Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffer’s Snorkel

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffer’s Snorkel

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffer’s Snorkel

The Struggle to Survive: 

In 1952, Sheaffer introduced the most complicated fountain pen ever designed. This pen, the famous Snorkel, was designed to compete with the burgeoning popularity of ballpoint pens by virtue of its simple, convenient filling system that eliminated the mess commonly associated with fountain pens.

To fill the Snorkel, the user extends a small tube that is normally hidden within the feed; only the Snorkel tube is immersed in the ink, and there is no need to wipe off excess ink after filling. For about a decade, the Snorkel did compete successfully, with a range of models culminating in 1959’s PFM, the Pen For Men. This article illustrates a pen similar to a Sentinel, with Sheaffer’s conical Triumph nib; the company also produced Snorkels with the traditional open nib. The illustrations depict the pen with its proportions altered for artistic purposes.

Monkey Motion

To make the Snorkel’s filling system simple for the user meant that the pen would have to be complicated internally. The first figure shows the pen with various parts cut away to reveal the inner workings. You can see immediately that there are a large number of parts:

The Snorkel uses the Touchdown filling system that Sheaffer introduced in 1948, but in the Snorkel, it is necessary to move the entire filling system within the pen. This movement is accomplished by redesigning the section that it becomes only a small bit of hard rubber that secures the sac and the Snorkel tube. The sac protector is a tight slip fit over the section so that the assembly becomes a moderately strong “cartridge” that can slide back and forth in grooves on the inside of the gripping section, which has replaced the original section to provide a finger hold.

The Snorkel tube is fitted through a small hole in the hard rubber section; it passes through the point holder gasket and extends to the end of a hole that has been drilled through the feed to accommodate it. The Snorkel tube contains a secondary feed, in the form of a slender strip of hard rubber with an ink channel. There are small slots near the end of the tube; these slots allow ink to “leak” from the inside of the tube to the outside. Once outside the Snorkel tube, the ink finds that there is also a slit cut in the main feed, and capillary action draws the ink through that slit to fill the comb fins and deliver the ink to the nib in the same way as with an ordinary feed and nib.

The back end of the coupling ring screws into the gripping section to secure the point holder gasket in place. The feed slips into the coupling ring, and the nib screws onto the front end of the coupling ring to secure the feed in place.

The sac protector is threaded for part of its length. At the front end of the threaded portion is a ring into which one end of the spring fits; the other end of the spring presses against a ledge on the interior of the barrel. The Touchdown tube is threaded to match the sac protector; and the blind cap, unlike the blind cap in the ordinary Touchdown system, is not threaded.

The interior of the pen is sealed airtight by the point holder gasket, the O-ring, the threaded joint between the barrel and the gripping section, and a gasket that seals the screw securing the Touchdown tube to the blind cap. Air can enter only through a dimpled groove in the Touchdown tube near the blind cap and through a hole in the Touchdown tube near the tube’s threaded portion.

The dimpled groove is open at the beginning of the Touchdown tube’s travel as it is extended from the pen, and the hole is open when it passes the O-ring as the Touchdown tube reaches its full extension. If any of the four sealing points leaks, the pen will not fill properly.

How It Works: 

As you can see, the spring tries to force the sac protector (and the rest of the “cartridge”) forward, extending the Snorkel tube. The blind cap and Touchdown tube prevent this. The following figure shows step 1 of the filling process. The user unscrews the blind cap, releasing the “cartridge” so that the spring can slide it forward.

Next, the user extends the Touchdown tube. A partial vacuum builds up, but the sac protector keeps the sac from distending. As the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its outward travel, air enters the barrel through the hole near the threaded end of the tube.

The user immerses the tip of the Snorkel tube in the ink and then presses quickly down on the blind cap. This restores the Touchdown tube to its rest position, compressing air as the tube travels. The compressed air squeezes the sac. The following illustration shows the pen at the instant just before the pressure is released by the dimpled groove when the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its travel; note the squeezed sac.

When the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its travel, pressure is released. As the sac resumes its normal shape, external air pressure forces ink into the sac.

