Sheaffer Snorkel 1952-1959

by Jim Mamoulides, December 27, 2001

Snorkel

The Most Mechanically Complex Pen Ever Made

Snorkel
A Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Showing The Snorkel Extended

In 1952 Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel pen line, which is recognized today as one of the most complex filling mechanisms ever made. The pen was supported with a heavy advertising campaign, proclaiming its clean "dunk free" filling and ease of use. Sheaffer's early advertisements focus on the filling system, often showing the Snorkel extended and comparing it with hummingbirds or straws to get the point across. Later in the 1950s Sheaffer enlisted celebrities to sell the pen: famous actors such as Jackie Gleason, sports figures such as Jack Dempsey, and cartoonists such as Al Capp.

Snorkel
1958 Valiant Snorkel Advertisement Featuring Contemporary Cartoonists

The Snorkel is essentially a redesigned and more advanced Touchdown system that uses a thin filling tube that extends and retracts from underneath the nib in the front of the feed, allowing the pen to be filled without getting the nib wet, and therefore avoiding wiping and contact with ink. In the early 1950s, with ballpoint pens rapidly eating away at fountain pen sales, this was an attempt to make the pen competitive with ballpoints in the ease of refilling department.

Sheaffer made a big point of this in early advertising, explaining, "Since fountain pens were first invented, the mess and bother of filling has been a prime objection. Sheaffer's new Snorkel pen is the first real answer to the problem. Instead of "dunking" the point and barrel, only the filling tube touches the ink. It extends to draw in the fluid and withdraws when the pen is filled, leaving the point and barrel clean and free of ink."

Snorkel
1953 Snorkel Advertisement Showing the Snorkel Extended

Other manufacturers, such as Parker and Waterman, tried capillary systems to simplify filling for the dawn of the ballpoint age. The Snorkel pens were the most successful and are very commonly found today, often in working condition.

Sheaffer adapted the existing Thin Model or TM line, introduced in 1950, to the Snorkel by lengthening the pen to accommodate the longer filling mechanism, and continued the use of the TM model names in advertising, tying the new pen to the existing and established Touchdown line, which further derived many of its model names from the lever and Vacuum-Fill pens of the 1940s. Sheaffer dropped the "TM" from advertising about two years after introduction of the Snorkel, calling the line simply "Sheaffer's Snorkel Pen" thenceforth. Collectors refer to them both ways.

Snorkel
A Collection of Snorkel Pens Showing Cap Styles

An interesting side item, pointed out by Sam Marshall, who has done very extensive research on the Snorkel line, is that the advertising materials don't consistently match the service manuals on these pens. For example, color names aren't always the same nor are all model names. The Crest and Sentinel are so named in advertisements and catalogs, but are called Crest Deluxe and Sentinel Deluxe in service manuals.

Sheaffer also continued the use of injection molded solid color plastics, and continued the use of polished stainless and gold plated metal caps on many models. The plastic colors are commonly in black and 1950s pastel ranges, including burgundy, pastel green, aqua (blue) and gray. During the life of Snorkel production additional colors in more limited numbers were made, including buckskin tan (often confused with pink), fiesta red (a bright red), and mandarin orange. Reports of yellow or white are rumored, but not corroborated. Details on the colors offered by pen model follow below. This color detail information was greatly completed in "Snorkels and PFMs" by Sam Marshall, The PENnant, Summer 2002. Some later models appear with sections in the same color as the barrel. A clear demonstrator was also made for salespeople to show how the pen worked.

Snorkel
Detail Of The Sheaffer Snorkel Demonstrator Showing The Snorkel Extended

Sheaffer was very clever in creating and marketing the new pen. All Snorkels are essentially the same on the inside, but by adopting different nibs, caps and barrels, Sheaffer was able to create a host of models and color combinations. All models have the spiral grip, which makes the pen easier to hold, and with less pressure. Sheaffer offered as many as sixteen different nibs, including flexibles, accountant, shorthand, stubs, obliques and music. In general, the open nibs on the non-White Dot models often have more flex than the Triumph nib models.

All models had matching pencils and ballpoints with the same trim. The pencil was redesigned in 1952 to a new, more slender style than the pencil that complimented the earlier Touchdown and Thin Model Touchdown pens introduced in 1949 and 1950. The early ballpen was a capped Stratowriter style pen, which was replaced by 1955 with a push button retractable ballpoint. Higher line pens and ensemble sets were packaged in attractive tan leatherette clamshell boxes.

