by Jim Mamoulides 12/18/05
What's In A Name?
The Sheaffer Target is something of an enigma. It appears to have been a herald of things to come from Sheaffer, a precursor to the slimming down of the PFM shape to the Imperial size that would happen by late 1960. The Target was introduced in June, 1960, the year following the big splash introduction of the top of the line Sheaffer Pen For Men, or PFM. This event appears to have quietly gone by until the next wave six months later with the Imperial, clearly a slender version of the PFM.
The Target was shipped in the same black plastic leather grained presentation box the PFM came in, complete with the Inlaid nib logo, even though it was fitted with a short Triumph nib unit. It's shown in that box in a product introduction photo, and I even have a mint condition set that was sent out with PFM instructions in the box. Sometime before the 1961 catalog, Sheaffer changed the name of the Target to Imperial III, making it the third model in the Imperial line, and the first without the Inlaid nib.
There is very little original material on the Target. The Target gets first mention briefly in the internal company magazine Sheaffer's Review in the June, 1960 edition. It's a short sidebar item showing new products, with a feature photo of the Target in the familiar black plastic automobile fin style PFM box. The text mentions that the new Target is aimed at the mid price market. Indeed, as the Target, retailing for US $8.75, was price positioned between the lowest priced PFM, the PFM I, which retailed for US $10.00 and the Sheaffer cartridge pens, which retailed for less than US $5.00. The Target spent some time alongside the first two Imperial models, the Imperial IV and VI, before becoming the Imperial III. This can be seen in Sheaffer Touchdown instruction inserts from 1961, referring to both Target and Imperial Touchdown pens. By the release of the 1961 Sheaffer Catalog in late 1961, the Target finally becomes the Imperial III, alongside a greatly expanded line of new Imperials from the January, 1961 market introduction.
The Target must have been something of a market test for Sheaffer. The new pen's mid-year introduction between the PFM and the first Imperial placed it on the market way before the December, 1960 national sales conference, where new models would be introduced to the sales team. The Target was a more cautious derivation of the PFM, very much unlike the new Imperials, models IV and VI, which clearly were intended to look exactly like slender versions of the PFM models IIII and IV. The Target may share the same basic cap and barrel design as the PFM, realized in a more slender package, but there are several key design elements that clearly position the Target as a down market model.
First, the Target is not a White Dot pen. Sheaffer reserved this distinction for its top models, and in the PFM line, only 14 karat gold nib pens. For a pen priced less than the US $10.00 of the non-White Dot PFM I, this comes as no surprise. Second, although the Target shares the bar-shaped clip introduced on the PFM, it is a cheaper ear mounted clip rather than a spring loaded one. The clip is also engraved "SHEAFFER'S", a trait reserved for the lower end Snorkel models, and by extension, the Target, relative to the PFM. This will continue when the Target becomes the Imperial III, positioned in the lower non-White Dot spectrum of the Imperial line. Third, the Target does not feature the Snorkel filling system, but this may be a nit, as it's not used in any of the following Imperial models, several of which clearly otherwise completely mimic PFM models. Sheaffer did give the Target a Touchdown filler system, giving it a leg up on the low end cartridge pens. Finally, the Target is fitted with a short version of the Triumph nib, though in two-tone livery, recalling the higher end Snorkels. The lack of the new Inlaid nib makes the Target somewhat transitional, having a Snorkel look at the nib and a PFM look for the rest of the pen.
What Is The Deal With That Short Nib?
The Target nib unit is a bit of a mystery. On close examination, one might think that this is simply a truncated version of the 14 karat gold two-tone palladium plated Triumph nibs that appeared on all the higher line Sheaffer Snorkel pens that had just retired. The nib is not hallmarked as solid gold, but that would not necessarily be an issue. Collectors may assume that it's actually a gold nib, as on the Snorkel pens. At the US $8.75 price point, the Target / Imperial III costs more than its successor, the 800 or "Dolphin" pen, which was indeed fitted with an unhallmarked 14 karat gold nib and sold for US $7.95. It may seem like a logical conclusion to assume that the Target nib is gold, too, considering the tangential evidence, but the nib on the 800 has a lot less material invested in it than even the short Triumph would on the Target.
The 1962 Sheaffer Service Manual reveals that the nib is actually palladium silver with a gold plated mask, in essence a reverse of the 14 karat gold two-tone Triumph nib on the Snorkel. This would also make the lower priced Imperial II simpler to make by using the same nib unit from the Target / Imperial III and leave off the gold plating step. Even though this clearly shows Sheaffer was still making palladium silver alloy nibs into the 1960s, Sheaffer was starting to shift away from them in favor of stainless steel in mid priced pens. This can be seen with the introduction of the stainless steel nib Compact I in 1960 and the 500 "Dolphin" pen in 1962. The Target and its successor the Imperial III was thus one of the last Sheaffer models to use a palladium silver alloy nib.
Target - The Sheaffer Target is actually the direct predecessor to the Sheaffer Imperial III and carries over to the Imperial lineup with no apparent changes. The Target is fitted with a short version of the Triumph nib. The nib is unhallmarked, and though it resembles the two-tone 14 karat gold nibs on the earlier Snorkel pens, it is made of palladium silver and the base portion of the nib is gold plated. This same pen design, with a different nib section, becomes the model 800 "Dolphin" pen in late 1962. The Target appears to have only been offered as a Touchdown model and only with a matching pencil. It was packaged in the same black "car fin" box as the PFM.
Identification guide and features:
The Target, like its Imperial brethren, is a very lightweight pen, tipping the scale at just under one ounce. It's a full length pen, at 5 3/8 inches long capped and 5 5/8 inches posted, but more slender than its contemporary, the wide body PFM. The cap posts deeply and securely on the end of the barrel, but is light enough that it really doesn't make much difference in writing, capped or posted. It's a nice size and a slender pen. As with most Imperials, it's a big contrast from heavy all-metal modern pens.
The fit and finish is excellent, no different from the more expensive Imperial models or the PFM pens. There's little doubt that the entire mid and upper range Sheaffer pens from the early 1960s were made at the same quality standard, with the principle differences in features. There are some cost cutting elements, such as the ear-type fixed clip, a less elegant and cheaper clip than the spring loaded type, and thus more prone to being sprung. I have examples of that potential problem. It's and good, rather than best approach, but it works. On the other hand, the Touchdown filling system and entire barrel assembly are no different than any other Touchdown Imperial, save the very cheap Imperial I, a poor cut-corner attempt at a Touchdown pen that did not last.
As with all other Imperials, the Touchdown filling system is simple to use and the pen fills very easily with one downstroke. It's a fun pen to fill and use, even though the pen needs to be wiped after filling.
The Target I test wrote with, a black one, had a very sweet, wet medium nib that was exceptionally smooth and wrote with a nice, even line. The short Triumph nib has the classic upturned tip that delivers a nice sweet spot. It's very firm, like other Triumphs, and I doubt this nib was offered any other way.
Imperials in general are great everyday user pens and are plentiful enough that a nice collection can made without a huge investment. Many people pass over them, and a number found in the field are cap and barrel mismatch Frankenpens, which actually can be a fun diversion and a source for the damaged cap or barrel needed to complete a collectible pen.
Touchdown pens are very easy to repair, but look for cracks the barrel. Cracks will impede the Touchdown filling system ineffective, as the force needed to collapse the sac will rush out the crack and not allow the pen to fill properly.
The biggest trick to collecting the Target will be identification. Since there's no visual difference between the Target and its successor, the Imperial III, unless the pen and pencil have the Target name screened on them, you won't really know!
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Last Update 12/16/05