Green Esterbrook Transitional J Fountain Pen

Why Do I Love Esterbrook Fountain Pens?

John Bosley Fountain Pen Reviews 39 Comments

When it comes to fountain pens, there are many different types of pens that you can use. You can choose from pens made in particular countries like Japan, Germany or the United States. You can choose from nibs that are fine, broad or flexible. But one of the biggest divides that many new users have a hard time crossing is the choice of a vintage fountain pen over a modern one. While many vintage fountain pens can be intimidating and difficult or expensive to repair, there is one brand that I like to recommend to anyone who is just getting into vintage fountain pens: Esterbrook.

Esterbrooks Are Some Of My Favorite Fountain Pens

Once frowned upon as cheap pens, Esterbrooks have gained quite a bit of popularity amongst both users and collectors in recent years. Personally, I bought my first one over 20 years ago and have been collecting them ever since. I instantly fell in love with them for many different reasons.

First of all, they are great looking pens! They’re not necessarily flashy by today’s standards, but they come in many different colors and each pen has a unique swirl pattern in the body and cap. They also come in different sizes, both length and diameter, which means it should be easy to find one that feels right in your hand.

Esterbrook fountain pen sizes and colors
Another great thing about Esterbrooks is that they are quite inexpensive. It’s not uncommon to find restored Esterbrooks for around $30. Of course, you can always spend more on one if you’d like a particular size, color or nib, but it’s nice to know that you don’t have to.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always buy an Esterbrook that has not been restored and do it yourself. With a little patience, it’s not too hard to find an unrestored Esterbrook for under $10. Usually, the only thing that needs done to get it working again is to replace the sac (which might cost you $10 in materials, some of which can be used multiple times). Not only is it easy to get most Esterbrooks working again, but it is also very rewarding!

esterbrook nib and sac
While most Esterbrooks you’ll come across are over 70 years old, they are by no means delicate antiques. In fact, that’s another reason I like them so much. They are made very well and have withstood the test of time, so I’m not scared to use an Esterbrook for an every day writer.

Esterbrooks Have Many Great Features

One of my favorite Esterbrook features is that they have interchangeable nibs. This means that changing nibs is as easy as unscrewing one and screwing in another. There are also many different nibs to choose from, so you can find one (or many) that you enjoy writing with!

esterbrook nib chart

Another great thing about the Esterbrook nib system is that they are consistent across all of the different years the pens were made. This means that no matter which Esterbrook you have, as long as it uses the Re-New point nib system, you can use any Esterbrook Re-New point nib in it.

Esterbrook nib 9128 9314 2442
Esterbrook Re-new point nibs

So Why Do I Love Esterbrook Fountain Pens?

To be honest, I bought my first Esterbrook because it was inexpensive. After I started using it, I realized that it was made very well and was enjoyable to use on a regular basis. Once I bought another one and learned how to replace the sac and get it writing again, I knew I was hooked. I soon had to have an Esterbrook in every color. Once I had a few different pens, I started picking up different nibs that looked interesting. After I had around 5 different pen bodies and 10 different nibs, I technically had 50 different pen+nib combinations to choose from. The best part was I had probably only spent around $100! Of course, this was years ago, so prices have gone up since then, but the idea is still the same… you can purchase multiple Esterbrook bodies and nibs for much less than you might spend on one modern fountain pen.

I love Esterbrooks because they are simple, beautiful pens. They are well made and are great writers. They are inexpensive and easy to repair. They have a huge selection of interchangeable nibs. Finally, one of the main reasons I fell in love with Esterbrook fountain pens is that they are not the most popular pens around. Despite the fact that they are wonderful pens, they are just not that valuable, which means many people overlook them. To me, it just means I can have a collection of wonderful pens without spending a ton of money. It also means that if you want to dip your toes into the world of vintage fountain pens, you can pick up an Esterbrook for the price of a new bottle of ink. If you’ve read this far, I suggest keeping an open mind and trying out an Esterbrook. Chances are the first one you buy won’t be your last.

Comments 39

  1. Great article about Esterbrook pens!!! Now you’ve got me wanting to try one (or two…). I’ll keep an eye out for them. Thanks for the info John!

    1. I’m an old guy (86). Got my first Esterbrook pen when I was in grade school in Miami, Florida. I guess I was 6 or 7 so it was pre
      ww2 (1940 or ’41). I went through several in the intervening years because I had a habit of losing them, much to the chagrin of my mother and father. I have always used an ink pen when one was available (I hate ballponts). Now, in my dottage, I want to find a nice J series, in reasonably good condition that I can use to write my memoirs for my grandkids. Still looking.

