I have found myself on the slippery slope, the siren call, the slide to the lowest common denominator lately. It all started two or three years ago when a fellow Kiwanian, knowing that I was a pen person, showed me his 1947 Sheaffer Stratowriter. For me it was as the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a Compass in the Stock and the Thing that Tells Time was to Ralphie…captivating. It was a streamlined golden pushbutton ballpoint from the era when ballpoints were first invented – and they didn’t look like this at all!
I helped him find a “widget” that adapted the Stratowriter to use modern Sheaffer ballpoint refills – the original refills had been unavailable for decades – and he thanked me profusely. He had received the Stratowriter as a graduation gift when he was much younger and it was the latest thing, and I had helped him restore it to use after years of frustration. Not too long afterward, he became ill and died, but the memory of that sexy ballpoint lingered with me, like the pull of the dark side on the Jedi. Finally I could not resist and contacted his widow, offering to give his treasured Stratowriter a loving home. She fell for my pitch – the dark side is strong – and I became its new owner.
Soon I was immersed in the intricacies of actually making the pen serviceable. It seems that each Stratowriter, whether this first edition or the ones that followed in the 1948-50 time frame, require individual attention to bring them to life. A “widget” is not enough. A “doober” or other adapters are also required and must be carefully tailored to the pen.
The Stratowriter mystique had captivated me, pulled me in, devoured me, to the point that I soon had acquired not one, not two, but three of the ultra-modern pushbutton models from 1946-48 (that model was only made for two years, perhaps because it did not write very well despite its streamlined design), plus some capped models that matched the design of the regular Sheaffer fountain pen line. I had a capped Crest Tuckaway with its companion fountain pen and pencil (a Threesome in Sheaffer advertising), and a capped full-sized Crest also with its fountain pen and pencil.
I thought that would be enough to satisfy my Stratowriter craving, but no, a few days ago I purchased a dark blue capped Admiral Stratowriter. It need a little polishing to restore its original luster, but showed no signs of use/abuse – perhaps it did not write very well, either. Was I done? No! Just a day or two later, I found that there was yet another Stratowriter from that earliest 1946-48 era…an all gold-filled clipless bullet, the Stratowriter Tuckaway. I had to have one!
A frantic search on ebay turned up one for sale…too easy! I had never seen one for sale before – maybe because I had never looked – but there it was. Rob Bader, over in Memphis, had one in perfect condition and with a “widget” and a current ballpoint refill installed. How could I not buy it…it was a Buy It Now… and I did.
It arrived in today’s mail, that gleaming golden bullet, a perfect tribute to the immediate postwar era, when Reynolds and Eversharp dueled to their mutual death in an effort to capture the ballpoint market. Good old Sheaffer, Iowa stubborn, said “Here’s a very good rolling ball writing implement. We’re going to charge you $15 for it when $10 will buy you a perfectly good fountain pen, but if you want it that badly we’ll sell it to you.” The handwriting was on the wall, but Parker ignored it for seven or eight more years – until they got it right with the Jotter – while Sheaffer just did their usual low-key thing, not eating their own young, but keeping good customers in the fold, trying to stave off the inevitable with the Snorkel and later, the PFM and Imperial.
Now I have an interesting Stratowriter collection: three of the sexy streamlined pushbuttons from 1946-48, the clipless golden bullet of the same time-frame, the mundane all plastic capped Admiral, and the Crest Tuckaway (I sold the capped full-size Crest Threesome before the dark side pulled me in). None of them, even with modern Sheaffer ballpoint refills, write better than a disposable BIC, but they represent a brief window on an era when the battle was on – fountain pen vs. ballpoint. The outcome has long been written; for some of us it is still in doubt – but the dark side is strong and I’m looking for a Stratowriter desk pen from the late 1940s.
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