Queuing up Don McLean’s American Pie
A long, long time ago,
I can still remember
My first fountain pen was a Sheaffer cartridge pen. In the fifth grade, I thought the pen was horrible. It was scratchy, and the tines were splayed. I used the pen for the only thing it seemed good for: to gouge a wooden desk.
Very harsh admonitions and disciplinary actions followed.
Recently a “NOS” aka new old stock of a pen fall into me hands. When those who love you know you love fountain pens, they tend to bring you the ones they find; things they ordinarily would ignore if you weren’t lurking in the background somewhere in their minds. And so, another Sheaffer cartridge pen came to me. Complete in its original blister pack.
These Sheaffer cartridge pens are often referred to as “school pens,” supposing because so many students used or were given them. Sheaffer merely packaged these fountain pens without so much as a name other than “Sheaffer cartridge pen.”
There was a pen that Sheaffer marketed as a school pen. It looked very different from these pens. The site Ravens March Fountain Pens posts an example here, along with a bit of history.
Some of the earlier versions of the cartridge pens had nib markings of 304 or 305. (There may have been others, but these are the two most commonly found in the wild today.) Sometimes you will see these pens referred to as “Sheaffer 304” or “Sheaffer 305” pens, but those were not labels Sheaffer gave to these pens. The numbered nibs appeared on other Sheaffer pens as well, such as the Skripsert, and Fineline series.
The nib numbers translate as follows:
- 304 – fine point nib
- 305 – medium point nib
The nibs in these pens are steel.
Sheaffer made, and continues to make, a lot of cartridge style pens. We’re concerned here with those simply packaged as “Sheaffer Cartridge pens,” circa 1956-1998, with chrome caps, and with opaque or clear color bodies. Well, even that is too simplistic. If you look, you may see many other pens labeled “Sheaffer cartridge pens,” and wonder why I’ve not listed those as well. An informative history exists, again on the wonderful Ravens March Fountain Pens site. Read it here.
Quick Super Simplified Dating of Sheaffer cartridge pens aka “School” pens
- The first generation had rounded ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1958-1963.
- The second generation had conical ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1963-1975.
- The third generation had flat ends (barrel and cap) – approximate dates 1975-1998.
As I recall, my desk gouging pen was circa 1965-66. That would’ve been a second generation pen. It was a blue opaque version of the fifth pen from the left in this wonderful illustration from yaakovashoshana’s Photobucket public stream:
3 generations of Sheaffer cartridge pens / All rights reserved by Yaakovashoshana’s Bucket
A semi-hooded nib model existed as early as the 1950’s. Some examples of those pens are found in Google’s magazine archives:
If you have found a Sheaffer inside an intact blister pack, you may be able to get a little more precise in dating your cartridge pen. Some helpful pieces of information, IMHO:
- 1907 Walter A. Sheaffer invents the lever-filling fountain pen.
- 1913 W A. Sheaffer Pen Company is incorporated.
- 1966 Sheaffer was sold to manufacturing company Textron, Inc.
- 1976 Sheaffer was merged by Textron into its paper division, Eaton.
- 1987 Textron sold Sheaffer Eaton to Gefinor (USA) Inc.
- 1997 Gefinor sold Sheaffer Eaton to Bic.
- 2002 Sheaffer’s ink manufacturing moved from USA to Slovenia.
- 2008 closing of Sheaffer manufacturing in USA.
Printed on the back of the Sheaffer blister pack I received: “Sheaffer Eaton Division of Textronic Inc., Fort Madison, Iowa 52627.” That tells me, so I believe, that my pen was manufactured between 1976 and 1987. The nib has a “Made in USA” imprint.
There is a model or ordering number printed on the cardboard, underneath the pen: B703-0769-0040. But that number has not been helpful.
Sometimes the cartridge pens can be found in the wild still in blister packs. More often than not, you will find them in used condition. They range in price from as low as $6.00, to as high as $30 in some cases. Average price in 2014 seems to be around $20.
Inking It Up
Someone once paid $1.98 for this particular cartridge pen, and then lost it in a drawer, leaving it unopened and uninked. It was tempting to leave the pen in its packaging, intact. Of course I could not resist, and had to ink the little pen up to see how it wrote.
Some folks perform the ubiquitous eyedropper conversion on these little pens. For the eyedropper (ED) obsessed, I measured with some water that the pen barrel will hold 3ml of ink. As good as any pen today, ay?
I opted to test out the pen with a cartridge because, hey, “cartridge pen,” right? Being ED obsessed myself, cartridges are not something I normally use. Still I found an old empty Sheaffer cartridge—never a surprise what’s found in a fountain pen person’s storage bins—and filled it with Waterman Blue-Black. After installing the cartridge, I set the nib in the ink for a little soak because I thought the feed might need a little help after all those years of sitting around doing nothing. (Leaving the nib and feed in the ink bottle like that jump starts the capillary action.)
The little pen wrote excellently, right like that. While the writing wasn’t crisp, the F (fine) nib was smooth. Even flipping the nib over, for a finer point, the pen wrote without any scratchiness.
No skipping, hard starting, blobbing of ink anywhere—just laying down words like a pen should. Even after several days, the aforementioned qualities remain true.
Pretty good for a pen that’s some 30 years old, ay? It’s easy to see why these little pens are favorites among many fountain pen aficionados.
The pen came with two ink cartridges marked as Sheaffer Deluxe Blue. The ink in both carts had evaporated, leaving only dried ink chunks clinging to the plastic walls.
I’d been told to add water to the carts to reconstitute the ink. Using a syringe holding a little distilled water, I wanted to see how hard it was to revive this dead ink. Wasn’t hard at all, as the ink quickly dissolved. I put some putty over the hole in the cartridge because I’ve still got the Waterman B-B to write through before testing the cart of reconstituted Sheaffer Skrip Deluxe Blue.
The pen is small, and pencil thin. Posting the pen gives it more heft and balance. Can’t believe I wrote that, as I never post pens, yet this one I do. Even the tiny Pilot MYU701, I never post.
The word “never” is such a jinxy word to use.
Just the Stats
- Weight inked: 11 grams with cap. 5 grams without cap.
- Length: 12.2mm capped. 10.9mm uncapped. 14.5mm posted.
The arrival of this little Sheaffer on my desk made me laugh. It was my inroad into vintage Sheaffer pens that made me draw back and say, “Woa! The fountain pen trail is an endless one filled with acquisitions.”
Even with the reduction of my pen acquisitions over time, the one vintage pen that remained was a Sheaffer, another unexpected gift in the form of a Tuckaway.
Now there are two Sheaffers in the tiny hoard.
While many pen people call these school pens “vintage,” I’m hard pressed to do so because it is not older than I.
Funny how pens, like so many things or themes, keep circling round and round, and come back to you in some way. Except today there’s no one to yell at me for how I might use a pen. Rest assured, no longer do I gouge desks with them.
Resources for Sheaffer fountain pen information
- SheafferTarga.com has a lot of Sheaffer information
- Penhero’s Sheaffer fountain pen profiles
- Richard Binder’s history of cartridge pens
- Pendemonium’s Important Sheaffer Dates
- Rick Conner’s Sheaffer history
- Current production Sheaffer fountain pens
- Visit the Sheaffer Pen Museum in Fort Madison, Iowa
- Pen Collectors of America – Great history resource, magazine, and library
- And of course, for your searching and conversational pleasure: FPN, FPGeeks, Pentrace, and FPB