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Sheaffer's Balance (vintage jade green)


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#1 jandrese

jandrese

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Posted 15 February 2008 - 02:35

Photos of this pen can be found at my website, www.howdoesitwrite.com



Introduction

This review is of a circa 1929 Sheaffer’s Balance in jade green Radite. The pen was purchased from the website of David Isaacson, www.(bleep).com, which is a great resource for vintage fountain pens. I had been on the lookout for a vintage Balance for some time, but I could not decide on which color to get. Being partial to the jade color ever since I picked up a Sheaffer’s flat-top in jade, I jumped at the chance to buy this pen. David’s description of the pen sounded great; “superb color”, “razor sharp” imprint, “near mint” nib, etc. I sent David an email in hopes the pen was still available, it was, and I placed my order right then. I couldn’t wait to receive the pen. When I did, I was very impressed. Although it wanted to use it right away, I forwarded the pen, along with a Parker Vacumatic, on to Ron Zorn at www.mainstreetpens.com. The Parker needed restoration, and the Sheaffer needed a silicone ink sac. Several weeks later I received both pens and set about writing with them.

Design

Familiar to generations of pen users, Sheaffer’s Balance looks as fresh today as it must have in 1920’s. Early advertisements emphasize the “scientific weight distribution” and suggest that the Balance is perfect for long writing sessions. Made from Radite (Sheaffer’s name), a plastic form of partially nitrated cellulose, the pen is lightweight and vividly colored. Few, if any, modern plastics are as wonderfully colored as early pens made from celluloid. Modern pens made from celluloid are usually expensive, and only a few match the outstanding colors seen in pens of the Golden Age. Just as described by David Isaacson on his website, my vintage Balance has superb color. The jade green is radiant and subtly varied. Compared to many, if not most, vintage jade green pens, this one is devoid of the standard black discoloration that is due to rubber offgassing. Indeed, numerous people, including big pen nerds such as Ron Zorn, have commented on how beautiful my Balance is. The only place on the pen that shows even a hint of discoloration is just above the grip section, right beneath the base of the cap when it is screwed on. This is minor, however, consisting of slight darkening of the green plastic.

The gold nib is stamped 5-30, which I understand means that the pen was to have cost $5 and be warranted for 30 years. Well, that time is up but the nib is still in great condition. A medium tip such as this seems relatively rare in a vintage pen. This may be a misperception of mine, but it is supported by an interview I once read with a retired Sheaffer’s employee who used to make nibs. He mentioned that many early nibs were fine or extra fine, and that he took extra pride in making these nibs. Medium nibs show little line variation between vertical and horizontal strokes (unlike a quality fine nib) and were thus uninteresting to this man. Whatever the reason, consumers apparently used to prefer fine nibs.

A standard size Balance, my pen is both shorter and thinner than I prefer. In addition, contrary to Sheaffer’s early ads, the grip section is small. The black grip section is, however, flared out at the base and forms a nice place to rest your fingertip when writing. Also standard for a Balance of this era is the long humped clip. I really like this clip. It has character, and it is functional since it easily accommodates fabric of different thickness. Modern pens with boring straight clips would do well to copy this design.

Use

Capped, the Balance is indeed well-balanced. Without the cap the pen is too light to be used comfortably. As mentioned above, the grip section is short and only my fingertips rest on it. I find that I actually grip the pen mostly around the threads. Since I prefer a bigger pen, it is perhaps surprising that I find the Balance easy to write with. There may be something to Sheaffer’s claim of scientific design.

In use, it takes only a light touch to put ink on paper. Ink flow is usually consistent and appropriate. There is no line variation, and no flex to the nib. Similar to Sheaffer’s Lifetime nibs, this nib is as hard as a nail. Thus, there is nothing fancy about the nib. The nib just works. What more can you ask for really? It certainly shames many a modern nib. Not just a looker, this pen is a good writer too.

It is not a perfect pen though. Sometimes, and for no apparent reason, a big drop of ink will gush forth from the pen. It is a lever filler, but that is no excuse. It is old, and that may be an excuse, although I have modern pens that sometimes squeeze out a drop of ink. So why can’t the old Balance just be perfect? For some reason, it seems that too much air is entering the ink sac. Given that the sac was just replaced by a capable person, I will assume that the sac is well attached to the section. It may be then that the feed does not fit as tightly as it should. I will look into this possibility but I probably won’t try to do much of anything myself; I don’t want to inadvertently damage the pen.

Summary

The jade green Balance is a great addition to my collection. Small but comfortable to write with, it has a nice medium nib. Somewhat of a wet writer, it is perhaps a little too wet at times! Curiously, that it sometimes dribbles ink really does not bother me that much. I just can’t get mad at a pen this pretty for dropping a little ink now and then. If you like vintage pens, and if you get a chance to buy a nicely preserved jade green Balance, don’t think about it, just put down your money and enjoy!


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