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Sheaffer Advertisement 1930

The Sheaffer Balance

by Dethardt Baumann
with additional material from Bill Riepl


The Early Balance Pens

At the end of the 1920s fashion called for a change. Famous American designers and architects came up with a new formal language. The "Zeitgeist" was totally future oriented. The streamline of airplanes, automobiles and ships became a synonym for this future orientation. The "New Look", later Christian Dior used this term for his new fashion in the late 40s,  was adopted by many industrial designs. A kind of "streamline craze" swapped over the country.

In early 1929 Waterman introduced its Patrician, Parker brought out its streamlind Duofolds the same year. But these designs were topped by the consequently torpedo-shaped new Sheaffer Balance pens.

The Sheaffer Company, incorporated in 1913, had reached the top of industry sales with nearly 25% of the American pen producing market. The new Balance pen, quickly caught on by the public, helped the company to stay there for many years to come.

For the most part, pens of the Twenties had followed roughly the same design, a flat ended cylinder, mostly made of hard rubber. The new Balance had a sharp taper to both the cap and the barrel, it was a streamlined torpedo shape, radically different from the traditional look of a fountain pen. Advertisements claimed the new pens were "scientifically moulded and proportioned to cut bulk, and put weight and length Just where they're wanted". They were certainly a different look, and the public lost no time in adopting these new Sheaffer's!

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Sheaffer Oversize Balance pen in Black
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Sheaffer Oversize Balance set in Pearl & Black

1929 Balance pens were originally offered in Jade Green, Black & Pearl and Black Celluloid, or Radite, as Sheaffer called the material. These were the same colors as found on Sheaffers earlier Lifetime pens. Sheaffer was most experienced in working with this new, colorful material from DuPont with its most complicated and dangerous (i.e. highly inflammable) production. Sheaffer had been the first company to introduce pens made of this pyroxylin plastic as early as 1924 and thus driving the whole pen industry into a rage. In 1930 the Marine Green mottled color was added to the range and one year later a further color, the Grey Pearl with Red Veins was added. Balance pens came in several sizes and that leads into one of the biggest problems for those, who want to collect vintage Balance pens: "What do I have here?"

Bill Riepl separates Balance pens in his Stylophiles article as follows:

There are two main groups, the original lever fillers, from 1930 to 1936, and the later models, which could be had in both lever filling models as well as plunger-vac fillers, from 1936 through the early 1940s. After these two main groups, we get into size.

The largest are commonly referred to as Oversize, followed by the Full Size, then the Slender Full Length, the Petite, and the Miniature. Exact sizes are tough to pin down. It's easy to say, "You'll know an Oversize when you see it", but sometimes that's about the way it works!

The length of OS Balance pens from the first four or so years of production range from over 5 3/4 inches and 5 3/8 inches. 

The key is that these pens were made individually, and the length will vary, plain and simple. The width across the barrel on three samples from Bill's collection was right at 33/64 inches, with only the tiniest shade of difference. The same story will hold true on the smaller sizes. Generally, the Full size, or standard Balance, as some call it, should be around 5 and 3/8 inches in length. Bill has samples that range by as much as 1/4 inch from this length. The width is the real mark of distinction between the OS and the full size. The OS pens are all just over 1/2 inch across, while the full size pens are under that, usually around 30/64 inch across. It doesn't sound like much difference, but it's easy to see if you compare them side by side!

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Sheaffer Oversize Balance pens (1930-1935)