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Sheaffer Touchdown Filling System
by Jim Mamoulides 1/4/02 - Updated 4/20/03

Sheaffer Revives The Pneumatic Filler

Sheaffer introduced the Touchdown filling system in 1949. This was a unique filling system using pneumatic air pressure in the down stroke of the cylindrical plunger to compress the sac inside the cylinder and fill the pen. A similar system was employed by Chilton in their pneumatic self-filling pens introduced in 1924. Unlike the Chilton pen, the Touchdown does not require a breather hole to be covered on the plunger to force the air out of the sac on the down stroke.

The Touchdown filler has been employed on numerous Sheaffer pens since 1949, including the original Touchdown line introduced in 1949, the TM or Thin Model Touchdowns introduced in 1950, the Tip-Dip pens introduced in 1952, several Imperial models starting in 1960 through the mid 1970s, and the current Legacy introduced in 1995. The Touchdown system is fundamental to the Snorkel filling system found on the TM or Thin Model Snorkels introduced in 1952 and the PFM or Pen For Men introduced in 1959.

Sheaffer 1949 Touchdown Advertisement Detail

How It Works

When the plunger is pushed back into the barrel, the air pressure generated compresses the ink sac, expelling its contents. As the sac reinflates, if the nib is inserted into ink, it will fill with ink. On early Touchdowns only one down stroke is necessary to fill the pen. Interestingly, on the modern Touchdown Legacy, Sheaffer describes the pen needing two downstrokes to fill. As the pen is a cartridge / converter pen with a removable Touchdown sac unit, it is likely that the modified Touchdown system is not air tight enough to generate enough pressure to fully expel and inflate the sac, needing two strokes to do the job.

A Collection Of Early Sheaffer Touchdown Pens All c1949-1950
Left to Right: Valiant / Sentinel / Crest

This is a very simple filling system to use, and gives a positive whoosh when filling. On the earliest Touchdowns and later Touchdown Imperials the nib up to the section needed to be immersed to get a good fill. With the spiral grip cut into the section, this required a lot of wiping. On the later "Tip Dip" Touchdowns, a channel in the nib similar to the Snorkel channel in the Snorkel lines allowed a clear pathway for ink and required only the tip of the nib to be immersed, and later wiped. On pens with the Inlaid nib, such as the Imperial and the Legacy, the integral nib makes wiping not such a bother as an open feed pen.

How To Fill Your Touchdown Pen

The Touchdown is even simpler to fill than the later Snorkel, but does require wiping. All Touchdown pen fill in three simple steps, unscrew the blind cap and open the plunger, immerse the nib in ink, and quickly depress the plunger, counting to ten, tightening the blind cap, wiping, and off to work.

There are three basic types of Touchdown fillers.

  • First, pens that require the entire nib and section to be immersed in ink to properly fill, which includes the first Touchdowns, including the fatter first model Touchdowns, the TM or Thin Model Touchdowns, and the later Touchdown Imperials.
  • Second are the Tip-Dip Touchdown pens made from 1952 through about 1963. These pens have a channel in the end of the feed so only the nib tip needs to be immersed to fill, making the job cleaner.
  • The latest version is the cartridge / converter Touchdown, with a removable ink protector sac unit, which was introduced in the Sheaffer Legacy in 1995.

Because these filler units are all slightly different, the following should help those who find these pens in the wild and without the original instruction booklets.

Early Touchdown Pens c1949-1951 and Touchdown Imperials

Getting Ready To Fill A Burgundy c1949 Sheaffer Touchdown Valiant

The first Touchdown pen line, introduced in 1949, was essentially the same size and style as the previous Vacuum-Fill line, and the new pens carried over many of the existing model names and trim. These first Touchdowns are the same length, but larger in diameter than the following TM or Thin Model Touchdown pens, introduced in 1951.

Sheaffer Touchdown Pen Filling Instructions 1949 - Sized for Printing

Early Touchdowns and Touchdown Imperials require the entire nib and section to be immersed in ink to properly fill. This is because the pen draws ink directly through the section and the liquid ink acts as a seal against air entering the vacuum created after the downstroke and reducing the fill. As such, these pens require wiping, and the early pens, with their spiral cut sections, tend to sop up ink in the grooves.

Tip-Dip Touchdown Pens 1952-c1963

Sheaffer Craftsman Tip-Dip Touchdown c1952-1959

After the introduction of the Snorkel in 1952, Sheaffer relegated the trusty Touchdown system to entry-level pens, modifying the feed with an ink channel for cleaner filling. Sheaffer called these pens "Tip-Dip" pens, both good description and good marketing.

Sheaffer Tip-Dip Touchdown Pen Filling Instructions c1954 - Sized for Printing

Tip-Dip Touchdown pens, made from 1952 through about 1963, are cleaner filling than their earlier siblings. Because these pens have an ink channel in the end of the feed, only the nib tip needs to be immersed to fill, leaving the section ink free, and only the nib needing attention. The filling process is otherwise exactly the same.

Legacy Touchdown Pens 1995-Present

Sheaffer Legacy Brochure Showing Open Touchdown Filling System

The current Sheaffer Legacy line, introduced in 1995, uses a modified Touchdown system that allows the optional use of an ink cartridge in the pen. This latest version is effectively a cartridge / converter Touchdown, with a removable ink sac protector unit. Even so, it is basically the same filling system that has shown solid performance and use by Sheaffer for over 50 years. Because the sac protector is removable, the pen does not generate as much vacuum as older sealed unit Touchdowns, so the instructions Sheaffer includes with the pen require two downstrokes to fill.

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

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