Profile: Sheaffer’s Craftsman

(This page revised June 22, 2012)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


Sheaffer advertisement, December 12, 1938 Magnifying glass
In this Sheaffer adver­tise­ment, from the inside front cover of Life Magazine’s De­cember 12, 1938, issue, an Ebo­nized Pearl Craftsman set (priced at $5.00) is the lower of the two boxed sets on the right side.

manufacturer logo In 1945, as the world set out on the long road back from war, Sheaffer introduced a new line of pens whose most distinctive styling feature, in distinct contrast to the extravagantly broad cap band of the wartime “TRIUMPH” Lifetime pens, was a very narrow band located, like the earlier band, right at the cap lip. For some unexplained reason, dealers and collectors have associated this “wire band” styling with the model Sheaffer named the Craftsman; but this association is invalid. Not all wire-band pens are Craftsmans.

The Craftsman got its start in the mid-1930s, as Sheaffer began assigning catchy names to the various Balance models. The Oversize Lifetime Balance became the Premier, the full-length standard-girth Lifetime Balance became the Statesman, and on downward to the Junior, a short chrome-trimmed Balance priced at $2.75. The pen that became the Craftsman was a very ordinary full-length slender Balance priced at $3.50:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to an image, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

Nib with magnifierGenesis

The Craftsman’s grandfather, for all practical purposes, was the 3-25, a pen made to sell for $3.25, and its father was a Balance that Sheaffer designated as the 3T or 3W depending on its filler style. The 3T and 3W bore Nº 3 nibs, and this is the version that carried through to the Craftsman, which appeared as a named model beginning in 1938. There is no single physical feature that identifies the Craftsman, but a Nº 3 nib and a 350 price stamp on the barrel are good indicators. It is probably safe to say that the Craftsman, throughout most of its product life, was the lowest-priced non-Junior full-length Sheaffer model. (But even this is not a perfect indicator, because in 1946 that honor fell briefly on the Cadet.) Another good indicator is the pen’s size coupled with the presence of a Nª 33 nib, which appeared in the 1940s. The image to the left shows the nib from the Balance Craftsman above.

The War and After

During the World War II years, Sheaffer gradually retired its Balance models. The Balance Craftsman appears in early wartime adver­tise­ments, but by 1945 it seems to be gone.

At war’s end, as mentioned in the introductory paragraph, Sheaffer very rapidly phased out the “TRIUMPH” models, replacing them with newly designed pens featuring a more rounded, rigid clip with an “innerspring” tensioning device and, on several pens at the middle and low end of the range, the wire band. At this time, the Craftsman name returned to the lineup, on a pen still priced at $3.50 — and still fitted with a Nº 33 nib:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

And there is where the confusion kicks in. The Craftsman was not the only pen to come out of Fort Madison with a wire band, but it was probably the most numerous wire-band model — and with the postwar lifting of WPB regulations, pen production ramped up very quickly! With inadequate information a prospective purchaser — or seller — might take the easy way out and tack the “Craftsman” name on one of the other wire-band pens. A search of eBay auction listings, for example, is bound to turn up a Sovereign II (illustrated below) that is listed as a Craftsman, as this one was:

Not a Craftsman Fountain pen Magnifying glass Not a Craftsman

There are two obvious clues that you can use to distinguish a Sovereign II from a Craftsman. The Sovereign II is a Lifetime pen. Its White Dot is prominently displayed above the clip; and, as a successor in effect to the “TRIUMPH” pens, it has a “TRIUMPH” point. The Craftsman has that Nº 33 open nib and lacks a White Dot. Note, however, that while this is a complete and perfect set of criteria for distinguishing the Craftsman from some of its wire-band siblings, it doesn’t work for all of them — the Diana also has a Nº 33 nib and lacks a White Dot.

In 1947, Sheaffer began making pens of a new injection-molded cellulosic plastic that the company dubbed Radite II. At that time, the Craftsman appeared in only three of the new colors. With the introduction of Radite II, the company phased out production of its celluloid pens.