Last, the user screws down the blind cap again. The threads on the Touchdown tube engage the threads on the sac protector, drawing the “cartridge” backward against the spring. The Snorkel tube disappears into the section, and the user returns to writing.

Is It Working Right? 

To test a Snorkel, fill it with water. Aim the filled pen in some harmless direction. Extend the Touchdown tube and then depress it quickly. If all the seals are working right, the pen will shoot a stream of water that can travel about six feet (2 m).

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Parker Jotter 50th Anniversary

Parker Jotter 50th Anniversary

Parker recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the best-selling Parker Jotter with three special Jubilee anniversary editions.

In 1946 Kenneth Parker wrote a letter to Time magazine stating that he resented the notion that the Parker Pen Co. was napping because it didn’t have a product in the exploding ballpoint pen market. Unknown was the fact that Parker had been researching and developing ballpoint pens since the 1940s.

“As long as two years ago, our management realized-between naps-that we could make a quick, fast bulge in sales and profits by marketing a ball pen.” Kenneth Parker predicted with a short statement…”If and when Parker brings out a ball pen, it won’t resemble anything now on the market.”

After waiting almost nine years to enter the ballpoint market Parker put the Jotter into production in just 90 days. This project was the responsibility of Daniel Parker and on December 22, 1953 “Operation Scramble” was launched. This was a rush to production and the first Jotters emerged from Janesville on January 5, 1954, and was priced at $2.95.

This was the start of the decline of the fountain pen and the era of the ballpoint. In 1953 the value of ballpoint sales finally overtook the sales of fountain pens. Parker’s late entry into the ball pen market proved to be a brilliant move, particularly because of Jotter’s design innovation, quality, and price point.

One of the most important designs was the rotating refill. With each click, the Jotter’s ball would rotate 90 degrees, which means it would wear evenly,” he said. “All of the other ball pens were wearing unevenly, and after three or four weeks, they didn’t work.” This feature exists to this day. There were many other improvements in the design of the Jotter over the years, most notably the sintered steel ball which had a textured surface and allowed for a better grip on paper and better ink flow and delivery. The result was the introduction of the “T- Ball” Jotter in June 1957 and Parker lowered the retail price to $1.95.

To mark this 50th anniversary, Parker has launched the Jotter Jubilee, a special edition pen that will only be produced through November.

The Jotter Jubilee is available in two finishes and two colors. It follows the patterns and designs of the 1950s, and the trademark Parker clip has lost its feathers. The top of the plunger is engraved with “50.” The collection features the fun and colorful Jotter Gel 50s collection in five 50s inspired color finishes; the stylish Jotter Special Edition range with ball blasted maze or dots patterns, and the sophisticated Jotter Premier Edition model with its silver filigree-sleeved barrel. check out for Acrylic Color.

The design inspiration of all the new pens has been taken from the 1950 era – the decade when design and technology were booming, and when the Jotter was born – and re-interprets the brand for the 21st century. The Maze pattern references the square and abstract graphics which were found on virtually everything in the print media of the 1950s. The Dots pattern is also a timely theme, taken from the halftone screen printing technique used at that time for the growing popular comics and illustrated press. Similar to the vintage Parker 45 Harlequin pattern, the effect is created by sandblasting which leaves a matte and gloss finish.

The Jotter Jubilee Special Edition is a universal, ageless writing instrument that will kick off the next 50 years with style. In a choice of charcoal or blue finish, the Jotter Jubilee Special Edition features a modern twist with these two ’50s influenced patterns.

The third, and most highly anticipated new development from Parker for the Jotter Jubilee, however, is the stunning new Premier Edition model – which will only be available at the end of this year.

This is a pen for design aficionados and collectors. Based on the original Jotter Filigree – a pen that was sold almost exclusively at the 1959 New York World’s Fair – the Jotter Premier Edition features a sterling silver cap, hallmarked as a guarantee of quality, and a sterling silver button and filigree sleeve.

