Prints & Cards
Sheaffer White Dot: 1924-Present
by Jim Mamoulides 3/31/02 - Updated 1/17/04
Even people who only have a little knowledge of pens will be familiar with one of the most famous pen trademarks, the Sheaffer White Dot. Other makers tried to emulate the success and prestige of this maker's mark, even Parker, with its short-lived Blue Diamond.
How did the White Dot come into being and what does it mean? As with many things in pen lore, this is a long story, with some twists and turns.
Sheaffer achieved two major milestones in 1924. The first was the introduction of the first mass produced plastic pens, the most famous of these first models are the Sheaffer Jade Seniors. These pens ushered the pen manufacturing industry into the modern plastics age. The second milestone became so identified with Sheaffer that it stands as part of its company logo today: the White Dot.
The White Dot first appeared on the top of the cap of the new plastic Senior pens. The original "dot" is actually a round white inlay countersunk flush into the plastic at the center of the top of the cap on the pen. On the first plastic desk pens, the White Dot was found at the tail end of the barrel, below the lever and on the ladies' ring-top pens, it was found on the side of the cap near the top.
The White Dot's original purpose was to indicate that the pen had a Lifetime guarantee. Early Sheaffer advertisements, beginning in 1924, point out that Lifetime pens, so marked by the White Dot were "unconditionally guaranteed for a lifetime." The ads included a logo that represented the top of the pen, a colored circle with a white dot in the center, and the words "Identify the Lifetime pen by this white dot."
In 1929, when Sheaffer introduced the Balance pen, ads were changed to point to the white dot on the top of the pen cap and the dot was moved to a place just above the clip on the cap. In the 1930s, the Lifetime guarantee and the White Dot were trumpeted in many ads or featured as a tag line. It would seem that the location above the clip would be the final destination, given the placement of the White Dot on modern Sheaffer pens, but the path was soon to become somewhat twisted. The culprit was a manufacturing problem that took Sheaffer about ten years to figure out.
In 1937, Sheaffer introduced a new model pen with a solid metal cap and a plastic body. This pen was later to be known as the Crest. It was a top of the line model, and certainly merited the White Dot and the Lifetime guarantee. Mounting the dot to the cap became a problem for Sheaffer, which apparently could not be solved to the company's satisfaction. Early advertisements and catalog pages show the solution Sheaffer adopted: mounting the White Dot on the barrel between the section and the lever, just above the lever. The White Dot remained above the clip on all plastic pens.
This placement was good for lever fill pens, but was problematic for the new Vacuum-fill model that relied on the pen barrel to hold ink. Cutting the barrel to insert the White Dot could lead to weakness and leaking, so Sheaffer moved the dot to the end of the plunger cap, at the end of the barrel. This placement also is seen on some lever-fill pens. Advertisements and catalog pages do show Vacuum-fill models with white dots on the barrel, however.
The US military had some influence on the White Dot as well. In the 1940s, the US military made it a requirement that pens sit flush with the top of the shirt pocket, probably to make the appearance of the uniform neater or so the pocket flap could be buttoned over the pen. This was a real problem for Sheaffer, as their streamlined pens had the clips mounted to the front of the cap, which had the result of the pen sticking its head out of the top of the pocket, which would fail the pen and make it unacceptable for use by military personnel. Other makers, such as Parker, had models with designs that already complied with this requirement, so they weren't really affected by it. Sheaffer was faced with retooling the pen or losing sales.
The solution was to add a variation to the line of pens aimed at military personnel with a new clip that looped from the back of the cap and over the top of the pen, allowing the pen to drop neatly down into the pocket when worn. With this new clip, a new problem was created: Where was the White Dot going to go? Sheaffer solved this by pushing the dot down the cap to a spot just under the end of the clip. These pens are known as "military clip" pens, and Sheaffer marketed them directly to military personnel in their ads.
In the early 1940s, the Lifetime guarantee was being advertised as unconditional "for the life of the first user." Once World War II was fully underway, Sheaffer changed the guarantee to only cover the nib. This change led to the eventual separation of the White Dot from the Lifetime guarantee.
By the end of the 1940s, the White Dot was being touted as the "White Dot of Distinction", further removing the trademark from the original meaning of Lifetime guarantee. Sheaffer had, by the introduction of the Touchdown pens in 1949, solved the problem of mounting the White Dot on a metal cap. This solution was applied to all Sheaffer White Dot pens in the 1950s, including the Thin Model, or TM pens, introduced in 1952.
The new White Dot was a redesign, and was placed just above the clip on all models, plastic and metal capped pens alike. Instead of the flush white spot on the surface of the pen, the new "dot" was a raised white "bump". The White Dot insert itself had the appearance of a little mushroom before it was installed. This new design carried through the 1950s.
In the 1950s, Sheaffer pushed the White Dot in advertising as a status item, a "mark of luxury" and a "symbol of satisfaction" hallmarking all of Sheaffer's top model pens.
With the introduction of the PFM, or Pen for Men, in 1959, Sheaffer moved the White Dot for the first time on the top of the clip. This change was obviated by the design of the pen, with the large bar-shaped clip mounted nearly flush with the top of the cap. The following Imperial model, basically a slimmer version of the PFM, also was done this way, when the White Dot was first put on it.
The association of Lifetime with the White Dot returned in 1963 with the introduction of the Lifetime Imperial models, which carried the White Dot on the top of the clip and the word Lifetime at the bottom of the clip.
Today, Sheaffer places the White Dot on or just above the clip, as it has been since the 1950s. White Dots appear on many Sheaffer models from the top of the line Legacy to the inexpensive DeltaGrip models. Sheaffer still offers a lifetime warranty, but it is not necessarily associated with the White Dot.
Thanks to Sam Fiorella for the idea and inspiration for me to research and write this article.
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