PenInHand: January, 2010

The Allure Of Sterling Silver: Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown

by Jim Mamoulides, January 31, 2010

Sheaffer Imperial
Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown cap and nib detail (right and center) with Parker Sonnet Cisele cap detail (left)

There is something magical about Sterling Silver. When new, it gleams with a brilliant, but cold glow. Over time, the white metal develops a patina as it is handled, giving it character. It warms up while you are using it. It becomes your pen, with the evidence of the owner in the handling wear that it picks up over time. Sterling silver objects were made to be used and using sterling silver pens staves off the tarnishing from long storage. I decided this year, PenInHand will be devoted to sterling silver pens, both solid and overlay pens, featuring one pen each month. I have had plenty of them cross my desk recently and will share them as we go through the year.

Sheaffer Imperial
Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown open

This month's pen is the Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown, c1970-1971, one of the pens on my personal list of must have pens. I wish I had a well broken in one like this one. Sheaffer introduced the Silver Imperial in 1970 as part of the "Textures Collection." The deep engraving on the cap and barrel with the contrasting black enamel fill in the cuts is unmistakably similar to the Cisele pattern Parker introduced on the sterling silver Parker 75 in 1964, except that the squares are larger and rotated 45 degrees, giving the pattern a more fluid, wave-like look instead of the more orderly look seen on the Parker 75.

Sheaffer Imperial
Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown cap and nib detail

The earliest models of the Sheaffer Silver Imperial were offered with the Touchdown filling system, activated by unscrewing the blind cap and pulling out a long plunger, which filled the pen (with the nib inserted in the ink bottle) pneumatically, where the downward force of the plunger squeezed the ink sac inside the barrel, creating a temporary vacuum, and as the sac expanded, ink was drawn in through the nib. By 1973, Sheaffer had dropped the Touchdown system in favor of the simpler cartridge / converter system and also shortened the clip on the pen. I personally like the look and operation of the earlier Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown pens the best. The place where the Touchdown blind cap meets the barrel gives the barrel a band, which is absent from the cartridge converter pen and looks better.

Sheaffer also made a gaudy vermeil (gold plate over sterling silver) version of this pen called the Imperial Sovereign. The plating must have been poorly done on that version as I have seen far too many examples with the gold quite worn and it is not a pretty sight. The sterling silver pen is the one to get.

Sheaffer Imperial
Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown open with Touchdown plunger extended

As with all Sheaffer Imperials, the 14 karat gold Inlaid nibs are great writers, laying down a consistent wet line with positive feedback on paper. The heft of the sterling silver, give the standard size and slender Imperial good presence in the hand when writing.

This Sheaffer Silver Imperial Touchdown was loaned for photography and it has appeared in several calendars I have done. The top photo in this article is the calendar shot. I think what I like most about this pen is that despite the light dings, the dent in the cap top, clearly showing lots of hard use, this pen is as welcoming as a nicely broken in set of boots, always waiting its turn for the next job. Because sterling silver is so durable and actually carries wear quite well, the pen becomes over time a more willing companion, just as much at home in a starched or a work shirt. Not to worry whether in a briefcase or clipped to a leather diary. Unlike something gold plated, this pen can stand the heat of the kitchen with character.

As we go through the year, I'll select sterling silver pens that hold up like this one as work horses, and others that are clearly works of art. Stay tuned.

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