Long Term Review: Sheaffer Balance II (x3)

 

Three Balance IIs and some Sheaffer old-stock ink

My first Sheaffer Balance II was the limited edition Aspen. I fell in love, despite some early problems. It joined my accumulation over 5 years ago, and it’s been filled at least 10 times since then. I say “at least” because I’m not consistent in recording when I refill a pen with the same ink. I liked it so much that I added two more Balance IIs within four months, the Jade Green and the Crimson Glow. All three pens have the same 18K gold two-tone Feather Touch nib.

The Aspen was released in 1999, while both the Crimson Glow and the Jade Green were part of the original regular product launch in 1998. There were some earlier limited editions in 1997.

The Aspen was know to have some flow issues when it was new, and mine had those issues when it arrived. It would write for about a page, then stop completely until the feed was primed. I sent it off to Mike Masuyama for adjustment and it’s been perfect since then. The Jade Green and Crimson Glow have both been fine from the start.

Officially, the nibs are all mediums, but they are much closer to a medium/fine. I’ve had western fine nibs that are wider (as was a Pelikan extra fine). I’m not typically a fan of two-tone nibs but I adore these nibs. Their look reminds me of vintage nibs, and there’s a lot of detail in the engraving.

The acrylic used for all three of these pens has a reputation of easily, and spontaneously, cracking. Mine are all in great shape (knock on wood). From what I read, it’s compressed acrylic with a lot of fractures that can cause cracking for no apparent reason. I buy my pens to use, and these are no different. I do handle them carefully. I don’t post the caps, which isn’t a problem since I don’t typically post my pens. I carry and store them in a slotted, cushioned, fully enclosed Visconti case. I never use the clips. I try to avoid my usual habit of fiddling with the cap in my left hand while I write.

The solid color versions of the Balance IIs don’t share the reputation for cracking, but they aren’t nearly as beautiful.

Based simply on the number of pens in my accumulation, Sheaffer is my favorite brand and these are among my favorite Sheaffer. The Aspen topped my favorite pen list in November 2015, although it dropped off a year later since I hadn’t used the pen that entire year. If I was to redo the list today (and it’s long overdue) I would put all three Balance IIs on the list, to share one of the top 5 slots.

I tend to use brown or gray inks in the Aspen. Although a couple other colors have found their way into the pen. Montblanc Permanent Grey is the ink I’ve used the most in this pen. All the inks have worked great. I don’t experiment with this pen, so it only gets ink I already know have good behavior.

A expected, the Crimson Glow often gets red ink, although the most used ink was Sheaffer Peacock Blue, from the days of inkwell bottles and maroon boxes. While I don’t usually like blue inks, I like the idea of using a classic Sheaffer ink in these pens. The turquoise ink has grown on me and the contrast with the red pen is nice.

The Jade Green Balance II has been used exclusively with green inks. Sheaffer Emerald Green is the most used ink while Montblanc Irish Green is the only other ink to be used more than once.

The Aspen is my clear favorite among the three pens. It has been pulled from the pen case and filled far more often than either of the other two.

In difference to their brittle nature, the Sheaffer Balance II fountain pens are not used for note taking, but only when I sit down for the sole purpose of writing. This is to limit the the number of times I uncap and cap the pens. Plus, when taking work notes I can be somewhat absent minded and be a little rougher with the pens, such as laying them on top of the ring binders in a notebook,being a little rough when putting it on my desk, or absently knocking it out of my way. Because of this, they can go a long time without being used. Occasionally I may need to hold the pen nib down to get the ink flowing, or even prime the nib, but they mostly start writing without any hesitation.

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen, Jade green and Crimson Glow are among my favorite fountain pens. They look great and are terrific writers. What’s not to like? Well, their fragility mainly. It’s what keeps me from using them more. Even though I’m working to trim the accumulation these pens will be staying with me, despite breaking the rule to avoid keeping pens that are similar in every way, except the acrylic.

Links

My Aspen Review

My Jade green and Crimson Glow This Just In post

Vintage Heartbreak

Broken Sheaffer Balance Oversize

It’s been a bad few weeks for me and my vintage Sheaffer Balance Oversize fountain pens. First my pearl grey Oversize wouldn’t fill, probably a pinhole in the sac. At least that’s within my ability to fix, as long as I don’t crack the pen removing the sac. But then things went downhill fast at the end of March. I inked up my Marine Green Balance Oversize and had been using is sporadically during the month. While nice, the big stub isn’t suited to my writing style so I just used it when I wanted a little variation. Plus it’s a gorgeous pen. Unfortunately when I went to pick it up the other day the cap came off and the pen stayed behind. I soon saw it wasn’t because the cap was simply loose, but it had sheared off above the cap band.

