As I said in a previous review, the first thing you notice about any pen is how it looks. Even before you pick it up to write, you get to look it over. Here we have an all-time classic: the Sheaffer Balance. This particular model is the standard length, thin girth variant with the $8.75 price code on it. The color is, obviously, black. This particular Balance also offers the mid-late '30s streamlined clip with flat top ball end. The White Dot appears above the clip. The Balance is a classic piece of "streamlined" design from the 1930s. I've never given a 10 for appearance, but this is as damned close as I've come. If you like classic and you liked a clean, streamlined design. The nib is simple, but elegant with its two tone coloration and nice engraving.
II. Feel In Hand: 9/10
The Balance is very light in-hand. Posting adds some weight, but unposted the pen is quite light. Posted the pen feels to be of moderately light weight still. I would call the feel of this pen as nice and light, but nothing special. So why the very high score? It's simple- the Balance series offered different girths so there's something for everyone. If you like the feel of, say a TM Touchdown or Snorkel's girth- then consider the slim Balance. If you like a big fat pen- try an oversized. No matter what your preference, you can find something in the ballpark by choosing your model. While the pen is pretty light weight, you get the added benefit of nice variety in feel. The pen, true to its name, remains fairly balance posted or not. It isn't perfect, but nothing is. I'll give it a nice 9.
III. Filling: 9/10
This Balance is a lever fill. "So what!" you may say. However, that's exactly my point in this category. As mundane as a lever action is- it's common for a reason: it's reliable and simple. The lever fill system fills simply and once you're familiar with the process you really can't go wrong. The down side, of course, is that you need to make sure your sac is pliable and the press bar is working correctly, but beyond that there isn't too much to it. I actually go higher in this category for the lever than for the Touchdown model. I know some people will certainly disagree- but the lever fills simply and reliable without the use of air seals (which often require fixing for restorers in addition to the sac). The lever is timeless. DISCLAIMER: This review does NOT cover Sheaffer Vacuum Fills. These are totally different than levers. I am NOT a vacuum fill expert.
IV. Writing: 9/10
But how does it write? This nib is the two tone Sheaffer Lifetime in a fine width. It is a firm nib with little flex. It writes in a fine line, but it is not scratchy because the flow is quite generous with most inks I've tried. The nib is fairly smooth, with a little bit of tooth to it. It's certainly a nice writing nib. It is not as smooth as the Pelikan or the Triumph nibs I have reviewed in the past, but still very nice for longer writing sessions. The nib is much easier to control than a Pelikan medium I tried. The pen gets a 9/10.
V. Durability: 8.5/10
These original Balance pens are now quite old and many are made from Celluloid. Care must be taken to ensure they are not left in extreme environments. This is true of almost all fountain pens though. It's not as durable as modern plastics or metal pens, but it's nothing fragile to hide away either. It gets a decent score.
The Mechanical Pencil:
The Balance Mechanical Pencil you see is not a match for the pen, but it's still a wonderful companion. The striped celluloid is downright beautiful. The clip is a humped one with the Sheaffer'S logo on it. A clutch system holds the (often) 0.9mm lead. It extends and retracts by turning the cap. A small eraser is housed under the cap, but chances are that after 70 or so years it's dead. To access it you just pull the cap straight off. Just remember that it loads from the muzzle/tip and not from the cap (as modern ones do).
What to look for:
The fountain pen-
-WATCH FOR WHETHER IT'S A VACUUM FILL or a LEVER FILL!!! (this review covers ONLY LEVER fill)
-new sac and a functioning lever that moves without a struggle, and doesn't flap around freely
-nibs of this vintage can vary in terms of flex- take your pick of them. Most I've encountered tend to be more rigid, especially compared to the Mabie Todds and Watermans of old. The nib, as always, should be free of defects and should write fairly smoothly, though a bit of tooth is often present. This is normal, and you will find a different effect on different papers and with different inks.
-the visulated section will often be ambered a bit- but do take care that you can see at least the shadow of the ink moving in the section. Beware of pens where it looks like gunk is stuck in the visulated section. This could be a sign that it was loaded with improper ink (though this is not necessarily the case always). Buy at your own risk in that case- you may find a mess, you may not.
-beware of corrosion on the lever as it means you could have corrosion on the pressure bar as well. Replace badly damaged parts as always.
-the section should fit snugly and tightly to the barrel
-check the cap lip for cracks- the threads are usually plastic or celluloid on the same, so cracks may be present sometimes
-you will need bottled ink as the pen doesn't take a modern cartridge
-with celluloid models beware of celluloid damage like cracks or celluloid shrinkage. A little shrinkage may be present, but heavy-duty shrinkage could cause problems
-as always with a lever fill- watch out for cracks around the lever slot
-don't necessarily be put off by non-lifetime models, a good non White dot instrument is often a great pen still
The Mechanical Pencil
-make sure the lead and clutch engage and that turning the cap extends and retracts the lead
-get yourself some 0.9mm leads: you can get them at office supply stores still. I even got mine at a corner drugstore
-get yourself a new eraser, preferably a free-standing one. The old eraser will probably be dead, and you probably don't want to be taking the cap off all the time; so it may actually be easier just to get a little block eraser. I got one locally for a few cents
-with celluloid models beware of celluloid damage like cracks or celluloid shrinkage
The Final Word
The Balance is a classic, plain and simple. You can get a nice writing classic from the 20s, 30s, or 40s that also has the period "streamlined look". They offer a good value too, as they can be had for less than many new pens sell for, and certainly much less than high-grade collector pens sell for. Just remember to out for LEVER VERSUS VACUUM FILL. A Vacuum Fill will most likely need a professional restoration, whereas a lever fill is much simpler. As an added bonus the pencil runs on lead and eraser supplies that can easily still be had. The Balance is a hardcore collector's dream- there are quite a lot of different finishes, sizes, and vintages. I recommend them highly for those looking for a basic, classic user, or for hardcore collectors. There really is something for everyone here because of the variety. They don't write or look half bad either!
Edited by Ray-Vigo, 11 January 2008 - 05:06.