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Flat Tops

Maker: Sheaffer.

Jump to pens bearing:  Number 3 Number 5 Lifetime Warranty

Sheaffer is not the only maker of pens that fall under this description.  However, the early part of Sheaffer’s production is such a miscellaneous heap of catalogue numbers that the only what I can find to approach it is to treat this entire pre-Balance period as a single object with some variation.  If my comments are extremely general… well, that’s actually what I’m aiming for.

Up to 1924, Sheaffer made pens of hard rubber in a variety of sizes.  These were, as most pens of the day, described by a numbering system.  This system was rather less convoluted that most other manufacturers, but still offers some mysteries.  The core of the system was a number indicating the size of the point (which coincidentally was in many examples also the suggested price of the pen), with an increase in numeric size indicating a bigger piece of metal, and alphanumeric suffixes to indicate size and furniture.  The system remained in play after the advent of the plastic bodies, as indeed did rubber bodies; a prefix appeared indicating Jade or Black rubber, with the black Radite the apparent default from lack of a prefix.  Sometime between the 1926 and 1928 catalogues, Sheaffer reworked the numbering, so that the points came with hyphenated number indicating size and warranty coverage.  This point numbering remained in effect until the introduction of model names in the latter half of the Balance era.

Note that these pens overlap into the time of the Balance pens; they certainly show up in the 1930 catalogue, and some models of this shape may have been creeping out of the factory even as late as 1939.

Number 3:  These points are not the smallest Sheaffer offered, but they were definitely at the small end and tended to appear in a more bargain oriented pen.  With the change to the warranty system, these points converted to 3-25; not a lifetime warranty, but at twenty-five years a pretty good one.  Because they’ve got the shortest warranty, these tend to be made of thinner metal and are thus open (somewhat) to flexibility and variation in writing.

Cost When New:  The 3-25 cost $3.00 (for modern value, try this calculator)

Size: 3-25SC: 11.0cm long capped, 13.8cm posted.

Point: 14k gold.

Body: Early models in hard rubber, later also available in celluloid.

Filler: Lever.

Sheaffer 3-25SC (not to scale with other portraits)

Number 5: The middle of Sheaffer’s road, the pens with these points were aimed at the upwardly mobile who had not yet quite made it into the big leagues.  When the warranty change occurred, these points became 5-30.  I haven’t had a chance to examine points from before this numbering change, but the ones after it seem to be about as burly and resistant to flexing as the Lifetime points.

Cost When New:  The 5-30 cost $5.00 (for modern value, try this calculator).

Size: 5-30SC and SR 11.5 cm long capped (not including ring hardware), 14.7cm posted. 10.2 cm uncapped.

Point: 14k gold.

Body: Early models in hard rubber, later also available in celluloid.

Filler: Lever, capacity approx. 1.0ml in short models.

Sheaffer J5-30SC (Short, Clip) – note the discolouration of the barrel, which appears to have come from the rubber section rather than the sac. Despite that, this pen now enjoys a silicone sac.

Sheaffer J5-30SR (Short, Ring) – the barrel shows the typical discolouration of jade celluloid, but not to an excessive degree. Sheaffer’s catalogue declared the ring on this pen to be precisely right for attaching to a loose-leaf binder; I wouldn’t, frankly, want to try that.

Lifetime Pens: There were a few variations in this area, as there is more than one number to indicate Lifetime points.  The bigger pens at this end of Sheaffer’s spectrum all contain the number eight in their model, while the smaller ones contain a 7, and the vast majority will be a variation of 74; this latter indicates a more slender body, to which the number 7 point is a better proportional match.  As befits the warranty, these are extremely heavy points with very little in the way of flexibility or even springiness; they are quite capable of writing through carbons, and I find my examples are totally unphased at the pressure requirements of writing thought a three-part form.

Cost When New:  In the late 1920s, Number 74 pens cost $7.50; it was possible to get a solid-gold 788 for $40.00.  Depending on the exact trim level, the various Number 8 pens ran from $8.75 to $20.00.  The prices were a little lower prior to the introduction of the Lifetime warranty, but apparently only because of slow inflation adjustments, so the effect on the wallet was much the same (for modern value, try this calculator).

Size: 74SR 11.5 cm capped (less ring hardware), 14.4cm posted, 9.8 cm uncapped; 8C 13.5 cm capped, 17.0 cm posted, 12.0 cm uncapped.

Point: 14k gold.

Body: Early models in hard rubber, later also available in celluloid.

Filler: Lever; 74 short holds 0.7 ml, 8C holds 1.4 ml.

Sheaffer 74SR – the pin holding the lever is very clear in this photo.  The engraving on the band is a little unusual; there were models with wider bands more intended for the purpose.

Sheaffer 8C – the standard and iconic Sheaffer flat top pen.



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