I can’t say I know how it happened. Because the pen isn’t suited to me it doesn’t travel out of the house. There isn’t any point since it’s extremely unlikely I’d use it. It lived in my Visconti 3-Pen Case most of the time where it’s well protected, or occasionally in a Dudek Modern Goods pen stand where it’s stored cap up, and the cap is completely above the stand.

I suppose I could have hit the pen and not noticed, but this seems unlikely. What I have noticed is that when I pick up a pen to use and twist the cap off (or on) I usually twist it from the top. I imagine this puts some stress on the cap as I twist it. So I’ll be changing my habit and start twisting the cap from down at it’s base by the cap band.

This damage is well beyond my ability to fix, and I may eventually see if I can send it off to be repaired. I’m conflicted about that decision. The pen is gorgeous, one of my favorites based strictly on looks. Yet, the nib just isn’t well suited to my writing style so I don’t use the pen very much.

The Sheaffer Balance Oversize was inked with Diamine 150th Anniversary Terracotta. I liked the ink and the wide stub nib provided some subtle shading.

Ink & Pen Notes: Sheaffer PFM I with Montblanc Lucky Orange

Sheaffer PFM I (capped) with Montblanc Lucky OrangeIt’s been awhile since I flushed a fountain pen of ink before I’ve written it dry. I’ve been writing them dry unless they become annoying to use. My vintage Sheaffer PFM I with its fine nib and Montblanc’s new Lucky Orange ink became that annoying pen and ink combination.

Other reviewers have mentioned that Lucky Orange has a tendency to dry out on the nib but it did OK in my Sailor King of Pen so I decided to give it a try in a thinner nib. The PFM I would be dry after spending the night stored nib up. But then gravity would quickly bring ink to the tip and the pen would write perfectly the rest of the day. So it wasn’t annoying or especially unusual.

The Sheaffer PFM I was in use for a couple of weeks, during which I enjoyed using it. The find nib and bright line meant it got used every day, even if it wasn’t a lot of use. Typically short notes or marking up a document. Then it spent a couple days flat on my desk and needed more than gravity to get going.

Sheaffer PFM I (extra fine) with dried Montblanc Lucky Orange

Dried ink clogging the feed

I could see the dried, crusty ink between the nib and the feed. A dry towel wasn’t enough to get things going. A little water would have fixed it, I’m sure. But I put the pen aside and picked another. When I did bring the pen to water it was to flush it out. I have little patience for finicky fountain pens these days. A problem that makes me get up from my desk to resolve is unforgivable.

As expected, cleaning the pen was a pain. This pen is a pain to clean even with the easiest to flush ink. In this case it was made worse because there was still plenty of ink in the pen. Staining wasn’t a problem and the crusty ink washed away quickly. But the orange dye remained, and remained. Once I got most of the ink out I started filling it with water and leaving it nib down in a tissue for several hours, then repeating whenever I get around to it.

I like the Montblanc Lucky Orange ink and will use it in another pen, although I’ll pick one that’s easy to clean and has a wet nib. The Sheaffer PFM I remains a favorite writer. The nib and size are ideal for me. I’ll stick to known well-behaved inks.

Sheaffer PFM I (extra fine) with Montblanc Lucky Orange writing sample

Sheaffer PFM I (extra fine) uncapped with Montblanc Lucky Orange

This Just In: Sheaffer Balance Oversize C.1934 In Gray Pearl and Red Veins

Sheaffer Balance Oversize Pearl Gray & Red Veins - capped on standMy second pen purchase at the 2016 DC Pen Show occurred Friday afternoon and gave me my vintage fix. It is a Sheaffer Balance Oversize c. 1934–1935 from Sarj Minhas.

I didn’t have any specific vintage pens in mind as I walked around the show. I like Parker Vacumatics and the Maxima is the model I can use regularly. The materials and nibs of vintage Sheaffers always draw me to them and the Balance Oversize is the model I can use regularly. These were the two most likely to draw my attention.

I view vintage pens differently than modern pens. While any new vintage would have to be a pen I could expect to use regularly, I’m unable to sell off vintage pens I know I won’t use. It feels like I’m selling a piece of history. But this made me determined to only buy one vintage pen and to make it one I knew I would use. Even though I’m a user and not a collector I wanted a pen as close to pristine as I could find and and was reliable. So even though Sarj’s pens are at the high end of the price spectrum I was willing to pay the price if I could find one.

