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Identifying and Dating a Vintage Esterbrook

Posted in Fountain Pens

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 ®). 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.


  1. Peggie

    Wow, I am so glad I found your website! My father passed away in 2019, and I ended up with all of his ink pens. My siblings were not interested, and I finally was looking through them to see which one worked, and discovered that not only were there ball point pens in the bin, there were 6 fountain pens. I decided to find out what exactly they are, and it is getting really interesting the more I dig into this! I have a Chadwick, 3 Parkers, and 2 Esterbrooks. I haven’t figured out the dates or models quite yet. But just wanted to leave a reply to thank you for your references you put on your site.

    December 8, 2023
    • Awesome! I’m so happy that you found this useful. 😊

      December 8, 2023
  2. Laura

    Hi! Just came across your blog as I found an Esterbrook SJ fountain pen mixed in with many old ballpoint pens in my grandfather’s desk after he passed away. Unfortunately, it doesnt have a cap so I have only used it as a dip pen but the sack is still great and soft and the lever does work.

    Do you know where I could maybe find a cap? a vintage parts seller perhaps? I have tried ETSY and EBAY but no luck. Any suggestions to keep the pen from drying out if I want to fill it with ink now? ( note – The pen I have is “copper” though to be honest I would not be totally picky about cap color as I dont have it as an investment, more for sentiment 🙂

    Thank you!

    August 23, 2022
    • If you have a pen show anywhere around you, that’s probably your best bet, as vintage sellers regularly have lots of parts at shows. Failing that, you can try looking through a pen show vendor list to find vintage sellers and see if they have websites. Other options I can think of are Reddit’s Pen Swap (you may be able to find someone selling parts) or eBay for a pen being sold for parts as opposed to just the cap. I hope this helps!

      August 24, 2022
  3. Shannon

    Oh thank you, thank you!! One of my dearest friends in the world gave me a fountain pen nearly identical to yours except mine is a swirly green color. It was his father’s pen and the fact he gave it to me (knowing I love fountain pens) meant the world to me. He unexpectedly passed away two weeks ago and I’ve been trying to find out more information about this pen but wasn’t having any luck. Until now! He wasn’t even 70 and was in great health so I figured I had time to ask him more about it… but I was wrong. You have no idea how much this info means to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    February 14, 2022
    • I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m so happy it was helpful to you!

      February 14, 2022
  4. Val

    Excellent, informative post. I have three restored Esties (Js and LJ) and one Estie desk set, which is a beautiful azure blue, though the official name escapes me at the moment. I have just been gifted a grey SJ and another black Esterbrook whose model I have yet to figure out. These two marvelous gifts also came with two additional nibs. So apart from the 9 series nibs for general writing I already have, I have now the 9788 Shaded Writing nib, the 9314 Medium Stub, another 2668, and a 9128 Extra Fine Flex. I am absolutely thrilled. Like you, I enjoy the hunt to see the background and dates on my vintage pens.

    January 22, 2022
  5. Scott Stevenson
    Scott Stevenson

    Thank you, Rachel! I inherited some fountain pens from my great aunt-3 Esterbrook Model Js, a Conklin Endura, and what appears to be a Waterman 301-G. Thanks to your research, I’ve narrowed down the date on two of them to 1949-1952, and the third one has the “spoon” lever, so it’s somewhat later than that.

    August 16, 2021
    • I’m happy my research was helpful to you!

      August 16, 2021
  6. Paul Stant
    Paul Stant

    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

    July 1, 2020
    • Hi Paul, I’m glad to hear my research helped you. Enjoy your pens!

      July 2, 2020
  7. Michael Johnson
    Michael Johnson

    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

    April 10, 2020

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