You are on page 1of 3

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffers Snorkel

Page 1 of 3

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffers Snorkel

(Revised February 24, 2012)

[ Reference Info Index | Glossary ]

The Struggle to Survive: In 1952, Sheaffer introduced the most complicated fountain pen ever
designed. This pen, the famous Snorkel, was designed to compete with the burgeoning popularity of
ballpoint pens by virtue of its simple, convenient filling system that eliminated the mess commonly
associated with fountain pens. To fill the Snorkel, the user extends a small tube that is normally hidden
within the feed; only the Snorkel tube is immersed in the ink, and there is no need to wipe off excess
ink after filling. For about a decade, the Snorkel did compete successfully, with a range of models
culminating in 1959s PFM, the Pen For Men. This article illustrates a pen similar to a Sentinel or a
Valiant, with Sheaffers conical TRIUMPH nib; the company also produced Snorkels with the traditional
open nib. The illustrations depict the pen with its proportions altered for illustrative purposes.
Monkey Motion: To make the Snorkels filling system simple for the user meant that the pen would
have to be complicated internally. The first figure shows the pen with various parts cut away to reveal
the inner workings. You can see immediately that there are a large number of parts:

The Snorkel uses the Touchdown filling system that Sheaffer introduced in 1949, but in the Snorkel the
entire filling system moves within the pen. This movement is accomplished by redesigning the section
that it becomes only a small bit of hard rubber that secures the sac and the Snorkel tube; it is called
the sac section. The sac protector is a tight slip fit over the saC section, so that the assembly
becomes a moderately strong cartridge that can slide back and forth in grooves on the inside of the
gripping section, which has replaced the original section to provide a finger hold.
The Snorkel tube is fitted through a small hole in the hard rubber section; it passes through the point
holder gasket and extends to the end of a hole that has been drilled through the feed to accommodate
it. The Snorkel tube contains a secondary feed, in the form of a slender strip of hard rubber with an ink
fissure. There are small slots near the end of the tube; these slots allow ink to leak from the inside of
the tube to the outside. Once outside the Snorkel tube, the ink finds that there is also a slit cut in the
main feed, and capillary action draws the ink through that slit to fill the comb fins and deliver the ink to
the nib in the same way as with an ordinary feed and nib.
The back end of the coupling ring screws into the gripping section to secure the point holder gasket in
place. The feed slips into the coupling ring, and the nib screws onto the front end of the coupling ring to
secure the feed in place.
The sac protector is threaded for part of its length. At the front end of the threaded portion is a ring into
which one end of the spring fits; the other end of the spring presses against a ledge on the interior of
the barrel.The Touchdown tube is threaded to match the sac protector; and the blind cap, unlike the
blind cap in the ordinary Touchdown system, is not threaded.
The interior of the pen is sealed airtight by the point holder gasket, the O-ring, the threaded joint
between the barrel and the gripping section, and a gasket that seals the screw securing the Touchdown
tube to the blind cap. Air can enter only through a dimpled groove in the Touchdown tube near the blind
cap and through a hole in the Touchdown tube near the tubes threaded portion. The dimpled groove is
open at the beginning of the Touchdown tubes travel as it is extended from the pen, and the hole is
open when it passes the O-ring as the Touchdown tube reaches its full extension. If any of the four
sealing points leaks, the pen will not fill properly.


Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffers Snorkel

Page 2 of 3

How It Works: As you can see, the spring tries to force the sac protector (and the rest of the
cartridge) forward, extending the Snorkel tube. The blind cap and Touchdown tube prevent this. The
following figures show the filling process in five steps. You can also view an animation of the process
(download time: about 40 seconds at 56K).
First, the user unscrews the blind cap, releasing the cartridge so that the spring can slide it forward.

Next, the user extends the Touchdown tube. A partial vacuum builds up, but the sac protector keeps
the sac from distending. As the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its outward travel, air enters the
barrel through the hole near the threaded end of the tube.

The user immerses the tip of the Snorkel tube in the ink and then presses quickly down on the blind
cap. This restores the Touchdown tube to its rest position, compressing air as the tube travels. The
compressed air squeezes the sac. The following illustration shows the pen at the instant just before the
pressure is released by the dimpled groove when the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its travel;
note the squeezed sac.

When the Touchdown tube reaches the end of its travel, pressure is released. As the sac resumes its
normal shape, external air pressure forces ink into the sac.


Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffers Snorkel

Page 3 of 3

Last, the user screws down the blind cap again. The threads on the Touchdown tube engage the threads
on the sac protector, drawing the cartridge backward against the spring. The Snorkel tube disappears
into the section, and the user returns to writing.

Is It Working Right? To test a Snorkel, fill it with water. Aim the filled pen in some harmless
direction. Extend the Touchdown tube and then depress it quickly. If all the seals are working right, the
pen will shoot a stream of water that can travel about six feet (2 m).

Other Anatomy Articles






I: A Typical Lever Filler

II: The Parker Vacumatic
IV: The Parker 51 (Aero-metric Version)
V: Sheaffers Vacuum-Fil

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative. If you
have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our

Contact Us | About Us | Privacy Policy


Related Interests