From the mid-1940s to the 60s, Esterbrook produced a huge number of their iconic “J” series of fountain pens. While Parker and Scheaffer fought for supremacy in the high-end pen world, Esterbrook made one of the most acute marketing moves of the day: take the leftovers. All of them.
The result was a series of pens made of sturdy plastic, using the simplest of lever-filling systems, and sporting plain steel nibs. Sold at first for $1.50 (just under $20 today), they cornered the student market recently vacated by Waterman.
As a brilliant innovation, the company introduced one-piece nib/feed units which could be threaded by the user into any of their pens. Why would anyone want to change the nib of their pen? For variety! Using the slogan “The world’s most personal fountain pen”, they sold users on the ability to find the right nib for their own writing style, at a fraction of the cost of other pens.
Recently, browsing through old National Geographic magazines in the cut-these-up-for-your-art-project pile at her school library, my daughter found this lovely 1947 Esterbrook advertisement. While one occasionally comes across nib-sample cards used by vendors of the day, this ad highlights the company’s drive to break into the market with a new idea.
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This work (1947 Esterbrook Fountain Pen Ad, by Unattributed-no copyright notice), identified by David Armstrong, is free of known copyright restrictions.
The Esterbrook “J” series of pensin all of their sizesare good, solid pens. Even after years of use, the sacs are often pliable and in good condition. Replacement nibs are easy to come by, and the plastic and stainless steel bodies are usually in good condition. They can often be had on-line in the $20-40 range, and make a great starter pen for a young person. Even over 60 years later, they are still a hit with their original target market!