The Sheaffer Snorkel
by Bill Hong and Nathan Tardiff
first issue February 1999 in
The scene is familiar: you and a friend are scouring through a small antique shop, looking for that elusive Big Red or Patrician for $20. The shop’s proprietor is there; you ask in a quiet voice, "Uh, got any old fountain pens?"
The shopkeeper lifts one eyebrow in a Vulcan-like manner, then smiles and says, "Of course! Keep ‘em in a box under the counter right here…." You both look at each other in anticipation as said shopkeeper roots around under the counter, then produces the proverbial cigar-box filled with—mostly old advertising ballpoints, a few broken Wearevers, and…..ah yes, a long, slim tapered pen with a plain curved clip, white dot mounted above it on the cap. Your companion seems crest(sic)fallen, while you unscrew the cap and examine the conical nib, and see the telltale hole in the feed where the little metal tube is sticking out a mm or two. "Jeez, just another Snorkel," says your fellow hunter, and wanders off to another part of the store. "Yeah, we see lots of these," says the proprietor. "They’re around all over the place, though this is the only one I have today….."
Well, if you’re fortunate, all the parts are there (even if the pen isn’t working), and the price of $5 is right, so you gladly plunk down the fiver and take the pen. Eventually it’s working, and serves well and reliably as a good "user" pen for your everyday use. It most certainly is not a pocket queen, and not something that sits, mummy-like, in a pen storage drawer!
Nevertheless, how many of us picture ourselves or someone else we know in the position of the disappointed half
of the pair in the scene above? How many times have we searched for old pens, trying to find that near-mint Nozak
or Vac Maxima, only to come upon ANOTHER Sheaffer Snorkel pen from the 50s, and simply left it there, even if the
price was right?
|Such seems to be the reaction among some collectors about this particular pen. There may be lots of reasons why—Snorkels are fairly recent among vintage pens, with their heyday in the 1950s. Sheaffer made millions of them, and the shorter length of time they’ve been around has helped to ensure that many are still available—hence, the curse of sheer quantity is a problem for some collectors. Still others shun their filling mechanisms, touted to be the most complex ever built into a mass-production pen, and which can cost a more significant proportion of the pen’s overall value to repair versus a fancy 1920s or 30s lever-filler. Others may lament the plain solid colors in which they were made in comparison to the vivid celluloid pens of that "Golden Age." All of these considerations may help to ensure that Sheaffer Snorkels, despite an active market in their buying, selling and repair, just don’t get the respect they deserve. This may be reflected in their selling prices (usually $25-55 over the net for restored examples of the more common colors/models), hardly a big investment these days for a self-filling pen that has the features of the Snorkel.|
Nevertheless, many folks who have started into the vintage pen craze in recent years will be quite familiar with the Snorkel. Because they are so numerous, they serve as a relatively affordable "starter" pen, with a variety of models, colors, and nib types. Yet even some of us who have been collecting for some years find that these pens are faithful companions for office and home despite what other, more glamorous pens we may also own.
So what is it about the Snorkel? Is it more of a Rube Goldberg device, or a true vintage collectible pen in the best sense? Perhaps a little of both….