Fountain Pen Review: Esterbook Estie (Tortoise with Gold Trim)

By Jessica Coles

A few months ago I heard that the Esterbrook trademark had been purchased by Kenro Industries and the manufacturing of Esterbrook pens was going to restart.  I had many thoughts about this, not many of them comforting. Esterbrook closed their doors for good in 1972.

There was a brief attempt to revive the Esterbrook name in the early 21st century and pens bearing the Esterbrook name began to emerge during this time period. Unfortunately, the pens manufactured during this revival were nowhere near the quality of the previous generations of Esterbrooks.

Then a change took place in the Esterbrook world.  Kenro Industries acquired the Esterbrook name and trademark and began designing what we now know as the Esterbrook Estie.  The Esterbrook Estie is completely redesigned from any previous models – it is important to note that the Estie bears nothing in common with pens labeled with the Esterbrook name and manufactured from 1990 to the present. Nothing.

I was hesitant to be excited about this new Esterbrook because of my own business.  At pen shows, I offer customers the chance to try a wide variety of the nib units manufactured by Esterbrook in the 1940s and 1950s which can be purchased and paired with any of the vintage Esterbrook fountain pen bodies that I also sell.  What impact was this new release going to have?  How would the modern Esterbrooks change the landscape of vintage nibs and bodies?

I was able to acquire a tortoise and gold Estie at the Colorado Pen Show.  Three body colors are available to combine with silver or gold trim to complete your Estie build.  I finished mine off with a fine gold colored nib to match the clip.

Considering my experience in the vintage Esterbrook space (along with just a tiny obsession with all things Esterbrook), I was very excited to find my review copy included the Modern to Vintage adapter.  The “MV” adapter allows vintage nibs to be used with the new Estie.  Vintage nibs!  Esterbrook began as a steel dip nib manufacturer and their wide variety of interchangeable nib units set them apart from most other fountain pen companies.  The fact that Kenro honored this heritage should be very meaningful to Esterbrook fans as it demonstrates an understanding of the history and spirit of Esterbrook.

Kenro approached the design of the Estie by trying to visualize the type of pen the Esterbrook company might have created in 2018.  Throughout the course of its history, Esterbrooks have evolved through many design changes.  The material shortages brought on by two World Wars, customer preferences, and technological advances have all impacted the look and performance of Esterbrook Pens over the years.  Some changes have brought wildly successful lines such as the J-series pens, while others have faded into obscurity.

So – how about the actual pen?  I chose the smaller of the two Estie models.  It fits perfectly in my hand when posted and I like the balance and weight.  I can also use it easily unposted, although the pen feels slightly short when doing so.

Similar to the Platinum 3776, the cap of the Estie has a sealing mechanism on the inside.  It does its job excellently. I left the pen inked for two weeks without using it and, when I did go to write, it started immediately.  Due to the way this inner cap is constructed, screwing the cap on takes a slight amount of extra pressure to catch the threads.  This did not bother me at all, and I didn’t notice it after the first time.

The step from the pen body to the section is slight and there is only a single thread. The cap opens with just under one complete turn.  The spring-loaded inner cap pushes the body of the pen a bit, reminding me that the pen has been sealed this whole time.

I love the detail of the one piece cap – there is no finial or jewel as a separate component. The clip is attached above the spring-loaded inner liner inside the pen rather than screwed between the cap and finial.  The clip is another detail that received plenty of design attention.  It slides onto a pocket or notebook cover smoothly, holds securely, and you don’t need to use your other hand to pry it open when removing the pen.

To try out the Estie, I used Waterman Tender Purple.  The gold colored steel nib is beautifully branded with Esterbrook and their founding year 1858.  The pen wrote very smoothly from the start and had a small amount of line variation, enough so that I could feel the page.

The Estie is a cartridge/converter filler and accepts standard international size.  I’ve had no problems with leaking, blobbing, or hard starts; the ink flows beautifully and evenly.  While I carried it around with me for several days, all the jostling and movement did nothing to bring ink out into the cap.

Now we’ve arrived at the true heart and soul of the Estie – the Modern to Vintage adapter!

The adapter was packaged in a cloth bag stamped with Esterbrook; inside was the adapter, another converter, and an ink cartridge.  I’ve heard that some retailers carry another option that includes a vintage nib as well! Mine did not include a vintage nib, but I had a couple already.

This adapter replaces the section on the Estie and only comes in black, so the cobalt and tortoise pens are a bit mismatched when using this option.  I found it didn’t take away from the looks.

The first vintage nib I tried on the adapter was a vintage 1555 nib, new old stock.  The fit was a bit too tight to work with the adapter, and I was concerned that the threads were slightly mismatched.  My second attempt with a 9968 nib proved to be much better, although I did need to use more torque on the nib than I would in a vintage Esterbrook.  I believe this was due to the interaction of the two materials rather than a problem with the threads.


With the nib in place, I filled the second adapter with Waterman Inspired Blue, my favorite for testing vintage writing instruments.  Once the ink made it through the feed, I had no flow problems.  This was amazing to me – these nibs were manufactured between 60 and 90 years ago and designed to be used with a lever-filler fountain pen rather than a converter.  These two filling systems feed ink to the nib in different ways, and I am happy to say that Kenro executed this perfectly. Please note here that there is a converter provided specifically for the Modern to Vintage Adapter.  The regular converter does fit, but not tightly, so make sure to use the smaller converter when using a vintage nib.  I am unsure of the exact type of the smaller converter; it may need to be purchased specifically from Kenro.