        1. John.
          Thanks for the unexpected reply. I will go to the Vintage Pen Shop page this weekend and drool over the memories. I remember well the old Palmer Penmanship drills to develop a smooth and readable cursive handwriting. I just read somewhere that NJ and VA are dropping cursive writing from the elementary school curricula. Really a sad day, IMHO.
          thanks again,
          jc

  2. OK, you’ve talked me into it. I’ve picked out a few vintage Esterbrook estate sale pens on eBay that I’m going to bid on. Probably won’t get any of them because I’ve set a pretty low max bid, but sometimes you can get lucky. Any suggestions on where to go for replacement parts/materials should I wind up with any pens that need a little work?

    1. Awesome! You can definitely get lucky with some of those bids, so sooner or later you’ll get one. Many of the Esterbrooks out there still have soft sacs and just need a good soak to get them working again. If you need a new sac or j-bar, Anderson Pens usually has them in stock. Main Street Pens sells orange shellac for cementing the sac in place. You can get new nibs at Esterbrook.net. Or, you just ask around in the pen community. Some people have some spare Estie parts laying around that they’re wiling to just give you! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

  3. I too am finding old pens wonderful. I found an Eversharp Symphony, my pen guy is doing the restore. I have an Esterbrook LJ in black with the 2556 nib. It is restored (new sack) my carry pen. I will probably do a restore on some pen and then who knows. Side note; I also enjoy photography with film and legacy lenses and my pen guy in IL is also a photo geek. Great, don’t forget shows to meet other pen folks and to begin your ‘network’. Jerry

  4. Both the Symphony and Esterbrook are great pens that you can use every day and should give you years of use. Glad to hear you’re getting them restored and plan to try it yourself one of these days. As for photography, shooting with film and old lenses is so much fun. I occasionally do that for my personal work. Thanks for reading, Jerry!

  5. Agree totally with your love of Esterbrooks. What are your thoughts on the latest reincarnation by Kenro, The Estie? I also love vintage Esterbrooks, have more than a few. Find this new version not much of a modern Esterbrook. Used then at DC show & was not impressed.

    1. Chris, I was able to try out one of the new Esties at the Colorado pen show. It felt like a quality fountain pen, but was only an Esterbrook in name. I do appreciate the fact that you can use vintage nibs in them, which could attract some people who have never used a vintage pen before and get them to try out a vintage Esterbrook, but for those of us who already use vintage Esties, I personally didn’t see much incentive to buy a new one.

  6. I bought an Esterbrook a few months ago. I like the look of the pen but the nib is not particularly smooth, and I’d like to change it. Is it as easy as unscrewing one nib a replaceming with another, or are there particular sizes that fit each pen?

    1. Thomas, it is as easy as unscrewing one nib and screwing in another. All Esterbrook pens take the same size of nib. That’s just one of the great things about Esterbrooks… don’t like the nib? Swap it with another! If it feels difficult to unscrew, you can try soaking the nib and tip of the section that it screws into in water to loosen up any ink that might be dried in there.

  7. Estie desk sets are great, too. I have a hockey puck with an Esterbrook desk pen at work, and use it every day. I also have a quill that I made from a crow feather I found in the parking lot at work. I cured it in the microwave and carved it with an Xacto knife, and it works great, but I mostly keep it for show. Makes a great conversation piece.

    1. Thanks for the comment, David. The desk sets are quite underrated in my opinion. They’ve got such great styling! I’m sure the crow quill is a great conversation piece. Sounds pretty interesting!

  8. John, I don’t have an Esterbrook pen but I do have hundreds of Osmiroid screw-in nibs which are apparently compatible. Have you tried them? I haven’t, due to lack of pen, but I read that the Osmiroid nibs fit some Esterbrook pens. I don’t understand that. All the nibs are the same screw-in so all should fit all.

    1. Noel, the Osmiroid nibs do indeed fit in Esterbrooks that accept screw-in nib units. I’m not sure that there are any they wouldn’t fit in. While I don’t have as many as you, I do have one or two that I’ve used in my pens with success.

  9. Shhhh . . . Esterbrooks were the Jinhaos of the 1950’s.
    LOL I was just kidding. I love my Esterbrooks. Please don’t hurt me.

