Ask The Desk: Buying a Vintage Esterbrook

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My pal Carolee recently emailed me a question and was kind enough to let me post the question and response here.

…do you have any good sources for a vintage esterbrook? I recently got a Parker Vac and I’m starting to fall in love with vintage pens. I don’t know how much to pay for the esterbrook….any tips?

Vintage Esterbrook pen

Let me start by saying I am in no way an expert on Estebrooks though they were some of my first forays into fountain pens and definitely my first foray into vintage pens.

Let me start with a little history about Esterbrooks. When most people get interested in Esterbrooks, they are talking about the plastic pens that started being produced in the 1930s and continued on into the 1950s. There are “Dollar Pens“, transitional, double jeweled and many other sub-classifications with the range. For a detailed history, check out RichardsPens who gives a great overview of the J Series of Esterbrooks.

(via Richard’s Pens)

The big deal with Esterbrooks are the nibs. The nib is a Renew-Point which was the first nib that could be unscrewed from the pen and replaced easily and quickly and was what set the Esterbrook apart. This lead to a huge array of different nib units that could be swapped out on your pen as needed.Nibs were available for just about every need from super fine stiff nibs for accounting and writing on carbon copies to italic and flexible nibs for calligraphy and decorative writing.

This is what lead me to the Esterbrooks. I was in my early days of learning calligraphy and looking for ways to spend more time practicing and less time dipping to re-ink my pen. I heard about the coveted #9128 Fine Flexible nib and loved the look of the marbled plastics of the barrels so I went hunting.

The Esterbrook Collection

Shown in the picture above are three grey marbled LJ models, a black transitional, a red marbled “purse pen”, a large blue LJ and my favorite marbled green “Dollar Pen”. I have also been able to collect an assortment of NOS (new old stock) Renew-Point nibs, including that coveted #9128 flexible nib. All of my pens were purchased on Ebay over several years and I got lucky, they are all in good shape structurally but all need new ink sacs and some needed nib units. For me, though, this wasn’t a big deal.

I use most of my Esterbrooks as dip pens as I am too lazy to send them off to have them re-sac-ed or learn how to do it myself. As I write, I dip the nib into a bottle of ink and can then write for at least a page before I have to dip again. So, if you are looking to try your first Esterbrook, it may not be necessary to get a completely restored pen or even one with a nib unit if you are willing to make the purchases separately. You could easily purchase an Esterbrook pen body on Ebay and then get a nib unit from a reputable vendor like Anderson Pens. If you have the luxury of attending one of the Pen Shows around the US, there are often vendors who sell replacement ink sacs or can fix up your newly acquired Esterbrook.

If you hoping to get a pristine Esterbrook that has been restored with a new sac, then I would recommend checking in with a high-quality reseller like Anderson Pens. They specialize in Esterbrooks and have a really great reputation in the community.

Vintage Esterbrooks
(from the Rob Latimer collection)

Do you have a color preference with the Esterbrook pens? The black or marbled pearl colors are usually easier to come by. The pastels get pricey if you are hoping to find one that’s not stained or discolored from age.

With all this said, Esterbrooks from the J Series can be found on Ebay starting in the range of $20 to $45 depending on the gamble you take in buying the pen. Fountain Pen Network’s classifieds section is also a great place to research and shop for Esterbrooks. Often times, the smaller ladies “purse pens” are a little less expensive for the marbled plastic or black plastic models but the pastel models do tend to be more expensive. If you are looking for the rare or more unique plastic finishes like the aqua cracked ice Esterbrook in the middle of Rob’s case shown above, you may need to save up your pennies for awhile.

(chart via ET IN ARCADIA EGO on FPN)
(chart via ET IN ARCADIA EGO on FPN)

If you are interested in an Esterbrook specifically for calligraphic nibs, I also recommend looking for Osmiroid pens. Osmiroid used the same threading for their nib units as Esterbrook though I don’t think the nibs were as of high a quality as the original Masterpoint collection from Esterbrook. Its pretty easy to find reasonably priced sets of unused or lightly used Osmiroid calligraphy sets on Ebay. Just stick to the “65” and “75” series of Osmiroids to be able to swap out nibs with Esterbrooks.

Pen comparison
Shown here for scale from top to bottom, a modern Kaweco Classic, a vintage Esterbrook transitional and a modern Kaweco Student pen.

If you decide to hunt around Ebay for your first Esterbrook, just remember to check the sellers reviews and if something looks to good to be true, it usually is. Good luck and please let me know if you venture into vintage Esterbrooks.

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  1. I love my two Esterbrooks and am, in fact, looking into purchasing a new one. I have been using applejm, and he has restored the sacs for me. I always make sure to get a master’s nib although I have different sizes in the series. Applejm’s do go higher in price, but I keep an eye on his site and only purchase them when they’re in the $20 range.

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