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(This page revised November 27, 2018)
|This 1951 advertisement claims that the new TM writing instruments outdate all others!|
By the end of the 1940s, Sheaffer’s plunger-type filling system (Vacuum-Fil) was getting very long in the tooth. It was also expensive to repair, and although Sheaffer had ceased offering its “unconditional” Lifetime warranty shortly after World War II, the “wire pens,” as Sheaffer’s repair people called them in reference to the wire-like plunger shaft, were no fun. Sheaffer needed something new.
In a classic example of the famous adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, the company turned to a design that had made its appearance about 20 years earlier: Chilton’s second model from about 1927. The advantages of a sac-filling pen that worked with the same single-stroke action as a plunger filler must have been very appealing: it would be simpler to manufacture and easier to repair, and it would not require Sheaffer to retrain its millions of loyal users.
Sheaffer’s contribution to the technology was an ingenious solution to the problem Chilton had wrestled with, the need to allow air into the pen on the upstroke and then compress that air on the downstroke. Simple, reliable, and cheap to manufacture, Sheaffer’s design (U.S. Patent No 2,610,612) remained in the company’s product line into the latter half of the 1960s.
Sheaffer introduced its new Touchdown pens in 1949. Externally, these pens looked no different from their plunger-filling predecessors. These “fat” Touchdowns were Sheaffer’s shortest-lived product; just one year later, in 1950, Sheaffer replaced the model with a torpedo-shaped “skinny” version that was more in tune with the times, called the TM (Thin Model). Advertising for the TM emphasized the pen’s pencil-thin profile; the Touchdown filler was by then old news. Shown here are a 1949 Touchdown Sentinel and a Touchdown TM Sentinel; note the distinct difference in girth:
In addition to the Sentinel above, the Touchdown TM appeared in a broad range of models, from the bargain-priced Craftsman, the last holdover with the postwar “wire” cap band, 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 Crest Deluxe, a Signature, a Valiant, an Admiral, and a Craftsman.
Interestingly, the Admiral and Craftsman are built to a design different from that of the other models. Lacking the metal thread ring that Sheaffer applied to the line’s better models, these two pens are fatter, more cigar shaped than their more expensive siblings. The Craftsman, in fact, is styled the same as the lever-filling Craftsman of the latter 1940s, and it was the last holdout of the “wire band” pens that had appeared immediately after World War II. Internally, the construction of all Touchdown TM models is the same.
|Touchdown TM Models and Features|
|Masterpiece||14K Gold, vertical lines||9K, 14K, or 18K Gold, vertical lines||—||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Crest Masterpiece||Plastic, choice of colors||14K gold||—||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Triumph||GF||GF||—||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Autograph||Plastic, black||Plastic, black||14K 19∕32"||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||14K Smooth|
|Signature||Plastic, choice of colors||Plastic, choice of colors||14K 3∕8"||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Crest Deluxe||Plastic, choice of colors||GF||—||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Sentinel Deluxe||Plastic, choice of colors||Polished SS, vertical lines||GF 3∕16"||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Valiant||Plastic, choice of colors||Plastic, choice of colors||GF 3∕8"||14K 2T “TRIUMPH”||•||Smooth|
|Statesman||Plastic, choice of colors||Plastic, choice of colors||GF 1∕4"||14K 2T No. 5||•||Smooth|
|Sovereign||Plastic, choice of colors||Polished SS, vertical lines (groups of 3, middle line wavy)||—||14K 2T No. 5||•||Smooth|
|Admiral||Plastic, choice of colors||Plastic, choice of colors||GF narrow inset||14K No. 5||—||Sheaffer’S|
|Craftsman||Plastic, choice of colors||Plastic, choice of colors||Wire||14K No. 33||—||Sheaffer’S|
In 1952, Sheaffer replaced the Touchdown TM with the revolutionary (but much more complicated) Snorkel, whose external design is virtually identical to that of the Touchdown TM, only elongated a small amount to accommodate the additional Snorkel filling mechanism. In a way, this change is too bad, because the Touchdown TM offered a superb writing experience, excellent quality, and simplicity.
But good ideas die hard, and thus with the Touchdown. In the early 1960s, to provide a lower-priced line to accompany the radically new PFM, Sheaffer introduced the Imperial series. Styled like the PFM but narrower, the Imperial was offered in styles ranging from cartridge fillers to Touchdowns that shared some parts with their decade-earlier forebears, from pens with resin caps and barrels to pens with sterling silver and vermeil caps and barrels. Shown here is a representative sampling of Touchdown Imperials:
For the modern collector, distinguishing a Touchdown TM from a Snorkel takes more than a casual glance. (Because the Snorkel was produced in far greater numbers than the Touchdown TM, it’s easy to assume that any pen that looks like a Snorkel must be a Snorkel.) There are a few features, however, that make the job easier even if you can’t see the underside of the nib (where the Snorkel tube is an instant identifier):
The Snorkel is a little longer than the Touchdown TM; capped, the difference is about 1/4" in the length of the barrel. Caps are identical in length, and in fact they are physically interchangeable.
Touchdown TM pens have Visulated sections; you can see through a band of clear celluloid (often ambered or obscured by dried ink inside) right next to the thread ring. Snorkel sections, made of molded polystyrene, are entirely opaque. (The difference is illustrated by the pens shown immediately above.)
The knurling on the Touchdown TM’s blind cap (left, below) was pressed into the surface after the part was molded; if in like-new condition, it appears as sharply defined as a molten barrel imprint. The Snorkel blind cap (right) has molded-in knurling with much broader grooves.
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.
The Touchdown TM Sovereign is a White Dot pen; the Snorkel Sovereign is not. Their caps are otherwise identical.
In 1947, Sheaffer switched its pen production from celluloid (Radite) to Forticel, an injection-moldable cellulosic plastic that Sheaffer called Radite II. Among other problems, this material had an unfortunate tendency to shrink; see Forticel and Radite (definition 2) in the Glossopedia. The company offered its pens in the dark and relatively sedate “primary” colors of black, Burgundy, Burnt Umber Brown, Evergreen Green, and Persian Blue, as shown in the table below.
But although the table represents the known catalogued colors, it remains impossible to prove that any given pen model was never made in colors other than those catalogued. The Pastel Blue Touchdown TM Sentinel shown here (engraved with the name MARTHA) is proof that Sheaffer did indeed produce these pens in at least one uncatalogued color.
|Touchdown TM Colors|
|Burnt Umber Brown|
|Pastel Blue (“Aqua”) — uncatalogued|
|Touchdown TM Metals|
|Polished Stainless Steel (Sentinel, Clipper, Sovereign)|
|Gold Filled (Triumph, Crest), Gold (Masterpiece)|
The FTC’s 1945 ruling forbade “unconditional” warranties altogether if there was a fee. L. E. Waterman and Parker challenged the ruling, but Waterman withdrew its petition in 1946. Parker fought on, and the resulting 1948 court judgment softened the ruling. (The prohibition remained on the use of the word “unconditional.”)
The cap on the Crest Deluxe illustrated here is incorrect. This cap belongs to the Triumph model. The Crest’s correct cap has more widely spaced lines. This photo will be replaced when I can locate a correct Crest Deluxe.
The following abbreviations appear in the model table: GF for gold filled, and 2T for two-tone gold (with plated tines).
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.