Prints & Cards
by Jim Mamoulides 8/29/03 - Updated 11/22/03
Thanks to Joe Engel
Back To The Future
The Sheaffer NoNonsense, introduced in 1969, is so derivative of the classic Sheaffer flat top pens from 1914 through 1929 that one almost expects to find a lever on the side. Like many Sheaffer designs, the NoNonsense is so simple and straightforward that it is still in production today. The NoNonsense follows the simple, tubular design that was practical for making lever-fill pens before the streamlining phenomenon that Sheaffer itself started in 1929.
The NoNonsense shares many of the design elements of the early flat tops in addition to the cap and barrel. The ball-end clip is a direct lift from the early straight clip pens, though the Sheaffer name is stamped "SHEAFFER" in simple block letters, instead of the classic bold "SHEAFFER'S" on vintage pens. The single wide cap band recalls pre-1928 single band pens, though the band is wider and closer to the cap lip. The nib and section are in the same proportion, with the new pen being stainless steel and a plainer stamping. And of course, as there is much less hardware in the newer pen, it's quite a bit lighter.
The original NoNonsense pens were solid color navy blue and khaki with chrome trim and stainless steel nibs. The first pens likely had hard rubber feeds, which were still being produced in the 1960s, though this has long since changed to plastic. The pen quickly gained wide acceptance, and Sheaffer was making the pens in numerous colors, solid and translucent, and special screen-printed models. The pen became a workhorse for Sheaffer's promotions department as an imprintable gift pen.
Later on Sheaffer would produce upscale versions, including models with all gold plate hardware and nibs, chased plastic, and an all-stainless steel pen. The NoNonsense became Sheaffer's Calligraphy set pen, and still holds that position today.
Models Models Models
It would probably be impossible to list all the models and variants of the NoNonsense, but it is interesting to get a sense of the "portfolio" that has been offered for over thirty years. Here is a sampling.
NoNonsense - Originally offered in hang card blister packs for US $1.98 with two cartridges. The original and namesake pen is solid color opaque plastic with chrome or stainless steel trim and a stainless steel nib. Numerous opaque colors have been offered, including red, black, yellow, white, grey, purple, pink, and green. Early on the pen was offered in sets with a capped ballpoint and capped felt tip that used the same cap and barrel with appropriate sections and barrel inserts to accommodate the refills.
Viewpoint - Same as the NoNonsense, but translucent. The current (2003) model Calligraphy pen sells for US $4.50.
Gemtones - Same as the NoNonsense. Offered in solid colors and prints.
Vintage - Same as the NoNonsense, but upscale, with gold plated hardware and a gold plated cap top insert. Later versions have nicely marbled plastics, making a very attractive pen.
Old Timer - Essentially a black Vintage with a chased cap and barrel. The Old Timer also has a gold plate section trim ring. There were several designs, all similar to styles on early hard rubber pens. I've identified six patterns (descriptive, not the Sheaffer names): diamond, checkerboard, chevron, "Grecian border", zig-zag, and "flamme" (shown above). All examples I've seen were black plastic.
Stainless - An all-stainless NoNonsense.
Tagalog - A clipless NoNonsense style pen with a detachable neck cord through the cap top. A modern day ringtop! Ballpoint only.
Imprinted - Numerous logo models can be found in all styles. In addition, Sheaffer produced special runs, including Bicentennial pens.
After three decades of service, Sheaffer simplified the NoNonsense line, introducing a new and longer soft grip section, which resulted in the elimination of the section and cap threads, making the pen a snap off cap design. The line has been paired back to four models: NoNonsense, Viewpoint, Jellies, and Tagalong. The only current model that is still a fountain pen is the Viewpoint, sold in Calligraphy sets with German made nibs.
Many collectors have discovered that the NoNonsense section threads with many contemporary Sheaffer open nib models. The new section is threaded the same, but because it uses a significantly shorter barrel in order to retain the same proportions as the original design. The new section will thread, but won't swap with the older pens, as the cartridges won't fit correctly. The resulting Frankenpen with either be too long or too short inside for the cartridge.
The new pen allows for few of the upscale flourishes that Sheaffer tried with the NoNonsense three decades of service. The Vintage, the fanciest of the all-plastic models, came with a gold plated insert in the cap-top. The indentation in the cap top also allowed Sheaffer to offer logo inserts. The new version has a simple flat top, so this feature has been dropped.
