Editor’s Note: I asked Jesi to write this post. “How to get started with Esterbrooks” is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but with someone as knowledgeable about Esterbrooks as Jesi on hand to do a far better job than I would, it made sense for her to do it. She wanted me to make it clear this was not a sales pitch to buy her pens even if I say “Buy her pens” because I do. No bias. Okay, maybe a little.
Thanks, Ana! A bit of a disclaimer — in order to keep this post to something that is useful to those who are not yet familiar with Esterbrook pens (or vintage pens in general), I have glossed over many of the fine details about the pen company. In order to learn more about Esterbrook in the present, read this post. If you want more details, please see the amazing Esterbrook.net by Brian Anderson including his page of links for further reading.
I am known for having a bit of an interest in Esterbrooks (understatement). I first became enamored with vintage pens when I realized how many fountain pens were available but unusable due to their condition. I’ve always loved fixing and tinkering so I picked up some broken pens at a show; the rest is history.
Esterbrooks seemed to be present every time I looked for vintage pens that needed repair. There are a few reasons for this; Esterbrooks were one of the most popular pens in the 1930s to 1960. They were everywhere because they were inexpensive and sturdy; workhorse pens that were made to stand up to years of use. Esterbrooks that are sold now are anywhere from 60 to 90 years old, still ready to be used daily.
Most Esterbrooks on the market belong to the J series. They are easy to identify by the colors of the pen body (black, red, gray, green, copper or blue), the striated, swirled pattern and the clip. Shown below is an Esterbrook J on the right with an earlier Esterbrook dollar pen on the left. The J below on the right is also classified as a “transitional” pen, identifiable by the lack of a jewel on the bottom. This example includes a jewel with three ribbed lines and — Esterbrook was transitioning from the dollar pen to the iconic J pen.
Now for size. The J series contains three sizes, J, LJ, and SJ. The J is the standard pen, 5 inches long and 1/2 inches in diameter. LJ pens are the same length as the J pen, but more slender at 3/8 inches in diameter. SJ pens keep the slender diameter of the LJ pens, but they are shorter as well at 4 3/4 inches. The photo below shows an SJ pen between two J pens.
Pencils and ballpoint pens were also a part of the series, below is the photo of a pencil in the center. Ballpoint Esterbrooks can be difficult to find; the refill for these pens was a proprietary refill only manufactured by Esterbrook. Once the company stopped producing these, the pens were nearly useless other than collecting and I believe many were thrown out. However, due to the ingenuity of John Hubbard, adapters are now available to make these useful again. Read this post to find out more.
You may also notice that the pen on the left in the photo above has a different pattern on the body. This is called an icicle pen for the straight pattern of the striations. Due to the rarity of this pattern, it is a more expensive pen and sought after by many collectors. It’s not often you see pinstriped pens!
The final type of Esterbrook I will talk about here is the Purse pen, often called the Pastel pen. The size on these pens is CH, as slender as the above SJ pen but shorter as well. They were produced to be used by women and were sized to fit in a pocket or purse. These pens were sold individually or as a set. The Petit Pak refers to a set of matching fountain pen and pencil that included a plastic sleeve (shown below on the left).
The Purse pens were produced in two different series which can be identified by the color of their jewels. Those with black jewels were made between 1954 and 1957 and are true pastel colors; pink, peach, yellow, blue, aqua, gray, lilac, and white. The second series of Purse pens were not actually pastel colors. They have jewels that (usually) match the color of the pen; Trianon pink, Aloha Yellow, Country Green, Peacock Blue, Tempo Red, and Arctic White.
Finally, the feature that set Esterbrook pens apart from most other pen companies at the time: the interchangeable nibs. Esterbrook produced many different styles of nib units that could be changed by the consumer; the nib units are removed by unscrewing and could be replaced by screwing in a new unit. These units were available at two different price levels, the less expensive solid Durachrome nibs (the red and white boxes below) and the more expensive Master series (green boxes below) that were tipped with iridium. Each series contained a wide variety of nib choices, including extra fine through broad, stub and italic, flexible nibs and rigid. Any of the Esterbrook pens (except specific models that I won’t talk about here) could use any of the nib units.
I hope this guide has been helpful to anyone looking to start into the vintage pen world; I always say that Esterbrooks are a great way to dive into vintage pens and among the least expensive vintage pens to purchase. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!