Available in two finishes – licorice black on silver, and saffron yellow on silver – the body is ornamented with a remarkable effect, achieved by cutting a pattern into the sterling silver sleeve, and then molding the colored barrel with the sleeve. This complicated technique gives a beautiful result that again references the square and abstract graphics so popular in the 1950s, making the Premier Edition pen and its shiny black metallic gift box the last word in contemporary chic.

The Jotter was Parker’s first-ever ballpoint pen, although not the first ballpoint pen on the market, extensive research and development meant that when Parker launched the Jotter, it blew away the competition with its innovative design, new materials, and long refill lifetime. Then heralded as a beacon of modernity, today it is still the essential lively Parker companion.

The Jotter remains today as a worldwide symbol of Parker design and success more than any other product in its history. The Jotter is accessible and affordable, yet unsurpassed in its quality, and over the course of the last half-century, more than 750 million have been sold worldwide.

All new Jotter models are packaged in specially designed Jubilee gift boxes.

Vintage Parker Jotters from the collection of Don Lavin
Reference material from The Incredible Ball Point Pen by Henry Gostony and Stuart Schneider

The Parker Jotter Jubilee and the book The Incredible Ball Point Pen
are available from Fountain Pen Hospital

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The Joy of Flex

The Joy of Flex

Q1. What is Flex, Why do some nibs have it and others don’t?

A1. Actually, that’s two questions, but if it wasn’t for the second part, the first couldn’t be asked.

With increased hand pressure on the pen, some nibs respond by having the tine tips move apart and leave a wider ink line. The tines do not bend, they move apart like scissors. With the release of pressure, the tines snap back together quickly and make their ‘normal’ line width. Nibs have flex because they are designed that way.

Q2. Why Would Anyone Want A Flexible Nib?

A2. Flex nibs can give a wide variation in line widths and make shaded fashion letters, where one part of a letter may be 3 to 5 times wider than another part of the same letter.

Q3. Don’t Italic and Stub Nibs Also Give Line Variations?

A3. Stubs and Italics usually give line variation because they make a wide down stroke and a much narrower cross stroke. There usually isn’t a variance in the widths of the strokes as with a flexible nib. (Yes,
there are Flexible Stub and Flexible Italic nibs, just to confuse things.)

Q4. Do All Flex Nibs Flex The Same Amount? [How Much Flex Would A Flex Nib Flex If A Flex Nib Flexed Full Flex?]

A4. There is no fixed ratio. It seems that if a nib actually flexes by the tines separating (without bending) and snapping back to their ‘normal’ line, the nib is at least “Semi-Flex: Flex and Super-Flex are likewise subjective evaluations.

Not that anyone ever asked me to do it, but it seems to me that a Semi-flex nib will make a line up to 3 times the width of its normal line; a flexible nib, up to 5 times; a Superflex up to 7. No such standard exists, but using this as a working definition, the difference between ‘soft’ nibs ( which may increase line width by the bending of the tines) and flexible ones is clearer.

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Q5. What is a Nibs “Normal” Line

A5. The “Normal” Line is the nib width as set by the Manufacturer – EF, F, M, B, BB, 3B etc. A flex nib should always return to its ‘normal’ line when pressure is released.

Q6. Don’t All Nibs Make A Wider Line When Pressure is Applied?

A6. True, even a BiC will leave a wider line when it’s pressed harder into the paper. But fountain pens leave ink “on’ paper, not ‘in’ paper ( except for those using Parker SuperChrome ink). The difference is the
amount of pressure. A rigid nib will act like a Ball Point ball – pressure will not change the width of the nib unless it breaks it. A ‘soft’ or ‘responsive’ nib will bend under light pressure and may even flex, but it will not ‘snap back to the ‘normal’ line. (The nibs can usually be reset.)

Q7. Can Too Much Pressure Be Put On A Flex Nib?

A7. Flex nibs become ‘sprung’ when too much force is applied. The nib may, under great force, break.

Q8. How Much Pressure is Safe To Use On A Flex Nib?

A8. The pressure will differ from pen to pen and nib to nib, but do not press so hard that the nib tines bend after they have flexed to their optimal width – the optimal point is “just before the flexed tines

Q9. What Are Flex Nibs Good For?

