Esterbrook fountain pens are beloved by many for different reasons, but one of their most unique features is the interchangeable nib system, or Renew Points. There are a variety of different nibs available to match almost any writing style. Unfortunately, figuring out which is which can be a bit of a challenge. Fear not, dear reader. I have a bunch of information and writing samples to help you figure out which nibs are the best for you.
Esterbrook Numbering System
At first glance, Esterbrook’s nib numbering system may seem random and overwhelming. Luckily, with a little information it starts to reveal itself and become less mysterious. If you start down the path of collecting Esterbrooks, you’ll quickly begin to recognize which nibs are more or less desirable to collectors. Let’s take a look at how it all started.
Prior to making fountain pens, Esterbrook was a well known manufacturer of steel dip pen nibs. Before they ever made a single fountain pen, they had over 250 different nib styles to choose from. With that many different nibs, they needed a numbering system to differentiate between them. Each nib had a number, and sometimes a description, stamped directly into the steel. Depending on your needs, you could easily find and choose the correct nib.Here is a very short selection of Esterbrook dip pen nibs and their numbers:
- #048 – Falcon Pen
- #128 – Extra Fine Elastic Pen
- #442 – Jackson Stub
- #461 – Manifold Pen
The Esterbrook Project has a very comprehensive listing of dip pen nibs and numbers if you’re interested.
Since Esterbrook already had a history of making nibs, when they started making fountain pens they carried over many of the same naming conventions that they already had in place. The numbers I chose above weren’t random. Take a look at these Renew Point numbers:
- 2048 – Falcon Pen
- 9128 – Extra Fine Flexible
- 2442 – Fine Stub
- 1461 – Fine Manifold
See any similarities? Notice that the last three numbers of each nib type are the same as their dip pen counterpart. Esterbrook took their previous numbering system and applied it to many of their new nibs. If you’ve ever wondered where the numbers come from, now you know!
There were different qualities of each fountain pen nib as well. This is denoted by the first number, which is most commonly a 1, 2 or 9. You will occasionally find a 3, 5 or 8 as the first number, but these are less common. You will generally see references to “1xxx” or “9xxx” Esterbrook nibs, where, for lack of a better description, the first number is the make and the next three numbers are the model. So what do these numbers mean?
These are the most basic and inexpensive Esterbrook nibs you’ll find and were branded on the nib box as Durachrome. The tip is typically smooth, unfolded steel. Over time, it can wear and become uneven. I have seen many that are bent or have been ground to a completely different shape than they should be. In general, these are the least desirable of the Esterbrook Renew Points.
Whereas the 1xxx nibs were straight steel, most of the 2xxx nibs have a folded steel tip and were also branded on the nib box as Durachrome. This folded tip gives them both a smoother and more durable writing surface. There are also more models available in the 2xxx line than in the 1xxx line. While many people prefer the 9xxx nibs to the 2xxx nibs, I have had many enjoyable writing experiences with a 2xxx nib attached to my pen.
Considered to be the best Esterbrook nibs around, the 9xxx nibs were branded as Master Durachrome and were tipped with iridium. This gives them an extremely smooth feel and has allowed them to age very gracefully, generally with no perceptible wear. The 9xxx series also has the most available nib models.
Both the 3xxx and 8xxx nib models are highly sought after. They were only made for a short period of time (during WWII) and are much less common than the other Esterbrook nibs. In addition to their rarity, they were also tipped with osmiridium (a material similar to iridium), giving them a quality similar to the 9xxx nibs.
Perhaps the more desirable of the two is the 3xxx series, often referred to as “Sunburst” nibs. This name refers to the beautiful pattern that was stamped onto each nib.
While you may find a 5xxx nib every now and then, they were not made for fountain pens. These are actually dip pen nibs and were made for the Dip-Less line of desk pens.
There are a few other types of Esterbrook nibs out there, some more common than others. The more common include nibs that are simply marked “Fine”, “Medium” or “Broad” and are comparable to 2xxx series nibs. The more uncommon include nibs numbered 6xxx or 7xxx. I have never seen one of these, but they are mentioned on Brian Anderson’s Esterbrook site, so I’m sure they exist.Another nib that will be much more common in the UK than the USA are Esterbrook Relief nibs, which are marked 3xxx but are not the popular sunburst nibs. These were made in England and only came in a few different sizes of stubs. Although they look to be gold, they are simply plated steel, similar to a 1xxx or 2xxx nib.
I often receive blog post requests and one that I have received multiple times is a writing comparison of the different Esterbrook nibs. I figure it’s about time I sit down and do it. Not only is it something that I’ve never done before, but I’m also genuinely curious to see them all in once place.
I will say that I don’t have every single Esterbrook nib, but I do have enough to show you what pretty much every style of nib looks like. I’m also including a few writing samples from nibs that have been modified, either through excessive use or modification at some point in time. This is mainly to make you aware of what is out there in the wild.