Snorkels were made in the USA, the UK and Australia. The line may have been made as late as 1962 in Australia.

The complete model list is as follows, in general order of original price:

Non-White Dot Models

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Special Burgundy Pen And Pencil Set c1955-1959

Special - Model introduced probably in 1955-1956 as a new entry-level model below the Admiral. Open palladium silver nib, plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip stamped "SHEAFFER'S", and 1/4" wide gold-filled cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, buckskin tan, vermilion (a tangerine), and sage green. The Snorkel Special pen sold for US $7.95 in 1956.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Admiral Pastel Green With Snorkel And Touchdown Plunger Open 1952-1959

Admiral - Open 14 karat gold nib, plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip stamped "SHEAFFER'S", and 1/4" wide gold-filled cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, buckskin tan, vermilion (a tangerine), and sage green. The Snorkel Admiral pen sold for US $10.00 in 1957.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Saratoga Black 1952-1959

Saratoga - Open 14 karat gold nib with platinum mask (similar to earlier Feathertouch nibs), plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip stamped"SHEAFFER'S", and 1/4" gold-filled cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, buckskin tan, vermilion (a tangerine), and sage green.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Sovereign Pastel Blue And Buckskin Tan 1952-1959

Sovereign - Open 14 karat gold nib with platinum mask (similar to earlier Feathertouch nibs), polished stainless steel cap with five engraved panels, and gold-filled clip with "SHEAFFER'S" stamped. The cap panels are a set of two straight lines with a dashed and diamond line between. Barrel colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, buckskin tan, vermilion (a tangerine), and sage green.

White Dot Models

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Statesman Pastel Green 1952-1955

Statesman - Triumph palladium-silver alloy nib (may be hallmarked PdAg), plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip and 3/8" wide gold-filled cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, peacock blue, buckskin tan, mandarin orange, fiesta red, and sage green. In 1956, the Snorkel Statesman sold for US $15.50 and with a matching pencil, US $22.75.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Clipper Burgundy Triple Set: Pen, Ballpoint, And Pencil c1955-1959

Clipper - Triumph palladium-silver alloy nib (may be hallmarked PdAg), polished stainless steel cap with a repeating pattern of four straight longitudinal engraved lines in a stepped grouping, gold-filled cap band, gold-filled clip, and plastic barrel. Barrel colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, peacock blue, buckskin tan, mandarin orange, fiesta red, and sage green.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Valiant Pastel Green Pen, With Snorkel And Touchdown Extended 1952-1959

Valiant - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip and 3/8" wide gold-filled cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, peacock blue, buckskin tan, mandarin orange, fiesta red, fern green, and periwinkle blue.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Pastel Blue Pen And Pencil Set 1952-1959

Sentinel - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, polished stainless steel cap with a repeating pattern of four straight longitudinal engraved lines in a stepped grouping, gold-filled cap band, gold-filled clip, and plastic barrel. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, peacock blue, buckskin tan, mandarin orange, fiesta red, fern green, and periwinkle blue. The Sentinel sold for US $20.00 in 1954 ($22.50 in 1956) and the matching pencil sold for US $7.50. The "Ensemble" pen and pencil set sold for US $30.00 in 1956.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Crest Black Pen And Pencil Set 1952-1959

Crest - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, gold-filled cap with a repeating pattern of four straight longitudinal engraved lines in a stepped grouping, plastic barrel, gold-filled clip. Colors produced were black, burgundy, pastel gray, pastel blue (or aqua), pastel green, buckskin tan, and fern green. Early examples may have labels calling the pen "Crest Deluxe", likely a holdover from the TM line. The Crest sold for US $25.00 in 1954 and the matching pencil sold for US $9.00. The "Ensemble" pen and pencil set sold for US $34.00.

14 Karat Gold Cap Band White Dot Models

Snorkel
1959 Sheaffer Signature Snorkel Advertisement

Both the Signature and Autograph models were advertised as available with the owner's personal signature engraved on the 14 karat gold cap band.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Signature Pen And Matching Pencil 1952-1959

Signature - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip and 3/8" wide 14 karat gold cap band. Colors produced were black, burgundy and pastel green. The Signature model sold for US $35.00 in 1958, with a matching pencil for US $10.00.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Autograph Pen 1952-1959

Autograph - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, plastic cap and barrel, 19/32" wide 14 karat gold cap band, 14 karat gold clip. The Autograph model came only in black.

