Sheaffer's Snorkel Fountain Pen saw manufacture from 1952 to 1959. It's filling system featured an extendable tube which allowed filling without requiring immersion of the nib into ink. The pen's gross appearance was similar to its immediate (and briefly produced) predecessor, Thin Model (TM) Touchdown.
Niche and Competition:
The Snorkel went head to head with the Parker "51" and- so hearsay has it- outsold that great Parker pen. Snorkel appeared in a broad color palette as well as in a wide variety of models, based on trim and nib. Thus, today's collector can assemble a substantial array of different colors and styles, but also faces challenges to identifying accurately the pens and to avoiding parts mixes.
Intro to Color and Models:
During the 1950's Snorkel saw models with a wider variety of price points and trim styles than did Parker "51". Caps and nib assemblies can be swapped amongst pens, creating confusion today about what is proper vs what is a parts mix. Snorkel was manufactured in one size, unlike the Parker 51 found in two sizes.
Collectors today recognize three collectable tiers of colors. The top 6 colors are well less prevalent than the two intermediate colors which in turn are less prevalent than the five common colors. Clear Demonstrators exist, which some consider a fourteenth color, but which others consider outside the spectrum (no pun intended) of regular production colors. The "common" color, Burgundy, itself has an early and late production hue, but most collectors do not value either more highly. Finally, a fourteenth (or is that now fifteenth or sixteenth) plastic color- brown- is found but only for Snorkel desk pens.
Thirteen different pocket pen models exist based on trim and nib. Not all colors are found in all models. Model (Trim/nib type) contribute to current value, but often with smaller impact than does color.
Yes, 13 models, ranging down from the solid gold Masterpiece to the humble all-plastic non-white-dot, PdAg-nib Special. Some colors can be found in all models (even Masterpiece has a black gripping section) whilst other colors are found in a quite limited model range. When one realizes that 13 colors (or 14, albeit in single trim configuration when one counts the Demonstrator, or 15 if one counts the brown desk pen, or 16 if one counts early and late shades of Burgundy) can be found in up to 13 models each, it becomes clear that hunting Snorkel can be a daunting task.
Original cost for models quite sensibly rose as nib increased in metal value, and as the pen gained elegance/significance of style. Thus, price increased as plastic caps gave way to metal caps, when non white dot models gave way to white dot models, and as caps and barrels gained gold-filled and solid gold content. Most of the remainder of this profile will devote to identifying the 13 models, but for now at least consider the model names, in roughly ascending order of original price. Memorizing these models is no easy task. Handling many pens helps.
Weird. 13 models. 13 total colors (14 counting Demonstrator, 15 counting Brown only found in Desk Pen, 16 if one differentiates early vs late Burgundy). An odd (or at least odd number) symmetry, indeed. Of course, all 13 colors did not appear in all the 13 models. Color impacts value significantly for collectors, who tend to stratify Snorkel colors into categories of low, intermediate, and high cachet. The scarce colors of high collector cachet tend to be brighter, having more "pop". Some find them more attractive than the common colors, but often in pendom it is difficult to separate true aesthetic appeal from the desirability created by rarity.
----PIC---- brown desk pen.
Introduction to original model hierarchy and to current collector cachet:
When originally marketed, Snorkel grew more expensive as it gained trim and/or nib of greater claimed value and status. Collector cachet today often reflects the reasoning found in Sheaffer's original value structure, although it does deviate in some cases. In particular, pens of certain colors today carry cachet that often far outstrips the significance of most of the trim differences found amongst pens of any given single color.
Back in the day and reflecting prior Sheaffer tradition, Snorkel models fell into two broad categories of trim:
At time of issue, the least expensive White Dot pen cost more than the most expensive non White Dot pen, which makes sense. This largely remains true regarding value today for any given color, but NOT across lines of different color.
Within the families of Non White Dot and White Dot pens, Sheaffer stratified various models based on the presence of upscale nibs and trim. This largely remains so for today's collector of Snorkel.
Key Trim hierarchy: White Dot and non White Dot models:
Recognizing that for Snorkel the pen's color today can have impact on value far exceeding that of trim differences, it still behooves us to stratify models based on trim appearance and to learn model names.
Back in the day and reflecting prior Sheaffer tradition, Snorkel models fell into two broad categories of trim: 1)White Dot and 2) non White Dot. At time of issue, the least expensive White Dot pen cost more than the most expensive non White Dot pen, which makes sense.
All non White Dot models had plastic or metal cap lacking a white dot, had gold-filled clip marked "Sheaffer's" and an had the traditionally styled open nib. The snorkel had a blunt tip.
All White Dot models had plastic or metal cap with a white dot, gold-filled smooth clip, and a conical style, Triumph, nib. The snorkel itself had a tapered tip.
Moving from "White Dot vs Non-White Dot" to 13 Different Models.
Yes, 13 models exist, each a unique mix of features including trim, nib and original price. At the end of this profile, all models will be discussed. I still tend to have trouble keeping all the names straight, though. The saving graces in learning Snorkel are: 1) perhaps ninety percent of the pens found comprise just seven of the models and 2) those seven models comprise just 3 outward appearances to the pens, with the nibs marking the only other differences. Once one recognizes the three appearances of closed pens representing the seven most common models, one will thus know most of the pens he will encounter. Learning the less common remaining models can be done subsequently.