In July, 2001 Sheaffer announced the NoNonsense Jellies line, the first NoNonsense foray into gel ink. This line was aimed at the youth and kid markets where gel pens were hot and included four gel ink rollerball refill colors. The pens are basically the new version soft grip Viewpoint pens in new colors: Key Lime, Pumpkin, and Sky Blue.
Low-end fountain pens have dropped in popularity. In response, Sheaffer has pruned the NoNonsense siblings back to principally ballpoint and rollerball models. The Viewpoint is currently the only model offered as a fountain pen, and only in Calligraphy versions.
To review the NoNonsense is to write a something old, something new, something borrowed story. NoNonsense pens are large, but very lightweight. The original "1969" pen measures 5 1/4 inches capped, very comparable to the vintage Sheaffer senior size flat top pens it emulates, but the cap posts deeper, making the pen 6 1/8 inches long posted rather than the 6 3/4 inches one would expect from a vintage Sheaffer Jade. The new "snap-cap" version is slightly shorter at 5 1/8 inches capped, 6 inches posted.
The look, capped or posted, is very favorable to the early Sheaffer flat tops. If I could change anything in the design, I would have changed the stamping on the clip to match the vintage pens bigger and heavier "SHEAFFER'S" logo. Not even the Old Timer version, which just shouts, "I'm a vintage pen!" just does not look finished with the plain jane clip. Too bad.
Having tried the Vintage, Old Timer, and stainless NoNonsense pens, I'm left a little cold by the new snap-cap version. The big rubberized grip feels nice, but to me it's gimmicky and adds nothing to the pen that it was really missing. On several ballpoint / rollerball pens of the first version, the section has a coarse feel that would accomplish the same thing. The pull off cap may appeal to kids, and is the method for many successful school pens, so this is in the plus column. I do like the wider cap band on the older version.
The section and feed are completely redesigned. The new feed is a wide, flat notched plastic piece, instead of the finned feed of the first pen, which, along with the original nib, has its roots in the original Sheaffer cartridge pen from the 1950s. The section has a recessed cavity and a plastic nipple to cut and hold the cartridge, instead of the shorter, flat end design with an angled metal nipple. The new nib is a little flatter and wider, and is stamped "GERMANY", which makes me think the pen is an outsource contract, made to look like a NoNonsense. This says "cheaper to make" to me, which is surprising, considering Sheaffer must have cranked these out by the carload.
Finally, if you read the fine print, the pen is no "White Dot" Lifetime model. It comes with a one year warranty. From my experience, you'd really have to abuse it to need any warranty, unless it was bad out of the box, and I haven't had that happen yet!
Writing with the NoNonsense is "just right", like Goldilocks and the warm porridge. These are light, but well balanced pens that glide on paper. The stamping on the nibs is plain, but does show a hint of the Feather Touch look. The italic pens can be a little chisel like, but are almost all smooth writers. I have run into very few bad NoNonsense pens, and those were used pens. Out of the box, they always work great. I've run across more than one Sheaffer collector who swaps NoNonsense nib sections with more upscale pens to get a better writer. As writers, these are a deal for the money.
Filling the pen shows the smarts of the Sheaffer cartridge design. Drop the cartridge in the barrel, screw the barrel back on the pen, and start writing. Simple, neat, and easy. This is a perfect first pen to give someone who would like to try a fountain pen. The range from school pen to quite dressy makes the NoNonsense a great starter gift, but look carefully, as the original version pens are no longer made and may require some searching.
If you love cheapies, as I do, you'll find the NoNonsense pens a great value. If you're a bottle filler and use a Sheaffer converter in the pen, beware the new version! The rubberized section is hard to wipe and may leave you with ink-stained fingers.
It's really too bad that Sheaffer has cut back on this pen because of its potential as a "five dollar ambassador." Parker is doing a better job in the low end marketing the Reflex and Vector pens in a way that makes them appealing to adults and kids. Sheaffer is missing out. I just don't think the Calligraphy niche with help it break out.
Thanks to Joe Engel for loaning the Old Timer and Stainless pens for photographs.
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