PenInHand - Musings on the Hobby

Just The Facts

by Jim Mamoulides, February 29, 2004

One of my main attractions to pen collecting is learning the history and evolution of the fountain pen. I enjoy this aspect of collecting nearly as much as I enjoy actually using the pens I collect.

Package Inserts Such As Instructions And Guarantees Often Are Valuable Information About The Pen

It's fascinating to hold a fifty year old pen and wonder about how the design came about. Was the pen a success or not? What variations were made? What color? How much did it cost? What other pens were made at that time?

Often, the question is simply, "What is it?"

This question comes up in pen club meetings. At work. With friends. It's the thought that nags when squinting at that blurry photo on eBay.

Many Modern Pens Are New Takes On Historical Models
The Sheaffer Legacy 2 Was An Homage To The Sheaffer PFM

"If it has a White Dot on it, it's a Sheaffer."

"Ok, which one?"

"It looks like it could be a PFM or an Imperial. Look at the shape and the inlaid nib."

"How do I tell?"

"It's a PFM if it has a Snorkel tube poking out of the snout, under the nib."

"No, it doesn't, and look! It's a cartridge pen."

"Well, then it's an Imperial!"

Advertisement Copy Often Gives Details On Models And Pricing

Grab a few "Imperials" and you'll find a bunch of variations. Some have inlaid nibs, some have short Triumph nibs, some have inset nibs exactly like some early cartridge pens. Some have a funky bulbous nose like a dolphin. Or is that a porpoise?

Dig a little, and you'll find that Sheaffer didn't call all "Imperials" by that name. That "dolphin" Imperial may actually be called a 500. That short "Imperial" with the windowed barrel might instead be called a Compact I.

I initially became interested in vintage Sheaffer pens because they were so plentiful and inexpensive. They're everywhere! I wanted to know what I was picking up here and there so I started buying pen books and magazines and poking around on-line. I noticed that many pen publications had a tendency to gloss over the Sheaffers in favor of the more exotic or more valuable. Even today, though the company is one of the oldest and most innovative, it's not one of the cachet brands.

Advertisement Copy Can Help Identify Correct Features

The second surprise is to find not that what is not generally known is often filled in with as much rumor as mistakes. Word of mouth is an interesting thing.

Mea culpa, too.

Did I say "Comp I" in one of my articles?

Inductive reasoning.

Reality - lack of facts!

Play the kids game "telephone". The players sit in a circle and the first person has a simple phrase whispered in their ear. Each is to pass this simple message around the circle to the next. By the time the message arrives back at the first player, "Mary bought a new green dress" has become, "Mary laughed herself to death!"

Original Catalogs Help Distinguish Between Similar Models

Get a historian (amateur or professional will do) into a Starbucks and wear him down with a lot of strong coffee and he'll confess the secrets of his trade. Secondary material, books and magazine articles containing things other people have sweated over is good for background and baseline data. Primary material, (in the case of pens) including company publications, catalogs, price lists, advertisements, package inserts, and other such ephemera is golden. Interviews with employees, and other "witnesses" makes the gold glitter. Hearsay is a great starter for spirited discussions, arguments, and fistfights, which add spice to any gathering!

Catalogs And Company Publications Are Invaluable In Dating

The more data, the more knowledge, the more the picture resembles the puzzle it really is. This is history, the view through the prism at that angle and that point in time.

Is the light clear or refracted?

More data, please!

There is more data on Sheaffer. Seems like it piles up around here more and more every day.

Last time I counted, I had 455 Sheaffer advertisements, including paper and scans. A bunch of catalogs and company publications.

I still find out that I've got it wrong here and there.

I guess that's the beauty of the internet. Unlike print, where my mistakes are glorified forever, or until the next edition or the next article, the web allows "updates!" The great eraser!

Just the facts! Keep them coming!

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