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Profile: The Connaisseur: Silk Purses, Sows’ Ears, and the Sheaffer Pen Company

(This page published February 22, 2022)

reference info index | glossopedia  ]

Logo“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Apparently, sometimes you can, and it’s funny how history repeats itself. This article is a tale of one such repetition and what became of it.

In 1920, a Parker employee named Lewis M. Tebbel suggested that Parker should make a new pen model. It was to be based on the company’s then-current $6.00 No 26 Jack-Knife Safety Pen — but instead of the ubiquitous black hard rubber, it was to be made of bright red hard rubber, it was to be fitted only with a manifold nib, and it was to be sold for $7.00, a price beyond the reach of the average American. Parker’s management people were skeptical at best, and they declined Tebbel’s proposal. But with some convincing that included a little arm-twisting by George Parker himself, the company put Tebbel’s proposed pen, called the Duofold, into production in 1921 and found itself with a genuine hit.

In 1983, a Sheaffer employee named Arthur D. Reppert suggested that Sheaffer should make a new pen model. It was to be based on the company’s then-current $1.98 No Nonsense Pen — but instead of a steel nib and budget-oriented finish, it was to have upgraded furniture, It was to be fitted with an 18K gold nib, and it was to be sold for $100, a price reflective of its new-found glory. Sheaffer’s management people were skeptical at best, and they declined Reppert’s proposal. But with some convincing whose behind-the-scenes machinations remain unknown, the company put Reppert’s proposed pen, called the Connaisseur (spelled the French way, possibly to lend a little extra cachet), into production in 1985 and found itself with a genuine hit. and, for collectors, an instant classic.

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Shown here are a No Nonsense (upper) and a Connaisseur 810 (lower). The family resemblance is obvious, and the evolution of the furniture from the plainness of the No Nonsense to the upscale look of the Connaisseur is in keeping with the different target markets for the two pens. It is also immediately obvious that the barrels and caps of the two pens (furniture and cap-crown trim excepted) are physically identical, as Reppert had originally proposed.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

The following photograph illustrates the barrel and cap from a No Nonsense, together with the additional parts to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. There are end buttons and bushings for them, a white dot and a clip, a small brass weight to be inserted in the barrel, and the appropriate cap and barrel bands.


Connaisseur Models

In essence, the Connaisseur appeared in only two models, differing in trim level. Pens with model numbers in the 81n range can be considered to be one model (the “regular” Connaisseur), with plastic cap and barrel, while pens with numbers in the 82n range are the other model (the Grand Connaisseur), with metal cap and barrel. The following table lists the various versions of the two models:

Connaisseur Models
Catalog Number Color Years Of Production

810 Black First Edition 1985–1988
810 Black Second Edition 1989–1996
811 Burgundy 1989–1992
812 Cobalt Blue 1989–1990
813 Ivy Green 1995–1996
815 Black Herringbone (“chased”) 1991–1992

820 Black Laqué 1989–1996
821 Tortoiseshell Laqué 1989–1993
822 23K gold electroplate 1991–1996
823 sterling silver 1991–1996

On its initial release, the CONNAISSEUR appeared only as the Black First Edition. 1989 saw the release of Burgundy and Cobalt Blue pens in the regular series and the Black Laqué and Tortoiseshell Laqué versions of the Grand Connaisseur series, and further versions were introduced in 1991 and 1995. Shown here is an assortment of Connaisseur versions:

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Ivy Green
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Black Herringbone
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Grand Connaisseur, Tortoiseshell
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Grand Connaisseur, Gold Plated
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Grand Connaisseur, Sterling Silver

In addition to the various colors, there were multiple variations of the cap band, clip, and nib section, as follows:

Cap Band and Clip Variations

Four different cap bands and two clips are known to have been used on the Connaisseur series, as follows:

Nib and Gripping Section Variations

Just to add further confusion, there were four distinct nib/section assemblies used for the Connaisseur. Two of these were for the “regular” Connaisseur, and the other two were for the Grand Connaisseur. In each pair there is one with a metal ferrule that extends into the barrel far enough to house the proximal end of the cartridge or converter; the other, a less costly design introduced later in the product cycle, has plastic threads and ends right where the cartridge or converter seats, leaving the piercing tube exposed. Shown here are sections from two regular models. These sections are commonly referred to as Type 1 (upper) and Type 2 (lower). Because of differences in threading, the sections for the regular Connaisseur are not interchangeable with those for the Grand Connaisseur, and the latter are referred to as Type 3 And Type 4.

Connaisseur sections

Nibs for the regular Connaisseur are all-over gold colored. Those for the Grand Connaisseur have a palladium plating over portions of the imprint. The original Grand Connaisseur nib was slightly larger than that for the regular models, and in addition to the masked palladium plating its imprint gained the legend 1920, possibly as a tribute to the era that inspired the pen’s design. When the gold-plated and sterling silver Grand Connaisseurs appeared in 1991, the nib returned to the smaller size as on the regular models and lost the 1920 imprint while still retaining the masked plating.

