Getting to handle the new Esterbrook pens was one of the highlights from this year’s D.C. Pen Show. When Kenro first announced that they had acquired Esterbrook back in April, I suspected they would turn out something good, but the Estie far exceeded my expectations. Given the history with the “new” Esterbrook brand, first resurrected a few years ago to little acclaim and much derision in the pen community, I was concerned that the Estie wouldn’t get a fair shake, but it appears that the reception has been largely positive, mainly because you can’t argue with the fact that the quality is top notch.
Particularly striking to me is how this pen feels in the hand. I’ve used a LOT of turned acrylic pens - I probably own dozens - but the materials chosen for the Esties feel solid and have a lot of warmth, reminiscent of ebonite or celluloid (even though they’re obviously not). The section in particular is quite comfortable, and I find myself wanting to write with this pen for long periods of time. I also absolutely love the vintage cigar shape. Though I’m not a collector of vintage pens, I very much appreciate vintage-inspired design, and the Estie sports the beautifully streamlined look of a classic Sheaffer balance, sans cap band or any adornments other than the clip and an engraved “Esterbrook” logo.
Two features are being used extensively to market the Estie: the “cushion cap” closure and the “MV Adapter,” the latter of which is available for purchase separately, and allows you to use your vintage Esterbrook nibs in the new pen. After some initial skepticism, I’m a fan of the cushion-cap. It’s a spring-loaded inner cap that requires you to push the cap down and turn in order to engage the threads to close the pen. It takes a time or two to get used to, and after that you don’t notice it much. The one thing I don’t love about it is that it makes it difficult to post the cap straight on the barrel - a very minor annoyance, but I’m a poster, so there it is. On the other hand, the purpose behind the cushion cap is similar to Platinum’s “Slip & Seal” system on the 3776 Century: the nib won’t dry out even if you leave the pen sitting unused for long periods of time. This may be convenient for some people, but it’s not so much a selling point for me, nor is it a feature I’m likely to test. I tend to write my pens dry fairly quickly.
Similarly, while vintage Esterbrook enthusiasts who own a large collection of vintage nibs might view the MV Adapter as an essential, those who merely want a smooth steel nib on their daily workhorse can probably take a pass. I honestly prefer the feel of modern steel JoWo nibs to standard Esterbrook fines or mediums, and wouldn’t spring for the MV Adapter unless you want to use your vintage Esterbrook stubs, flexies, or stenography nibs. (Confession: I’m not a vintage Esterbrook enthusiast. I like the “J” series and Dollar Pens just fine, but I only own one or two vintage nibs, and I didn’t get particularly invested in the drama over the sale of the brand. The MV Adapter therefore doesn’t have much emotional resonance with me personally.)
That said, major kudos to Kenro for making peace with vintage Esterbrook enthusiasts, and for envisioning a way to connect the “new” and “old” Esterbrook pens by incorporating a key feature of the vintage brand: the ability to swap the absolutely massive array of available Esterbrook nibs. The MV Adapter works quite well, though you do have to use a different converter, and I suspect that the relaunch of the brand and nib compatibility will prompt vintage nib hoarding and, eventually, price gouging. While Esterbrook nibs are fun to play around with, I don’t personally think the quality justifies the prices some people are willing to pay today for what amounts to a stainless steel nib that can be kind of scratchy. For the prices charged on some of the vintage specialty nibs you could purchase a custom grind.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
Short answer: the Estie is a great pen that I can wholeheartedly recommend as an everyday writer, but it’s the overall classic look of the pen and comfort in the hand that wins my recommendation, rather than a fancy cap closure or vintage-nib adapter that, frankly, most brands do just fine without and that I could take or leave.
Esterbrook Pens are available from most Kenro retailers and were widely distributed at launch. Site sponsors Pen Chalet, Vanness Pens, Anderson Pens, and Goldspot all stock the Estie. (Full Disclosure: I acquired the Cobalt Blue Estie pictured here from Pen Chalet using affiliate credit, and Kenro sent me the brown Tortoise Estie for review purposes.) The pricing of the pen has prompted some debate. Currently the standard (MSRP) pricing on the Esterbrook Estie is around $195, with the retailer “street price” around $156, after applying all permissible discounting and coupon codes. The standard Estie comes in three colors: Cobalt Blue, Tortoise, and Ebony, with all colors available in either chrome or gold-plated trim. Esterbrook also has released an oversized version of the Estie, available in Ebony only, at a MSRP of $250 and a street price of $200.
Some people have remarked that this pricing is inconsistent with the spirit of the brand. Esterbrook, after all, was a “budget-friendly” pen back in its heyday. Some vintage Esterbrooks cost only a dollar (hence the “dollar pen” models). I tend to disagree with such assessments. In today’s market, given the realities of manufacturing and distribution costs, $150 seems to be the price point at which smaller brands are able to make a high-end fountain pen without running into significant quality control problems. Turned acrylic pens are more expensive than cheaper injection-molded plastic models, and the $155 price point is lower than both Edison and Franklin-Christoph pens, with which the Estie compares favorably. Plus, if we want these companies to stick around to serve a small (albeit growing) niche market, they need to be able to turn a profit.
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