[ search ]

Sheaffer Intrigue

Sheaffer Intrigues, Whale Shark (top) and Seal (bottom), c 2001.
The Seal's filer button is extended for piston filling.

Released in 2000, the Intrigue was an effort to bring some new design and genuine technical innovation to the Sheaffer line; in these respects it was a success, but the model is, alas, being discontinued as I write this. I don't know whether the problem was slow sales, high assembly costs (it's a fairly complex-looking piece), or quality problems (read on), but the Intrigue is no more, leaving the Legacy as the only gold-pointed fountain pen in Sheaffer's line. Well, at least I had the chance to fix this copy before I actually posted it.

The Intrigue was a sort of a third-millennial take on the baguette profile that Sheaffer created way back in 1929 with the original Balance, and to which it has stuck ever since (with occasional exceptions such as the Targa, or its late and lamented entry-level student pens). It can also be considered Sheaffer's first fixed piston filling pen (more about that shortly).

Sheaffer Intrigue in Blue-on-Blue with unplated 14k gold point.

If this pen has a theme, it might be "conic sections." The joint between the metal slip-on cap and metal barrel is slanted at a dramatic angle (a detail that I don't believe I've seen executed quite this way on any other pen). The theme is sustained on the barrel itself, which features a sort of "short" overlay in the same material as the cap, with curvy panels of contrasting color inside and beneath. The clip is a simple and effective sculpted sheet metal unit, brightly nickel-plated, with a big "white dot" button fixed to its head.

Sheaffer Intrigue Silken Bark, c. 2001 (courtesy http://www.hisnibs.com/)

The colors and finishes were also quite novel. The two finishes shown at the top of the page are my favorites, created by stencil screening in the "cutouts," harmonized with a satiny argent coloring over the cap and the rest of the barrel (the Whale Shark features satiny palladium plating on the silvery surfaces, while the Seal is a bit more muted). The Silken Bark pen immediately above is decorated using the high-tech process known as physical vapor deposition (PVD), a coating technique borrowed from the semiconductor industry that allows much greater precision than is possible with chemical or electrical plating.

Sheaffer Intrigue pen & pencil in Aubergine, c 2004

The gold-over-black finish was certainly the flashiest (and the gold plating on the cap and barrel cost a premium over the standard models), but at the other end of the scale the most subtle of the finishes was the Aubergine, a soft brownish purple that works very well with the argent cap and overlay.

The Intrigue's converter is inserted into a "drawer" that slides out from the insides
of the pen; when the drawer is closed, the converter can be operated
by the filler knob at the very end of the barrel.

Mechanically, the Intrigue was also quite -- well, intriguing. It offered Sheaffer's first all-new filler design in some decades: it can be operated both as a fixed piston filler (like a Pelikan 800), or as a cartridge pen. The secret here is a little "drawer" inside the barrel, which is released when you loosen the lower of two knobs at the back of the pen. You can either insert the familiar proprietary Sheaffer cartridge (yawn), or else drop in the special Sheaffer Intrigue converter furnished with the pen, and slide the assembly shut. Then, when you lift up the upper of the two rear knobs, a gear inside engages with the converter knob and allows you to fill then pen. The nice thing about this approach is that if you prefer to use the pen as a piston filler, you can simply insert the converter and leave it; you do not have to re-open the pen to fill the converter.

Sheaffer's illustration of the Intrigue fountain pen's filler
(courtesy Chuck Swisher)

The business end of the Intrigue sports a slightly modernized version of Sheaffer's classic inlaid point; in the "colder" finishes such as those seen here, the 14k point gets a silvery palladium plating. The point is quite rigid and very smooth, which of course is perfectly in keeping with Sheaffer tradition going back to the nineteen-teens. Sheaffer gives us a solid 14k point here for what has to be reckoned a bargain price.

The Intrigue also came in twist-action ballpoint and capped rollerball models, but the most unusual of the writing modes would have to be the fully-automatic 0.7mm pencil; unlike most other mechanical pencils, the Intrigue does not have to be "clicked" during writing in order to advance the lead; you can simply continue writing and the lead will automatically advance itself as needed.

Sheaffer Intrigue Inlaid Point, 14k with palladium plating.
The snap-cap is secured by the black biscuit-like ring just behind the point.

For all its style, the Intrigue does have a few idiosyncracies and boo-boos.

  • The Intrigue's slip cap is one of the more puzzling designs you'll find these days. It has to be reattached by pushing it straight on, and then wiggling a bit from side-to-side to get the best fit. Even experienced fountain-pen mavens can experience momentary confusion trying to get this pen re-capped, so this might be a good reason to retain the cap when you offer your Intrigue for someone else to try.
  • When used as a piston filler, the Intrigue can sometimes feel a bit vague; you can't see the converter as you work it, so you don't always know whether your're filling or emptying, and while the converter will stop turning at either limit, it isn't with the kind of precision feel you expect from, say, a Pelikan or even an OMAS. Still, this is a problem only when you operate the filler; otherwise, the pen feeds and writes exceptionally well.
  • The point section is designed to be removed for cleaning (Sheaffer's instructions recommend this), but the joint where it meets the barrel is a bit weak. It's too easy to cross-thread the point unit, which can open a small crack in the barrel lip. I wouldn't call this a horrible catastrophe by any means, since the pen continues to write and generally won't leak unless you force it somehow, but it does seem like something that would have been easy to fix with a bit of product-improvement money from BIC. I've had two of my Intrigues back to the factory, where they were cheerfully repaired by Sheaffer's top-notch repair department (these pens are covered by Sheaffer's limited lifetime warranty).

On the other hand, you can forgive this pen quite a bit when you take into account that it listed for only $140 (and was typically discounted to near the $100 mark), which is a true bargain price for an authentic gold-pointed pen of any kind, let alone one with such innovative style.

The Verdict

I'm truly sorry to see the Intrigue go. I found its combination of style, technical gee-whiz, and value-for-money to be irresistable such that I eventually accumulated six examples of the line. It leaves a pretty big gap in the Sheaffer fountain pen line, between the steel pointed Agio and Prelude models and the top-line Legacy Heritage. Whether there will be anything to fill this gap remains to be seen, as indeed whether there will be any U.S.-made Sheaffers at all in the near future.

On the other hand, this creates an opportunity for you to buy one of the remaining models from Sheaffer dealers at blowout prices. At a street price of $100, they were already very reasonably priced, and they'll be that much better at closer to $60.

The Intrigue is not oversize, but is girthy and substantial enough for those who prefer something to hold onto, and its true-blue Sheaffer rigid point writes well and can go through multipart forms like, er, a whale shark through an unfortunate seal. The style is very dramatic and attention-grabbing, and its effect is enhanced by the clever high-tech color and finish variations that Sheaffer offers. To accompany the fountain pen, you can get matching ballpoints, capped rollerballs, and one of the few truly automatic (self-advancing) 0.7mm pencils available in the world today.

The pen uses Sheaffer's standard (but proprietary) cartridges, which are widely available in office supply and drug stores. Be aware that the Intrigue's converter is a one-of-a-kind part; standard Sheaffer converters will not work. You might consider ordering a spare or two when you buy your Intrigue.

Maker Sheaffer
Origin USA (Fort Madison, IA)
Production 2000-2004
Type Cartridge or fixed Piston fill
Point 14k (some with palladium plating), rigid.
Construction Metal and plastic.