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Profile: Sheaffer’s Snorkel

(This page revised August 4, 2018)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

Snorkel Advertisement, 1957
This 1957 adver­tise­ment from National Geographic Magazine features a Snor­kel Val­iant foun­tain pen and matching pencil.

LogoDuring World War II, the German navy adopted a device called a Schnorchel (often spelled “Schnorkel” in English-language writings), 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 TM appeared on the market, superseding the very successful Touchdown TM line. (Sheaffer retired the TM trademark, meaning “Thin Model,” shortly after introducing the Snorkel.) Externally, the design of the Snorkel is virtually identical to that of the Touchdown, elongated a small amount to accommodate the additional Snorkel filling mechanism (U.S. Patent No 2,769,427). Filling 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, whose great advantage lay in its convenience: no “dunk” filling, reliable writing, and a long write-out.

The material used for the Snorkel’s plastic parts was a relatively new plastic called Bakelite C-11. This was not the original Bakelite, a thermosetting phenolic plastic, but rather a styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) copolymer developed by Union Carbide, which at that time owned the Bakelite Corporation. This material was much more stable than the Forticel (which Sheaffer called Radite II) that had been used for the Touchdown and Touchdown TM.

There is a technical description of the Snorkel system in my reference page titled Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffer’s Snorkel. The system works remarkably well, and Snorkels are considered very reliable pens. Shown here is a Snorkel demonstrator, made to help salespeople explain the remarkable mechanism to prospective purchasers.

Fountain pen
Some images on this page can be clicked or tapped to display magnified versions for more detail. When you mouse over a clickable image, the image will give a visual indication by growing a little, and the mouse pointer will change to a magnifying glass. On a touchscreen device, touch and hold your finger on the image briefly to see if it reacts. If it does, you can tap it.

Snorkel Marks and Identifying Features

Snorkel pens appear with two different imprints. On metal caps (and also on some plastic caps), running laterally around the cap just above the band (or above the lip on bandless caps) is the following imprint:


Primarily (but not exclusively) on plastic-capped pens, this imprint runs lengthwise along the barrel at about its midpoint:


Palladium silver nibs, in both “TRIUMPH” and open styles, appear with the following three different imprints. Nibs marked Palladium Silver have a higher silver content than nibs not so marked, which can contain as much as 95% palladium.

- ® -
Palladium Silver

Most pens have Snorkel tubes made of stainless steel (silver or grey colored metal), but Snorkel tubes were made of solid 14K gold for approximately the first year of production. The Snorkel tube for a “TRIUMPH” point is cut diagonally across its end and oriented so that the open surface aligns with the under surface of the feed. This alignment automatically places the slits in the tube‘s end properly. The Snorkel tube for an open nib is cut straight across its end, but it is still aligned to place its slits correctly. (The lengthwise slit at the end of the tube is nearest the nib, and the two transverse slits are therefore at the sides.) The following illustration shows a “TRIUMPH” point with its Snorkel tube extended. You can see the diagonal slits at the sides of the tube’s tip, and you can see the end of the secondary feed that runs the length of the Snorkel tube.

Fountain pen nib and Snorkel tube

Nib connector rings of two different designs appeared during the Snorkel's production life. The connector ring is threaded at both ends; one end screws into the gripping section, securing the point holder gasket in place, and the other screws into the nib, holding the feed in place. The end screwed into the nib is sealed with adhesive to prevent ink leaks, but the other end relies on pressure against the rubber of the point holder gasket and is not otherwise sealed. The first style, apparently adapted directly from the Snorkel’s Touchdown TM predecessor and fitted only to early Snorkels with “TRIUMPH” point nibs, is a narrow one, of which " is exposed; this ring is accompanied by a Snorkel tube made of gold. The second style, which appears on later “TRIUMPH” point models and on all open-nib models, has an exposed length of " and mates with a correspondingly shorter gripping section; all pens with this connector ring have Snorkel tubes made of stainless steel.

Some Snorkel nibs are etched with a letter and a number (for example, B4, as shown here) to indicate their grade and type, according to the following tables:

Nib image showing etch
Snorkel Nib Grades Snorkel Nib Styles

   Letter Grade       Number Material
Account 2
14K No 5
Extra fine 3
14K 2T No 5
Gregg shorthand 4
Fine 5
Medium 6
PdAg No 5
Music (3 tines)

Not shown in the left-hand table above are two special cases:

Snorkel Models: Gold here, stainless steel there, a cap band over there…

As illustrated here, the Snorkel appeared in a broad range of models, from the bargain-priced Special, with minimal furniture and an open palladium silver nib, to the extravagant Masterpiece, with its solid gold cap and barrel and Sheaffer’s best 14K two-tone “TRIUMPH” point. Shown here, from top to bottom, are a Triumph (GF cap and barrel), a Sentinel, a Clipper, a Valiant, and a Sovereign (with a 3-tine music nib).

