Latest Update: Moving the part about this specific pen to a separate page, as we’ve got a couple more Sheaffer Touchdown/Snorkel pens now. More exhibits will be along soon. Also added a few notes on some damage I seem to have done – a whole line of gouges into the plastic of the cap – at the bottom of the page.
I’d been watching for a Snorkel on eBay for quite a few days, because I’ve fancied having one since I got into vintage pens. Unfortunately, they always went for far too much money – generally Â£35 or more, even with no idea if they actually worked or not. This one appeared, with a starting bid of Â£5, but a Buy It Now set at Â£10, so I jumped on it quickly, and got there first.
It arrived within a couple of days. I carefully unwrapped it (quick delivery, well packaged, great ebayer, A+++++++), and all looked ok. I took it through to the bathroom, and tested it. The Snorkel wouldn’t unwind at all at first, so I gave it a good rinse with cold water. The Snorkel then extended, but it was a bit jerky. With a bit more cleaning, it moved ok. I then tried filling it, and at first, it seemed to work. It just wasn’t squirting the water out, though. A properly working Snorkel should squirt the water (or ink) out by a couple of feet on the downstroke of the touchdown tube. I stripped it down, and cleaned everything out, and discovered that if I sucked on the snorkel tube, air came straight through. Really horrible-tasting rubbery air, but the sac obviously wasn’t intact.
At this point, I started begging for advice from various friendly people at The Fountain Pen Network. The difficult part was getting the section out of the sac guard, but I finally managed that with the aid of a cotton bud (Q-tip to the Americans).
This is the section inside the sac guard, with the snorkel tube passing through the middle of the section…
This whole part is the bit that you wind up and down inside the pen, making the snorkel tube poke out through the middle of the feed. This was what I was left with after getting the section out…
The people at FPN recommended a clothes hanger to push the section out, but none of the ones we had were a good fit – the cotton buds we had worked perfectly.
I ordered a sac and some shellac (the ‘glue’ used for attaching sacs, among other things) from Ian at Cathedral Pens, and continued with the job when they arrived. The trickiest part after that was making sure all the little bits were lined up just the right way so they’d fit together with the right edge of the snorkel tube lining up against the centre line of the bottom of the nib. The most difficult part was waiting for the shellac to dry. I was desperate to know if I’d got it all right – would it work, or would it still fail to squirt? If I tried too soon, though, I’d ruin it, and have to start all over again, but with the extra job of having to clean shellac from several parts too.
Once it was all dry, I fitted everything carefully back together, and everything operated smoothly. Back to the bathroom.
I dipped the snorkel in water, and operated the touchdown tube. Waited ten seconds, then wound it all back in. Everything still seemed to be working ok. The moment of truth. I wound the snorkel back out, and extended the touchdown tube. A little squirt of ink jumped out. Whilst the real action is supposed to happen on the downstroke, a snorkel can squirt some ink out before that – that’s why you’re always told to hold it over the ink bottle before extending the touchdown tube.
I turned the pen sideways on so I could see what happened clearly, and pushed the tube down.
The water jet hit the wall on the other side of the bath.
I tested it with ink, and it worked perfectly. I quickly wrote a little thank-you note for the people of FPN, and Ian at Cathedral Pens…
The only thing was, after all the work I’d put in, I still didn’t really know if it would actually write well. If it turned out to be very impressive technically, but skipped a bit when writing, it would be too annoying to use. If it was too wide a line, it wouldn’t be much good to me – I do most of my writing in a pocket Filofax.
The best news, then, was that after fixing, it works better than any other pen I have. It’s smoother than a Safari, writes a narrower and darker line than the Parker 17, and more reliable than my Slimfold(s). For the moment, at least, this is the nicest pen to use of any I have tried.
It’s also really nice to have a day-to-day pen with so much story to it…
- It’s around fifty years old.
- The filling mechanism is just wonderful.
- It didn’t work when I got it, but I fixed it myself.
The end of the sac guard, with a bit of the sac pulled out next to it…
With the cap off…
The nib and the cap…
Snorkel out, resting on the cap…
Somehow, I’ve managed to put some gouges into the cap, which was quite upsetting. I think it was whilst signing for a post delivery (probably for the blue Tip-Dip Touchdown which arrived yesterday), holding the cap in the hand I was leaning against the wall with. I’ve used plenty of toothpaste, and a microfibre cloth wrapped around a blunt part of my penknife, to polish it up and soften the edges of the marks. It’s not got rid of them, at all, but it has made them much less noticeable.
Fortunately, this one isn’t intended for selling on, anyway, and I don’t just value it for the looks.