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 logo systemark
1975—1983

A lthough the Systemark is best remembered as Parkers first roller ball pen it was really a multi-pen, following the idea from the Big Red of the 1970's, that a single pen could use different cartridges for a greater writing variety. This would of course also make the manufacturing process more economical, since the same production could be used for more pens.

The roller ball itself had been around for a while. Both the fiber tip pen and the roller ball had been introduced by Pentel in 1963. Pentel's first roller ball was intensly green and it was named the Ball Pentel. It used an ink drenched "tampon" to feed the ball with the ink, the same principle most fiber tip pens still use.

Parker had been fiddling with their own idea to use fountain pen ink with a ball point pen, utilising the best features from the two pens. Since ball pens use a thicker, oil based, ink, a ball point pen will always need more pressure in writing, which could be tiresome if used for a prolonged time. With a more fluid ink writing would be more like using a fountain pen, which writes without any additional pressure at all (a good fountain pen writes by the pressure of the weight of the pen itself). The problem with a more fluid ink was to prevent the pen from blobbing. A ball pen does not have the intricate features of the ink feed of the fountain pens, which regulates the flow by letting air in and ink out, while at the same time trapping excessive ink in collectors under the nib.

But Parker had also benefited much from the strategy to hurry slowly with the introduction of the Jotter ball pen, and they decided to not release their own version of the new pen until the design and functionality was optimal. Parker worked on the new liquid ink system for five years, according to UK managing director Jaques Margry.

Parker early realised that they already had a patent that might be modified to work with the new kind of ball pen.

Way back in the 1940's, during the second world war, a railway engineer by the name of Fred Wittnebert had come up with the idea of taking advantage of the capillary force, the same natural force that allows trees, a hundred meters tall, to be able to "suck" water through the stem using the surface-tension that lifts the liquid and keeps it trapped when inserted in a narrow space.

The idea wasn't really far fetched, Parker had been using the same force together with the vacuum effect to regulate the flow in the ink feeds for ages and in the beginning of the 1950's Parker began to develop the first fountain pen that could be filled without any moving parts, the legendary Parker "61" capillary filler.

Now the same ideas were being dusted off for the new roller ball pen.

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In the patent, which was filed in April of 1975 with Fred Wittnebert as primary inventor (he was hired by Parker after the war), he describes the Parker roller ball invention as a “vacuum controlled reservoir for containing a supply of ink having a lower viscosity than conventional ball pen ink, a writing tip which may be any one of a number of interchangeable types” … “It should be pointed out that standard thick ink ball pens do not make a line as intense as fountain pens … due to inherent design limitations caused by the use of thick, that is, relatively viscous ink.” Wittnebert goes on describing how this new, thin ink, can be controlled by a new ink collector. The remarkable T-ball was borrowed from the Jotter and fitted to the design.

Wittnebert designed a refill that was in a way part of a mini-fountain pen in a closed unit. It contained floating ink, a feed and a collector. The ball was designed to give way a fraction of a millimeter when pressed against paper. This allowed the ink to flow down around the ball, giving a very wet and pleasant writing experience. When the nib was lifted from the paper the ball flexed back and shut off the ink flow, preventing blobs. Pentel had used a sort of a sponge around the ball to prevent leakage.

The Systemark was test marketed in Winnipeg in Canada, in the spring of 1974 and by 1975 it was introduced as a "floating ball pen", Stylus (a very hard fiber tip that could be used on carbon paper) and the "super soft" felt tip version, previously made for the Parker Touché in the mid 1960's.

The first Systemarks were offered in black, grey, dark blue and light blue with a lustraloy cap and a body ring, referred to as the Special Systemark. They were offered with blue, black, red or green ink and was moderately priced at $2.98.

Soon a higher priced Imperial (22k gold electroplate) version was offered, as well as two stainless steel versions "Flighter", one with gold filled trim (GT) and one with chrome trim (CT). The very first Flighter CT had a section made from aluminium (aluminum) but it was replaced by a stainless version for production reasons.

By 1977 the Imperial Systemark cost $20, the Flighter GT $10 and the Flighter CT $5. There were also high end Systemark finishes offered with the Place Vendôme line in either heavy gold plate or heavy silver plate in the finishes of grain d'Orge, Milleraies and Ecorce. The gold roller ball pens cost $50 and the silver $35. All refills cost $0.98 (while a bottle of Quink cost $0.69!). For Parker the Systemark had been a great success, it was surpassed in sales only by the Jotter.
Also in 1977 a Special Systemark was manufactured in green for President Carters "low" gift line. Another new addition was the Ms Parker Systemark, designed by Pucci in brushed steel and gold filled trim.

In 1978 the Systemark Special in grey was discontinued, it was replaced by a red version. The Systemark Special was now priced at $3.98.


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In 1979 a Special Systemark in white was introduced for "premium imprinted merchandise" and in 1980 a Systemark Flighter GT was made as a demonstrator and fitted with a chain.

In the Parker UK subsidairy in Newhaven, according to Malcolm Troak in his book "Pen to paper", it was managing director Jaques Margry who saw the potential of the refill and decided to develop a pen especially designed around the roller ball refill, and he wanted it fast! Troak describes the process as being designed basically on the back of a cigarette packet by a handful of Newhaven people. It was designed to make Parker a fast brand leader in that market segment.

In July of 1981 Parker in the UK introduced their new line of writing instruments called "Roller ball one" RB-1, in price ranges from £1.95 to £25. Parker launched the largest ad campaign in the UK company's history.

The new RB-1 roller ball became immensely popular and after the introduction in England, and in the US in September the same year, it sold in more than two million units before christmas. Parker describes the roller ball in an in-house newsletter as meeting a "staggering demand" and Malcolm Troak reveals that the RB-1 quickly became the brand leader in that particular segment of the marketplace.

The new RB-1, later renamed the Vector, was modern, clean and functional and the Systemark, with its somewhat dated design, was phased out in 1983.

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