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In 1959, Sheaffer phased out the Snorkel except for one model, the famous PFM, which was actually introduced in that year.

Fountain pen

Snorkel Models: Features and Colors

Although Sheaffer did not date-code its pens, there is information here that will help you to narrow the span of years during which a given Snorkel might have been made. Note that not all of these models were necessarily in Sheaffer’s catalog for the entire time during which Sheaffer made the Snorkel; for example, a set of catalog sheets that I have does not list the Masterpiece, Autograph, Signature, or Saratoga.

Snorkels were offered in a broad range of colors. Refer to the table following this index of features for an index of which models appeared in which colors.

Snorkel Models and Features
Model Barrel Cap Band Nib White Dot Clip

Masterpiece, U.S.A. 14K Gold, vertical lines 14K Gold, vertical lines 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Masterpiece, U.K. 9K Gold, Barleycorn 9K Gold, Barleycorn 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Triumph GF, vertical lines GF, vertical lines 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Autograph Plastic, black only Plastic, black only 14K " 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” 14K Smooth
Signature Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color 14K " 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Crest Plastic, choice of colors GF, vertical lines 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Sentinel Plastic, choice of colors Polished SS, vertical lines GF " 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Valiant Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color GF " 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Clipper Plastic, choice of colors Polished SS, vertical lines GF " PdAg “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Statesman Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color GF " PdAg “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Sovereign Plastic, choice of colors Polished SS, grouped vertical lines (straight, wavy, straight) 14K 2T No 5 Sheaffer’S
Saratoga Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color GF " 14K 2T No 5 Sheaffer’S
Admiral Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color GF " 14K No 5 Sheaffer’S
Special Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, matching barrel color GF " PdAg No 5 Sheaffer’S

Snorkels were offered in a remarkably broad range of colors, plus solid gold and gold filled — but not every model was offered in every color. The following table lists the various models, with the colors each appeared in.

Snorkel Models and Barrel Colors
(also cap colors where applicable)
Model Jet Black Burgundy (old) Burnt Umber Brown  Pastel Green Aqua Pastel Grey Burgundy (new) Fiesta Red Vermilion Mandarin Orange Sage Green Fern Green Peacock Blue Periwinkle Blue Buckskin Tan Gold Filled Solid Gold
Masterpiece, U.S.A.
Masterpiece, U.K.
Desk pens
Model Jet Black Burgundy (old) Burnt Umber Brown Pastel Green Aqua Pastel Grey Burgundy (new) Fiesta Red Vermilion Mandarin Orange Sage Green Fern Green Peacock Blue Periwinkle Blue Buckskin Tan Gold Filled Solid Gold

How Old Is My Pen?

Dating a Snorkel to a specific year is difficult. There are ways to date one to a span of years, however.

As described earlier, first-generation pens (generally considered to be first-year) have Snorkel tubes made of 14K gold, while all others have stainless steel Snorkel tubes. The nib connector ring, the small black plastic part that connects the nib to the gripping section, came in two styles. The first style, apparently adapted directly from the Snorkel’s Touchdown TM predecessor and fitted only to early Snorkels with “TRIUMPH” point nibs and gold Snorkel tubes, is a narrow one, of which " (1.6 mm) is exposed. The second style, which appears on later “TRIUMPH” point models and on all open-nib models, has an exposed length of " (4.0 mm) and mates with a correspondingly shorter gripping section; all pens with this connector ring have Snorkel tubes made of stainless steel.

If the pen is in a color other than black and has a black gripping section, it was made in the years 1952–1956. If it is in a color other than black and has a matching gripping section, it was made in the years 1956–1959. If the Snorkel tube is 14K gold, the pen was made in the approximately first year of production (1952–1953); this feature, as noted earlier, is accompanied by the narrower nib connector ring (only on “TRIUMPH” points). If neither of these features is present, the pen was made later (or has been repaired with some parts replaced).

Sheaffer used three different methods for crimping the sac protector, as shown here. These three styles are of some use in dating a Snorkel, but there is no clear documentation on the timing of the transition between the second and third styles.

Crimp types

Beyond this, it's difficult to date the pen more than to say it was made in the years 1952–1959.

Snorkel Colors — and More Colors!