A9. Flexible nibs make some people’s handwriting look more interesting. Sadly, no pen has the ability to make the content more interesting. Flexible nibs are good for correspondence and short notes.

Q10 What Can’t Flex Nibs Do Well?

A10. Flexible nibs are harder to use than Rigid nibs. Flexible nibs tend to be less smooth than rigid nibs. (Probably due to the flexes flexing.) Flexible nibs can’t make carbon copies. Flexible nibs aren’t
great for writing quickly.

Q11. Where Does One Find Flexible Nibs?

A11. For advertising purposes, nearly every pen boasts “flexible nibs.” As a general rule, flexible nibs are somewhat hard to find. Even in the ‘golden age of pens, Flexible nibs were a small fraction of a company’s output. Some vintage pen dealers are very scrupulous in describing the amount of flex a given nib has on a given pen. I have two Crocker Pens about 100 years old, one has a Superflex nib the other rivals a modern rigid nib like a Waterman or a Rotring. The only way to know if a nib is flexible is to see if it flexes. OMAS offers a 14kt Superflex Nib – but I never wanted to be parted from any of my OMAS pens long enough to have one retrofitted.

Q12. Are Any Modern Nibs Flexible?

A12. Not having tried all modern nibs, I can’t say. Pens with somewhat flexible nibs that I have are Marlen Atellans, some Viscontis, some Pelikans, some MBs, some OMAS 18kt nibs, Diplomat 1922, Delta, Cross,
Stipula Namiki. None of these modern nibs has the same amount of flex as some vintage Flexible nibs. Most of these are Semi-flex, the tines spread a moderate amount.

Q13. Are There Modern Manufacturers Who Don’t Make Flexible Nibs?

A13. In general, I don’t think that Rotring, Lamy, Waterman ( save for the Liaison and Serenite), Aurora, Ancora, Sheaffer, Alvin have any flexible nibs

Q14. What Vintage Pens Have Flexible Nibs?

A14. Nearly every vintage manufacturer made some flexible nibs – but these were a minor part of their offerings. Not only were few flexible nibs made, but flexible nibs are more subject to breakage, its likely
that fewer survived.

Q15 Are Flexible Nibs Hard To Use?

A15 They are hard to use well. First, one needs to write with very little pressure on the nib or the range of line widths is lost. (If your hand is so heavy that the nib is always flexed then there’s nowhere to go.)

Flexible nibs tend to magnify handwriting problems – so if you are not happy with your handwriting as it is you’ll be downright appalled by what a flexible nib can do to it. Getting the nib to flex when you want
it to is only half the problem. The other is keeping it from flexing when you don’t want it flexed.

Also, because there is the possibility for the wide variation inline widths, letters have to be made consistently or the handwriting is very hard to read.

If you have practiced an Italic writing style and are used to the zen of pen – the discipline necessary to make handwriting into a spiritual exercise (art or craft, if you prefer) the transition will be easy. If
you see writing as finding out what the nib will do, you’ll probably be a natural. If handwriting is making the nib do what you want it to without any realization that nibs are different, you likely to have

Q16. What Advantages Do Rigid Nibs Have Over Flex Nibs?

A 16 Rigid nibs are easier to write with and usually smoother nibs. Rigid nibs aren’t as touchy about handwriting style or angle of attack. In the pre-Xerox, pre-PC office setting, Rigid (manifold) nibs were
needed to make carbon copies; to make accounting and bookkeeping entries in large Ledgers with fixed columns (Most companies made an Accountant nib, an EEF rigid nib.)

Rigid nibs are much more durable. The rise of the Lifetime Guarantee by Parker and Sheaffer moved these companies even more heavily toward rigid nibs – They don’t have to be replaced nearly as often. Many rigid nib pens can survive being dropped nib first onto the floor. This is a death knell for a flexible one. Unlike flexible nibs, rigid nibs usually don’t get sprung. If they do become out of alignment, they are not hard to realign.

Q17. How Do You Know If You Should Try Flexible Nibs?

