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.’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 ยฎ). 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 ยฎ, 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.

4 thoughts

  1. Hi Rachel. I have about 30 fountain pens including an Esterbrook M2 but I really want one in the J series. Just put a bid on Copper coloured J on EBay. Wish me luck! Michael, Canberra Australia

  2. Hi, Rachel. I found my Shaeffer student fountain pens from the 1960’s and my pen passion was renewed. I now have several more Shaeffers a few Watermans a few Conway Stewarts, several other vintage pens and various Chinese and German pens and o. While looking through them last week I found a beautiful Esterbrook J copper colored pen. I don’t remember buying it and have no record of it. I love it just the same. It is the same vintage as your red one as I now know (thanks to you) and has the same type of markings. The Nib sleeve was broken so I ordered a new one and a medium one from Anderson Pens. they came today and The pen writes great. I hope Michael Johnson won his auction. Thanks for the information. Paul Stant

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