7 models look like just 3 different pens, until nibs are examined:
I wrestled with simply presenting the thirteen models sequentially, but opted to do that a bit later. Given that 90% of the pens one finds today comprise just seven models, which in turn feature a total of just three external appearences, I decided first to offer up these commonly seen pens. The process of presenting them will reflect, too, how Sheaffer approached stratifying its models.The other six pocket pen models each have unique external appearance and will be addressed a bit later.
Again, 90% of pens found today comprise three outward appearances and seven models once nib differences are invoked.
Let's review 8 models, starting with the least expensive:
Eight models starting from the least expensive model- Special ($7.95 in the 1950's)- carries us through the "7 models pretending to be 3" we just examined and includes one more model, a bit less common than the others, but currently of no disproportionate collector cachet. However, we will see what drives original price, as we pass through these models. These 8 models include all pens with plastic caps fitted with gold-filled cap-band and all pens with white-metal caps.
To review, 8 models feature either plastic caps with gold filled trim, or white metal caps. Four of these models are Non White Dot, and grow progressively more expensive with fancier nib and finally with appearance of metal cap. It is noted that the metal cap on the Non White Dot model is different from the metal cap on the White Dot models, besides just the presence of the dot. The White Dot models ascend in price as they switch from PdAg nib to two tone 14k gold nib. The White Dot models also ascend in value as move from plastic cap with GF trim to metal caps, all else being equal.
The only fuzzy are in which progression of nib conflicts with progression of cap focuses on the price points of Clipper and Valiant. One would expect the metal cap of Clipper to give a more expensive pen than is found on the Valiant, which has a plastic cap. However, one might expect the two tone gold nib of Valiant to trump the monotone PdAg nib found in Clipper. This is the only case in which two models in the progression feature BOTH a switch in nib and cap type (using Statesman as the starting point). It turns out that Sheaffer ascribed a greater value change to the nib style than it did to the cap style . The gold nib in the plastic capped Valiant in fact raised the price of that pen more from Statesman (otherwise identical) than did the switch from plastic to metal cap as one moved from Statesman to Clipper. Thus, Valiant is more expensive than Clipper.
Gold Filled Metal Cap, Gold-Filled Cap/Barrel, Solid Gold Trim, Solid Gold Pen:
The remaining Snorkel models all move upscale from the 8 models just examined. All feature two tone solid Gold nibs, so no longer need we worry about which nib contributes a differential to original price points of the pens.
One might expect that any degree of solid gold trim (even just a cap-band) would overwhelm any presence of simple Gold-Filled metal, regarding original price. This largely is true, with one exception.
Sheaffer produced pens with gold-filled caps with plastic barrels and pens with gold-filled caps and barrels. No pen was produced with gold-filled barrel but with plastic cap.
For alloy gold, one could find three styles of pen. At the low end was a plastic pen with solid-gold band of moderate girth, but with gold-FILLED clip. Next came a pen with solid-gold band of wide girth AND with solid-gold clip. Finally Sheaffer provided a solid-gold pen cap, clip, and barrel. As far as I know no pen with solid gold cap but with plastic barrel was made, in contravention to Sheaffer's approach during the prior decade.
All I've seen are Valiant model: white dot plastic cap, two tone gold Triumph nib. Some consider Demonstrator a fourteenth color, available in just one model. Others view it as something outside the normal color range. Always a good reason to argue over beer in the evening at pen shows.
Valuing Snorkel based on white dot, trim, nib, color.
The last couple tables make apparent that Sheaffer's pens grew more expensive when nib moved from Palladium-Silver to monotone Gold to duotone Gold, when white dot (with associated conical nib) was present, and when plastic caps with gold-filled trim gave way to white metal caps then to gold-filled caps and/or solid gold cap-bands.
Today, the price range is relatively tight for various trim levels. In common colors, an excellent non White Dot Admiral retails (restored, with warranty) in the $80-95 range, the upscale Valiant and Sentinel range around $100 and the far more scarce Crest, Signature, Autograph and Triumph tend to range just $150-200 or so. The all-gold Masterpiece however is far more costly. Indeed, when hunted in the wild, chance and venue routinely overwhelm formal value stratification for the first 9 or 10 models, meaning that Sentinels often can be found for lower price even than Special.
Autograph appears only in black and Signature is found in just three colors: burgundy, green and black. SIgnature in Burgundy and Green command greater value today, as they are the only non-black alloy-gold trimmed Snorkels, although rumors exist of the occasional Burgundy Autograph appearing.
Colors of High Cachet: First Peek at the Six "Tough" Snorkel Colors
The table below represents collector convention regarding the value today and perceived relative rarity of these colors. Actual production numbers are unavailable as far as I know. Pens of all six colors- independent of in which of the limited model range they appear- today carry higher price than nearly all other pen colors in nearly any trim level. Exceptions? Masterpiece (solid gold pen- not really a color, but it does have a black gripping section) trumps nearly everything to follow. Demonstrator (probably less rare than Fern and maybe less rare than Periwinkle and Peacock) outprices today (a recent development) all the metal capped versions to follow and all but one of the all-plastic versions. A humble "Admiral" in Vermilion thus today has more value than common colors even in lofty Crest, Signature, and other originally higher line models.