I’ve always liked the pearl grey with red vein celluloid. This was the only Balance Oversize I saw in this material during my browsing on Friday. At least in a condition that was this good. It was also the only vintage pen I saw that I wanted. So despite the price I decided to get it. The pen is difficult to photographs as the gray in the pen changes depending on the light. This also makes it easy for the pen to mesmerize me as the color changes, often looking as different as green and red.

Since all my available inks were new to me I didn’t want to try them in a vintage sac filler, so the pen remained uninked on Friday. Then on Saturday I found some vintage (well, 1980–90’s) Sheaffer Sheaffer Peacock Blue in the yellow box/label. I had the dark red bottle version of this ink so it wasn’t entirely new to me and they would be a similar, if not identical formula. The ink seemed fine despite it’s age so I bought it and filled the pen later that day.

The pen is comfortable in my hand, as expected and the nib is great, also as expected. The nib is unlabeled but it’s approximately a fine. Writing is smooth with a good flow. It’s not a gushing writer yet the ink does noticeably pool a little bit between the nib and feed. Some ink also creeps out the heart cutout that’s above the nib slit. After writing a couple A5 pages a drop of ink did drop onto the paper while writing. Since then I’ve been more conscience of it and have dabbed the nib on a tissue if I see ink bleeding from the heart after a couple of pages. Carrying the pen around doesn’t result in any ink dripping or spatter and neither does moving the pen around normally like reaching for a paper or turning a page with pen in hand. So I won’t really call it a leak and the ink could be a contributing factor. It’s something I can live with and it won’t prevent me from taking the pen with me if I go to a coffee shop to do some writing. I wouldn’t bring it to a meeting to take notes, but I don’t use vintage pens in this situation anyway.

It’s a good performing pen and I love the material. The Sheaffer Balance Oversize in Pearl Gray/Red Veins joins my Marine Green Balance Oversize as one of my favorite vintage fountain pens, and it has a nib I’ll use more than the stub on the Marine Green.

Sheaffer Balance Oversize Pearl Gray & Red Veins - uncapped on stand

Sheaffer Balance Oversize c1935 writing sample with Sheaffer Peacock Blue (yellow label)

Exposed for the writing sample, terrible photo of pen.

This is a post about the 2016 Washington DC Pen Show. My show summary and links to other show posts are here.

Ink and Pen Notes: Sheaffer Balance II and Noodler’s Berning Red

Sheaffer Balance II Crimson Glow with Noodler's Berning Red bottleThis is the second Sheaffer Balance II to be written dry this week, it’s the one with the bright Crimson Glow acrylic which finally got filled with a red ink. Sheaffer Peacock Blue was the exclusive ink for this pen until March 13th which is when I filled it with Noodler’s Berning Red.

The ink is named after Bernie Sanders, the US Senator and Presidential aspirant. Nathan Tardiff has always been opinionated about his ink names but this seems to take it to a new level. The introduction video goes on for over 20 minutes before the ink makes an appearance. Noodler’s Berning Red is formulated to be a quick drying ink and Nathan says it’s a ink for lefties which is also word play for Sander’s politics. The quick dry property is achieved by fast absorption into the paper.

I have mixed opinions about the ink. It’s a nice enough red color and I like it. So that’s a positive. Another positive is that the quick drying ability let’s me use the ink to mark up documents or emphasize notes with little concern about smudging. But the quick drying, since it’s from fast absorption, has its drawbacks. The line put down is consistently wider than the nib and prone to feathering. Since it’s absorbed by the paper show-through was a problem, although I never experienced actual bleed-through to the next page. The ink was easily flushed from the pen with no signs of staining.

As I mentioned before I really like the Sheaffer Balance IIs. They look great, the nib is a joy to write with, and they fit my hand well. Like it’s Jade Green sibling the nib could benefit from a little tuning. I’m afraid I’ll ruin it ,so it too has been added to the list to get some attention at the Washington DC Pen Show in August.

The Sheaffer Balance II and Noodler’s Berning Red are a nice enough combination, but not great, so I didn’t consider a refill. I’d pick Sheaffer Red or Montblanc Corn Poppy Red over this ink unless I specifically wanted it’s quick drying benefits. I’ll use it, but the bottle will last a long time. The pen will probably remain in storage until the nib gets tuned in August.