Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph – Dunk Free Forever!

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Sheaffer’s Snorkel – the world’s most complicated filling system, ever?

Those were heady days. The post WWII boom – some call it the golden age of capitalism – was in full blast. Fountain pens too, were riding the crest, though the dark clouds of a ball point pen led calamity were palpably ominous to many a stalwart of the industry. The Parker 51, advertised as “The World’s Most Wanted Pen,” was firing all cylinders, though it was formally introduced almost a decade back in 1941. Yes, we are talking on the 1950’s.

Sheaffer's Snorkel Triumph
Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph

Sheaffer’s needed a flagship – “Fat Boy” to unleash its destructive power, and in 1952, it came up with an offering, that has variously been considered as the world’s most complicated Fountain Pen. In its time, it certainly was, and many experts opine, it still is, in terms of the filling mechanism – the Snorkel.

Sheaffer’s had, predictably, unleashed an advertising blitz that pegged the snorkel as an instrument, filling which will be a clean, “dunk free” exercise. Famous actors, sportsmen and cartoonists were roped in to endorse the product and the results were, shall we say, encouraging? Sheaffer loyalists do claim that in certain markets and in certain periods of time, the Snorkel outsold its nemesis the Parker 51. Well, the Parker 51, just to set the records straight, remained in production till the early 1970’s while the Sheaffer’s Snorkel had a far shorter lifespan, production lifespan that is – reigning between 1952 and 1959. (Snorkels were made in the USA, the UK and in Australia. In Australia they may have been in production till as late as 1962, still).

Sheaffer's Snorkel Triumph
Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph

The term lifespan needs to be highlighted, for most Sheaffer’s Snorkels came with the white dot, which was introduced in 1924, and whose original purpose was to indicate the fact that the pen had a lifetime guarantee. As a matter of fact, the white dot was widely advertised about, with Sheaffer’s claiming them to be hallmarks that communicated “unconditionally guaranteed for a lifetime”. The Sheaffer’s commitment, urging users to “identity the Lifetime pen by this white dot”, had its usual effect and by the time the Snorkel had appeared, the White Dot was already well entranced in the consumer psyche. The fact that the pens were examples of extremely robust designing, top of the line inputs and craftsmanship that had achieved the high-water mark can be established in just three words – mine writes beautifully.Well, a bit stiff, but beautifully none the less.

The Author with his prized Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph

Yes, my Shaeaffer’s Snorkel writes beautifully, in all its regal wetness. Twist the knob at the bottom and the snorkel protrudes from under the nib. Dip it (the tube) in the ink – dunk it if you so prefer – and pull the rod out to draw in the ink. As the snorkel, the inking tube, is twisted back into the pen, it starts its celestial dance on paper. It had, and I can see every time I ink my Snorkel how, done away with the mess that dipping fountain pen nibs in the inkwell can create. It was meant for the connoisseurs of a time that preceded my birth, and I can only imagine, just how excited they must have been with the Snorkel. Suffice to say, the plunger works so smoothly and the ink fills up with such ceaseless abandon that I often wish that the pens that we have now, even the brand-new ones, were as seamlessly integrated as these ancient mariners are.

Sheaffer's Snorkel Triumph
Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph on an advertisement for the product

My Snorkel is the Triumph which was roughly made between 1955 and 1959. It is characterised by a 14 karat two tone gold nib with platinum mask, gold-filled cap. The barrel and cap have straight longitudinal engraved lines in a repeating pattern of five lines and a blank panel. It sports a gold-filled clip. It also has a spiral grip which is extremely user friendly and requires the least amount of pressure to do the bidding of my thoughts.

By introducing a number of colours, nib variations (there were as many as sixteen nib options – including, hold your breath, flexibles, accountant, shorthand, stubs, obliques and music) and cap choices, Shaffer’s had successfully created a range of models and colour combinations – perhaps they knew that one day, their intended flagship would become the rage of passionate pen collectors, as they are now. The bulk of Snorkel offerings were predictably injection moulded solid pastel colours with polished stainless steel and gold-plated caps adorning many models. In fact, there even was a clear demonstrator Snorkel, which was again, apparently, made for sales people to explain the working of the then revolutionary filling system.

Sheaffer's Snorkel Triumph
Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph

Speaking of collect ability, all Snorkel models had matching pencils and ballpoints with the same trim. The pencil was redesigned in 1952 to a new, more slender style.The early ball point pen was a capped Stratowriter style pen, which was replaced around 1955 with a push button retractable model. The higher line pens and ensemble sets were packaged in attractive tan leatherette clam-shell boxes. Needless to say, the full set, with original box (and off course the user’s manual) is one hell of a prized item for any collector worth his ink stains.

Sheaffer's Snorkel Triumph
The Snorkel & I – Inked Happiness!
 

6 Replies to “Sheaffer’s Snorkel Triumph – Dunk Free Forever!”

  1. Snorkels are fantastic pens! Your description of how they fill is wrong, though. I hope you are not filling them this way. You should pull back on the plunger tube before puttting the Snorkel tube in the ink. The pen fills on the downstroke.

     
    1. you are absolutely right. the communication lapse is in my part, though i do fill it the way you put it. yes, the pen does fill with the down stroke of the plunger. sorry that i was not as clear with my expression as i should have been. my apologies and sincere thanks for your time and effort. it is pen lovers like you who make my efforts worth the ink.
      thanks again.
      suvobrata

       
  2. Thank you for the lovely article on the Sheaffer Snorkel Triumph. This was an enjoyable read, and the gold filled pen does look like a work of art. Sheaffer no longer manufactures a high end pen such as the one you describe. It’s sad to see that the diamond shaped inlaid nib, and the Triumph nib are no longer being made. I am not sure, but I have been told by an enthusiast that Sheaffer Heritage pens are often brought out in limited quantities. Your article prompted me to check the availability of the Snorkels, and I can see that entry level examples (without box and papers) of fair quality pens are available via online vintage pen dealers and E-bay traders at around US$ 100. The PFMs are pricey, and few good examples can be found for less than US$ 300. I own a Sheaffer PFM V, and I find the pen a bit fragile and prone to crack when it comes to using on a daily basis. In fact the inlaid nib of my PFM V is already oozing ink when left capped after a brief use. The pen has to be serviced. Compared to the PFM, and judging by your review as well as the video reviews that I have watched, the Snorkel Statesman or the Triumph appear to be more robust models. I live in Bangladesh, and it is impossible to find anyone who has the capacity to repair these pens. In the city of Dhaka there are just two retailers who deal with vintage pens. And they can only offer you the occasional Parker 51, some regular Sheaffer’s model from the 1970s and 80s, and practically nothing more. There are online groups which indicate there are many fountain pen aficionados, and they are gradually coalescing around the idea of using and enjoying these instruments. I am sure there was a time when pens like these retailed in Dhaka and Kolkata; and somehow I wonder why nothing from that era surface in the market. Reading your article, adn seeing the photos of the Triumph Snorkel, I almost felt I was reading about a rare book or archaeological find! Thank you for sharing with us your experience!

     
    1. Thank you dada for your kind words. Please come to Kolkata, be our guest, while we get your pens mended 🙂
      As a matter of fact, I have long been trying to hold a Indo-Bangladesh pen meet where we can all meet, greet and share our common legacy and love for the fountain pens and inks. Inshallah, we will do it soon. Am also in touch with Shamim Mazumdar from Chittagong. The basic idea is to take a delegation of experts, collectors, calligraphers and pen sellers from India for a weekend meet. Keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

       

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