quick notes when I’m on calls and the like.
Third, I actually really like the medium nib Parker has on this. I’ve seen other reviews that have panned it for its size, but let’s be honest. You’re probably buying this pen because it serves a utilitarian function – not because it’s going to be a showpiece next to your Montblanc.
I’ve also read other reviews that have criticized the way it feels, but I have three Jotters – all medium – and none have required any adjusting. Mine are all fairly wet nibs and I’ve never had an issue with the feeds in any of them keeping up. And, whether by design or not, the tipping material is basically a sphere that extends around the entirety of the point. So, it’s a smooth writer, regardless of angle.
It is, however, a very stiff nib, and you’re not going to get much if any line variation out of it. Again, I don’t really fault Parker for that since I doubt the intent was for this to be the pen you use for practicing your black hand, and for someone just starting out with fountain pens, I actually think it serves as a nice bridge between ballpoints (especially gel and liquid rollers) and fountain pens.
Last, I like the price. $20 is right there with the Lamy Al Star, Pilot Metropolitan, Platinum Plasir in terms of entry-level, metal-body pens, and at that price point, I’m not too concerned if it might pick up a ding here or there.
Things I Don’t Like
While I derive a lot of satisfaction from tooling around with piston and sac fillers, I will, with zero hesitation and no apologies, take a cartridge converter every day of the week. Fountain pen purists can submit their hate mail using the contact link above, but in my very personal opinion, their convenience and ease of use really outweigh whatever pleasure I might derive from tinkering on a day-to-day basis.
So, suffice it to say then that I am glad the Jotter uses a cartridge converter system – though I suppose that’s to be expected amongst the vast majority of pens in this price range, minus a scant few imports I imagine I’ll get around to writing about at some point.
Where was I going with this? Oh yes. OK. So the cartridge converter system. It is, of course, proprietary. Parker, like many companies, has held fast to its own standard for decades. To be perfectly fair, proprietary cartridge and converter sizes don’t really bother me as much as I think they probably bother a lot of people, but I do have a slight issue that Parker wouldn’t include a converter in the package.
This, again, isn’t entirely unheard of for pens in this price range so I can give Parker a bit of a pass on that, but when the converter costs over half the price of the pen itself ($11.14 on Amazon as of the time of this writing), it stings a little.
Fortunately Parker cartridges can be had for less than a buck apiece – and I suspect a lot of people who’d be interested in this pen would be more drawn toward cartridges regardless – but still, Parker should at the very least meet customers in the middle and offer a $25 pen/converter package or something.
My bitching about that aside, my only other major gripe is that Parker only sells this pen with a medium nib. I’d buy a fine nib Jotter in a heartbeat, but they aren’t offered as an option with the pen itself. Which is actually pretty bizarre to me because Parker actually does manufacture a fine nib for the Jotter – and I am very much tempted to pick one up – but that’ll set you back an additional $15.
So, accounting for a converter and a second nib – you’re looking at potentially sinking $45 into this pen, and though I personally really do like the Jotter, that’s just a hard pill to swallow given the competition in the $50 price range.
Other Stuff to Know
I mentioned earlier that Parker sells two versions of the Jotter – one with a metal body and one with plastic.
I’ve never personally used nor owned one of the plastic variants, but UK Fountain Pens, which has a much, much lower impression of the Jotter than I do, has – and apparently the plastic is, in a word, bad (see their review here).
So, if you’re looking at buying, I’d have a difficult time saying you shouldn’t just spend an extra $5 for the more durable metal body.
I tend to put pens in the sub $25 range into one of several buckets:
- Disposable pens that work fine, but really aren’t going to do much for anyone looking to do more than dip a very casual toe into the fountain pen pool (i.e. the Platinum Preppy and Pilot Varsity);
- Pens that I still really like, but look a bit juvenile for me to want to carry at the office (i.e. the Lamy Safari and Kaweco Perkeo);
- Pens that I really like and would feel comfortable about carrying at the office (i.e. the Pilot Metropolitan and Platinum Plasir); and
- Total rubbish that should be doused in gasoline and lit on fire (none come instantly to mind, though I’ve actually had a lot of fun buying the cheapest pens I can find and playing around with them. May have to do a Bargain Bin roundup at some point).
I feel like the Parker Jotter fits squarely into the third category, and in fact, I’ve given Jotters to a few coworkers who’ve seen my pens and were, at the very least, curious about messing around with fountain pens.
That said, I think it’s important to step back for a second and render a final verdict looking through the eyes of a novice user. Far too often, I feel like pen reviewers are making apples-to-oranges comparisons, and of course a pen like the Jotter is going to seem like hot garbage next to pens in the so-called “next level” (which I’d define as pens like the Lamy 2000, anything in Pilot’s custom series, the Platinum 3776, etc.).
But, for someone who’s just looking for a cheap, easy entry into fountain pens, it isn’t hard for me to recommend the Parker Jotter.