From the “I expected more from this pen” files…
Sheaffer Prelude 380 Fountain Pen
Filling System: Twist-Style Piston Converter
About the Pen
I’m on the constant hunt for a fountain pen that puts down an extra fine line, but with the smoothness and wetness of a medium nib. The closest thing I’ve found so far is the Pilot Metropolitan, which really is a brilliant writer. An eBay auction for a Sheaffer with a “fine nib that writes like an extra-fine” caught my eye. I know Sheaffer is a great and respected brand, and the pen looked really pretty, so I decided to take a shot on it. Amazon had the same pen listed for $65, so I thought $41 was a good deal. When it arrived, I cleaned it, inked it up, and this is what I found.
The Prelude 380 arrived in a nice box with a soft fabric bed to keep the pen safe. The box is made of strong, stiff cardboard with a textured surface, a screen-printed logo to the side, and an embossed silver edging around the top. Overall, a really nice presentation. It came with a small Use & Care Guide, and the whole kit was housed in a cardstock slipcase to keep the box from getting damaged.
This pen looked gorgeous in the auction photos, and it was even better in person. The cap and barrel are metal (probably brass) with a deep, metallic blue finish. The cap band, clip, and finial are black. The clip and finial are made of a single piece of metal, whereas the cap band is plastic with “SHEAFFER USA” stamped into it three times. The clip also sports the famed Sheaffer trademark white dot.
Instead of using an end cap or bottom finial, the barrel is a single piece of metal that tapers to a rounded end. The section is made of plastic and has two textured cutouts for your thumb and forefinger that adds to the comfort of writing with the pen. Finally, the nib is a simple steel nib with minimal engraving that includes a small Sheaffer logo and the trademark “S” around the breather hole.
Overall, the design is really simple and understated, but quite classy due to the black-on-blue color scheme. It’s a beautiful pen that’s perfect for everyday use at home or in a business setting.
Build Quality (3/5)
For the most part, the build quality of this pen is very good, but I have one very major gripe and a few smaller complaints. First, the good stuff: The construction of the cap and barrel is excellent. They are weighty without being too heavy, which improves the perception of quality of the pen. The construction and finish of both are superb. And I really love the converter. It has a larger ink capacity than most twist-style piston converters. The twist action of the piston is smooth and solid and the plunger moves throughout the converter smoothly. It would be nice if the converter screwed into the section, but it does fit snugly, so I have no fear of it falling out and spilling ink.
Now for my gripes. The plastic section is a huge disappointment. I like the cutouts for finger placement, but that’s where my like for it ends. It’s light and flimsy, and the grooves for screwing into the barrel don’t quite match the grooves in the barrel itself (which is made of metal). They’re close enough so they do screw into each other, but they’re a little off. When screwing the section into the barrel, the barrel’s grooves cut into those of the section, producing plastic shavings (you can see those in the second picture below). This happens every time I reassemble the pen. Eventually, it might wear down to the point where it won’t tighten very well. I know it’s not a super expensive pen, but I definitely expect better construction and machining from this class of pen.
I have a few other, smaller complaints about the pen. The nib and feed can’t be removed from the section, making it harder and more time consuming to clean. I prefer to remove these pieces for cleaning to ensure I remove all traces of ink between the nib and feed. If you want to get it as clean as possible, you’ll need a bulb syringe. And for some reason, this section is prone to some pretty heavy ink creep. I’ve found that ink travels up the section a millimeter or two until it hits a ring-like protrusion around the end of the section. It’s not much, but if you hold the pen really close to the nib, you’re likely to get some ink on your fingers.
The cap posts, but not very tightly. If you prefer to write with your cap posted, you’ll have to re-seat the cap every so often to keep it from falling off.
And my last complaint is with the blue finish of the pen and cap. It’s a beautiful color and looks great, but it’s really easy to scratch. It shows up a little more in the photos than in real life, but if you look closely at it, you can see quite a few scuffs and scratches. I haven’t been hard on this pen at all, so I’m somewhat disappointed with the durability of the finish.
As far as dependability, I have no complaints here. It writes every time I use it. You don’t see that all the time with fine nibs, but this Sheaffer starts right up every time. It will produce hard starts if left uncapped for more than a couple seconds. But the ink gets going quickly and won’t stop once it starts.
I have no complaints here, either. The weight of the pen (posted and unposted) is nice, and as I said earlier, I like the finger cutouts in the section. It’s very easy to hold, even for extended periods. I wrote several pages of text with this pen and experienced no cramping or other discomfort. When not posted, the pen is somewhat short, so if you have larger hands, you’ll probably want to post the pen.
Writing Experience (3/5)
Of course, the great looks and comfortable design only go so far. What really matters is how the pen writes, right? The Prelude 380 has its good and bad points. On the good side, the fine nib is wonderfully fine. I have small handwriting, so I like fine and extra-fine nibs for most everyday writing. This fine nib is very comparable to the Japanese fine nibs, allowing people like me to write in our usual tiny handwriting. Unfortunately, the line it puts down is pretty inconsistent. I’ve found that when writing, the line will thicken for a few letters, then lighten up again. So if you look at the writing sample below, you’ll see how the line width varies from extra-fine to fine and back again. It fluctuates quite a bit, which for me, kind of ruins the writing experience. I’ve got to have a consistent line weight for writing.
And one other thing that I found kind of annoying is that the nib picks up paper fibers like a demon. Even on nice, smooth Rhodia paper. You’ll notice this because the line suddenly changes from a nice fine line to a small, sloppy paint brush in the middle of a sentence. I had to clean fibers out of the nib on several occasions. If you’re someone who walks around with a brass sheet in their pocket, this might not be a big deal. But I really can’t be bothered to floss the nib that often. I noticed that the tines of the nib are very tight and the nib is a little scratchy (which is kind of expected with nibs this fine). I have a feeling I could probably improve the writing experience by putting a little space between the tines and giving the nib a run on some mylar and/or micromesh to smooth it out.
While some small bit of scratchy writing and paper fibers can be expected with a fine nib, I think the Sheaffer Prelude 380 is a little excessive in this regard. I basically compare all my fine and extra-fine nibs to my Pilot Metropolitans…which do not have the paper fiber issue. So if Pilot could figure it out on a $15 pen, Sheaffer should have been able to solve it with a $40 pen.
While some parts of the pen are of high quality, Sheaffer skimped on other areas, and I think it hurts the overall experience. If the pen was half the price, I probably wouldn’t mind the issues so much. But for a pen that costs between $40 and $65, I expect a lot more quality and a nicer writing experience than what this pen provides. In short, while the pen is quite nice in some respects, it’s really not worth the price tag.
The Nutshell: Overall Score: 18/25
|Best Qualities||Worst Qualities|
|Writes like an extra-fine!||Cheap plastic section|
|Beautiful and classy look||Puts down a very inconsistent line|
|Nice big converter||Picks up paper fibers like crazy|
I really can’t recommend this pen given the price tag. If it was $10 or $15, it would be worth purchasing and tuning based on the wonderfully fine nib it has. But a $40 pen should not require any major DIY work to get it working. If you can find a good deal on it and you’re comfortable tinkering, then this pen is worth a shot. Otherwise, there are a lot of better pens out there at better prices.