Profile: Sheaffer’s Snorkel

(This page revised February 12, 2017)

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

AdvertisementDuring 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.

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 Magnifying glass

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

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:

SHEAFFER’S – MADE IN U.S.A.

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

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

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.

SHEAFFER’S
- ® -
Palladium Silver
MADE IN U.S.A.
 
SHEAFFER’S
REG. U.S. PAT. OFFICE
MADE IN U.S.A.
 
SHEAFFER’S

Most pens have Snorkel tubes made of stainless steel (silver or gray 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 cconnector rings of two different 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 116" 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 532" 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
A
Account 1
Steel
X
Extra fine 2
14K No 5
G
Gregg shorthand 3
14K 2T No 5
F
Fine 4
PdAg “TRIUMPH”
M
Medium 5
14K 2T “TRIUMPH”
B
Broad 6
PdAg No 5
S
Stub
Z
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 14K 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).

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

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

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Although Sheaffer did not date-code its pens, there is information here that will help you to narrow the span of years during which the pen might be 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.


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 Plastic, black 14K 1932" 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” 14K Smooth
Signature Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors 14K 38" 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 316" 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Valiant Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors GF 38" 14K 2T “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Clipper Plastic, choice of colors Polished SS, vertical lines GF 316" PdAg “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Statesman Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors GF 38" PdAg “TRIUMPH” Smooth
Saratoga Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors GF 14" 14K 2T No 5 Sheaffer’S
Sovereign Plastic, choice of colors Polished SS, vertical lines (grps
of 3, middle line wavy)
14K 2T No 5 Sheaffer’S
Admiral Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors GF 14" 14K No 5 Sheaffer’S
Special Plastic, choice of colors Plastic, choice of colors GF 14" PdAg No 5 Sheaffer’S

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. 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 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). Beyond this, it's difficult to date the pen more than to say it was made in the years 1952-1959. There’s a little additional information in this article on How to Repair the Snorkel Filling System.

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 much 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. The 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. At this time, there is no satisfactory explanation for this variability except for the possibility that the changeover in colors was not simultaneous with the introduction of 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.


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)
Pastel Blue (“Aqua”) Pastel Blue (“Aqua”) (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 (Sentinel, Clipper, Sovereign) (15)
Gold Filled (Triumph, Crest), Gold (Masterpiece) Gold Filled (Triumph, Crest), Gold (Masterpiece) (14)

I am very grateful to Michael Richter, who compiled the color and feature information, painted color samples by hand, and has graciously given permission for me to use his work here. (3D highlighting was added with a computer, and I have adjusted the colors of some samples based on examination of actual pens.) Sam Fiorella provided the color code information, and Roger Wooten lent pens for color accuracy.

Notes:
  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.

  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).

  3. Pete Knudsen and Fred Krinke confirmed that these Snorkel tubes are actually gold by commissioning a metallurgical analysis of one.

  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.

  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.


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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