Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Back to Vintage

Once upon a time, I was immersed in American vintage fountain pens. It was during an absorbing exploration of Sheaffer pens, the realization came to me to back away from acquiring and tinkering with pens. Collecting was a great pastime, yet it was a rabbit hole I could not afford to fall into further, for many reasons. Money was not the only part of that equation. It was the time and attention for pen discoveries and collecting that I could not (cannot) afford to spend. In fact, I banished all vintage pens from the hoard. Such an extreme act I now understand as a form of self pen abuse.

One of my Sheaffer pens was a beautiful lever-filler Balance in Ebonized Pearl. It had an exquisite Feathertouch nib. I once wrote this pen would not be replaced, and that it was more likely I’d obtain a custom pen that suggested the Ebonized Pearl. Well, I hope the word  “never” was not employed in that post.

It was the vacuum-filling Pilot Custom 823 fountain pen that reminded me that there was a vacuum-fill version of the old Sheaffer Balance. I approached a respected restorer of Balance vacuum pens (the wonderful Gerry Berg), and inquired about a working Balance in Ebonized Pearl. What I knew: didn’t need the largest Balance (commonly called an “Oversize” or OS), or a white-dot on the cap. Preferred a fine Feathertouch nib, and a pen in the Ebonized Pearl material. A pen that could be used daily to write with for hours at a time. A pen that would not blob during writing. (Have had that happen with one too many vintage pens.)

As luck would have it, such a pen was available, restored, and affordable—although with a more mediumish and not a fine nib. And so, a classic American vintage pen, the Streamlined Sheaffer Balance (this particular one circa 1936) made its way into the tiny hoard. The Balance pen was introduced by Sheaffer in 1929. The Balance appeared in the Ebonized Pearl material from 1934-1939. In a patent filed by Sheaffer in 1934, the material was described as “consisting of inlaid fragmentary faceted pieces of mother of pearl.” (RichardsPens.com @RichardsPens)

For many, many years, Sheaffer made their own nibs. Vintage nibs feel very different from modern nibs when you write with them. Vintage nibs generally run finer than modern western nibs. Sometimes they have a flex, or just a little spring. (BTW: I think my foray into Sailor and Platinum/Nakaya nibs is directly related to missing vintage nibs. Again, not the same but much closer in feeling the pen to page.) This particular Balance has a bit of an oblique quality to its nib, giving my scrawl an unexpected flair. It’s sweet!

The pen has had lots of use, and the photos show micro scratches along the barrel. When the pen is uninked, the remaining transparency of the cable twist barrel shows through. The barrel imprint proclaims,

W.A. SHEAFFER PEN CO.
FORT MADISON, IOWA, U.S.A.
U.S. PAT’S RE. 19.167+D-78,795
OTHER PAT. PENDING

The pen is a little over 5″ in length, capped. It’s approximately 4.5″ uncapped. If I posted it, which I don’t, the pen would be 6″ in length. Inked up the pen weighs 16grams capped, and 11grams uncapped. A very lightweight pen that’s very comfortable for me to use for long periods of writing time.

The Balance has proved to be a very good writer for long sessions. Counting words written during a NaNoWriMo the Balance yielded 8,617 words (approximately 14 Julie pages), as compared with my Levenger True Writer (converter) which yielded 1,625 words, or the Danitrio Cumlaude (with its 3ml ED tank and medium stub) at 5,873 pages. Proof again, size is not everything, eh? These numbers are relatively meaningless to your pens because there are so many factors involved in how many words can be squeezed out of any one pen.

My Streamlined Balance holds approximately 2ml of ink, has a flat feed with six fins, and a fun filling mechanism. Unlike any of my ED pens, this little Balance will burp ink near the end of its fill, or under the duress of severe weather shifts (like sitting inside toasty, warm sweatshirt pocket while it’s freezing outside). I tolerate a little burp because its the only pen that does so, and because the Balance is some 76 years old. Truthfully, it’s only burped on me twice thus far. I strongly believe that as you get to know a pen well, you get a feel for when these  kind of things might happen, and you can ward off a burp of ink.

The Sheaffer is the only vintage pen in the tiny hoard. I doubt another will join it, because, remember now, I believe “less is more.” The thing is, I won’t be tinkering with the pen at all. I’ll let Mr. Berg do that if need be. The pen’s uniqueness and excellent writing stamina allow it to take its place among the small cadre of core writing pens I employ: The Edison Huron, and two very different Danitrio pens. Having once ousted the lever version of the Balance, that mistake will not be made again. The vacuum-fill version will stay.

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Wee Reading List for the More Curious

Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
—Howard Nemerov, “Writing” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov
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2 thoughts on “Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Back to Vintage

  1. Thanks for this article and all the great links. I have a junior-sized vac-fill Balance in grey pearl that I got from Mr. Berg a couple years ago. Sometimes the ink flow is a little funny, but that’s a minor point considering the wonderful nib and great hand-feel of the pen. And it’s not bad looking either! The fountain pen community is lucky to have someone like Gerry who has put so much effort into the restoration of these great pens.

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    1. Totally agree with you about Mr. Berg, Ron! Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. Appreciate you for it.

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