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Sheaffer Pen for Men (PFM)

1959 magazine ad for the Sheaffer PFM V (courtesy Jim Mamoulides of http://www.penhero.com/)  

A pen for men? What's that all about? Does it dispense Viagra and Propecia in addition to Skrip? Is it decorated in camouflage, emblazoned with NFL team logos? Does it use a carabiner for a clip?

Alas, the answer to all of these questions is no. What Sheaffer was getting at with the name for their new pen, I think, was to identify it with the emerging 1960s ideal for masculine design: simple styling, subdued colors, and a minimum of decoration and nomenclature, tastefully applied.

By way of analogy, consider what was happening to the contemporary American car -- it was losing its tailfins and two-tone paint jobs in favor of long, low, and relatively straight-line and sober styles. Similarly, fashions in mens' clothing were also undergoing big changes.

On the other hand, the most apparent feature of the PFM, its large girth, was one element that didn't necessarily gibe with the tight suits, skinny lapels, and thin ties of the Kennedy years. Still, this was itself an attempt to break free of the slender designs that had become fashionable in the 1950s (a fashion that Sheaffer themselves helped create with their "Thin Model" pen). It was also a discreet manifestation of the seemingly inborn male human conviction that "size matters." The PFM also fits right in (at least in size, if not in ostentation) with the current generation of oversize top-line pens from the major makers (like the Montblanc 149, the Pelikan 1000, and the OMAS 360.

The PFM enjoys an even larger-than-life reputation among collectors, and may well be one of the most celebrated and avidly-sought of postwar U.S. pens. Andreas Lambrou writes (in Fountain Pens of the World) that, "Many collectors view [the PFM] as one of the best fountain pens ever made," and given its combination of scarcity, size, style, historic interest, and performance, he isn't exaggerating by much.

Sheaffer PFM V, black with gold-fill cap, c 1959

The PFM was introduced in 1959 to become Sheaffer's new flagship pen during a period in which Sheaffer enjoyed more market share than any other U.S. maker (well, not that there were many of these left, with Waterman having gone under and Eversharp having merged with Parker). It was available in five simply-defined and simply-named trim variations, selling between $10 and $25, with the plastics offered in five rather conservative solid colors (black, burgundy, blue, gray, and green). Interestingly, Sheaffer seems to have avoided the temptation to create solid gold or other "jewelry-grade" PFMs (although there are rumors). The model lineup is given below:

PFM I

Plastic cap and barrel, nickel plate clip and cap band, palladium silver point. No white dot.

PFM II

Frosted steel cap, nickel plate clip and cap band, plastic barrel, palladium silver point

PFM III

Plastic cap and barrel, gold fill clip and cap band, 14k gold point

PFM IV

Stainless steel cap, gold fill clip, gold fill "heel," 14k gold point.

PFM V

Gold plated cap, gold fill clip and "heel", 14k gold point.

Comparably-trimmed mechanical pencils were available both separately and in sets. One additional model, the Autograph (now very rare), was a black PFM III with an engraveable solid 14k cap band; like previous Sheaffer Autograph pens, you could send your PFM Autograph back to the factory upon purchase, where Sheaffer artisans would duplicate your signature into the gold band. All PFMs, with the exception of the PFM I, carried the Sheaffer White Dot, marking them as high-line pens (although the famous Lifetime warranty was gone for the moment).

The PFM had roughly the length and girth of an old 1930s full-size Balance pen, and most of the shape, although Sheaffer added a snazzy bit of detail by tapering both ends to a square cross-section. On the gold-pointed metal-capped PFM IV and V models, Sheaffer added square bit of metal (which I'll call a "heel") to the end of the barrel to emphasize the shape and to balance out the stylistic effect of the metal caps.

The clips were simple in design and decidedly broad and rectangular (compared to the graceful curves of the TM clips), and were internally sprung to allow them to open nice and wide to fit in jacket pockets.

The PFM was also the first Sheaffer to use a slip-cap rather than a screw-on cap; the cap was held in place by three spring-loaded buttons or pegs arranged around the foot of the section. The plastic caps, being of a heaver gauge than the metal ones, were quite a bit wider than the barrels; Sheaffer solved this styling problem by fitting wide, tapered cap bands in nickel plate, gold fill, or (on the Autograph) solid gold.

