Pen of the Week: Sheaffer Lifetime Balance with Military Clip

Sheaffer Lifetime Balance + Sheaffer Skrip Blue Black
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(Mis)Adventures in Pen Resurrection: Sheaffer Lifetime Balance Valiant

I’ve wanted a Sheaffer pen with a military clip for a while now, so when the opportunity to buy one presented itself at last month’s Northwest Pen Round-up, I jumped at the chance.

This user-grade, lever fill Sheaffer Lifetime Balance Valiant cost $10 in unrestored condition.

The beauty of lever fillers is that they’re relatively easy to fix. The filling mechanism is super simple: a thin latex sac attached to the section sits inside the barrel, and a lever on the outside is used to squeeze the sac so ink can be drawn inside it. It’s the same idea as the Pilot CON-20 converter, without needing to take the pen apart to fill it. Just submerge the nib and feed into ink and flip the lever.

I gave the pen a thorough cleaning and then took it apart to see what I was dealing with. The nib had a broken tine and the sac was ossified inside the barrel, but everything else was in good shape.

The old sac came out with some coaxing from a thin-bladed screwdriver. After that, I cut a new sac down to size and affixed it to the section nipple with shellac.

Replacing a vintage Sheaffer nib can be tricky since there are so many different sizes in the wild. Thankfully, I had another Lifetime Balance the same size that had a good nib but a barrel and trim in poor condition. Time for a nib swap.

The replacement nib is an extra fine. I’m seeing a tiny bit of ink seepage at the edge of the section around the feed, but this can be helped by heat-setting the nib against the feed. I plan to tackle that task once I’ve written the pen dry.

The nib was very scratchy when I first inked up the pen, so I spent a while adjusting the tines. I’m not usually a fan of Sheaffer extra fines, but this one is pretty nice. It’s not perfectly smooth — no extra fine nib is — but it’s more feedback-y than scratchy. It’s an enjoyable pen to write with. The section is comfortable and the Visulated (i.e. translucent) window makes it easy to see how much ink is left in the pen.

Sheaffer introduced the military clip variation of the Balance in 1941, to allow soldiers to conform to the US military regulation that required the flaps on uniform shirt pockets to be closed neatly. Typical pen clips of the time were set low on the cap. When clipped inside a shirt pocket, the clip would push the cap up against the flap, leading to a disheveled look. Richard Binder has an excellent article about the history of military clips if you’d like to wander down this lesser-known path of fountain pen knowledge.

The barrel and imprint are in great shape, but the trim does have some minor brassing. That’s fine with me — I wanted a pen I could use without worrying about keeping it pretty.

I’m pleased with how this pen turned out. It writes well, and the military clip makes it a unique addition to my collection.