Tag Archives: vintage sheaffer 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.

Slaying the Snorkel Siren

If you have been following these Drippy Musings for some time now, you know that the Sheaffer Snorkel fountain pen has been the bane of my existence for the past decade. I love these pens in all of their complicated filling mechanism glory, but I could never tame those very filling systems.

Here are the magnificent seven! In other words, they are my first graduating class of Sheaffer Snorkel repair pens. Included are two Sheaffer Crests, a Sheaffer Sovereign, two Sheaffer Saratogas and two Sheaffer Statesmen.

Here are the magnificent seven! In other words, they are my first graduating class of Sheaffer Snorkel repairs. Included are two Sheaffer Crests, a Sheaffer Sovereign, two Sheaffer Saratogas and two Sheaffer Statesmen.

Until now…

After getting tons of great advice from readers and other repairmen, I finally dove into a Sheaffer Statesman in grey before the Chicago Pen Show got underway. After carefully deconstructing it, I completely reassembled it almost too easily. It worked as if I had be overhauling them for years.

Since then I have fixed 6 more. A 7th didn’t survive after I cleverly sliced my thumb open with its greased up razor-sharp snorkel. Ow! At least now I can say I have bled for my art.

Here is the first Sheaffer Snorkel repair to survive my workbench. It's snorkel is extended beneath its palladium silver nib.

Here is the first Sheaffer Snorkel repair to survive my workbench. Its snorkel is extended beneath its palladium silver nib.

Yet, with a total of 7 successful restorations, I feel confident enough to offer repair services for Sheaffer Snorkels and PFMs. I also am interested in buying old dead ones with hopes of bringing them back to life. The more colorful they are, the better.

My Battle with Snorkels Advances, Stymies

Two Snorkel filling units mock me from my work bench, as I try to sort out the final mysterious reasons they won't draw ink.

Two Snorkel filling units mock me from my work bench, as I try to sort out the final mysterious reasons they won’t draw ink.

For roughly 10 years, I have struggled to find a way to fix the beautiful and brilliant Sheaffer Snorkel. Years ago I saw a poll that asked pen collectors what they prefered: the Parker 51 or the Sheaffer Snorkel. I sided with the 25% that preferred the Snorkel.

Among other things, I am a clean freak. Snorkels are the most mess-free pens of the vintage era. The Parker 61 was/is mess-free, too, but it is static and just aborbs ink. There is no Rube Goldberg intricacy.

The Snorkel satisfies my need for cleanliness and order as well as my need for complicated and elaborate. When they work, they are wonderful pens.

However, in my effort to learn to restore these beautiful devils, I have littered the junkyard with the corpses of those steel filler units.

The reason there was a delay in updating this blog or the vintage pens in the past week was because I had made not one but two restoration breakthroughs with the Snorkel fountain pen. ONE: I finally found a way to remove the plug that holds the ink sac and seals the pneumatic casing without damaging anything. TWO: I found a way to insert a new ink sac and that plug back into said casing.

I already know how to restore the touchdown filler O-rings and assembly. I even know how to replace the Snorkel tube’s gasket between the nib and the section.

All done. Right! NO! Frustratingly, miserably no. I have an air leak or blockage somewhere that won’t allow the pen to fill. Whatever the problem is, I know it is a simple small easy little tweak that is likely staring right at me. I just don’t see it. That is all that is standing between me and finishing about a dozen classic Sheaffer Snorkels that are just dying for the opportunity to work again and be sold into loving homes that will use them and cherish them.

If you know the secret inner psychology of what it takes to fix a Snorkel, please let me know.

Does this Old Sheaffer Ad Disturb You?

Vintage fountain pen ads are always entertaining. Often hoaky, and usually too wordy, they wouldn’t hold up in today’s ad campaigns. These days 10 words and an oversized, engaging image is thought of as a solid ad. In the early 1920s, you’d get several paragraphs, if not a complete page of copy, that few people read all the way through.

Sheaffer Lifetime pen set ad

Here is a Sheaffer Christmas ad from the 1920s. Is it romantic or disturbing? Let us know.

Early attempts at more image heavy ads seem to convey odd messages. No doubt this Sheaffer ad was supposed to be highly romantic. The couple sure looks swell in their evening clothes.

However, on closer examination, doesn’t it seem–a generation after the women’s lib movement–highly disturbing that the man is holding the woman’s hand as she writes. First off, who can write with someone holding their hand? Second, isn’t it almost creepy that he could well be trying to control her hand?

With one hand on her hip, it looks as if she has moxie enough to squirt that guy in the eye with her vintage Sheaffer fountain pen. Nevertheless, he’s still there guiding away.

Oddly missing is an obvious price. Only in the fine print can you discover that the rolled gold set is $16 and the solid gold set is $68. Imagine a solid gold pen-pencil set today going for $68. At the time, however, a Model T Ford was going for somewhere in the vicinity of $200. No doubt you could have gotten a used car for less than $68.

In case you can’t read the normal-sized text, the copy is written from the woman’s perspective, thanking the man for the fountain pen and pencil set. She describes the box the set comes in as “cunning.” She also establishes that “all” women hate sharpening pencils and that the companion mechanical pencil is basically making all of her dreams a reality.

To blazes with diamond rings, necklaces, flowers, chocolates and other traditional gifts of love on Christmas. What every woman really wants is a mechanical pencil in a cunning box so she doesn’t have to sharpen any more pencils.

Why didn’t somebody tell me that years ago?! At least I know I won’t be single this Yuletide season.

Comments and responses are welcome.