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Sheaffer’s Flat-Top Pens

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]



1922 BCHR Lifetime pen

Subtlety Is the Spice of the Flat-Top: The Sheaffer Pen Company produced Flat-Top fountain pens from 1912 until some time after the middle of the 1930s, possibly as late as 1940. (“Flat-Top” is not Sheaffer’s name for this design.) There were many changes in the design, some quite subtle and some not so subtle. This article illustrates parts of several pens to show you the different features that appeared on the Flat-Top Sheaffers. This information can help you to determine the age of a pen you own or are considering buying.

I am very grateful to Allan Fuld, who compiled much of the information and lent me most of the pens that are illustrated.

Clip Evolution: The Sheaffer company used two styles of clips on Flat-Top pens, with a total of three variations. Until 1922, clips were straight and were imprinted with the words SHEAFFER-CLIP. They were mounted very near the end of the cap, as seen in the following picture:

SHEAFFER-CLIP clip imprint

In 1922, the imprint was changed to correspond with the company logo, as seen here:

Sheaffer's clip imprint

This imprint continued in use until the 1930s, when it was streamlined to a more modern typeface to correspond with a change in the company logo.

In 1925, Sheaffer adver­tise­ments began appearing with pictures of a new clip design, the humped clip that also appeared later on Sheaffer’s Balance pens. The humped clip was mounted lower on the cap for a more elegant appearance. Here are two caps, one with a straight clip and one with a humped clip; note that the humped clip still has a round ball:

Cap with straight clip Cap with round ball humped clip

The humped clip did not supplant the straight clip, however; the two seem to have been used side by side for several years. I have seen 1928 adver­tise­ments that show Jade Green Flat-Tops with humped clips and ads from 1928 and 1930 that depict Pearl and Black Flat-Tops with straight clips. The humped clip shown above was probably made in 1931 or 1932; compare its design with that of the second long round ball clip on Sheaffer’s Balance.

The third major clip variation appeared in 1935, when Sheaffer flattened the top surface of the ball. The end of the clip may have been streamlined (a minor variation) at that time, or it may have been streamlined earlier, at the same time as that of the Balance models. The following Lady Sheaffer cap shows the flat ball humped clip:

Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer cap

Barrel Imprints: Early Flat-Tops have a barrel imprint that includes patent dates, as shown here:

W.A.SHEAFFER PEN Co
PAT.AUG.25-08-FORT MADISON,IA.U.S.A.
DEC.10-12-JAN.27-OCT.20-NOV.24-14

The size of the imprint changed from time to time, and some of the hyphens were replaced with periods:

W.A.SHEAFFER PEN Co
PAT.AUG.25.08.FORT MADISON,IA.U.S.A.
DEC.10.12-JAN.27-OCT.20-NOV.24-14

At some time after 1927, the text style was changed slightly and the patent dates were removed:

W.A.SHEAFFER PEN CO.
FORT MADISON,IOWA,U.S.A.

PATENTED IN U.S.A.

For a Lifetime: Sheaffer introduced the Lifetime pen in 1920. The term “Lifetime” signified that the pen was guaranteed against defects for the life of the original owner. This early Lifetime pen has a solid spear feed and a nib with the three-line imprint shown here:

1920 spear feed 1920 Lifetime nib SHEAFFER’S

LIFETIME
PEN

Within a year or two, Sheaffer changed the nib imprint. There are still three lines, but the third line is now a patent notice. The feed remains the same:

1921 Lifetime nib SHEAFFER’S

LIFETIME
REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.

The next change occurs with the appearance of a new comb feed. The notches in this feed are broad and are widely spaced. The nib remains the same:

1922 comb feed

The White Dot Appears: In 1923 or 1924, Sheaffer added a white dot to the center of the cap on Lifetime models. The Sheaffer White Dot, registered as a trademark on September 25, 1924, became famous and has appeared on all Lifetime pens since its introduction. The nib and feed were unchanged at this time. (Note that this pen is foreshortened in this view. It is actually the same length as the green pen below.)

Early White Dot Flat-Top pen

The Plastic Pen: In 1924, Sheaffer introduced a Lifetime model that was the first successful plastic pen. The material used was a celluloid plastic, which Sheaffer called Radite. It was available in black, jade green as shown here, and a mottled light-and-dark pattern called Pearl and Black.

1924-25 Radite Lifetime pen

Nib Serial Numbers: In 1926, the nib imprint was changed to the five-line version shown here. The fifth line is a serial number that is also stamped on the back side of the nib. The feed is still the flat comb feed.

1923-26 5-line nib imprint SHEAFFER’S

LIFETIME
REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.
MADE IN U.S.A.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Toward the end of Flat-Top production, two changes in feed design occur. First, in about 1938, Sheaffer introduced a streamlined crowned feed reminiscent of the old spear feed. This new feed is serrated like the flat feed, but the serrations are finer and closer together, making it a much more efficient feed:

1938 streamlined comb feed

Within about a year, the streamlined feed appears with comb cuts all the way around. The greater comb surface allows the feed to hold a larger quantity of ink:

1939 full-comb feed

Variations on a Theme: The lady’s pen shown below has a flat comb feed and a Lady Lifetime nib bearing a four-line imprint without a serial number. The clip is the flat ball humped design:

Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer pen Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer cap
Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer nib SHEAFFER’S

LADY
LIFETIME
REG. U.S. PAT. OFF.

Here is a cap whose White Dot has been moved to the side, over the clip. This pen also has a flat ball humped clip, and its full-comb feed implies that the pen was made during or after 1939, very near the end of Flat-Top production:

Late 1930s cap with White Dot on side

Here is a relatively unusual pen. This ring-top lady’s pen has a two-tone Feathertouch nib and a full-comb feed:

Late 1930s ring-top pen Late 1930s ring-top cap
Late 1930s ring-top nib SHEAFFER’S
FeatherTouch
FeatherTouch
MADE IN U.S.A.

5

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. Sources for this article include old Sheaffer catalogs, Allan Fuld, Andreas Lambreau, Schneider and Fischler, Roger Wooten, and the pens themselves.

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