As well as the varied products of our own thriving fountain pen industry, some foreign pens also sold well here. French pens didn’t seem to catch on. There were always some German pens around, mostly Pelikans. Most popular, though, were American pens. In order of popularity, I suppose, it went Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Wahl Eversharp and then odd examples of the rest.
My preference for these vintage pens runs a little differently. Sheaffer, Waterman, Parker would be my order, I think. I admire Sheaffer’s build quality and the ingenuity of their designs. Not that they got it perfectly right all the time: their Vac filler is an inferior copy of the Onoto plunger filler, designed to be disposed of rather than repaired when it inevitably failed. The snorkel is a complexity too far, only really coming into its own in large capacity pens with fine nibs because there’s so much technology in there that there is little room left for ink.
Those minor complaints aside, the rest is design and execution of the very highest quality. Their experiments with nibs were hugely successful. The variations of the Triumph nib are all a delight, both visually and practically. The later inlaid nib is elegance itself. Though, for the most part, Sheaffers are not pens for those who require flexible nibs, their other fine writing qualities are more than enough to compensate for the rest of us. I love a nail if it’s a nail that never skips or falters, gives just the right amount of feedback and always starts right away. That’s a Sheaffer nib! Even the little Stylepoint nib which was used on some of the Lady Sheaffers and other pens, though not as aesthetically impressive to my mind, is a splendid writer.
Sheaffer, of course, ceased to be Sheaffer in the end, passing through several hands and gradually losing the quality and identity that had made it a star of the fountain pen world for so long. The last new Sheaffer that I bought was an Intrigue. It disappointed. It was ridiculously heavy for its small size and it was poorly put together. The filling-system was unduly complicated and seemed designed to fail. Worst of all, it was a hard starter. It took a considerable amount of nib work to put that right. It was the first moderately expensive pen I bought that didn’t work properly out of the box (though there have been plenty since!) I didn’t keep it for long.
Thankfully, as other pens have become rarer, old Sheaffers are still quite common. Even the slightly more modern ones, cartridge/converters, are still splendid pens with great nibs, generally available at a bargain price.
I confess that I have no idea what sort of fountain pen comes out bearing the name Sheaffer these days. I rather lost interest as their products became more generic with little or nothing to make them stand out from the rest of the pack.