Identifying and Dating a Vintage Esterbrook

While volunteering at the 2019 Baltimore Pen Show, I was gifted a lovely red, lever-fill, vintage Esterbrook pen. Admittedly, I know next-to-nothing about vintage Esterbrooks. I also have a penchant for finding out as much about my vintage pens as possible.

That said, it should be no surprise that I set out to identify and date (as accurately as possible) my new Esterbrook as soon as I was able.

Because I had fun doing so, and I found the information interesting, I figured I’d share it with you in the hopes that my research would prove useful to others.

So…What is it?

My first job was to identify what it is. Finding a general “family” was easy. Google’s first result for “Vintage Esterbrook” let me know I had a pen from the J Series.

It took me a little longer to narrow it down between the J, LJ, and SJ. This post from a Fountain Pen Network thread gave me an easy reference point. Since the “jewels” at either end are a different size, I have a J.

Comparing the "jewel" sizes of my pen
Notice that the cap “jewel” (left) is significantly larger than the end “jewel”.

Richard Binder’s page about the J Series gave me a color name: Dubonnet Red.

And When Was it Made?

Then came the hard part. Most everything I found online made it very clear it’s impossible to precisely date an Esterbrook, as they don’t have any sort of date code. But, I’m tenacious, and I was determined to find the most precise date possible.

Esterbrook.net’s information on the J Series got me started. The Double jewel models came out around 1948. And the earliest pens had only “Esterbrook” on the barrel imprint (without the ®). Keep that in mind, it will help later.

Close up of the Imprint on my Esterbrook J

This post and this post (on a different Fountain Pen Network thread) point out that the “fishtail” or “spade” shaped lever was replaced with a “spoon” shaped lever in the early 1950s. Going by the second post referenced, around 1952.

The lever on my Esterbrook J

So I’ve narrowed down the manufacture date to 1948-1952. But my pen has the ®, so I’m ruling out 1948, and potentially 1949.

Ta Da!

So I have an Esterbrook J in Dubonnet Red manufactured between 1949 and 1952 (ish).

My Esterbrook J in Dubonnet Red

Not bad for a bit of research. It just goes to show, if you’re willing to put in a bit of work, you can find a lot of information.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to know how I found out what my other two vintage pens are? If so, let me know in the comments and I’ll get working on those.

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