Touchdown!

As with most other models, Sheaffer offered the Craftsman at the same price with either a lever filler or the Vacuum-Fil plunger filling system. In 1947, the Vacuum-Fil version of the Craftsman disappeared from the catalog, leaving only the lever-filling version until 1950, when the Touchdown TM made its appearance. The new Touchdown Craftsman retained the Nº 33 nib and the wire-band styling (thicker and more cigar shaped than the new Touchdown TM models), but it did use the same internal components as the Touchdown TM. It was also the last of the wire-band pens, and its existence as the only wire-banded Touchdown model has doubtless furthered the incorrect assumption that all wire-band pens are Craftsmans:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Fabulous Fifties

The era of the Nº 33 nib finally came to an end in the early 1950s, with the introduction of the Snorkel. The Snorkel was Sheaffer’s attempt to compete with the growing no-mess popularity of the embryonic cheap ballpoint pen; but it was relatively expensive, and Sheaffer couldn’t sell Snorkels into the lower price ranges. Instead, the company retained the Touchdown filler and adapted its open-nib Snorkel feed by filling the through hole with a center feed. The result was a feed that allowed the pen to fill while only about half of the nib was immersed in ink; no longer was it necessary to immerse the whole nib and part of the section. The new feed, and the pens that used it, took the name TIPdip. To further enhance the versatility of the design, Sheaffer fitted the TIPdip feed and a new steel nib into a threaded collar to produce a pen with interchangeable nibs like Esterbrook’s Renew-Point series. (In a great tit-for-tat move, Esterbrook redesigned its Renew-Point feed to include a center channel that was open at the exposed end, thus creating its own “tip dip” feed!) Among the new TIPdip models was the last version of the venerable Craftsman, now priced at $5.00 and fitted with a shiny metal cap:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The Color Palette

The Craftsman was decked out in four sets of colors (changing with the times), as shown in the table below. As was traditional in the 1930s and 1940s, the company applied chrome-plated furniture to Gray Pearl Striated pens, while other colors of that time had gold-filled furniture. Touchdown Craftsmans were fitted with gold-filled furniture, and in the TIPdip era all colors had chrome-plated caps.

Some Radite II pens, especially those in the Burgundy and Persian Green colors that joined the Craftsman lineup with the introduction of the Touchdown version in 1950, are prone to shrinkage to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to disassemble the pen without damage.


I. The Colors of the Celluloid Craftsman (to 1947)
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Ebonized Pearl Ebonized Pearl (to 1939)
Rose Glow Striated Rose Glow Striated (to 1939)
Carmine Striated Carmine Striated (1939 on)
Golden Brown Striated Golden Brown Striated
Marine Green Striated Marine Green Striated
Grey Pearl Striated Grey Pearl Striated

II. The Colors of the Radite II Craftsman
(lever filler only, 1947–1949)
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Burnt Umber Brown Burnt Umber Brown
Persian Blue Persian Blue

III. The Colors of the Touchdown Craftsman (Radite II)
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Burgundy Burgundy
Burnt Umber Brown Burnt Umber Brown
Evergreen Green Evergreen Green
Persian Blue Persian Blue

IV. The Colors of the TIPdip Craftsman
Color Name

Jet Black Jet Black
Burgundy Burgundy
Pastel Green Pastel Green
Pastel Blue (“Aqua”) Pastel Blue (“Aqua”)
Pastel Grey Pastel Grey

I am very grateful to Daniel Kirchheimer, who provided much of the more esoteric information in this article. The patterned color illustrations in the table are from photographs of actual pens. Solid colors are computer generated and carefully matched to actual pens. (3D highlighting was added with a computer.)

Notes:
  1. The specific formulation of Radite II is unclear; it may have been cellulose propanate or cellulose acetate butyrate. For more information, see Radite (definition 2) in the Glossopedia.

  2. In 1946, Sheaffer reduced its color offerings for the Craftsman; the lever-filling version came in black only, while the Vacuum-Fil version continued to offer the full range of then-current colors.


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