Sheaffer is a well-know vintage fountain pen brand. There are a lot of things written and said about this brand which is rich in history and even richer in marketing tactics and rationalizations behind the release of each model. Very interesting reads can be found online.
So why make another review?
All that said, this review is a tiny slice of all the literature written about the Sheaffer Balance fountain pen, but it is written as I personally spend time with *and* restore one. A time that I enjoy a lot, I might add.
A Balanced Writer
For the longest time I couldn’t understand the success of the Sheaffer brand in the 30’s up until the 60’s. They don’t flex, their materials are not as interesting as Parker, their design is also not as daring as Eversharp.
But spending time using this pen changes my view. This dainty writer is surprisingly very nice in the hand.
This particular model is one in the numerous variations in the Balance series. This one is 4¾ inches long (capped), putting it in the Short variation.
What’s the story on this one?
Rewind to about two months ago, I handle in my hand two broken pieces of what I recognize as a smaller Sheaffer Balance model. The good news is, it has a new ink sac, the bad news, the barrel is broken in half in the middle of the cap threading.
I tried to glue the barrel back together, but the lower part of the broken half had developed a warp that makes it very difficult to line up the crack so it can be glued together. Maybe an expert in plastic welding could do it, but is it worth the trouble? Probably not.
So I gave up on it. A few batch of parts pens later from ebay, I find myself another Sheaffer Balance that has never been opened up unlike the first one. Good news is, it’s not broken in half, bad news is, I have to replace the ink sac which definitely has dried up from the faint cracking noice I heard when I *gently* try to lift the ink lever.
Glancing back to the broken Sheaffer, I get the warning about removing the section from the barrel. The breaking must have happened during this process.
So I soak the newer pen in water, which is okay for celluloid material (don’t do it to hard-rubber pens) to let the water seep into the dried up ink and dissolve them so they stop being a glue, which can lead to cracks.
After heating up the barrel, I tried to separate the section so I can replace the ink sac. No dice. The section won’t budge. The last thing I should do here is to use excessive force. Again, the previous broken Sheaffer reminded me of that fact.
So in the water the pen went again (not the whole pen, just the section down).
I continued this process for about 3 days and I finally was able to open the barrel up without any incidents. The most harrying part of the restoration is now behind me.
As you can see in the picture, the newer Sheaffer has the golden-brown striated color, and the previous one has green-grey striated color. This dates both pens to anywhere from 1936 to the end of production for the Balance series. I like the newer one better.
But How Does it Write, Mr. Restoration-Man?
Both the previous pen and the newer pen came with beautiful Lifetime nibs. Originally, the name “Balance” was designated to convey the sense of weight balance when using the pen. But when I write with this pen, and the word starts to take on a different meaning.
It’s hard to describe, but when writing with this pen, the balance between smooth and non-smooth is somehow achieved. I never feel like I have to “drag” the nib to write (Lamy Safari does that to me). Yet at the same time it’s not “glassy” smooth, which is not my preference anyway.
It’s a very personal preference, I know. But what else could be said about a fountain pen if not personal.
The very personality is what makes it the most interesting writing instrument ever conceived.
But I love this nib. Like most Lifetime nibs, it’s not flexible, but it’s not like writing with a nail either. This is difficult to show on the writing sample, by the way.
I think this nib is steel-alloy not gold, because recently I found another Sheaffer with the similarly engraved Lifetime nib but with a small 14K beneath the engravings.
Also, this pen has a translucent section that let us know how much ink is still in the section, coming out of the rubber ink sac. I find it fascinating to watch the ink and air bubbles inside. It’s like a mini lava-lamp.
So here is my summary:
- Is it cool or stylish?
Yes, if you like simple, tapered-on-both-ends design. The pen does feel a bit too small for my hand, but I love the gold-brown striated color and of course, who can dislike the white Sheaffer dot. This is a vintage pen that could easily start a conversation at the office or school.
- Does it feel cheap?
No. Sheaffer Balance is not a cheap pen to begin with. This particular pen is quite nice, little or no brassing on the trims, clean body, no bite marks, no engravings except for Sheaffer’s. For a vintage pen, this looks quite expensive.
- Is it comfortable to write with?
Yes. The pen feels very nice in the hand because of the nib. This nib taught me that glassy smoothness is far from being the only variable when determining what pen to get and use. There is an intangible quality that this nib has, that makes me just want to use it every day to write anything.
- Is it a good value?
Yes. A good restored Sheaffer Balance is about $40-$65 depending on the condition. Compared to most modern pen in this price range, the Sheaffer offers an excellent alternative writing experience. The pen is easy to maintain and clean up, and when the ink sac is replaced, it’s good to go for another 10-20 years. Is this an heirloom pen? Maybe.
- Who would I recommend it to?
Like the Parkers, this pen would be a good next vintage pen after Esterbrook J. A no-nonsense (bonus point if you get the pun without google) writer that does what it’s designed to do very well, decades after it’s designated life span.
(So, whatever happened to the nib on the broken Sheaffer?)