Since Esterbrook nibs are easily swapped out, each writing sample is done with the same pen/ink and only the nib was switched. This will give you a true idea of how the nib writes with a normal ink supply instead of being dipped, which usually gives a much wetter line. The paper is Midori MD with a 5mm grid.
Whenever I have multiple series of a nib, for example 1xxx, 2xxx and 9xxx, all will appear together. I’ll also try to share a brief description and my thoughts on each nib. Sound good? Let’s get to the nibs!
Nibs are listed from lowest to highest based on the last three digits in each number:
2048, 9048 – Flexible Fine
Great flex and variation, my 9048 is almost too fragile to be unscrewed. I noticed the tines are a little misaligned and they flex sideways when I insert/remove the nib. The 2048 is not tipped and is a little sharp. This is not the best nib for beginners.
9128 – Flexible Writing
Incredibly smooth for such a fine nib. Not as much flex as other flex nibs but very easy to write with.
2284, 9284 – Broad Stub
Both appear to be slightly oblique, both are nice and smooth. The 9284 appears to have more of a difference between vertical and horizontal strokes.
2312, 3312, 9312 – Italic Medium
Sharper to write with than the stub nibs. I wonder if my 9312 has been tweaked a bit, as it is putting down a very wet and slightly broader line than the other two?
1314, 2314F, 9314F – Relief Fine Stub
The “Relief” means these nibs have a left-foot oblique grind to them. For the fine nibs, there is almost too little line variation to bother with, but 9314F appears to be the best choice.
2314M, 3314M 9314M – Relief Medium Stub
The “Relief” means these nibs have a left-foot oblique grind to them. The 3314 is much more of an italic nib and is very sharp on the horizontal and upstroke. Otherwise, the 9314M has the most line variation.
2314B – Relief Broad Stub
The “Relief” means these nibs have a left-foot oblique grind to them. This nib may have been modified at some point. It is very sharp if held at the wrong angle.
2442 – Fine Stub
Doesn’t appear to be very fine or very stubby. Still, it’s nice and smooth and a great nib for everyday use.
9450 – Extra Firm Posting
As the name says, this is one firm nib. My version has a sharp edge to it that was catching on the paper as I wrote. I doubt that every version is like this.
2460, 9460 – Rigid Medium Manifold
The 2460 has been modified. The 9460 has a very square tip and almost writes like a stub. Nice and smooth. Very stiff.
1461, 9461 – Rigid Fine Manifold
Not exciting but solid nibs for regular writing.
1550, 2550, 3550, 8550, 9550 – Firm Extra Fine
Quite fine and scratchy, except for the 9550 which is a pleasure to write with.
1551 – Firm Medium School
Very nice writer for a 1xxx nib. I guess this makes sense if it was made for school work.
1554 – Firm Fine
Very scratchy, miserable to use.
1555, 9555 – Firm Fine Gregg
My 9555 has been modified. The 1555 is nice and smooth, which makes sense for shorthand use.
2556, 3556, 9556 – Firm Fine
All are fairly nice, but not as fine as a Japanese fine.
2668, 3668, 8668, 9668 – Firm Medium
Great medium nib, almost has stub properties due to the nib tipping. All of these are nice to write with.
9788 – Flexible Medium
Nice writer, but harder to flex than the other flex nibs Esterbrook made. I don’t see as much line variation as I’d like from a flex nib.
2968, 9968 – Firm Broad
Great broad nibs that write nice and wet.
Very nice writer. Quite smooth. Writes almost as good as a 9xxx nib.
Nibs Not Listed Above
Here are the models of nibs that Esterbrook made that I don’t have and are not shown above:
- 2464 – Rigid Broad
- 8440 – Superfine Cartographic
The 9xxx consistently write the smoothest and best. I would always reach for one of these first if I had a choice. The 2xxx are generally quite nice. The 1xxx can be ok, but out of the ones I used, I would only choose those with folded tips like the 2xxx nibs. The 8xxx nibs seem to write better than the 3xxx, but the 3xxx look much nicer.
Finding Esterbrook Nibs
If you have one or more Esterbrooks, then you should already have a nib for each one. Of course, as you should know by now, this doesn’t mean this is the only nib you can use! You probably saw at least one nib that you want to try out, so now you need to find it. Esterbrook hasn’t made nibs for at least 50 years, so where can you find nibs these days?
There are a few websites you should check out if you’re looking for something specific. Esterbrook.net has a great variety of nibs for sale. VintagePenShop also has a good selection of nibs for sale. If you’re feeling lucky or have some patience, there’s always nibs for sale on eBay. I personally wouldn’t waste my time looking for nibs at antique shops. You might find some pens and maybe one will have the nib you’re looking for, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The variety of nibs that Esterbrook made is quite astounding, but can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Hopefully this article helped illustrate the differences between nib makes and models and you found a few that will fit your writing style. Locating nibs for purchase may be the hardest part of your journey, but with the right resources and a little patience you should soon be writing with the Esterbrook nib of your dreams!
If you want to read a bit more about Esterbrooks, I have a blog post about why I love them!