In A Vacuum-Filler No One Can Hear You Scream

Has there ever been a filling system as maligned as the Vacuum-Fil?

Sure there have been! That doesn’t take away from the almost leper like treatment the Sheaffer Vacuum-fillers gets in comparison to lever fillers of the same era. This despite the fact it works very elegantly: On the down stroke a rod pushes a gasket forward which lowers the air pressure in the sealed barrel behind it. A sudden release of the vacuum causes ink to be drawn in to fill the void. There’s an excellent explanation at Richard Binder’s site for those who want in-depth knowledge of how this functions. It all sounds good but there are several meritorious reasons why people have a poor opinion of the system.

First off you’ll never buy an unrestored Vacuum-Fil in working condition. The system functioned well but was not designed to last over 50 years and be like new. The seals are wear points and the filling cycle exacts a lot of stress on them so they fail. No vacuum can be created then and thus no filling.  Another strike against Vacuum-Fillers is that they are very hard to restore and well beyond the average hobbyists’ ability to do so.

It’s not all down side and there are some very nice positives to balance (pun not intended) things. When working they hold a ton of ink so you can write that novel in one filling. Using them is fun since you get to hear the “pop” as the vacuum releases and then see the ink flow up into the pen. Most importantly is that Vacuum-Fillers usually sell for bargain prices even with the cost of restoration factored in.

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A Sheaffer Vacuum-Fil. (click images for close ups)

With that background out of the way let’s look at the Sheaffer Balance Vacuum-Fil I own. It’s was made in the late 30s and constructed of brown striped Radite (celluloid) plastic. There are a couple things that make this pen a bit odd. The barrel is almost totally clear instead of having the usual thin clear stripes between opaque ones. If you look closely you can see ghost like slightly browner strips but they are almost as clear as their neighbors. Was this a demonstrator pen? I really don’t know and some quick searches in reference books and on the web didn’t turn up any answers.

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The very clear barrel.

Another nice thing about this Balance is the crisp stub nib it has. Finding an oddball nib on a Sheaffer of this era is always fun. The majority of the pens from the Fort Madison firm in the 1930s always seem to have staid fine or medium points and I jump for joy seeing something like this.

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The stub nib.

Filling the pen, as stated, is fun but writing with it is more so. The nib has a little tooth but isn’t fussy to write with and has lovely line variation. It’s a stub you could live with on a daily basis since it never intrudes to tell you that you need to pay it special attention. Add this to the pen’s nice mid-sized frame and classic bullet shape and I’m certainly not going to disparage it. However, I know that it calls me a ridiculous pen kook behind my back.

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Writing sample of this pen. Click on image for close up.

  1. August 27, 2009, 2:56 am

    this pen rocks!

  2. Kim
    August 27, 2009, 3:29 pm

    Thank you for the enlightening details. I’d always read about this pen and thought, “nope, too difficult” but seeing it celebrated makes it so much more compelling!

  3. September 1, 2009, 12:40 am

    Did my little tucky inspire this blog entry?

  4. TAO
    September 2, 2009, 11:29 am

    Thanks for the comments!
    Clem: At the pen’s age I’m not sure if it rocks that hard.
    Kim: Ron Zorn restores Vacuum-Fillers and he did a good job with mine.
    Hazel: Yes, it inspired me to finally write this entry.

  5. September 2, 2009, 4:02 pm

    What an interesting looking Sheaffer. Love that nib. My only experience with a Vac-Filler was apparently quite typical. Swore off them but a nib like that could be tempting, all too tempting. Glad it’s yours and not up for sale.

  6. Mona
    September 7, 2009, 4:57 am

    It’s wonderful when the things you like all come together in one great pen – and the character it adds to your handwriting is a major bonus! One swooshy fill must take in a huge amount of ink?

  7. TAO
    September 7, 2009, 7:25 pm

    Mona: Yes, it does fill with a lot of ink. Not sure exactly how much but it makes a lever filler seem stingy in comparison. My handwriting has no character no matter what pen I use! Slightly less ugly is what I’m hoping for. 🙂