Prints & Cards
Compact Cartridge Pens 1961-1962
by Jim Mamoulides 10/29/03 - Updated 2/15/05
The Imperial's Little Brother
Every once in a while a stubby little oddball cartridge "Imperial" shows up on eBay, a pen show, a pen club meet, or a web site, and it is variously identified as a "Comp II", a "Compact", or a "Compacta". Sometimes the name Imperial is used in conjunction with these names. These pens look very similar to a short Imperial IV from the early 1960s, complete with the general Imperial shape, clip, and inlaid nib, but with a stubby, flat-ended barrel. The really cool ones have a set of ink-view windows in the top of the barrel, setting this pen apart from any other Imperial-like pen in the Sheaffer pantheon.
What is this curiosity? Is it an Imperial? What is the "real" name of this pen? What models are there? Details! Details!
Sherlock's Primer On Inductive Reasoning
I've spent a lot of time researching these little pens. I've seen a number of them now and have a general view on what I'm dealing with from observation. I'm really far more comfortable with research material, secondary sources such as collector interviews, books and articles, and primary sources such as advertisements, catalogs, and repair manuals. In a year collecting data, I've come up short on primary sources. This little pen is wrapped up more in fancy than fact.
Unlike deductive reasoning, where facts are gathered to drive to a definite conclusion, inductive reasoning is the result obtained from gathering bits of specific information and mixing them together with general knowledge and experience in order to make an observation about what must be true.
Here's a classic example of inductive reasoning:
Initially, I had no primary source material to confirm my observations collected over the past year, so I resorted to inductive reasoning to try and sort out the facts on this pen line. Since the article was first published, I have acquired a copy of the 1962 Sheaffer's Service Manual, which clears up quite a few things.
So what is the pen called? Every example I've examined that that still has the original stenciling is marked either "COMP I" or "COMP II". Sheaffer had no problem stenciling the full model name on other pens from this era, including the "LIFETIME", a much longer name, so the stencil would lead one to believe that "Comp" is the model name.
All sample pens are stamped "SHEAFFER'S" on the cap, and examples with steel trim have "SHEAFFER'S" stamped on the clip. Sheaffer dropped this version of the company name by 1964, so this would be a strong hint that the pens were produced at least up to that date. Some pens made in Canada are imprinted "R. D. 1960" on the cap after the company logo, indicating a 1960 early start for production, at least in Canada. No USA made examples have any date marking. The likely production run would be c1960-1964.
Unlike same period Imperials, all examples are cartridge-fillers. That, with the rather short barrel, just long enough for a Skrip cartridge, makes it a pretty good bet that Sheaffer made no Touchdown version of this pen.
Now here's an interesting twist. Some examples have nine slit-like windows near the threaded end of the barrel that provide an ink-vue feature to the pen. Other examples have solid barrels. I have seen both types stenciled on the barrel either "COMP I" or "COMP II". The name is therefore not an indication of the barrel type.
There are two trim levels for the pen, all steel trim with "SHEAFFER'S" stamped on the clip, and all gold fill with a plain clip and a white dot. There are also two clip lengths. On one sample pen imprinted on the cap "R. D. 1960 MADE IN CANADA" the clip is one inch long. On almost all other examples, the clip is 1 1/8 inches long. Possibly the first production had shorter clips and Sheaffer switched to a longer clip later on.
Could "Comp I" be the early pen and "Comp II" the later one? This would make sense if all short clip pens were marked "COMP I", but I have a long clip one clearly stenciled "COMP I", ruling out that theory, unless Sheaffer first changed the pen and the model number afterward. I've seen gold filled trim pens stenciled "COMP II", but some collectors have told me they have seen them stenciled both ways. I personally have only seen stainless trim models marked "COMP I" and gold filled trim models marked "COMP II".
I've only seen stainless steel trim examples marked "COMP I" and gold filled trim pens marked "COMP II". Sheaffer was using Roman numeral model names for the PFM, Lady Sheaffer, and early Imperials during this same time. In my first cut at identifying these pens I made the inductive reasoning leap that the "Comp I" is the stainless steel trim pen and the "Comp II" is the gold filled trim pen.
