PenInHand: September, 2015
by Jim Mamoulides, September 30, 2015
Collectors interested in Sheaffer Snorkel pens often ask two questions: "What colors are the hardest to find?" and "How do you tell the difference between the blue, red and green color Snorkels?"
Let's start with a refresher on the Snorkel pen itself. Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel pen line in 1952. The pen was a major upgrade to the Thin Model or TM Touchdown pen line by adding the new Snorkel filling system, elongating the pen. The Snorkel is one of the most complex filling mechanisms ever put in a fountain pen. It has an ink filling tube that extends from the end of the feed by twisting the knob on the barrel end. The pen is filled by inserting the tube into an inkwell and pushing in the plunger, creating a vacuum by compressing the internal ink sac, filling the pen with ink. Once filled, the Snorkel tube is retracted into the feed by reverse twisting the end cap on the barrel, completing a clean, no wipe filling of the pen.
Sheaffer launched the new pen line with a heavy print advertising campaign that emphasized clean "dunk free" filling and ease of use. This was likely due to the growing success of inexpensive ballpoint pens encroaching on the fountain pen market.
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Fiesta Red, posted
All the colors of the rainbow!
Sheaffer made thirteen different Snorkel models, nine were White Dot pens with Triumph conical nibs and four were non-White Dot pens with standard open nibs. The pens were made in three cap and barrel combinations: plastic cap and barrel, metal cap and plastic barrel, and all metal. Over the 1952 to 1959 run of the line, Sheaffer offered 15 different colors, though not all colors were available on all Snorkel models. Some colors were only offered on White Dot pens, for example. One color, Burnt Umber Brown was exclusive to the desk pen model.
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Fiesta Red, open
Sheaffer started with five available colors in 1952 and expanded to nine new colors in 1956. Some colors were offered with matching color grip sections staring in 1956, though most Snorkel sections are black. Nine Snorkel models were offered in as many as 7 to 11 different colors over the production run.
As you can see, there are a large number of Snorkel model / color combination offerings, which would make for a large complete collection of Snorkels.
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Fiesta Red, open
Let's go back to that first question: "What colors are the hardest to find?" Most collectors, myself included, see the most difficult to find colors in this order: Fern Green, Periwinkle Blue, Peacock Blue, Mandarin Orange, Fiesta Red and Vermilion. Let's add another difficulty element to that: Pens with matching color sections are more desirable and in some cases harder to find than pens with black sections. It's not clear that all Snorkel colors were offered with matching sections and how long matching sections were available, but matching sections do appear in advertisements from 1956 through 1958.
How about the second question: "How do you tell the difference between the blue, red and green color Snorkels?" Sheaffer offered three shades of blue, three shades of green and five shades of red (burgundy came in two shades). The green shades are easiest to distinguish. Sage Green is the lightest, Pastel Green the most common, and Fern Green is an avocado green. The blues are easy to tell side by side with Pastel Blue, a cadet blue, being the most common by far. Periwinkle Blue has a slight red tone and Peacock Blue has a more green tone than Pastel Blue. The reds are harder. Fiesta Red, found only on White Dot pens, and Vermillion, found only on non-White Dot pens are very close shades. The two shades of Burgundy are best identified side by side, with the early, slightly lighter shade being most commonly found. Mandarin Orange, at least, is distinctive and unconfusing.
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Fiesta Red detail showing underside of nib. Note Snorkel tube in feed and nib grade sticker.
Bringing it all together
Sheaffer made a lot of Snorkel pens from 1952 to 1959. The production runs of particular colors and models is not known, but what we can do is observe what pens exist now and how they were advertised to get a sense of what may have been popular or higher production. Black, burgundy and the Pastel color Snorkels are very common and appear in advertisements from 1952 to 1958. Interestingly, the less common colors do not seem to appear in mass market advertising. Does this indicate shorter runs or more limited availability? Is it possible the colors were offered and did not prove successful? Unless we can find production dates and times for the various colors and models, this will remain an interesting mystery.
Sheaffer Snorkel Sentinel Fiesta Red nib detail
Fiesta Red is one of the brightest and boldest colors in the Sheaffer Snorkel palette and will draw the eye in any collection. Collectors report that the hardest Fiesta Red version to find is one with a plastic cap and barrel, followed by one with a 14 karat gold two-tone Triumph nib. This would rank in order Fiesta Red Snorkels from Valiant, Statesman, Sentinel to Clipper, with some debate as to Sentinel ahead of Statesman or not. The all plastic pens generally sell at a premium to the metal cap pens. I personally have seen only one other Fiesta Red Sentinel, so in my experience this particular Fiesta Red version would be the second most difficult to find after a Valiant.
If you like Snorkels and bright red pens, you will find any Fiesta Red pen a challenge, both in difficulty and price!
Sheaffer Snorkel 1952-1959, Jim Mamoulides, PenHero.com, December 27, 2001
LIFE, August 22, 1955, inside front
LIFE, December 3, 1956, page 158
LIFE, August 19, 1957, inside front
LIFE, December 2, 1957, page 124
LIFE, December 9, 1957, page 55
LIFE, November 24, 1958, page 110
Profile: Sheaffer’s Snorkel, Richard Binder, © 2012 RichardsPens.com
"Snorkels and PFMs" by Sam Marshall, The PENnant, Summer 2002
Sheaffer Catalog, 1955
Sheaffer's Service Manual, 1962
"Things You Never Knew About Your Fountain Pen," Richard Match, Popular Science, September, 1956