But Wait! There’s More!

In addition to the models listed above, Sheaffer produced at least eleven versions of the Connaisseur for which catalog numbers are not known. These pens might have been uncatalogued versions, possibly special orders for specific dealers or customers, and so might not have had catalog numbers.

The three Vintage Marbled plastic colors were used officially on a model Sheaffer called the Vintage, a No Nonsense that was upgraded with gold-plated furniture and a gold-plated metal disc set into the recess in the standard No Nonsense cap. Here are a Green Marbled Vintage and a Green Vintage Connaisseur:

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Gone to Sea(s)

Sheaffer discontinued the entire Connaisseur range in 1996. But that was not the end of the line. In 1998, Levenger, a Florida-based retailer of furniture and lifestyle accessories (including fountain pens under its own house brand as well as others), released a new house-branded model. The new pen, fitted with a 14K nib instead of the more costly 18K nib of the Connaisseur, was offered in six colors, named for seas around the world, as shown here:

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Adriatic Sea: Purple (Sheaffer Catalog Number 825)
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Tasman Sea: Aqua (Sheaffer Catalog Number 826)
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Red Sea: Red (Sheaffer Catalog Number 829)
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Mediterranean Sea: Blue (Sheaffer Catalog Number 830)
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Aegean Sea: Green (Sheaffer Catalog Number 831)
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Caribbean Sea: Yellow (Sheaffer Catalog Number 832)

All of the colors except yellow were transparent; the yellow pen was cloudy translucent. Appropriately named the Seas, the new pen was quite obviously a reincarnation of Sheaffer’s discontinued Connaisseur, exactly the same as the original except for the shape of the gripping section (straight-line on the Connaisseur, curved Balance Ii style on the Seas) and the number of gold-plated trim bands between the section and the barrel (one on the Seas, two on the Connaisseur).

Levenger went further, offering four versions of the Grand Connaisseur, renamed the Royal Connaisseur — but branded as a Sheaffer pen, not as a Levenger model. This model used the same Balance Ii-style section as the regular Seas model. (The example shown here was fitted with an original Grand Connaisseur straight-line section by its owner.)

Fountain pen

The following table lists the various versions of the Royal Connnaisseur:

Royal Connaisseur Models
Catalog Number Color

833 Palladium-Plated Cap, Gold-Plated Furniture, Blue Barrel
836 Palladium-Plated Cap, Gold-Plated Furniture, Black Barrel
? Chrome-Plated Cap, Chrome-Plated Furniture, Blue Barrel
? Chrome-Plated Cap, Chrome-Plated Furniture, Black Barrel

At some point, the Seas design changed to a less costly version that was, all in all, much closer to the No Nonsense design. Collectors call this model the Seas II. The furniture was redesigned; the cap band regained its original single-band plainness (imprinted SHEAFFERS LEVENGER USA), and the clip became a washer clip secured by the cap-crown bushing and fitted with a white dot mounted integrally rather than on the cap body. The cap and barrel crowns, instead of matching colored plastic, became metal. All the furniture was palladium plated, and the colors had changed. There were now only four, as follows, with no pretense of aligning any particular color with any particular sea:

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Green (Sheaffer Catalog Number 818)
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Blue (Sheaffer Catalog Number 9053)
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Orange (Sheaffer Catalog Number 9054)
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Smoke (Sheaffer Catalog Number 9055)

The Verdict

The Connaisseur and its descendants are interesting, well made, good to write with, and rising in collectibility. Certain versions, such as the Tasman Sea, have always been uncommon, and some, such as the Vintage Models, are exceedingly rare. That said, the more common models are still (at this writing) within the reach of most collectors. There’s sufficient material for a varied and enjoyable collection, and the challenge of the hunt could be exciting and fun.

For some Sheaffer lovers, the lure of the Connaisseur is such that once it recently became clear what the model’s parentage was, the next step, as with the Parker “51”, was to create fantasy pens. As of this writing, collector/restorer Ron Zorn occasionally makes fantasy Connaisseurs from No Nonsenses. Shown here are two of Ron’s elegantly distinctive creations, an Orange Connaisseur and a Red Vintage one that both left Fort Madison in much humbler dress.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
  1. The measurements given in the table were taken from a single example. Photographs of other examples show that the widths of the bands, especially that of the black separator band, varied among the different versions of the Grand Connaisseur.

  2. Catalog numbers are unknown for the versions with chrome-plated caps.

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. Some of the information here was originally compiled by Gary Ellison and the late Dennis Bowden. My thanks to Fred Huganir, who brought the type 4 cap band design to my attention.

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