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One Man's Quest to Reproduce Red Hard Rubber

The year was 1998. I was new to the hobby of fountain pen collecting. That year I was able to amass approximately 700 pens collected from individuals, garage sales, flea markets and of course, antique shops.

I felt myself to be very lucky. The first pen I purchased was a Parker Senior Duofold in Mandarin Yellow. A little old lady who was a member of my congregation owned it as well as several other desirable pens. I offered her a grand price of $300 for the Duofold. We had a deal that we were both thrilled with. I had not yet attended a National Pen Show, nor did I have any books about the hobby. I simply purchased pens I liked and that were within my budget.

Most of the 700 pens that I owned did not work properly. The exceptions were a few Esterbrooks and perhaps a Shaeffer or two. Needless to say, I had quite a bit of repair work ahead of me. All that was lacking was the expertise to restore a vintage pen!

My parts bins were filling up with parts; why? Because I kept breaking repair rules, and violating technical procedures. I was more like the bull in the china shop than a restoration technician. It is said that men would rather forge ahead into a project than stop and read the ‘how-to’ book. “Instructions! Who need them?” was the motto of my self-assured stupidity. I learned all too quickly that optimism about one’s innate ability to fix anything the hand touches is costly and ultimately--humbling.

This new knowledge about my self-limitations encouraged me to purchase Frank Dubiel’s and Jim Marshall’s repair books at the first available moment, when I visited my first National Pen Show in 1999. It was there that a number of lights switched on in my “poor ole’ brain.”

I built a nice shop in that same year and began turning kit pens. I turned and sold a few hundred pens, but was haunted by all those bins of vintage pen parts sidelined by my early mistakes. Forlornly I looked at those bins, only to see my mistakes and lost financial gain. My wallet groaned in disapproval. In earnest, and armed with new knowledge, I set to work on the fifty Parker Senior Duofolds in my collection. Ten of those wonderful pens became further testimony to my limited skills. Several of them ended up in the parts bins before I realized that one should remove the filler buttons and pressure bars before removing the section.

During these early years I collected a disproportionate number of red hard rubber pens. Many had cracked cap lips, cracked threads, or were just too old and brittle for my level of repair skills. I ended up further damaging them. (Sigh) My greatest frustration, however, was the fact that I could not find a source for red hard rubber with which to make repairs.

At pen shows I learned that many of my colleague collectors were suffering the same frustration. I decided then and there that I would research the idea of getting RHR (red hard rubber) produced on a small production run. Because my advanced college degree was in the Administration of Vocational/Technical Education, I had access to a great technical library. Rather quickly I found the recipe I needed for RHR in a book published in 1914. I copied the recipe and rushed it and samples of the original RHR to the technical labs at the University of Ohio. U of O is renowned for their research in the rubber vulcanization process.

After some time, they returned the product of their research on RHR. It was poorly colored and totally unusable for my purposes. In an accompanying letter they explained that the EPA laws now prohibited the use of the toxic color additives necessary to produce the proper color. They further stated that they would try substitutions, but that would require a much larger investment than my original check of $1,000. I decided that spending more money with no guarantee of getting the color I needed was probably not financially prudent.

Five years passed while I kept searching for the elusive RHR. I had made no advancements that were bankable. I had driven by a business called Tulsa Rubber Company for several years, but had been blind to what was in my own backyard! (I had trekked past this company hundreds of times, mistakenly believing that a rubber company in little old Tulsa couldn’t possibly be able to formulate and produce the product I sought. One day on a whim I stopped to chat with the boys at the rubber company. When I asked if they could replicate my sample, they said that they would give it a go. I gave him a sample pen and told him to be extra careful with it because it was valued at $400.

“Golleeeee! I didn’t know a pen could cost that much,” was the reply. I explained that his replica rubber needed to test 84-86 on the D-Shore scale for hardness.

A day or two passed and my phone rang. “I’ve got your rubber made,” said the voice on the other end of the line. I dropped my activities and raced over to the shop to see if there could be even the slightest chance that he may have pulled this off. To my great surprise, the technician had done it--nearly. The color was almost spot on. If anything, it was just a smidge too red.

Three more samples and $1,000 later, I had the closest samples I had ever seen anywhere. I have been turning RHR pens for several years from these samples made right here in Tulsa. None of them have been what I call ‘perfect-perfect’ next to the original Parker Pen Company’s “Big Red”, but they are very close.
Just when I was ready to go pick up the fifth and sixth set of samples from Tulsa Rubber Company, I learned that it had burned to the ground along with my precious samples. TRC would never reopen its doors.

I was fortunate to learn--in David Shepherd and Dan Zozove’s book Parker Duofold that in the development of “Big Red” Parker Pen Company had also struggled to find the perfect color recipe. In fact, Parker had produced several runs of pens that were nearly identical to the replicas that I was now producing.

My collector friends, I have given you a bit of history of my own quest in finding perfect recipes and methods for producing my limited numbers of Parker Senior Duofolds. I am now offering for sale my most recent replicas of this famous and highly desired pen. I have made them with every honest effort to honor and uphold the workmanship and ‘specialness’ of this historically significant pen.