Vintage Review: Esterbrook Ballpoint Pen Brought Back to Life

Review by Jessica Coles

It’s no secret that I (Jesi) love Esterbrooks.  I believe for the price and quality, there is no single pen better as an introduction into vintage pens.  Of the Esterbrook models, the one that is most prolific on the market today is the J series due to its popularity at the time of production and the durability of the pen itself.

The J series contained fountain pens, pencils and, later on, matching ballpoint pens (which were denoted FJ).  These three used a black jewel on the top of each, but the shape was slightly different for each tool: domed for the fountain pen, concave for the pencil and pointed for the ballpoint (below, the ballpoint pen is the one on the left).

This small detail allowed the user to find what they needed without looking.  An amazingly helpful detail if you had chosen all three in the same color or if the were grabbing a pen from a shirt pocket or a purse.

As a person who loves to collect, I mean sell, Esterbrooks, especially the J series, I have been hesitant to sell the ballpoint Js.  Esterbrook used propriatary refills for their ballpoint pens and until now I have never found a suitable replacement.  But a then I was sent a sample from John Hubbard whose company, Bamapens, has invested thought, time, and knowledge of vintage pens into creating a solution!

First, let me apologize.  When I received the adapter, I didn’t stop to take a photo.  I popped it into the nearest Esterbrook ballpoint and started writing.  Since these are vintage pens, most of the time they are not clean inside by the time they come to me.  Hence the ink and dirt residue on the adapter.  It was actually a beautiful white when received!  However, I think the reside lets the labeling stand out beautifully.

John was kind enough to include a pen refill with this as well and he chose a great one.

This is a D1 sized Uni JetstreamSXR-200-07.  It seats perfectly in the adapter, no wiggle room but also easy to install.

The adapter itself is 3-D printed by John through Shapeways where they are available for sale and are printed to order.  You need an adapter?  Well, let me just print that for you.  I love it. So much like the Jetsons!

The adaper fits perfectly into the pen.

But how did it perform during a writing test?  Once again, perfectly.  The D1 refill is a great fit and this adapter still allows you to click away and annoy those around you.


I am a recent convert to Uni products and I love using them.  Combine that with an Esterbrook?  As far as ballpoint pens go, I think it just doesn’t get any better.  Thank you, John, for bringing life back to the Esterbrook FJ!

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17 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This is awesome, and I would definitely buy a vintage ballpoint Esterbrook. Any chance you’ll be coming to the Ohio Pen Show?

  2. Thank you for posting this! I have been using Esterbrook fountain pens and mechanical pencils since my father gave my first set back in 1960, but until I found one recently at a garage sale, I had never know that they even made ball point pens. Of course I bought it immediately, only to discover that it used a proprietary refill. Now, thanks to you, I have ordered an adapter from Shapeways and I shall return the pen to its proper function (just being a pretty face on display hardly seemed appropriate). Again, thank you!

  3. Hi , I have a vintage ie , mid 50’s ballpoint pen and I am trying to replace the cartridge. I have the barrel separated and remove the old one. I checked the twist mechanism that move the in and out. Works very smoothly . Place the new/old cartridge and twist cap to make it with. It didn’t. The point extended out but got stuck in the opening. Had to open the pen up to remove it. Checked the opening , saw no obstructions. I push the cartridge end thru the opening front to back.( In reverse) and the front slide thru very smoothly. The cartridge has a plastic geaer that meets the spring at the bottom nearar the spring . I cannot get the spring out to inspect how the gear works. Don’t want to pull to hard afraid it will break.

    What should I do next? Do you have any experience with this? If not, know any body that does?


    1. If you kept the old refill, check to see if there is any bumps, ridges or other differences between the vintage refill and the new refill. Many companies created proprietary refills so it’s possible that there is a specific groove that must line up in order to activate the twist mechanism. Many pen vendors at a pen show have had experience with various vintage pens so if all else fails, attending a pen show might be the best way to find an expert. If you know the brand or model of the pen, it might be easier to find someone online with experience with the pen.

  4. Esterbrook did indeed have a proprietary refill for their ball point pens. The good news is that there is – or was – an adapter on the market which allows one to put the old pens back in service. I bought one and it has worked well; it is my day-to-day pen in my office.
    The bad news is that my computer died last year, taking with it all my records relating to that particular purchase. If you want to find this adapter, you will have to search for it online. Good luck!

  5. looking for a source for esterbrook refill /adapter for ball point. Have several FJ’s from the late 50’s.
    can you advise?

  6. thanks…..looking forward to hearing from you. These are magnificent ball points. wish I can use them again!!

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