The Snorkel: A Sheaffer Innovation In Filling

by Jim Mamoulides, December 27, 2001


Sheaffer Goes The Touchdown One Better - No Wiping!

1952 Sheaffer Advertisement Showing The New Snorkel Nib

Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel filler in 1952 with the introduction of the TM or Thin Model Snorkel line. The Snorkel is probably the pen with the most mechanical engineering applied to it in history. Considering that the ballpoint was making serious inroads into fountain pen sales in the 1950s, a pen that did not have to be wiped would be a big selling point. The Snorkel system is also employed on the PFM or Pen For Men, introduced in 1959.

How It Works

Essentially the Snorkel is a Touchdown filler with a narrow tube that extends through the feed to allow filling without immersing the nib in ink. As with standard Touchdown pens, the filler uses pneumatic air pressure in the down stroke of the cylindrical plunger to compress the sac inside the cylinder and fill the pen. The principal difference is the only thing that gets inky is the Snorkel tube, which retracts back into the section, underneath the nib, after filling. No wiping, and ready for use!

SnorkelSnorkel retracted.SnorkelSnorkel extended.

This mechanism, while complicated, is very reliable and many snorkel pens work well right out of the box today. Snorkels, even new old stock ones, generally will need new seals and O-rings in order to ensure proper filling pressure. A restored pen will shoot water (or ink) like a squirt gun, and many folks in an older generation can remember Snorkels being banned from school for that reason!

Snorkels may have a very complex mechanism, but watching the tube extend as the blind cap is opened and the quick fill of the Touchdown downstroke gives one an appreciation for the engineering involved to make this pen easy to live with. It's also a statement about Sheaffer quality that so many snorkels survive today effectively able to work out of the box.

How To Fill Your Snorkel Pen

Getting Ready To Fill A c1952-1959 Sheaffer TM Snorkel Sentinel

Even though there are two more steps to filling a Snorkel pen, the bonus is no wiping. The instructions below are also valid for filling a PFM (Pen For Men) Snorkel pen. This copy is sized for printing should you not have a copy of the original instructions for your Snorkel pen.

Sheaffer Snorkel Filling Instructions c1952-1959 - Sized for Printing

When Sheaffer phased out the PFM in 1963 the Snorkel retired. The Touchdown system continued in use on Tip-Dip and later Imperial pens into the 1970s and has been recently revived in the Legacy, introduced in 1995.

Comments on this article may be sent to the author, Jim Mamoulides Bibliography