Sunday, January 27, 2013

Here's Where This May Have Come From

Sometimes the way you find things teaches you as much as the things themselves. Today’s story involves this Sheaffer Fineline set, which I found in an antique mall over in Columbus, priced waaay to high for what it is:

This particular dealer had just a few pens and pencils, some priced too high and a couple things priced really low, with no rhyme nor reason as to the age of the items sold, the manufacturer or the quality. So even though I don’t have any paperwork to prove it, this particular seller knew so little about what they were selling that I believe this was a set as it came into his or her possession.

What had this set calling to me from several feet away – and what now has that particular dealer thinking this set was actually worth what I paid for it – was the difference in the color between the cap on the pencil and the cap on the pen:

Note that the pen is as mint as it can possibly be, with even the little paper price wafer still present under the clip. Yet while the pen cap has turned darker and shows signs of corrosion, the pencil cap is still bright and very attractive:

Note also that while the cap on the pen is marked "Fineline," the pencil clip is marked "Sheaffers."

I would expect the pencil cap to match the pen cap more closely, with the same quality of plating and the "Fineline" name on the clip, because pencils that look like this pen are a common sight. Here’s a picture of them, as shown on page 144 of The Catalogue:

All of these have that cheap electroplated cap, and all say "Fineline" on the clip. Every so often you’ll find one with the Fineline Division logo on the back of the cap, but more often than not the only marking is the word "Fineline" on the clip.

However, mostly because I found this pen and pencil together, from a seller who wouldn’t appear to know anything about them, I conclude that at some point, Sheaffer made just a few Fineline sets with pencils bearing nicer gold filled caps and "Sheaffers" on the clip.

And this conclusion clarifies something I wrote about here back on July 9, 2012, in "Sheaffer Guys Showing Off In Raleigh" (see In that article, I profiled a pencil Dan Reppert brought to show to me with a cap identical to the one on this pencil:

At the time, I’d concluded that Dan's pencil probably wasn’t a frankenpencil, mostly because if the cap didn’t belong with that pencil, I couldn’t imagine what else it would have gone with.  Could it have come from a lowly Fineline set?  When I took an ordinary beadband Sheaffer pencil and tried switching the caps with the one on my new find:

A perfect fit.  This is identical to the one Dan showed me.

I called Dan to ask him to review my draft of this article and asked him what he thought. After he looked at the pictures, Dan agreed with me that the set I found is probably as it was shipped from the factory – we both know that’s mostly speculation, based on the mint condition of the set and the circumstances in which it was I found. But Dan also added a few more details that make this story even more interesting.

First, he said that Sheaffer was very protective of what products bore the Sheaffer name rather than the lower-priced "Fineline" name. That poses an interesting question: would Sheaffer allow its Fineline Division to put a higher-quality plated cap marked "Sheaffer" on a pencil to accompany a lower quality Fineline pen as a set?

Second, Dan reports that the Fineline factory was a distinct manufacturing facility located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, some forty miles northwest of Fort Madison. So if Fineline didn’t make these caps, how did the cap, pencil and pen get together? Would Sheaffer have made pencil caps in Fort Madison – identical to the Fineline caps except for the plating and the clip – and ship them 40 miles to be put on pencils to match Fineline pens?

So the who (Sheaffer or Fineline), where (Fort Madison or Mount Pleasant) why and how remain unanswered as to this one. The what is about the only thing we’ve got a bit of a handle on, and that is summed up best in the word Dan used when I spoke with him:


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