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    Default An Intro to Collecting Sheaffer (Photos!) by David Isaacson

    Part 1:Introduction and 1910's-1930 or so:

    North American users and collectors of modern pens are blessed with access to a cornucopia of products from across the world. Often forgotten though is that the blossoming of pen collecting in the USA owes much to a First Fandom from the 1970's-1980's, collectors who looked back to old pens at a time when modern fountain pen offerings in the USA were somewhat limited.

    Some 35 years or so ago, collectors of old pens wrote the first books about the hobby and founded the first pen conventions. The expanding collector base created a milieu which in turn permitted the growth of modern fountain collecting in the USA. Indeed, today some of the big pen shows see more modern than old pens. This flood of modern pens perhaps threatens to swamp the presence of old pens, which offered a more limited range back in the day, though probably with more pens made, as pretty well all writers had to have one. And of course only a modest fraction of those pens survive to modern times.

    Sheaffer was one of the Big Five pen makers during the popular-with-collectors 1920's-1950's, along with Parker, Wahl-Eversharp, LE Waterman and Conklin. With its first pens offered sometime from 1908-1912, Sheaffer subsequently manufactured pens continuously in the USA for about a century, closing its Fort Madison, Iowa factory only within the last couple years, moving operations abroad. By the mid 1950's USA prestige fountain pen production really had been whittled down to Parker and Sheaffer.

    I date the origin of pen collecting as an organized, national-scale hobby
    to the publication of Cliff Lawrence's first book in 1977

    Sheaffer Balance and Parker Vacumatic pens-- including oversized models-- were valued $10-30.

    Sheaffer's high quality products and successful marketing resulted in the survival to today of many nice examples of even 70-90 year old pens. This prevalence and arguably conservative styling have left old Sheaffers quite affordable compared to similar pens by the competition or to most modern fountain pens of similar market niche.

    Several key developments have been attributed (with varying degrees of accuracy) to Sheaffer: the lever filling system, the use of Celluloid in pen manufacture, the guarantee symbol (White Dot, for Sheaffer), and streamlined shape.

    As fountain pens evolved from the 1880's, most companies saw a progression (with overlap) from eye-dropper (external) filling to self-filling, from slip cap to threaded cap, from hard rubber to Celluloid to injection plastic, from cylindrical ("flat top") shape to streamlined. Sheaffer, late topen manufacture compared to Waterman, Parker and Conklin, started out with threaded caps and with a self-filling system.

    If we peek at Sheaffer's early "flat top" era, we see pens catalogued from the 1910's through 1930, though evidence exists that the flat-end pens continued production perhaps a decade after their last catalogue appearance. Prior to 1920 the overwhelming majority of pens were produced in basic black, the most common hard rubber color. Hard Rubber orange and mottled (black/red) pens are known. With the introduction of Celluloid in 1924, plastic pens began to appear in green, orange, black-and-pearl, red, even blue.

    A remarkable array of 1910s-1930's Sheaffer "flat-tops", a light sample of my early Sheaffers.
    Details below

    1. Sterling Silver Overlay Slotted, a better pattern
    2. Gold Filled Overlay Scroll, a better pattern
    3. Craig sub-brand pen from ~ 1920. "Craig" for... Craig Sheaffer, Walter's son.
    4. Cherry Red Pigmy. Might it really have been made of casein rather than Celluloid?
    5. 46 Special Long-Standard size in Red Chased Hard Rubber.
    6. Black and Pearl oversized Lifetime (White Dot).
    7. Cherry Red oversized Secretary.
    8. Orange Celluloid called Coral by Sheaffer. Off-catalogue bandless pen with chrome trim
    9. Jade Celluloid with black ends. Did pens such as this represent Sheaffer's insecurity regarding the black-end pens of the Evil Competition?
    10. Quite scarce Blue Pigmy, this one a bit rough.
    11. Rare large gold-filled flat-top. Most of this sort were well more slender.
    12. Scarce mottled Hard Rubber (black/red) pen of decent size.

    One can collect 80 year old flat-top Sheaffers for decades and have difficulty acquiring many of the pens shown above. The challenge transcends simple finances. Perhaps just three pens above today cost more than the retail price of a Montblanc 149, and many are far cheaper. I could fill the tray with MB 149's just by writing a check, but some of the pens above might see just a single example hit the market every few years. This demonstrates both the greater-rarity-for-the-buck that old pens offer compared to modern and the charm/challenge of hunting old pens.


    Last edited by david i; May 23rd, 2014 at 09:33 AM.
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