All-Metal White Dot Models

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Triumph Pen 1952-1959

Triumph - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, gold-filled cap and barrel with straight longitudinal engraved lines in a repeating pattern of four lines and a blank panel, gold-filled clip.

Snorkel
1957 Sheaffer Triumph Snorkel Advertisement

Masterpiece - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, 14 karat solid gold clip, and 14 karat gold cap and barrel with straight longitudinal engraved lines. The 1953 catalog lists a special version of the Masterpiece, the "Masterpiece Lifetime", which features a Lifetime marked nib. A 9 karat gold model in a fine barley was made in the UK at least as early as 1955. An 18 karat model also existed. The US Masterpiece sold for US $110.00 in 1958.

There are reports of limited numbers of all stainless and all sterling silver models made. If they exist, these pens would be very rare.

Demonstrator

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Demonstrator Pen 1952-1959

Demonstrator - Triumph 14 karat two-tone gold nib with platinum mask, plastic cap and barrel, gold-filled clip and 3/8" wide gold-filled cap band. Essentially a clear plastic Valiant. Produced for dealers to demonstrate the inner workings of the new Snorkel filling system. Not marketed as a for sale model. Produced only in clear plastic.

Performance

I tried a small number of fine and medium nibbed models for this review. Snorkel pens are all the same size, shape and proportion, about 5 5/8 inches long capped and 6 3/8 inches posted, and they are considerably light, being made of plastic and lightweight metal.

All of the Snorkel pens I tried are well balanced, whether the cap is posted or not. In fact, I don't notice a great deal of weight difference either way.

The caps come in several finishes, including plastic, polished stainless steel, and gold plated metal. There was even a solid gold Masterpiece model. The plating is not electroplate, as with modern Sheaffer models. The caps and the section both have metal threads, giving the cap a secure, positive fit. The clip is spring loaded, making it easy to slip on, even thick fabric.

Snorkel
Sheaffer Snorkel Special Pen and Pencil Set With Nib Detail 1955-1959

The TM pens came in a vast array of color combinations, barrels in black, blue, green, gray, pink, and burgundy and all assortments of caps. White dots and not, Triumph nibs and open nibs. Two tone nibs and palladium plated nibs. Sheaffer used the various combinations to designate model names. As the caps and barrels are interchangeable, even with earlier TM Touchdown pens, some interesting combinations can occur. I wouldn't be picky about finding a two-tone Triumph nib under a plastic cap engraved with the Sheaffer's logo. No, it's not a "real" Saratoga, but does that really matter? There is no open nib Clipper or Sentinel, but you might find one in the wild. Mismatches are going to happen with this pen.

Snorkel pens fill easily and neatly with a single downward stroke. The Touchdown plunger is a lot smoother than the rod plunger of the earlier Vacuum-Fill pens of the 1940s. These pens are very reliable and have a very strong following. I've seen many work right out of the box, but one should consider having a vintage TM serviced, as leaks can wreak havoc on the interior, causing rust.

Snorkel
Two Types Of Sheaffer Snorkel Palladium Silver Triumph Nibs 1952-1959

As one would expect, the Triumph nibs on the TM pens are stiff, thought not as much as the earlier 1940s Triumph nibs. These can easily write through carbons and write upside down as well. The nibs are smooth, but not the smoothest, but are excellent everyday writers. The open nibs tend to be less stiff and nail-like, so if you're looking for that, consider one of those models. If you want it with a gold cap, get a Crest and swap the caps!

There is a strong Snorkel collecting contingent, as with Parker 51s. As they are very well made and easy to find, and generally low cost, collecting TM pens is not as big a hit on the budget as Parker 51s can be. Given all the cap and barrel combinations possible, a very large collection could be made from only TM pens from the 1950s. This is a solid everyday user pen that should give great and long service. I use my Autograph a lot. It's a great pen.


Acknowledgement

Thanks to Sam Marshall for additional detailed information on the Snorkel models, dates, colors, and information on the Special model. Thanks to Leigh Moser for loaning the Snorkel Triumph for photographs.

Comments on this article may be sent to the author, Jim Mamoulides
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