Once you get that cap off, you see the "Inlaid point," the newest and most distinctive feature of the PFM; this was a trapezoid of gold (or palladium silver), formed to a subtle compound-curve shape, with an upturned tip; this point was simply laid onto the front of the section, on top of the feed, allowing the pen's barrel color to show through a cutout. Like the earlier Triumph nib (which was still available in other Sheaffer models), this achieved the streamlined effect of Parker's hooded points, but still allowed the proud owner to display plenty of precious metal as he wrote his checks or signed his new-fangled charge card receipts. The Inlaid point soon became a Sheaffer signature, and was used on the Imperial, the Targa, and numerous other Sheaffer models down to the current Intrigue. For a time in the 1960s, a stylized inlaid point motif was used as a Sheaffer corporate logotype. I know of few other penmakers who've been quite as creative and accomplished in shaping the point and integrating it into the overall design of the pen.

These Inlaid points, like the Triumphs, are a bit harder (if not impossible) to remove and reset than conventional pen points, but they seldom seem to need such treatment during restoration. Typically for Sheaffers, the PFM's inlaid point writes very firmly and smoothly. Sheaffer catalogs show a total of eight nib grades, from accountant (extra-extra-fine) to broad and stub. The PFMs I and II actually used palladium-silver points, continuing the practice of offering non-gold points in entry-level high-line pens as a way to keep prices low.

The filler for the PFM was the old tried-and-true snorkel system. The larger diameter of the PFM allowed Sheaffer engineers to fit a larger sac for greater ink capacity than was possible with the old TM Snorkel pens.

Unfortunately, the PFM apparently failed to make a huge hit with buyers; as a result, 1963 was the last year in which all five PFMs were offered, and even the PFM III and V were gone by 1968. Still, the PFM left big legacy (ahem) for future Sheaffer pens; many of its features carried over directly to the Imperial line, and the Inlaid point, of course, survives to this day on Sheaffer's top-line pens.

Sheaffer Imperial (top) and PFM (bottom); even when they're photographed
side-by-side, it can be difficult to see the difference. which is much more obvious
when you hold them in your hand.

In the late 1990s, Sheaffer resurrected the PFM in the form of a new all-metal pen called the Legacy. A few years later, with a revised snap-cap design (identifiable by a bright metal ring around the base of the section rather than the three spring clutches), the pen was rechristened the Legacy 2. The Legacy has the general size and shape of the PFM, but lacks the snorkel filler; still, it can be operated as a fixed Touchdown filler, or if you prefer can be fed with standard Sheaffer cartridges (the most recent Legacy Heritage models do not have the Touchdown feature, and are instead filled with standard Sheaffer converters or cartridges). The Legacy has been offered in a much wider variety of colors and finishes than were ever contemplated for the PFM, including wild colorful stenciling and expensive precious-metal platings (and solid sterling silver). This newer pen is a bit heavier than the plastic PFM, but this may be what many modern fine-pen buyers expect and prefer.

Sheaffer Legacy 2 with matté black cap and sandblasted platinum plate barrel,
Touchdown/cartridge filler, c 2004

The Verdict

You want a PFM? Sure, buddy, just get in line. The commanding reputation of this pen, and its relative scarcity (owing to a rather short model run), ensure that prices will stay high. If you find one in the wild, expect to have to get the snorkel filler rebuilt with a new sac; fortunately, this is a common repair and not terribly expensive (you are advised to seek out a professional for this work, it may be a bit beyond the first-timer, as I note elsewhere).

Don't be put off by the "FM" part of PFM: many women I know enjoy using these pens for their size, light weight, and writing performance.

If you really like the PFM but don't want to pay the price, you have a couple of alternatives: the plentiful, widely-varied, and inexpensive Imperial and Triumph Imperial models (which are a bit slimmer than the PFM, but have its same basic shape), or the current Legacy models, which even in their most expensive forms often sell for less than a good-condition original PFM.

Maker Sheaffer
Origin USA
Production 1959-1968
Type Snorkel filler
Point 14k or palladium-silver Sheaffer Inlaid points
Construction Plastic barrel with plastic, steel, or gold-filled caps.