Before the Snorkel era, Sheaffer’s pens were available in the dark and relatively sedate “primary” colors of black, Burnt Umber Brown, Burgundy, Persian Blue, and Evergreen Green. That changed when the company introduced the Snorkel. Retaining Black, Burnt Umber Brown, and Burgundy, Sheaffer stylists discarded the dark blue and green. In response to changing popular tastes, Sheaffer replaced these colors with Aqua (also called Pastel Blue) and Pastel Green, and added Pastel Grey. Burnt Umber Brown, it should be noted, may at that time have been relegated to desk pens; I have never seen a brown pocket Snorkel.

During the middle of the 1950s, while the Snorkel was still enjoying its heyday, popular tastes continued to change. Primary colors became somewhat less fashionable as plastics technology matured and manufacturers were able to produce products in a broad variety of colors. Secondary colors, those made by mixing primaries or by subduing the color saturation, became all the rage, and Sheaffer responded once again, in 1956, by releasing a brilliant new range of colors.

An interesting conundrum is why some Snorkels had self-colored sections while others had black sections. Self-colored sections were introduced either along with the new secondary colors or sometime thereafter, but Sheaffer continued to produce pens in the primary colors. Thus, self-colored sections appear mostly on pens made in the new colors (e.g., the Periwinkle Valiant shown in this article); but Primary-colored pens with self-colored sections, although uncommon, are not unknown. Furthermore, although I have no primary source for this statement, anecdotal evidence from several knowledgeable collectors suggests that Mandarin Orange and Peacock Blue, both new colors, did not have self-colored sections.

The entries in the following table include in parentheses the factory color code designations. Note that the Primary colors are designated by letters, whereas the introduction of the new colors brought with it a new numeric designation scheme. Note that the new Burgundy (color code 25) is darker than the Primary Burgundy (color code N).

Primary Snorkel Colors
Color Name (Code)

Black Jet Black (L)
Burgundy (before 1956) Burgundy (before 1956) (N)
Burnt Umber Brown Burnt Umber Brown (B) — desk pens only
Pastel Green Pastel Green (Y)
Aqua Aqua, later called Pastel Blue (V)
Pastel Grey Pastel Grey (Q)

New Snorkel Colors (1956 onward)
Color Name (Code)

Burgundy (1956 onward) Burgundy (25)
Fiesta Red Fiesta Red (9)
Vermilion Vermilion (19)
Mandarin Orange Mandarin Orange (8)
Sage Green Sage Green (20)
Fern Green Fern Green (17)
Peacock Blue Peacock Blue (2)
Periwinkle Blue Periwinkle Blue (18)
Buckskin Tan Buckskin Tan (7)

Snorkel Metals
Color Name (Code)

Stainless Steel (Sentinel, Clipper, Sovereign) Polished Stainless Steel (caps for Sentinel, Clipper, Sovereign) (15)
Gold Filled: Triumph, Crest; Gold: Masterpiece, U.S.A. 14K Gold Filled: Triumph, Crest; 14K Gold: Masterpiece, U.S.A. (Y)
Gold: Masterpiece, U.K. 9K Gold Barleycorn: Masterpiece, U.K. (Z)

Color samples are from photographs of actual pens. (3D highlighting was added with a computer.) Sam Fiorella provided the color code information. The index of color distribution across models was developed primarily from information collected by the late Sam Marshall. Daniel Kirchheimer provided certain primary-source information; and Roger Wooten provided certain obscure information and lent pens for photography.

  1. The White Dot on early plastic-capped Touchdown TM pens is flush with the surface of the cap. On later production (and on all metal caps), the White Dot is a separate part inserted into a hole in the cap, and it protrudes above the cap surface like the head of a tiny thumbtack. This latter configuration continued through to the Snorkel, making it impossible to determine whether a plastic cap with a protruding White Dot came originally from a Touchdown or a Snorkel.  go_up_lt

  2. Sheaffer continued to experiment with the Snorkel concept, even going so far as to conceive (but not produce) a capillary-filling version (U.S. Patent No 2,784,699).  go_up_lt

  3. The following typewritten scrap of original Sheaffer documentation provides proof that these Snorkel tubes are actually gold. (Highlight added.)

    Sheaffer document  go_up_lt
  4. Some modern repairers seal the connector ring to the section and the section to the barrel on the principle that every joint should be sealed to maintain airtightness, but this is poor practice because sealing these joints makes repair more difficult for future workers without improving the performance of the pen.  go_up_lt

  5. The following abbreviations appear in the nib and model tables: GF for gold filled, SS for stainless steel, 2T for two-tone gold (with plated tines), and PdAg for palladium silver.  go_up_lt

  6. According to Sheaffer expert Roger Wooten, the earliest advertisement showing self-colored sections appeared in November 1957.  go_up_lt

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.

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