I did run into one detail with the Modern to Vintage Adapter that may only be bothersome to the person writing a review.  When exchanging the modern section for the adapter section, there is no way to cap the nib on the other section.  I ended up leaving the modern nib, section, and converter on my desk while using the vintage nib, adapter section, and smaller converter. It is an awkward assembly to store.

So, is it all worth the price?  The Estie comes in at the price of $195 for the standard size or $250 for the oversized model.  The Modern to Vintage adapter is priced at $40 or $50 with a vintage nib. This brings the full price to $235 to $300 MSRP.   The pen is very well made.  Kenro has paid attention to each detail throughout the design process and has not cut corners to add margin.  The Estie feels like a well-made pen that looks great and writes very well.  One caveat – relative to comparable pens, the price is fairly high for a steel nib.

The Estie is a well constructed and elegant pen that exists alongside many other well constructed and elegant pens by many other manufacturers.  Without something to differentiate the Estie from the rest of the market, I would say that it is overpriced.

Fortunately for the Estie, two things set it apart in the pen world.  First, the Esterbrook name and the almost universal recognition it received throughout the dip nib and fountain pen era.  All it takes is a visit to a pen show to appreciate the number of people who experience the overwhelming nostalgia and recollection an Esterbrook can bring.  Memories of mothers, grandfathers and other family members who used and loved Esterbooks can bring a sense of familiarity to the admittedly overwhelming world of vintage and modern pens.  In our digital world of uncertainty and chaos, an Esterbrook feels like home.

The second and most important thing that sets the Estie apart is the adapter.  Vintage Esterbrooks often face criticism about their small ink capacity and their fit in larger hands.  The Estie fixes both of these problems while still allowing a single pen to use a large variety of nibs that are completely missing in the modern fountain pen world.  Although expensive custom modern pens have been adapted for use with vintage nibs, there have been no commercially available adapters that allow their use.  Until the Estie.

While hunting for vintage Esterbrook nibs in the wild can be difficult, online retailers are beginning to carry and offer the original Esterbrook nib line (Naturally I am one of those).  No other modern pen offers such a wide variety of nib choices for various writing styles. Plus, by purchasing more than one vintage nib, you can completely change the look and feel of your writing with a twist of a nib unit.  No need to buy another pen.

Taking into consideration the construction, look, name, and adapter that are offered by the Estie, I would say that absolutely, this pen is worth it.  The Esterbrook name has been given a chance to continue on and I hope this is not the last innovation we see from the Esterbrook-Kenro combination. We will never be able to know exactly where Esterbrook would be today if they had hadn’t closed their doors, but I think Kenro has stayed as faithful as possible to the ideals of Esterbrook in the design of the Estie.  The spirit of the Esterbrook is alive and well.

And yes, it also comes in a nice box.

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided on loan by Kenro Industries for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.


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10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. While I’m a fan of the vintage Esterbrook, I do not like this modern offering. The steep price tag, is an immediate red flag for me. With a total price hovering at $200, ( with the adapter). If the adapter was part of the package at the $150 than it would a better deal. The design does not set apart from other pens.

  2. I have a nostalgia problem–I cannot make up my mind about modern things which recapture the essence of classic things. At the same time I disapprove of products which revive long dead brands because of name recognition in marketing, I am attracted to things which do seem to respect the spirit and design of the classic originals.
    While this pen doesn’t look like any Esterbrook I own, I think the design does set it apart from other pens as it looks very vintage to me. So I don’t know how I really feel about this. Mmm?
    How much was it again?

    1. The full retail price is listed above, although we are seeing most retailers providing a nice discount. It varies by the store!

  3. Thanks for giving me credit for Esterbrook’s history by linking to my site (White Apple Multimedia.) I just recently published my book on Esterbrook’s dip pen history.

    In it, I cover in far more detail the history of the company, including the acquisition by Kenro. As such, my website now needs to be revised and updated. 😉

    Excellent review! I myself acquired the Cobalt Blue Estie with the gold trim as well as the MV adapter.

    I have a very small Esterbrook J series collection. If you have an online shop, I will want to visit it. I have some things I would like to get to complete my collection. 🙂

    1. No problem, Brandon! I recently purchased your book and it seems very well researched and in-depth. Thanks for putting it out there.

      Thank you as well for the compliment on the review. I can’t say that I’m sorry that you will need to keep updating your website – it’s not often that you can do that when writing about such an old company. I hope there will be more in the future as well.

      I do have an online store. There is a link on the About page.

  4. I found the vintage section small and having a large curve that restricts where your finger rest. Wish they had used a section sized more like the modern section. I agree with many others the price point is high for a Chinese pen. The vintage Esterbrooks were low cost high value pens. The colors & material used were unique. These modern Esties are not.

  5. I think Kenro had/has an excellent idea to make a “modern” pen available to use the variety of vintage Esterbrook nibs. Not sure that I would buy one, but I am comfortable with buying and using vintage pens. Not everyone is. I hope they have at least some success with this effort. I do agree that the price seems a bit stiff. By the way, Jessica, that Esterbrook ad in your post is wonderful. Can you make a higher res version of it available? Thanks for the detailed review.

    1. Thanks for the comment, William! I love the old Esterbrook (and many other vintage pens) ads. I will look into a higher resolution version.

  6. Yeah, the price is a bit high. Hopefully this is just a first offering for collectors, and they bring out a more reasonable line of pens later. They could also do something like a Esterbrook to JOWO adapter, opening up the old nibs to many, many pens.

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