Posts filed under Esterbrook

Esterbrook SJ Fountain Pen Review

The Esterbrook SJ is the second of the two Esterbrooks I bought at the 2014 Atlanta Pen Show back in April. The first was an Esterbrook Dollar Pen, which I talked about back in May. Like I said then, Esterbrooks weren't on my list when I went to the show, but they snagged me while I was there, and now I'm pretty sure I've caught the bug.

Quick recap

Both of these pens were purchased from Carl Daniel, which I heartily recommend. Carl was friendly, helpful, and taught me a lot about these pens in the few minutes we spoke. He had dozens of Esterbrooks on display at his table, and it took me two or three passes to decide which ones I wanted. More accurately, it started off as picking one pen, but I failed at that goal and ended up deciding on two.

The SJ was the second pen that I picked up from Carl. I had already nabbed the Dollar Pen and spent several minutes looking at and handling the SJ models he had. For some reason, I enjoyed the size and weight of the SJ models compared to the regular J models. After that, I just had to narrow down the color. In the running was a blue, copper, and red model. I ended up going with the red because it caught my attention more out of the bunch. Today, I'm still extremely satisfied with my choice of color, but I'll definitely be expanding my collection to include other nice colors.

The pen

This particular pen came with a 1554 nib installed, which is a really fine nib originally meant for accounting work. With a regular grip and pressure, the line is very similar to a Japanese fine. I guess they designed the fine line to write in those tiny ledger lines. At any rate, it's a great nib considering how old it is. It isn't a new-from-stock nib like my other one, and it's also seen better days. It appears to have some damage to the point, but nothing that causes any performance problems. It's just a bit scratchy on some papers, which is normal anyway given the super-fine point.

Since it's such a fine nib, I don't use it nearly as much as my Dollar Pen. I prefer a smoother, larger nib when doing general writing, so I typically reserve this pen for more detailed stuff. With that said, I really want to find a new nib for the SJ because I want to use it more. Since the nibs are easily swapped, I can find something that suits my writing style and add this pen to the daily rotation.

With any Esterbrook, it can be difficult to pin-point an exact year of production, but this SJ was probably made somewhere between 1948 and the late '50s. Either way, it's doing a remarkable job of staying relevant and delightful. It still blows my mind that a pen this old can still be such an excellent writing instrument.


The SJ is longer and slimmer than the Dollar Pen. The only other fountain pen that has a comparable width is the Hero 529, which the Esterbrook blows out of the water. Personally, I love the form factor. There are times when writing that I wonder if the larger cousin, the J, would fit my hands better, but I can't get over how sleek and modern the SJ design is.

The SJ is just a bit taller than the Dollar Pen, which means it's a small pen. Once posted, both pens are almost identical in overall length. They both feel spectacular in-hand.

Filling mechanism

Like the Dollar Pen, the SJ has a lever filling mechanism. It works just as well as the Dollar Pen, if not a bit better since the lever has more of a grip to it. The SJ lever has a semi-circle shape at the end, while the Dollar Pen has a flat, short grip. My clumsy fingers can operate the SJ lever much easier.

Again, it doesn't hold much ink, but that's not a big deal. At any rate, it's fun to fill and is hassle- and mess-free.


I've touched on it a bit already, but I'll go into some more detail about the writing experience with this pen and nib.

The nib is super-fine, and makes a crisp, sharp line. I currently have it inked with Iroshizuku kon-peki, which works flawlessly on all the paper I own. I've never had problems with it being clogged, skipping, or drying after a few minutes of uncapped rest. The ink does tend to become extremely saturated and thick if left for more than a week in the pen. That being the case, it gets cleaned pretty often.

Apart from being scratchy, the nib does a beautiful job. It's firm and dependable. From the naked eye, it looks like the point has a small slant to it. This creates an italic effect on some papers. It probably wasn't designed this way, but I love it.

This is a great pen, but I don't use it as much as I would like because of the nib. Super-fine nibs are useful in certain situations (for me), but I prefer something like a fine or medium for most writing. If I can find one, I'd love to swap the nib out for an Esterbrook stub nib of some kind. I hear those are really difficult to acquire, but I'll keep my eyes open for one.


The SJ is a fantastic pen, and I'm so pleased that I bought it back in April. I went from knowing nearly nothing about Esterbrooks to becoming a fan of the brand and learning everything I can about them. It's so interesting to show people these pens and hear them talk about how they remember one that their parents used or that they personally used when they were young. These pens are a legacy, and it's really awesome to own and use a part of history. And, at the end of the day, it's still just a pen, and it does that job remarkably well.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and

Posted on July 16, 2014 and filed under Esterbrook, Fountain Pens, Pencil Reviews.

