Recently, I won an eBay auction for a Snapfil fountain pen with no cap. I had gotten a matching cap a few months ago in a box of ink bottles and pen parts. After several months of searching, I finally have a Snapfil fountain pen!


As explained by Daniel Kirchheimer, the Snapfil fountain pen was likely the inspiration for Sheaffer’s Balance line. The Snapfil pen was designed & sold by the Houston Pen Company, and manufactured by the General Manufacturing Company. Houston Pen Company often used the term “Balanced” in their publications in the 1910s, almost 20 years prior to the Sheaffer Balance’s release.
The Houston Pen Company’s pens feature a distinct tapered shape. This shape is like that of a desk base pen, but with a shorter taper that comes to a flat bottom. It is also important to note that desk bases would not exist until 1924, while this pen design had been on the market for a decade by then.
The Snapfil fountain pen is not designed for the user who loves to post their pens. Instead, the cap of the pen features a chain with a clip, referred to as the “Safety Device.” The Safety Device clips to a shirt pocket, coat, bag, or similar. The user unscrews the pen from its cap when they want to write – leaving the cap attached to the user’s clothing. When the user is done writing, the cap is screwed back on, keeping the pen in an upright manor. This also secures the pen from falling out of a pocket or bag. Because of this, Houston claimed that their pen was “Non-Loseable” and “Non-Leakable”
Snapfil Pen "Alligator Feed"
Another distinct feature of the Houston pen is the alligator feed. The alligator feed works very well with flexible nibs, which have a varying ink flow. The alligator feed was designed by William Houston, the Houston Pen Company’s founder. Huston received US Patent 999,648 on August 1, 1911 for this feed.
Snapfil Ad - July 1918

Snapfil pen ad from the Chicago Tribune — July 14, 1918. Note the writers hand at the bottom with the lack of a posted cap, showing the unique shape of the pen.

Snapfil Filling Mechanism

The Snapfil fountain pen was introduced on July 14, 1918, with a half-page ad in the Chicago Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This pen has the unique design of the previous Houston pens, implementing the new Snapfil mechanism.
The Snapfil mechanism was designed by by Martin Borbeck. Borbeck recieved US Patent 1,268,206 on June 4, 1918. Borbeck expanded on the design with US Patent 1,342,736, granted on June 8, 1920 — assigned to the Houston Pen Company. The Snapfil mechanism is a “reverse lever filler”, meaning the lever pivots out away from the nib. To fill the pen the user pulls the lever up, revealing a small kickstand style piece. Then, second small lever pivots down against the pressure bar. After this, the user submerges the nib and feed in ink and pushes the lever down. Finally, this causes the kickstand to fold down, filling the pen with ink. The kickstand folding down produces a loud snap, hence the name Snapfil.


Snapfil Filling Mechanism from US Patents

Snapfil Fountain Pen Imprint Reads:



PAT. AUG. 1, 1911 — PAT. JUNE 4, 1918

Snapfil #2 Nib

New to my Collection

The Snapfil pen that I recently acquired is a fantastic writer. Sadly, the cap I have is missing the safety device and part of the chain. The imprint on the pen is a bit worn, and it has some light scratches here and there. Color is very respectable. The gold Snapfil #2 nib is a great example of a super-flexible “wet noodle” nib, varying from 0.5mm to 1.5mm in line width. Overall, it is a great pen.


As expected, the ink sac did not survive 100 years. Upon getting the pen, I opened it up and removed the rubber dust remains of the sac. For cleaning the pen, I used a soft cloth to wipe some dirt out from the threads, and dry cotton swabs to clean the inside. If you have a Snapfil pen, it is important to never put the pen in water, especially warm water. Water can cause discoloration to a hard rubber pen. The only part of a hard rubber pen that I would put in water is the nib, feed, and section. The section, while still hard rubber, has been less exposed so it is less likely to discolor. I put the nib, feed, and section of in my ultrasonic cleaner for 5 minutes. This removed all the dried ink from the nib and feed.
Following the ultrasonic cleaning, I set the section out to dry. After drying, I put a new sac on and let the shellac dry for a few hours. Once the shellac was dry, I put the section back in the pen and tested its filling mechanism with some water to be safe. The filling system worked as intended, so I emptied the water and filled the pen with Waterman Florida Blue. The pen now is a very fun writer.
The pen (minus the cap) came to $26.91. The cap cost me about $5 as I got it in a box with lots of other goodies. The pen sac is a cheap, $2 part. To have a nice round number, I’ll factor in $1.09 for water and shellac. After a couple hours of work, I have an amazing writer at a great value. The total cost of this pen was only $35! You cannot get anything close to this buying a new pen for that price!
Snapfil pen with lever out before filling with ink