  10. I found an old Ester brook pen that my mom had, found some cartridges online and when I got it cleaned up and working I remember why my mom quite using it. The nib she replied the original one with is so sharp and stiff it cuts it he paper if you don’t write with a very soft touch. Something I do not have.
    Thank you for your reminder that I can fix this problem.
    Now the next one, it is a cartridge pen. Will Shaffer cartridges work in it?

    1. Some of the old nibs can be very sharp, so I’m not surprised by your experience. If you’re looking for a replacement nib, you might check out my post where I compare a bunch of Esterbrook nibs to see if there’s one that may fit your writing style better: https://fountainpenlove.com/fountain-pen-education/esterbrook-nib-numbers-and-writing-samples/

      If you have an Esterbrook cartridge pen, Sheaffer cartridges won’t work in it. They had their own specific cartridges for their pens. I don’t think any other cartridges are a fit.

  11. Hello John, I live in Cordoba, Argentina. When I was 10 years old my dad gave me my first fountain pen, and it was an Esterbrook , I was delighted. After so many years I´m still a fan of Esterbrook, at presen I have three of them, they are in parfect condition and keep enjoying when write with one them

  12. The first fountain pen I liked was a barn find grey Esterbrook J, and though I also had a gold nibbed one at around the same time (I was in high school, almost 40 years ago), it wasn’t as nice a writer as that Esterbrook (was a 3rd tier pen, if I remember correctly.) I sadly lost my fountain pens when I went to college, and during that time, even ink was hard to find in my area, so I went to the dreaded ballpoint pens until fairly recently.
    Then I rediscovered fountain pens, and am working on a collection of Esterbrook pens. Why? Easy to work on, extremely durable, I still love the lever fill pens, the variety of nibs available, etc. I even reconnected my older sister (who used fountain pens in high school in the 1960s) with fountain pens, and just recently gave her an Esterbrook nurse’s pen because she asked if there was still lever fill pens. Pretty sure that she’ll use it at work (she works in a hospital, though not as a nurse.)
    Esterbrook is a great way to introduce people to vintage fountain pens, and even fountain pens in general, in my opinion.

    1. That’s a great story, Paul. Glad to hear you have been able to reconnect with Esterbrooks and fountain pens in general. I hope your collection comes together nicely and you have many good writing experiences with them!

  13. I bought a restored Esterbrook transitional (1 jewel) pen on Ebay several months ago. I think it must date from 47 or 48. How many 70+ year old items can you actually use daily without any real maintenance? I have other pens that write a bit smoother, but they aren’t as much fun to use. Their prices are going up too, but still much less than most other brands of similar ages.

    1. Those Transitional J pens are some of my favorites. Isn’t it a great feeling to have something that was made with such quality that it has proven itself over time to be a great item? The nice thing about Esterbrooks is that if you want a different nib that writes smoother, you can easily purchase one and replace it!

  14. I’ve found that the finer Esterbrook nibs are pretty scratchy; in fact, the scratchiest nibs I own. They’re not so much of a problem on fp-friendly paper as on the cheap stuff, where they want to dig into the paper. HOWEVER, I bought a 2314M Relief Medium Stub from Anderson pens, and it is a sheer delight. I have it installed on my Esterbrook J, and it’s become one of my favorite go-to pens.

    1. David, there are plenty of scratchy Esterbrook nibs to be found, especially the finer ones in the lower-series numbers (1xxx and 2xxx). I think a lot of this has to do with their history and usage up to this point, but it’s also because they’re not tipped. The stubs, as you know, are fantastic nibs. Glad you’re enjoying it!

    1. It’s a little complicated, Sandra. All Esterbrook desk sets have interchangeable nibs, but not all of them are technically fountain pens. While most of the desk sets are fountain pens, they made a line of desk sets called “Dip-Less” that held ink in the base instead of in the pen. The nib would get filled with ink when it was placed in the base. The pens that come with the Dip-Less bases will work with any Esterbrook nib, but the Dip-Less nibs, while they may fit in a normal Esterbrook fountain pen, will not actually work since they’re not made to channel ink from the sac to the nib.

  15. My brother just passed away. He had an old(er) secretary desk that belonged to my Mom. I looked inside and found an Estherbrook with 2 ‘new’ tips in their box. I remember it when I was 6 or 7 years old., 65 years ago. Still look like it’s new. Bladder probably needs replaced after all these years.

    1. Hi James, I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but it’s nice that you found a pen of his that you remember. If you can get it restored and working again, I’m sure you’ll get some enjoyment out of using it and remembering him. Also, many of the Esterbrook sacs are still in great condition and can be used without replacing.

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