Richard’s Pen Collection : Vintage American Fountain Pens

Writing instruments on this page are part of my personal collection and are not for sale.

The PFM Founded an Imperial Line

Manufacturer logoSheaffer’s Imperial, from the 1960s, looks like, but is not, a PFM (“Pen For Men”). It’s a good pen: classy and masculine, a trimmer version of its broad-shouldered parent. The Imperial line included cartridge models and Touchdowns.

The Imperials here are 51132" capped and 558" posted, and 538" capped and 51116" posted, respectively. The top one (originally a cartridge-filling Lifetime Imperial that I purchased new in 1965) has a more recent Sheaffer replacement medium nib (14K gold) and a new barrel that also accepts a converter; thus, it is much like “my grandfather’s axe,” with only its cap original. The second pen (a Touchdown) has an original fine. This latter pen, ostensibly an Imperial VI, is technically a Frankenpen because it has a Lifetime cap; Sheaffer did not offer the Lifetime Imperial as a Touchdown.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The basic Imperial design, with polished or gold-plated steel nibs, returned to production in 1995 as the Triumph Imperial. Sheaffer used this design in 1996 to produce the first in an annual holiday series, the “Holly Pen.” This pen, with a gold-plated steel medium nib, is 538" capped, 5916" posted.

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Next is a pen that’s something of an odd duck in the Imperial lineup. This pen, an Imperial I, has a Stylpoint nib (like that of a contemporaneous cartridge pen) and a narrow cap band, and it uses a modified Touchdown system with a short sac and a solid piston plunger. Its gold-plated steel nib is a medium, and the pen is 514" capped and 51116" posted.

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This brown Touchdown Imperial desk pen, 678" long, has a buttery medium Inlaid Nib, and its base is onyx.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Keep It Simple, Stupid! The Crocker Ink-Tite

Manufacturer logoSeth Sears Crocker’s Crocker Pen Company produced simple pens of high quality. In his quest for a filling system more efficient and easier to use than the eyedropper system, and simpler than Conklin’s Crescent-Filler, Crocker took perhaps the most straightforward approach possible: He took a cue from earlier self-fillers and used a sac; and, in a stroke of brilliance, he simply put a hole in the end of the barrel and created the blow filler. To fill Crocker’s bare-bones pneumatic pen, you immerse the nib and section in ink, cover the hole, blow gently to collapse the sac, and release the pressure to allow the sac to fill itself. Aside from the proximity of an open ink bottle to the user’s face and the inherent risk therein of acquiring an extra beauty mark or two, the system is one of the best from the first quarter of the 20th Century. Including the ring mount, my lady’s ring-top Crocker pen is 312" capped, 412" posted. Its fine flexible nib is very smooth and a delight to use.

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By the middle of the 1910s, lever fillers were all the thing. But getting around Sheaffer’s and others’ patents was getting tougher by the day. Seth Crocker found a clever way to make a reliable lever filler that posed absolutely no risk of inadvertent operation; in 1917 he patented his locking end-lever filler. The lock mechanism consists of a blind cap that screws onto the end of the lever, which is shaped to fit through a slot at the end of the barrel. Screw down the blind cap over a boss on the barrel end, and the lever can go nowhere. It can’t even rattle! My Crocker Ink-Tite lever filler is 51932" capped and 62532" posted. I’s not a collector-grade pen — it has a cracked cap — but I like it, and it has a medium-fine firm nib that won’t do roundhand but is very smooth anyway. This pen came to me from the wild and hadn’t been disassembled since it left Boston for the first time; this enabled me to observe that the lever is aligned about 120° around the pen relative to the nib (note the angle of the nib in the upper photo here) so that you can’t see it when the pen is in normal use. The barrel imprint lines up perfectly with the opposite side of the nib, not with the top or bottom surface.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
“America’s Finest Pen”: The Magnificent Chilton

Manufacturer logoSeth Chilton Crocker was the son of Seth Sears Crocker. In 1923, he founded the Chilton Pen Company, which in 1924 introduced a remarkable single-stroke pneumatic pen. The barrel was a plunger that slid along an internal metal tube fastened to the section. When the user covered a hole at the end of the barrel and pushed the barrel home, air pressure within the pen collapsed the sac. Uncovering the hole to release the compression allowed the sac to fill. (There is a technical description of the Chilton system in my reference page on Fountain Pen Filling Systems.) My first Chilton is a superb BHR vest-pocket pen of this first-version design, 438" capped and 6116" posted. Its factory stub nib is a delight!