A17. Even inexpensive fountain pens with flex nibs are a fairly expensive item. The most economical way to practice with Italic, stub, flexible, oblique, reverse oblique, or scroll nibs is to get a handful of Speedball ( or other dip nibs) and some wooden or plastic holders. A basic Speedball Lettering or Calligraphy manual, some ink and paper, and some time are all you need to experiment with all sorts of styles.
Knowing the proper way to make letters isn’t all that necessary for rigid nibs, but is a prerequisite for flexible nibs.

Practice takes time, but the skills developed remain with you after the practice ceases. Flexible nibs require the writer to be mindful of what he or she is doing – so the learner must be disciplined in
practice. If you have 15 minutes a day, do it for 15 minutes each day – don’t try to do 90 minutes once a week (it really too boring to do for 90 minutes of correct letter formation for most of us — although some people can seem to do it endlessly — like that roommate, you had who tuned a guitar string for an hour per string, but never played anything.)

Q.18 Can you Tell If A Nib Is Flexible Just By Looking At It?

A.18. In comparing flexible nibs to rigid nibs: the tines of a flexible nib maybe be longer and thinner, the breather hole will be further from the tip, and the shoulders of the nib will not be as blocky.

Viewed from the side, a rigid nib will probably have a constant thickness while a flexible nib thins out towards the nib tipping. But this isn’t foolproof especially if you don’t have a known rigid nib for comparison. The only obvious evidence that a nib is flexible comes by flexing it. Put the nib on a white piece of paper and press very lightly, if the tines separate, it’s flexible. If the tines both separate and bend, they may not go back to their normal line.

Q19. Are Only 14kt Nibs Flexible?

A19, Flexibility depends on how a nib is made, not what it’s made of. Steel nibs can be as Superflex as springs. With Gold nibs, the increase of other metals in the alloy means that a 12kt nib could be more
flexible than a 14kt . . .18kt. But all materials can be made into flexible or rigid nibs.

Q20 Have You Told Us Everything You Know About Flexible Nibs?

A20. I’ve probably told you more than I know – but we have space to fill.

Q21. Where Did You Get The Flexible Nib Pens You Have

A21. I’ve picked up a flexible Conklin Nozac 5M at a pen show. The rest have come from dealers and individuals over the internet To mention individual names and purchases risks being a commercial endorsement and also risks not mentioning the names of very reputable dealers.

Q22. Are There Web sites With Information On Nibs?

A.22. As this is for information, you might want to check:,,,, They will all have good links to other sites of

Q23 Are Fine, Medium, and Broad the only Sizes of Flex Nibs?

A.23 In Vintage pens, one can (infrequently) come across flexible and semi-flex nibs in Italic, Stub, and Oblique. Combinations like flexible fine Italic nibs occasionally turn up.

Q 24. Are Flexible Nibs Worth More Than Non-Flexible Nibs?

A.24. Worth and price don’t always have a direct relationship in pens – often they’ve never been introduced properly. Flexible nibs are probably scarcer than rigid nibs, but then they’re also more likely to
break and harder to use It seems a toss-up to me, but then I’m not selling any. The price the seller gets is related only to how much the buyer wants the item.

Q 25. What Credentials Do You Have To Write This Piece?

A.25. I’m not a nib meister, calligrapher, or graphic artist, nor a well-known pen collector, metallurgist, pen repair specialist nor even all that knowledgeable on pen history and design.

I do use and like flexible and semiflexible nibs. They aren’t even the organizing principle of my collection- they just sort of happened as I was collecting odd filler mechanisms. Having practiced Italic calligraphy about 30 years ago -so that my handwriting could be read by me – I found that the techniques, though rusty, still carried over. A light hand and the ability to adapt yourself to find out what the nib is
capable of doing is probably the best indicator of whether someone should use flexible nibs.

Also, flexible nibs are not good for all writing – trying to take notes on a lecture with a flex nib is a recipe for disaster – and not helpful when one has to write fast. In these situations, break out the Carene
or Rotring 900. The viewpoints and opinions expressed are not necessarily the opinions
of nor the people associated with it. The secretary will disavow all knowledge (oops, wrong channel.)

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