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Richard Binder's website

Sheaffer’s Flat-Top Pens

From the fountain pen of Richard Binder
Sheaffer’s Flat-Top Pens
1922 BCHR Lifetime pen
Subtlety Is the Spice of the Flat-Top: The Sheaffer Pen Company produced Flat-Top fountain pens from 1912 until some time after the middle of the 1930s, possibly as late as 1940. (“Flat-Top” is not Sheaffer’s name for this design.) There were many changes in the design, some quite subtle and some not so subtle. This article illustrates parts of several pens to show you the different features that appeared on the Flat-Top Sheaffers. This information can help you to determine the age of a pen you own or are considering buying. The information here is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative.
I am very grateful to Allan Fuld, who compiled much of the information and lent me most of the pens that are illustrated.
Clip Evolution: The Sheaffer company used two styles of clips on Flat-Top pens, with a total of three variations. Until 1922, clips were straight and were imprinted with the words SHEAFFER-CLIP. They were mounted very near the end of the cap, as seen in the following picture:
SHEAFFER-CLIP clip imprint
In 1922, the imprint was changed to correspond with the company logo, as seen here:
Sheaffer's clip imprint
This imprint continued in use until the 1930s, when it was streamlined to a more modern typeface to correspond with a change in the company logo.
Sometime around 1927, the clip design was changd to the humped style that later appeared on Sheaffer’s Balance pens. (Some sources date this changeover to 1925.) The humped clip was mounted lower on the cap for a more elegant appearance. Here are two caps, one with a straight clip and one with a humped clip; note that the humped clip still has a round ball:
Cap with straight clip Cap with round ball humped clip
Barrel Imprints: Early Flat-Tops have a barrel imprint that includes patent dates, as shown here:
The size of the imprint changed from time to time, and some of the hyphens were replaced with periods:
At some time after 1927, the text style was changed slightly and the patent dates were removed:

For a Lifetime: Sheaffer introduced the Lifetime pen in 1920. The term “Lifetime” signified that the pen was guaranteed against defects for the life of the original owner. This early Lifetime pen has a solid spear feed and a nib with the three-line imprint shown here:
1920 spear feed 1920 Lifetime nib SHEAFFER’S

Within a year or two, Sheaffer changed the nib imprint. There are still three lines, but the third line is now a patent notice. The feed remains the same:
1921 Lifetime nib SHEAFFER’S

The next change occurs with the appearance of a new serrated feed. The notches in this feed are broad and are widely spaced. The nib remains the same:
1922 serrated feed
The White Dot Appears: In 1923, Sheaffer added a white dot to the center of the cap on Lifetime models. The Sheaffer White Dot became famous and has appeared on all Lifetime pens since its introduction. The nib and feed were unchanged at this time. (Note that this pen is foreshortened in this view. It is actually the same length as the green pen below.)
Early White Dot Flat-Top pen
The Plastic Pen: In 1924, Sheaffer introduced a Lifetime model that was the first successful plastic pen. The material used was a pyroxylin plastic, which Sheaffer called Radite. It was available in black, jade green as shown here, and a mottled light-and-dark pattern called Pearl and Black.
1924-25 Radite Lifetime pen
Nib Serial Numbers: In 1926, the nib imprint was changed to the five-line version shown here. The fifth line is a serial number that is also stamped on the back side of the nib. The feed is still the flat serrated feed.
1923-26 5-line nib imprint SHEAFFER’S


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Toward the end of Flat-Top production, two changes in feed design occur. First, in about 1938, Sheaffer introduced a streamlined crowned feed reminiscent of the old spear feed. This new feed is serrated like the flat feed, but the serrations are finer and closer together, making it a true “comb” feed:
1938 streamlined comb feed
Within about a year, the streamlined feed appears with comb cuts all the way around. The greater comb surface allows the feed to hold a larger quantity of ink:
1939 full-comb feed
Variations on a Theme: The lady’s pen shown below has a flat serrated feed and a Lady Lifetime nib bearing a four-line imprint without a serial number. The clip is the flat ball humped design that was introduced around 1935:
Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer pen Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer cap
Late 1930s Lady Sheaffer nib SHEAFFER’S

Here is a cap whose White Dot has been moved to the side, over the clip. This pen also has a flat ball humped clip, and its full-comb feed implies that the pen was made during or after 1939, very near the end of Flat-Top production:
Late 1930s cap with White Dot on side
Here is a relatively unusual pen. This ring-top lady’s pen has a two-tone FeatherTouch nib and a full-comb feed:
Late 1930s ring-top pen Late 1930s ring-top cap
Late 1930s ring-top nib SHEAFFER’S

Sources of information for this article include old Sheaffer catalogs, Allan Fuld, Andreas Lambreau, Schneider and Fischler, and the pens themselves.
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