Esterbrook Dollar Pen Review

The Esterbrook Dollar Pen was one of the pens I acquired at the 2014 Atlanta Pen Show. I didn't really have an Esterbrook on my list when I went to the show, but I went home with two of them. I completely underestimated the charm and unique attributes of these pens, and I just couldn't tear myself away. I had to have them.

A little background

I bought the pens from Carl Daniel at a smaller booth at the back of the room. I remember stopping at the booth several times to handle a few of the pens that were calling to me. He was extremely friendly and offered all kinds of fascinating history tidbits about the pens I was holding. That was part of the allure that snagged me – the history. It put the context in living color.

Esterbrooks weren't on my list before because I really had no interest in antique pens. I had nothing against them, but I hadn't been bitten by the bug. Seeing these pens in person, I pretty much had no choice.

The first model I chose was one of the early "Dollar Pens." From what Carl told me and what I can find online, it's a gray demi model from circa 1939. It's not in perfect, mint condition, and that's part of the allure for me. It's a real pen that's been used. Someone wrote with this, and it still writes today. It has one job, and it does that job with excellence, even ~75 years later.

The nib that came with the pen is a model 1551 – firm medium (student). The nib unit was of an old variety that had a shallow feed. The shallow feeds are apparently prone to leaking, so the vendor included a new-old-stock 2668 nib unit with the pen. I installed the 2668 nib when I got home, and that's all I've been using since.

Now, the pen

I fell in love with this pen the minute I inked it up and started writing with it. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting it to write so flawlessly. I thought I would possibly end up tweaking and adjusting it a bit before it would write well. No, the pen filled with ink and wrote buttery smooth and consistent from the beginning.


Even though this pen is a short model, it feels like an average full-size pen when posted. When capped, it's somewhere between a TWSBI Mini and a Kaweco Sport. When posted, it's the longest of the three. I've written with the pen for long periods without any complaints. It's a great workhorse pen that I throw in my pen case almost every day. I only paid $30 for the pen, but I treat it like one of my > $100 pens. It's special to me.

Filling mechanism

Ah, the lever filling mechanism. I can't help but make a quick aside about this filling system. As a boy, I loved the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Professor Henry Jones struggles with a solider inside of a German tank, and manages to win the fight by squirting ink in the soldier's eyes. Cheesy, I know, but it's a childhood favorite. I doubt a lever-filler can actually squirt ink with that much force anyway. Back to the point, though.

The lever filling mechanism actually works really well. A small complaint that I have is that it's difficult to get my fingernail under the tiny lever handle sometimes, but that's just a minor gripe. Drop the nib into the ink, work the lever a few times, and you're good to go.

In my experience, the pen doesn't hold much ink. It's definitely much less than a standard Lamy converter, and more like the squeeze converter that comes with the Pilot Metropolitan. Also, another complaint is that you can't tell how much ink is left. You know when the ink starts turning a lighter shade that you only have a few more words left.


The firm medium nib is a pleasure to write with. There are pens that cost a lot more than this one, and they can't hold a candle to it. I know that each nib is unique and that I might have gotten a little lucky with this one, but that's alright. It's the pen that I have, and I absolutely love it.

The nib is long, which is nice for keeping a good grip on the pen. It's never had a problem starting, skipping, or scratching. I couldn't be happier with it.

And sometimes, depending on the paper and ink combination, the nib acts somewhat like a stub. I've found inks and paper with low saturation properties tend to behave differently with the nib. The tip of the nib is rounded on the top and bottom, but the sides are fairly square. I'm guessing that's what is causing the stub behavior at times. Wet inks do not show any sort of stub behavior, however.

One of the coolest parts about the Esterbrooks is that you can easily swap out the nibs. The nib and feed unit simply unscrew from the section, very similar to how the Edison Beaumont or new Kawecos work.


This is easily one of my favorite pens, and I'm really glad I took the chance to try one out. It can be a bit nerve-wracking to purchase an antique pen that may or may not actually operate as a functional writing instrument. In my case, I found a good dealer who does a good job of restoring the pens. Being as new to this as I am, I can't really offer any advice other than to find a reputable seller who cares about these pens. If you're fortunate enough to have a pen show near you, that's a fantastic place to see lots of vintage pens and knowledgable, friendly people.

This is one of my favorite new pens, and I can confidently say that I will be expanding my Esterbrook collection.

(You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution, Twitter, and

Posted on May 14, 2014 and filed under Esterbrook, Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews.

Esterbrook J Fountain Pen Review

Esterbrook Capped.jpg

(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.

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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.

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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, 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.

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Posted on December 16, 2013 and filed under Esterbrook, Fountain Pens, Pen Reviews.