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Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Manufacturer logoThis filler design required an extra-long cap that some users found unattractive. A few years later, Chilton engineers came up with a second version that reversed this arrangement, sliding the internal tube and adding a blind cap to its end for the user to grip when extending it. (This design was the inspiration for Sheaffer’s Touchdown, introduced in 1949.) The company continued to produce innovative features, and the Wing-flow, introduced in 1935, embodies a nib with tabs (“wings”) that wrap around into notches on the feed to prevent it from shifting. This sturdy design ensures better control of the flow, and it is still in use on pens such as the Parker Sonnet. My Wing-flow, made in about 1937, also has a “Lox-Top” section, with notches into which a small tab attached to the cap fits, locking the pen together to prevent the cap from unscrewing inadvertently when the pen is clipped in a pocket. This feature was not a marketing success, and it was very short-lived; the Wing-flow itself was phased out by 1939. My Wing-Flow has a fine flexible nib, and it’s 5116" capped, 6316" posted.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Wing-flow’s successor, introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, was the Golden Quill. Chilton had by this time discontinued the national advertising that it had begun when the Wing-flow premiered, and the Golden Quill was less than spectacularly successful in the marketplace. It is, however, a superb writing instrument and a very attractive one, elegantly streamlined and trimmed in a minimalist style with no band. On the back of the cap, to balance the clip, sits an inset gold-filled indicia in the shape of a feather; and a gold-filled crest tops the cap from back to front (like a “Mohawk” haircut). At 51332" capped and 6732" posted, this pen (the shorter of the two Golden Quill models) is longer than its predecessor — but it retains the excellent design of the Wing-flow nib (now graced with a feather design in the imprint), augmenting it with a feed that extends farther into the section to encourage more reliable flow.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Manufacturer logoLike virtually all makers of the time, Chilton produced lower-line pens. In this case, the entry-level model was the Chiltonian. 5" long capped and 51516" posted, the Chiltonian was probably the last (and least) of the company’s production. It featured a partially transparent section to let the user know when the ink was about to run out. This particular section design, featuring a celluloid section with a hard rubber sleeve inside it to hold the nib and feed securely, was patented by Chilton, and among other things it shows clearly how the elongated feed is cut away along its under side. My pen’s smooth fine steel nib was originally gold plated.

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Breathe Like a Submarine: Sheaffer’s Snorkel Arrow Profile

Manufacturer logoDuring World War II, the German navy adopted a device called a Schnorchel, which was a tube that could be extended above the ocean’s surface by a submerged submarine, allowing the submarine to draw in fresh air without surfacing. In 1952, Sheaffer’s Snorkel appeared on the market. The pen uses a tube like a Schnorchel, but in reverse; the pen’s tube allows the pen to draw in ink without being immersed in the bottle. The most complex filling system ever applied to a fountain pen, the Touchdown-derived Snorkel system was a last-ditch attempt to fight the onslaught of the ballpoint pen. The system works remarkably well, and Snorkels are considered very reliable pens. They appeared across Sheaffer’s product line, all the way from the low-priced Special to the prestigious Crest Masterpiece. In 1959, Sheaffer phased out the Snorkel except for one model, the famous PFM, which was actually introduced in that year.

My first Snorkel is a Vermilion Sentinel, a White Dot model with a gold-trimmed stainless-steel cap and a buttery smooth medium two-tone “TRIUMPH” point. So far as I know, Sheaffer didn’t officially make the Sentinel in Vermilion; that would make this pen a Frankenpen (or perhaps a Saturday afternoon special). I don’t care; I like the pen. It’s 5916" capped, 638" posted.

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Next is a Snorkel demonstrator, a Valiant made of clear plastic so that a dealer could show prospective purchasers how the mechanism worked.

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My third Snorkel is a Valiant in the uncommon Periwinkle color, my favorite of all the Snorkel colors. This pen has a medium nib that’s perhaps a little finer than most modern mediums — but I love it anyway.

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I hadn’t thought about the possibility of acquiring any Snorkels with open nibs, but I reckoned without one of my friends. He decided that this Snorkel Sovereign’s three-tine music nib wasn’t right for him — so he gave the pen to me!

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Almost as hard to find as a music nib on a Snorkel is a flexible nib. Which means I’m delighted to have this Sage Green Clipper with an XF PdAg flexie. PdAg? Flex? Who knew?!

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