Sheaffer introduced the new Compact Cartridge pen along with the new Imperial pen line and the "Reminder" clip ballpoint to its sales force in December, 1960. All of these new products followed the new angular Sheaffer profile, a design style established in 1959 by the introduction of the Sheaffer Pen For Men (or PFM). The new pens were introduced to dealers in January, 1961 and Sheaffer gave the biggest push to the Compact Cartridge pen, a new premium price cartridge only pen and the highest priced cartridge pen in the stable. Although not called an Imperial, it, too closely followed the PFM design and therefore has a definite family resemblance to the Imperial.
Cartridge pens had previously been relegated to the popular price category, but the new Compact Cartridge pen broke through this barrier with a premium price offering. Fitted with a 14 karat gold nib, the top of the line Compact II model priced at US $10.00, the same price as the PFM I, a member of the top Sheaffer line. This bold move opened the door for other premium priced cartridge pens, including later cartridge Imperials.
The best explanation for those "R. D. 1960 MADE IN CANADA" Compact pens is that Sheaffer had already started production in 1960 in anticipation of the January, 1961 introduction to dealers, and the Canadian operation obviously date stamped them when they were actually manufactured, not on according tot their actual release date. This should probably give pause to finicky pen daters, and beg the question, is the model date or the production date what's important? If you couldn't buy the pen in 1960, is it fair to say the model date starts in 1960. I'll leave that one up to the reader.
According to the 1962 Sheaffer's Service Manual, the stainless steel trim model is called Compact I and the gold filled trim model is the Compact II. Not a bad guess!
Non-White Dot Model - Compact I
The Compact I was the value priced model, fitted with an inlaid stainless steel nib and trim. It was priced higher than the basic cartridge pens, and between the Tip-Dip line and the more upscale Imperials.
Identification guide and features:
White Dot Model - Compact II
The Compact II was the "upscale" model, fitted with an inlaid hallmarked 14 karat gold nib and gold filled trim. At US $10.00, it was expensive, priced the same as the far more complex PFM I.
Identification guide and features:
Having only one non-mint example made the choice for test driving simple. The tester was a windowed Compact I fitted with a fine stainless steel or palladium silver nib. These pens are very small at about 4 3/4 inches long capped and open to a surprising 5 3/4 inches posted. Being gutless plastic cartridge pens, they are very lightweight in the hand, capped or posted. The cap is light and the pen is balanced well either way, though very short for large hands if not posted.
The stubby barrel design gives the pen a short legged look when capped that disappears when posted. It's not the best balanced look among the Imperial family. The ink-vue windows are probably the saving point. The multiple narrow slits are eye catching and very cool. It would be a great design point on regular size Imperial cartridge pens. I wonder why Sheaffer never chose to try this on them?
The fit and finish indicate a well made, yet inexpensive pen. The cap is a secure friction fit with three pips on the section, as on the larger Imperial pens. The section unscrews very smoothly, unlike many modern cheapies. The clip is spring loaded and tight, making it easy to slip on, even thick fabric.
Sheaffer cartridge pens are the easiest of all to fill: unscrew the section, drop the cartridge in the barrel either end first, screw the section back on, and start writing. Hey kids! Anyone can do it!
The Inlaid nibs on these pens are stiff, but very smooth. I dry wrote all of them on plain paper and they are all very smooth indeed. The test pen wrote very well, and very evenly, just like any Imperial should.
For some reason, these pens tend to command a premium over similar trim Imperials from the same period. The design is a little gawky. They come in generic colors. It is derivative of probably the largest produced quality fountain pen in history. My guess is if there were no ink-vue version of this pen, a unique feature, they would be little noticed and probably passed over.
The appeal has to be those little windows. Why else would mint examples sell for upwards of US $50.00 on eBay?
Also interesting to collect would be the visulated early cartridge desk pens, which mimic the design features of the Compact, with the nine slit windowed barrel, and same trim.
The Compact I and Compact II will round out a collection of early Imperials and their cousins. I personally think they are overvalued, based on the unique design and some relative scarcity compared to other early 1960s Sheaffer pens. I would steer toward used examples and avoid the feeding frenzy around mint ones.
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