(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.

(Mis)Adventures in Pen Resurrection: Sheaffer Valiant Vac-Fill

I guess I’ve developed a thing for fixing Sheaffer vacuum-fillers. Perhaps it’s the clever engineering in the design of the filling system, or the fact that these pens often worked for 60+ years before they began failing due to worn-out parts. I keep my eye out for cheap Sheaffer pens with restoration project potential, and I found this gorgeous Valiant at last month’s Portland Pen Meet-up.

This is a Sheaffer Valiant vacuum-filler with a white dot and Triumph Lifetime nib. I believe this pen dates to the mid-to-late 1940s. Like most vintage Sheaffers, it’s smaller than most modern pens. In comparison to the Sheaffer Balance line, it’s a bit fatter than the most common Balances, but not as big as an official “oversized” pen.

The trickiest part of pen restoration is getting the darn thing apart. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and the whole endeavor is nerve wracking because any mistake can result in a broken pen.

I started with a thorough cleaning: first soaking the pen in water, then in a 10:1 mixture of water and ammonia. That usually loosens things up enough for most pens to be disassembled, but not this one. I had to soak the nib and section in straight ammonia for a couple of days to dissolve the sealant on the nib unit threads. Then, a little heat from a hairdryer along with some gentle pressure allowed me to unscrew the nib unit from the section.

Once the nib unit and section were apart, I could fully disassemble the pen. This pen is a later version vacuum-filler that uses a cartridge for the filler assembly. These cartridges were intended to be disposable; back in the day, a Sheaffer pen repairperson would simply toss a bad cartridge and replace it with a new one. Unfortunately, new cartridges are fiendishly difficult to find these days, so restorers have had to come up with alternatives.

The primary parts that fail in vacuum-fillers are the gasket seal that creates the suction at the business end of the plunger, and the gasket that seals the plunger rod at the back of the barrel. I followed David Nishimura’s guide for plunger-filler repair to replace the worn gaskets on this pen.

The cartridge style vac-fills are much easier to fix than earlier ones because you can pull the entire unit out to work on it instead of having to do everything through the barrel. With the cartridge in hand, it was quick work to drill out the end of it, clean out the old packing seal, and replace it with a brand new gasket.

After that, I installed the new plunger gasket. Then I re-assembled the pen and did a few test fills with water. Satisfied with the results, I put thread sealant on the nib unit threads and filled the pen with ink. It wrote well, with no leaks!

This pen is made of a gorgeous striated carmine celluloid with gold filled trim.

The wide cap band is engraved with the name Ernest Schreiber. While not a proper Sheaffer “autograph” pen, I wonder if the engraving is a facsimile of its former owner’s.

The rest of the pen is in great shape, with a strong imprint and none of the usual knocks and dings.

I’ve gushed about Triumph nibs before, and while this one isn’t my “most-favoritist”, it’s a smooth writer that puts down a wet, medium line. I won’t say it’s a gusher, but plenty of ink gets to the page to show off shading and sheen.

I really love the engraving on these vintage Sheaffer nibs.

Restored vintage pens are expensive, but I’ve been able to dabble in vintage Sheaffers by looking out for inexpensive project pens that I can restore myself. I’ve found it helpful to remain laser-focused on one specific brand, accumulating knowledge about its various models and filling systems. Perhaps one day I’ll branch out into Parkers or Wahls, but Sheaffers are still keeping me busy. There’s so much left to learn.

Sheaffer Valiant Vac-Fill

This is one of my favorite pens. It writes like a typical vintage Sheaffer — a smooth nail, but there’s something about these Triumph nibs that makes me love them.

Restoring a vacuum-filler system can be tricky, but the internal cartridge made fixing this pen easy.

I’m particularly proud of this one, because of the skeptical look one of the gentlemen at the PDX pen meet-up gave me when I said I was going to restore this pen myself.

Waterman Inspired Blue