Fountain Pen Review: Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen in jewelry box

Esterbrook, in its latest incarnation, via the watchful eyes of the team at Kenro, has released its latest fountain pen which is the most ambitious and most anticipated pen yet — the JR Pocket Pen. This pen is their first attempt to create a modern redesign of the classic “J” style Esterbrook fountain pen. It’s a project that has been in the works, at least as an idea, from day one, but was something that the team at Kenro did not want to tackle until they were sure they could successfully recreate the look and feel of the original Esterbrook J as closely as possible.

The JR Pocket Pen ($140) is available in three colors (Capri Blue, Carmine Red and Tuxedo Charcoal) and the option for either silver or gold hardware.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen packaging

The dangers in undertaking a project like this is that it will never be the same nor should it be. The point of recreating a pen like the J is to make a pen that looks just a classic but might not suffer from being 60+ year old fragile plastic, require fiddly lever-filling or be quite as small as the original since the modern pen user might prefer a larger pen. Of course, there will also be sacrifices required to accomplish goals and things that you and I, as consumers, and Esterbrook, as a company, might have wanted to keep but, for one reason or another, could not be accomplished.

With this caveat, let’s consider the new Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen packagin

Like previous Esterbrook products, the JR Pocket Pen ships in the fabric covered, magnet closure box that creates an attractive presentation for the pen. The JR ships with a cartridge and a standard international converter as well as a branded microfiber cleaning cloth. I’ve developed quite a collection of these.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen

Both ends of the JR Pocket Pen are flat. The cap end has an embedded metal disc with the Esterbrook X etched into it while the bottom end has a larger metal cap with no markings or decoration.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen nib close-up

The nib of the pen is etched with the new Esterbrook X logomark upgrading the look. The nib is stainless steel nib in rhodium or gold plating, depending on pen hardware and nib options are extra fine, fine, medium, broad and stub 1.1. I tested a medium nib.

I know the next question on many pen aficionados minds will be “Does the JR Pocket Pen have a converter to accept vinta ge Esterbrook nibs?” I spoke with Esterbook/Kenro and the answer is that the converter for the JR Pocket Pen is in production. Due to the pandemic, production and shipping was delayed but the company did not want to wait to release the pen just to wait for the vintage nib converter. It will be available soon and should be priced similarly to the converter that was available for the Estie. Follow-up question and answer, “No, the Estie vintage nib converter will not fit.”

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen writing sample

As with previous Esterbrook pens, the nib worked flawlessly. These nibs are teaching me to appreciate medium nibs (words I NEVER thought would ever come out of my mouth). I matched my ink to the pen body using an older Pen BBS ink but only discovered after I photographed everything that the ink is not currently in production. (SORRY!)

I spent a lot of time with the new JR Pocket Pen sitting next to my extensive pile of vintage Esterbrook pens. I’ve been collecting them for many years and Esterbrook was how I got into fountain pens in the first place. So, much of what I looked for with the JR Pocket Pen surrounded how close it came to the original look-and-feel of the original designs. As I said earlier, there are both good and bad aspects to comparing a modern version of a vintage pen. I am simply outlining the differences so that anyone looking to purchase a JR Pocket Pen can make an informed purchase. Please take my next comments with this in mind.

The clip  is simple and straight, like the original and features the grooves, similar to the original Esterbrook. They are not as defined and do not include the Esterbrook lettering that was featured on the original J pens. The cap band on the JR is a wider, smooth band with the Esterbrook logo type etched into it rather than the ridged, thinner ring of the original bands. The JR Pocket Pen clip is also attached “invisibly” compared to the original J series which is connected to the pen via the silver cap under the jewel.

One of the most notable characteristics of the J series pens are the “jewels” on the ends of the pen, usually in black that are a two-step layer of dots. It moves the look of the pen away from a flat-end pen to a slightly cigar shape. Clearly, the JR Pocket Pen is missing this contrasting element.

The is the addition of a metal ring about two-thirds down the body of the pen. If the JR Pocket Pen was a piston-filler, this ring would make sense but it is not so the addition of the ring is curious and not in keeping with the aesthetic of the original J design. There may have been a cost/manufacturing necessity for this as it is right where the lower third of the pen starts to taper.

The grip section on the JR Pocket Pen is longer and more tapered than the original J Series pens.

Finally, the cap-to-body size is noticeably different. It’s one of the aspects that stood out most to me. There seems to be more bulk (too much material?) for the cap that makes the cap look too big for the pen. It’s a pen muffintop. (Okay, that was an opinion statement. And probably a little harsh but it’s the one thing that I get hung up on with this pen.)

Compared to Other Pens:

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to Estie and Camden

First, I wanted to compare the JR Pocket Pen to some of Esterbrook’s other releases. From left to right: the JR Pocket Pen, the Estie Lilac Slim size and the Camden Composition.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to Estie and Camden

The same pens, uncapped. The JR Pocket Pen can be posted while the Camden and the Composition are not postable, at least I’ve found they are not easy to post.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to modern fountain pens

Compared to other modern pens, from left to right: Pilot Decimo, Pelikan M600, TWSBI ECO, Pilot Metropolitan, Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen, Lamy AL-Star, Aurora Optima and Sailor Pro Gear Slim. The JR Pocket Pen is very comparable in size to a Pro Gear Slim.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to modern fountain pens

When posted, the JR Pocket Pen is similar in length to the the Pelikan M600, Pilot Metrolitan and Aurora Optima.

Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen compared to vintage Esterbrooks

This is the size comparison everyone is waiting to see. The JR Pocket sitting amongst its historical brethren. From left to right: Lady’s Dollar Pen, pastel or CH pen, SJ, full-sized Dollar Pen, shorter Dollar Pen (not actually called an SJ at that point, but similar), the green and black are both Transitional (flat bottom), the JR Pocket Pen,  LJ, J,  and Deluxe. As you can see, the JR Pocket Pen is very similarly sized to the J and the LJ as the name would suggest.

The JR Pocket Pen measures 4.875″ (12.4 cm) closed, 6″ (15.2cm) posted and 4.625″ (11.8cm) unposted. It weighs approximately 20gms capped and 13 gms uncapped with a full converter. The J weighs approximately 15gms capped and 10gms uncapped.

The Esterbrook Pen Nook:

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case Packaging

Another item now available from Esterbrook is the navy leather Pen Nook. I received the Triple Pen Nook ($125) to review as well which was perfect to show off the Carmine Red JR Pocket Pen and it’s older cousins.

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case

The case is stitched with contrasting red thread and features the Esterbrook X (infinity) symbol on the magnetic closure.

Esterbrook Pen Nook 3-Pen Case

It’s a hard-sided case to protect your pens from getting tossled in transport from the office to home (when that becomes an issue again) or even in your desk drawer.

Esterbrook Pen Nook with pens

The case unfolds to reveal three divided compartments large enough to hold most fountain pens and elastics to keep the pens from unexpectedly escaping, even if the case gets turned over.

In the Esterbrook Pen Nook was the final stop for color comparison between the JR Pocket Pen and my two red vintage Esterbrooks: a Tempo Red Purse Pen and an SJ. The color of the Carmine Red is much closer to the warm Tempo Red than the more rich, striated wine red of the SJ.

Overall, I think the JR Pocket Pen is the fountain pen everyone had been hoping that the new Esterbrook would release. Are there elements of the design I wish were different? Of course. That said, this is a solid step forward into the world of retro pen design.

In fashion, retro is a term used often when clothes are made in the style of a previous time but in new material, sizes and with other modern considerations in mind. Those in the vintage community are of two minds about retro fashion: some love it because it create inclusivity (original vintage items are hard to find, often expensive, require special care and don’t always fit everyone’s needs) and others think they are an abomination (we’ve all heard these arguments in the pen community too. “Just buy a vintage pen. New stuff isn’t as good. They don’t make ’em like they used to… Yadda yadda yadda.”) I believe there is a place for both. I certainly don’t want sourpuss attitudes about either but I appreciate both sides. I want to continue to try to save and maintain vintage objects as long as we can but I also want to make the aesthetic available to wider audiences and if that is easier through retro creations, as long as they are done well and thoughtfully, I wholeheartedly support them.

Tools:


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Esterbrook for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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9 comments / Add your comment below

    1. I wondered about that myself. The pen seems nice enough, but you could buy 6-7 Kaweco Sport for the same money (or two of their nicer pens).

  1. It’s funny that the cap looks so out of proportion (I agree with you on that), when I don’t get the same impression at all from the vintage Js, which pretty much have the same proportions. Not sure what optical effect is going on there!

  2. All day I kept seeing the photos on IG and thinking “there’s something off about that cap”. It bugs me and I think your “muffintop” description is spot-on, harsh as some people think it may be. Would it turn me off of buying the pen if I were in love with all other aspects? I’m not sure. But since I’m not in love with the pen (it just doesn’t speak to me), I don’t have to worry about answering that question. Now, the case? That I can get on board with.

  3. Thanks for the review! I always appreciate your thoughts. After reading your review and comparing the Jr. with other J pens, I can’t help but feel this was a cash grab by Esterbrook. When I first saw the Jr., I thought it looked like a cheap plastic entry level pen for $10. When I saw $140, I gasped. To my eyes the Jr has NONE of the interesting qualities of the original Js. It doesn’t have the marbling, it doesn’t have that oddly short, engraved clip with the name, it doesn’t have the grooved cap band, it doesn’t have the jewel, it does have the elegant taper of the cap down to the section, it doesn’t have the sharper taper at the end of the section, and it has that stupid ring ⅔ of the way down the pen that serves no purpose. All of the features it doesn’t have are the features that made the original J appealing, and what made it distinctively an Esterbrook. When digging through a box of ancient pens at an antique or thrift store, the Esterbrooks are immediately distinguishable from Wearever, Eberhard-Faber, and all those other no-name dollar pens. There were lots of cheapo pens made at the same time, but none of them looked like an Esterbrook. This incarnation of the Jr. has nothing going for it except that it writes. IMO. : )

  4. Naturally, if anyone is happy with the pen and its price, who am I to protest? To me this JR is obnoxiously expensive (and not even that handsome).

    Kenro is whistling in the dark.

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