Sheaffer family helps cut ribbon on museum reboot

Russell Sheaffer and Sheaffer Museum President Tim Gobble cut the ribbon Friday morning at the Sheaffer Pen Musuem grand re-opening.

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Standing in the three-room museum in downtown Fort Madison, the great-grandson of W.A. Sheaffer is surrounded by the mechanical and artistic history of his family.

Russell Sheaffer, who actually had little exposure to his great-grandfather’s pen empire, said it was a sentimental day. One his father John Sheaffer and his mother were keeping a watchful eye on.

“My dad is 94, so travel’s a little more difficult, but he called me this morning, first to ask how the weather was and then about the event.”

The event Sheaffer referred to was the Friday morning grand re-opening of the Sheaffer Pen Museum at 627 Avenue G in downtown Fort Madison. The museum closed in May of 2018 citing lack of financial stability.

Russell Sheaffer, one of W.A. Sheaffer’s great-great grandchildren, speaks with current Sheaffer Pen Musuem board member Amy Merschman, of Building Materials, in Fort Madison, at Friday’s grand re-opening of the museum at 627 Avenue G. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

But several grants and some manpower and commitment from the community has brought the lights back on in the building now owned by Mark Schickedanz of Fort Madison.

New board president, Tim Gobble, said a few key grants and commitments have allowed the museum to reopen.

Some of the other board members present at the event were Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise, Jan Garza, Russell Sheaffer, Amy Mershman of Building Materials, and Dan Reppert, a former Sheaffer employee.

Reppert and Garza help staff the museum on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is also open when American Cruise ships are docked in Fort Madison.

“Without the board members and other board members that aren’t here today, and a number of other community members, this would never have happened,” Gobble said.

Gobble said the board is trying to incorporate new technology that could include a headset tour of the museum that talks about each case in the museum.

“Unfortunately as we all know, we won’t always have the knowledge of our past Sheaffer employees, so we want to make sure that’s captured so it can be carried on,” he said.

He said staff is also still going through some more archives that could lead to new displays and exhibits so the look of the museum could change with those new options. He also said the board is looking at converting some of the 33-millimeter film in the basement of the building.

Sheaffer commended Gobble and the board for their efforts in getting the musuem back open.

“Whether they are getting off boats or traveling through or making a special trip, we’d love for pen collectors across the country to come see what we’ve done here,” Sheaffer said.

Sheaffer said the company was sold to Textron when he was 11 years old and he was never directly involved in the family business.

“Growing up, before we even thought the company would be sold, my father was very clear that we weren’t gonna come to work for the company right out of school. We were gonna go out and do our own thing and then a decision would be made, but we weren’t going to be just handed a job,” Sheaffer said.

“My dad went to World War II and then went to college. He came back and then went straight to work for the company. But he always regretted not going out and just getting another perspective.”

Sheaffer said serving in the south pacific certainly gave his father a special perspective, but he said he always wanted a fresh business perspective that was something other than pen manufacturing.

He said the museum has sentimental value to him, but he said the local impact of the museum is important as well.

“I’m happy for the town of Fort Madison. In some way we can help play a role to attract people to the downtown district. The pen company clearly had historical value in what it did for the town,” he said.

“I’m glad that little piece of history won’t be lost in the ashes of time, if you will,” he said.

He said when Bic sold the assets to the A.T. Cross Co., a current manufacturer of writing instruments based in Providence, Rhode Island, there was some uncertainty because everything immediately became the property of Cross.

“Cross was going through some management issues and the person we were dealing with was very agreeable. But he moved on, so we had to start all over. There were people in Cross who didn’t know what they had here in Fort Madison,” Sheaffer said.

But he said in the end, aside from a few paintings that Cross execs kept in the transition, the company basically gave the Sheaffer family everything that’s in Fort Madison.

“They virtually gave us everything,” he said. “They left us the portraits of my grandfather and great grandfather so they are property of the museum.”

Sheaffer said his most valued pieces from the company are about a half dozen pens that have signatures embedded on them from all of his grandparents and great grandparents. He said those are in a safe deposit box, but he would like to see them eventually brought to Fort Madison.

Fort Madison High School senior Nathanial Harter is helping rebuild the museum’s website in June. Harter volunteered at the museum before it closed in 2016 and wanted to get back involved.

The website is located at www.sheafferpenmuseum.org. He said the website will include displays of historic document and archives that are currently being scanned into the site. There will also be links for purchases of supplies, a virtual gift shop, and donations.

Reppert said the museum is the only writing instrument museum in the United States and only one of three or four in the world.

“It does have quite a bit of importance and it’s good for Fort Madison to be open again. It should be quite a draw.”

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