The era of the high end Sheaffer fountain pen being supported by the white dot mark of excellence are long gone. These days, having been sold then sold again, the brand now produces a range of solid low and mid level priced writing implements with even the most expensive barely exceeding $100. At the entry point you have two models. The cheap plastic Pop and for the same price the metal VFM. Thing is for just £18/$18 is this a bargain pen or something for the waste basket. Note this model was launched under BIC ownership, before the brand was sold (in 2014) to Cross.
So a metal pen for the same price of a plastic one. Looks quite smart as well with a thin cigar design. Arguably this is also a nod to family heritage as Sheaffer produce the first fountain pen of this shape, the Balance, back in 1929 (I know there is an argument as to whether torpedo and cigar are the same). The version I have is matt red in colour and that works well with it showing orange hues in bright sunlight. It might be a surprise you that VFM stands for “Vibrant, Fun, Motion” not Value For Money. It was for me.
Visually the VFM is clean with minimal decoration. The red of the cap and barrel are broken up by a thin chrome coloured band. Remove the cap and you have a black plastic section and a sudden increase in chrome as the band almost doubles in size, roughly matching the width of metal clutch/finger protector by the nib. I am not quite sure what the designers were aiming at, but with the cap on the pen looks subtle and smart, with it removed it looks fussy and a little clumsy in appearance. Looking at online pictures, with the chrome version of the VFM the bands work a lot better, however that is just one of eight different options. A few (white and gunmetal) have black clips and barrel bands, but that makes the chrome clutch look even more out of place.
The barrel starts with the ring, which hosts the barrel threads. The part by the section is smooth to touch and angled up slightly. The wider part, which lines up with the cap, has a squared off sharp edge. SHEAFFER is stamped in to it three equidistant times.
The cap pops on and off, with the latter being a particularly tactile experience with a very crisp click sound. People who enjoy capping and uncapping the Diplomat Aero will have fun with the VFM. The opening is untreated metal, and while you can see a plastic inner cap, this is around half a centimetre inside. The edge is not sharp, however it is very noticeable if you touch it.
The cap will post, but while secure it can be pushed side to side. This is due to the inner cap not starting at the opening, however at the same time this should also protect the barrel from scratches, for I’m certain the edge of the cap would be capable of doing so if the inner cap were not there. Despite being of metal, posting does not back weight the pen that badly and might be needed if have have large hands, though at the same time this pen might be too thin for you.
Visually the clip is very good, covering much the length of the cap and being well proportioned. The Sheaffer ‘white dot of excellence’ sits proudly at the top. It is extremely stiff, almost to the point that I could barely open it with my fingers, and only then with a struggle. Sure there is enough of a gap to allow the angled nub to slide over a pocket seem and unsurprisingly I found the pen to be very secure, however when you look at the clip it is not bending, but rather rising up towards the back. It would not surprise me if over time the clip were to pop off from cap if regularly used, after all this is a cheap pen and will have cheap construction methods. Should we care at this price, well yes as we are still buying this pen and chances are many will have been bought for school kids who will be blamed if a pen breaks or is lost whilst in their possession.
In the hand the VFM is a mixed experience. Despite being a tad too thin for me and the section being short, I can get a decent hold, however the barrel band does dig in to my thumb, so it is not comfortable. There is a decent weight, this is not a heavy pen but it still has a satisfying heft. The balance point is just behind the fingers, so reasonably placed, and still remains in the crook of the hand when the cap is posted.
The writing experience was, well it wasn’t. I flushed this VFM using a converter from another pen, inserted a supplied cartridge and left the pen for the ink to start to flow. Except it did not. I tried again and still nothing. Some hard shaking and I finally was able to write but there was lots of skipping and the line was very fine. Eventually I flossed the tines and now it writes well, but there should have been no need and it is now closer to being a medium rather than the fine it should be. This might be a cheap fountain pen but you should still expect it to work. It is an entry level pen, so one which Sheaffer should hope would lead the user to buy another, more expensive pen from the brand except with my experience this would not be the case. Having a quick look at other reviews I may have been unlucky though some do complain of too much ink flow. Still I can only go by what I have in my hand.
The filling system may surprise you. Sheaffer have their own proprietary filling system so I was not expecting to find a couple of standard international short cartridges in the box. For a low end pen I am glad they did this partly because their own cartridges cost more, and partly as they supplied two different colours, blue and black, giving you a choice as to what to use from the start. Note the barrel is both too narrow and too short to take a converter. I tried a Kaweco mini piston converter, but that also would not fit unless you want ink pushing out through the nib on closing the barrel (note a Kaweco mini squeeze converter should fit). Still I like what Sheaffer have done here.
Packaging wise there is a protective cardboard outer sleeve (I do not understand the need for this with most pens, but it is common through out the industry), a simple cardboard box, and the pen in a removable moulded plastic tray, with the information booklet and pair of cartridges being under there.
So my thoughts. VFM. Vibrant ? – well I do actually like the colour, but I like the subtlety of it so hardly vibrant. Fun ? No, sure it now writes, but it is nothing special and getting there was a route I should not have taken. Motion ? OK Sheaffer marketing have got me here, I have no clue what they were looking at with that comment. Now if it had been Value for Money, then if the nib had worked my answer would have been yes. But it did not. This is a sub £20 pen, which I picked up from Cult Pens where it was reduced and also covered by their birthday discount, resulting in it just costing £6.80. I know they have four of the other finishes available for £8-£18 (down from £15-£20). Thing is, at the price I paid, it is up against the Helix Oxford and while I like the look of the VFM when capped, I think the rival is a far better metal starter pen if you are not brand aware and for a little less money.
Would I recommend this pen to others? Well if the nib had worked then maybe. It is a starter pen and it is made to a price point. I would expect this to outlast a plastic Sheaffer Pop in a tough school kid life despite being the same price. I also like the fact it uses the standard international short cartridges, which are cheaper and give far more colour options than Sheaffer’s own proprietary brand (though these are not exactly expensive). At sub £10 then maybe as there’s not much there (I would still recommend a Helix Oxford over this), but once you get to the £20 mark it is becoming a crowded market place with plenty from Faber-Castell, Kaweco, Lamy, Parker Pelikan, Platinum and Sailor to rival it and many being far superior IMHO.
Going to tackle the recommendation in a slightly different way. If you have a collection of fountain pens and fancy trying a cheap Sheaffer then maybe. If you are new to fountain pens, then no I could not recommend the VFM.
- Low price for a metal body fountain pen, especially when discounted.
- Designed to use the cheaper and much more available standard international short cartridges.
- Nice subtle design when the cap is on.
- Capping action rivals that of the Diplomat Aero.
- Clip might work well, but the way it is implemented indicates it may break over time with usage.
- Pen may be too thin for many people.
- Short section may not work for some people.
- Barrel too narrow to take a normal converter.
- Lots of rivals out there with potentially better products in looks and to use.
- Not Vibrant (though I do like the finish).
- Not Fun.
- No clue about Motion.
- Would not write out of the box.
- Some sharp edges.
- Uncomfortable to use with the barrel band digging in to my thumb.
- Fussy looks when uncapped.