For the six colors below, all pens are found in a very limited model range (unlike some of the "common" colors found in up to 13 models). All are White-Dot only, save for Vermilion found only non-White-Dot. All can be found with metal or with matching plastic caps mostly at the Sentinel level or below, although Fern does turn up in lofty Crest with gold-filled cap. While metal-capped pens originally cost more than similar plastic-capped pens (the metal cap being a "luxury" feature), today's collector sees these six colors as more valuable with plastic cap than with metal cap. This likely is due to the desirability of having as much of the "rare color" on the pen as is possible. For most of these six colors, the relative ranking of value and rarity is not disturbed by splitting the pens into "complete color" and "half color" clusters, save for one color- Fiesta- which is drastically more rare and valuable in all-plastic form. That will be addressed in the table following this one.
Colors of High Cachet: Second Peek at the "Tough" Snorkel Colors
The prior table provided a view of rarity and cachet for the 6 high-cachet Snorkel colors, in general. A key caveat, again, is that while for most of them a bit more value (but usually not necessarily greater rarity) is present in the all-plastic vs metal-capped versions, one color-- FIesta Red-- is overwhelmingly more rare in all-plastic form.
The taxonomy of pens sometimes is ambiguous. Many collectors view Demonstrator pens (pens of clear material to show mechanism/interior, often- though not always- unavailable for sale to customer and generally quite uncommon) as beyond the scope of color/model spectra, viewing them as variants unto themselves. Others tie at least some of them more closely to the mains sequence of production models. The Sheaffer Snorkel Demonstrator essentially is a clear plastic Valiant (white dot, gold two-tone Triumph nib). In recent years its value has risen, perhaps disproportionately to that of other Snorks. Uncommon, it nonetheless is probably more common than Demonstrators for many other pens of that general era and is encountered perhaps more frequently than even some of the meant-for-sale colored models.
While Fiesta clearly is far more scarce in its all-plastic form than in the half-plastic form, the other five "tough" colors seem to have about the same intercolor rarity in either form. In the following table, I integrate the clear Demonstrator and the full-Fiesta into the Value/Rarity hierarchy for color.
Colors of Intermediate Cachet:
Colors of Low Cachet: Common Colors
Value and (perhaps) rarity of the common colors-- unlike the high-cachet colors-- does depend more on model cachet than on any stratification of color. Model stratification will be discussed a bit later, but the basics should be obvious. Pens with metal barrel and cap (Masterpiece, Triumph), plastic pens with solid gold trim (Autograph and Signature) and that with gold-filled metal cap (Crest) tend to ride at the high end of value. Pens that cost less back in the day from Sentinel on down, tend to cost less, though for Sentinel through Special, the price range is not huge, probably on the order of just 25%. For the common colors, aesthetics overwhelms scarcity when it comes to personal preference. All colors generally price about the same for similar models, with- maybe- black and gray running just a bit less.
Valuing Snorkel based on Model:
When considering model alone, the value of Snorkel largely reflects their original prices. Do realize that shades of gray exist. These are not absolute rules, but at best guidelines. Even then, these guidelines reflect discussion amongst active collectors and reflect personal experience... which varies amongst people. In several cases, overlap exists- ambiguity at the fuzzy edges. And, to reinforce again this key point, in many cases condition, color and nib-type can grossly overwhelm cachet/value differences based purely on model.
Integrating Model and Color:
We've now seen approximate rankings of value and rarity based on Color and then on Model. It's clear that ambiguities exist in this stratification, and again I note that individual perspective or preference can swing ratings at the edges. Too, condition difference can overwhelm value differences based just on model or even on color, so this ranking assumings "identical condition" amongst the pens. Finally certain rare nibs can be as valuable today as rare models. For example, a plain black pen with Triumph Music (three-tined) nib can retail in same range even as a "rare color" pen with typical point. There is no way to spoon-feed all the nuances that go into skill and experience (the apprenticeship element of pendom), but at least a general view can be provided. In this table some of the pens will be grouped into general ranges, though the reader of course can peek at some of the earlier tables to get further breakdown.
I dived into Snorkeldom largely by accident, having stumbled across a couple large collections on which I simply could not pass. During the subsequent three years, the website probably has offered the internet's greatest range of these fine pens. But, I collect them still only to mild degree, with perhaps ten Snorks in my own collection and with no great desire to gather more. Still, knowledge is useful to collecting and important to presenting accurate sales material.
Discussions with collectors who focus on snorkels has proven invaluable. Sam Marshall, Martin Fergusen, Alan Kaufman, Dan Reppert, Sherrill Tyree and Roger Wooten have been most gracious in sharing information. The most comprehensive print article on Snorkel can be found in PENnant, scribed by Sam Marshall. I highly recommend reading it.