Monthly Archives: February 2023

Shopping for a Sheaffer PFM

The Sheaffer Pen for Men, more commonly known as the Sheaffer PFM, was a luxury fountain pen first released in 1959. Like the Ford Edsel, it wasn’t quite as popular in its time as it should have been and was made for only several years. Years later, it has become an iconic pen for vintage pen collectors.

From left to right are a Sheaffer PFM I, II, III, IV and V. Notice the changes in the caps and nibs.

Keeping a car analogy in mind, PFMs came in 5 trim lines counted out in Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV and V.

• SHEAFFER PFM-I—This was the most basic and inexpensive trim line. It sports the same plastic cap and body as in higher trim lines, but the cap clip and band are steel, instead of gold plate. Its inlaid nib is made of “palladium silver,” which today is likely more valuable a precious metal than gold. All trim lines of the pen filled with a larger version of the Sheaffer Snorkel filler.

• SHEAFFER PFM-II—This pen was identical to the PFM-I except for its cap. The PFM-II cap was made of steel. It also should be noted that the palladium nibs feel much firmer than their 14k counter parts.

• SHEAFFER PFM-III—Some collectors choose to focus the most on these pens, as they were a gold upgrade with a matching plastic cap and barrel. The cap trim was gold plated and the nib was an inlaid 14k gold nib. Many collectors find these nibs to feel a little softer and smoother.

• SHEAFFER PFM-IV—PFM-IVs sport a polished chrome cap with gold plated trim. You also spot a flat gold-plated plate on the back of the blind cap. The rest of the pen remains the same as the III.

• SHEAFFER PFM-V—The pinnacle of the line, Vs were the same as IVs, except they had a completely gold-plated cap that featured an etched pattern reminiscent of the New York skyline.

In addition to the five standard trim lines, Sheaffer made a “Demonstrator” version of the pen so that pen stores and traveling Sheaffer reps could show how these complicated fountain pens worked on the inside. These pens were not for sale to the general public and were made in very small quantities. Worse still, their fragile clear plastics are known to get little cracks in them called “fractals.” The pens, which are effectively PFM-III models that are clear, are valued on clarity, internal ink staining, cracks like a normal pen and these little fractals.

An average to bad PFM Demonstrator might still command more money than a PFM-V, which normally gets more money than the other trim lines. A near perfect Demonstrator can cross into $2,000-plus territory in the year 2023.

In addition to the clear model, PFMs came in black, blue, burgundy, green and grey. Grey seems to be the rarest of the colors and also commands the highest prices. A PFM-III in grey would likely get more money than a grey PFM-V because the grey caps are so hard to find.

Cracks in the pen are the bane of collectors’ everywhere. Sheaffer, and the world, was still experimenting with plastic. The plastic chosen by Sheaffer for the PFMs tends to get increasingly brittle with age. When shopping for a Sheaffer PFM, you want to look very closely for tiny hair-line cracks in both ends of the barrel, at the start of the section nearest the barrel, around the inlaid nib and under the nib around the feed area. A crack in the barrel all but guarantees that the pen won’t fill properly, as there will be too many air leaks for the pneumatic filler to function properly. Cracks around the section and nib might equate to seepage of ink. This bothers some people more than others.

Sometimes, whatever held the inlaid nibs in place to begin with starts to deteriorate, and the nibs can seep through no fault of anyone. Yes, PFMs are a little more high maintenance and problematic than many other vintage pens, but they can also the pen you want to turn to most.

Restoration of these pens is a bit complicated, as are all snorkels. The O-ring and sac replacement are basically the same as the thinner, earlier model Snorkels. However, the PFM requires a special tool to unscrew a part of the section to reveal an inner chamber to replace the point seal. Larger O-rings and Point Seals are required for PFMs compared with standard Sheaffer Snorkels. Replacing the point seal can be challenging and risk cracking the section through no fault of a restorer. Don’t be surprised to see restoration costs span $50 to $75 for a simple overhaul with a new sac, O-ring and point seal. Those 3 parts are cheap, but you are really paying for the extra-time and expertise that go into fixing these pens.

Reading ‘100 Years of Sheaffer’

One might think that a book written by the Sheaffer corporation about the Sheaffer corporation might be a definitive history of the company, but one might be wrong.

This is the book cover to “100 Years of Sheaffer.” It is a very attractive coffee table book that seems to get some of the facts and history muddled if not completely wrong.

“100 Years of Sheaffer” is a beautiful coffee table book published by Sheaffer in 2013 to celebrate the first century of the company from 1913, when it officially incorporated, to the then present 2013. The pages are thick and the photography is excellent. Clearly, Sheaffer intended for this book to last another 100 years.

Unfortunately, the information inside the book isn’t as accurate as one might hope. At the time, the Sheaffer Pen Company had been owned by Bic, after changing hands a few other times since the Sheaffer family sold it in the 1960s. Perhaps, their own archives were diminished or this became a side project that was more of a nuisance than a labor of love.

The book opens with a few bland, general statements by Bic chairman Bruno Bich; John D. Sheaffer (the founder Walter Sheaffer’s grandson) and Sheaffer’s general manager Tim Williams. Then the uncredited author begins the narrative for the book. True Sheaffer experts will be upset by some glaring mistakes, such as ignoring the Sheaffer Touchdown filling system and then calling those pens the Snorkel and Snorkel Thin Model of 1949 and ’50 and then getting into how the Snorkel was put on the market in 1952. It also discusses how the famous Sheaffer inlaid nib was first introduced on the Pen for Men, when I’m pretty sure it got its debut with the Sheaffer Compact pens a year or two earlier, which aren’t even mentioned in the book, which is surprising given how they were early cartridge pens. Much of the information in the book is accurate, but these inconsistencies and omissions chip away at its credibility.

Each chapter focuses on a decade of Sheaffer production, and it starts with a brief overview of the history of that decade. Yet, they seem to get some basic history a little wrong, too. As the history is more pop-culture based, it is weird how they refer to the movie “King Kong” as an early Technicolor film, in the same sentence with “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” The latter two films were famously early color films from 1939, while “King Kong” was a black-and-white film from 1933. In the 1940s section it discusses how Humphrey Bogart and Ava Garner became huge stars in the classic film noir movies “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca.” Yes, Bogie became a household name for his performances in those films, but Garner didn’t appear in either of them. True fans of noir would also never consider “Casablanca” film noir, either.

While similar books focus heavily on identifying pens based on their production dates and model names, this book doesn’t get into as many of these details. It does feature some great pens and samples of original advertising, but the very best examples are of the pens and ads come from the Bic era from 1997 to 2013. Even though I cannot prove it definitively, it seems as if they get the production dates wrong on some of their own pens of that era.

The general errors in the book should have been corrected before publication, as the true facts were already well established and known by pen collectors in 2013. Another surprising element of the book is that many of the pens photographed were not cleaned up. While they might have been from Sheaffer’s archives, many were tarnished and/or even showing some corrosion on the metal parts. By 2013, there were already many well established vintage pen repairers who could have gotten those pens gleaming for their big day with the camera. The photos were well lit and focused. It just seems as if they could have done a better job prepping the pens for such an important book.

In the final analysis, it is a well-made book with some good information. Unfortunately, you can’t trust it as the definitive source material identifying and dating Sheaffer pens.