(This is a guest post by Garrett Kubat. You can find more from Garrett on Twitter @gazkubat.)
The Esterbrook J is my first vintage fountain pen. Of the pens that I own it is one of the most consistent workhorses that I can rely on to write. It writes when I need it to and only stops when the nib leaves the paper. The reliability is a huge plus in this vintage fountain pen. Reliability means that it can go from a novelty item to something that can be used every day. My estimates put this particular fountain pen to have been manufactured around 1948. I came to this conclusion by the fact the pen and lid both have the black plastic "jewels" on the ends. If someone more knowledgeable than I has a more accurate estimate I would be glad to hear it.
I purchased the pen from Brian and Lisa Anderson on their wonderful website for $60.00. They had others for sale that were cheaper, and I had read that eBay regularly sold them for even around half the price, but I was smitten by the blue colour and how I knew it would be a functional pen. Pens are beautiful, but I would rather have an ugly pen that wrote than a gorgeous one that didn't. That being said I was able to have the best of both worlds with this pen. This particular pen seems to be in a near flawless condition with no worn spots or scratches.
I would credit Brian and Lisa with the exceptional restoration I assume this pen received, but the state of the pen also speaks to how well these pens were made. They were made to be an affordable pen that used cheap but durable materials and were solidly crafted. It feels durable and write consistently, just like another amazing pen: The Lamy Safari. There are obvious differences but the two greatest similarities are they are long-lasting and reliable.
One element that makes this pen unique amongst the pens I own is the filling mechanism. Within the pen is an internal sack that can be depressed by the lever on the barrel of the pen. When the sack is depressed and the nib placed in ink all you do is push the lever back flush with the pen and allow the ink to flow into the pen. The ink capacity is not up there with say a TWSBI but it holds enough that I am not worried about running out of ink if I take the pen with me for the day.
This is an excellent choice to begin the vintage fountain pen journey with. The pens come in a variety of colours as well as other models like the LJ (Full length but slimmer than the J) and the SJ (shorter and thinner than the J). They can be found at a relatively affordable price and the large amount of nibs available makes these extremely versatile. An extensive list is available on Esterbrook.net, which is managed by the aforementioned Brian Anderson. I only have the 9556 (Fine Writing) and the 9555 (Gregg Shorthand) but I would love to get my hands on a stub nib.
This is my only vintage fountain pen so I can't compare it to others but I would say it stacks up well to a Lamy Safari, it was made to last and (most importantly) write.