The latest addition to my Esterbrook nib collection is the Esterbrook #8440 Superfine nib. This was a special purpose nib and Esterbrook’s most expensive nib back in their day. The scarcity and price has made this the most expensive Esterbrook nib these days, by a large margin.
My #8440 is well used. Much of the gold plating is worn off, although it remains in the engraved lettering. There’s also ink staining on the white base. While the photos make it look like the gold plating is worn unevenly, to my naked eye it looks like the gold remains inside the engraved letters and lines while the raised areas have a slight gold sheen. It looks like it belongs this way rather than being worn down. I debated a bit as to whether this was worth the price and decided to buy it when a comparable specimen (probably worse, hard to tell from photo) sold on eBay for significantly more than I paid Anderson Pens for this nib. The Anderson Pens price was at the very top of my budget and I decided I’d have to be very lucky to get a better nib for less.
The nib was promoted as a map making nib and is often described as a cartography nib. The nib is engraved “Superfine” so that’s what I’ll call it. I don’t have the original packaging but photos show it labelled for map making, super fine and special posting, with a emphasis on map making.
As expected, the nib is needle sharp and stiff as a nail. Both good things in my book.
Considering this is such a thin nib it’s remarkably smooth. I put the nib on an Esterbrook J and filled it with Rohrer & Klingner Blau-Schwarz to give it a try. The nib glides smooth and easy over Rhodia No. 16 Dotpad paper. There’s a bit more feedback on Doane writing paper but just enough to be reassured that it’s writing. I do need to keep a light touch but as long as I do the nib moves easily and puts down a consistent line, pressure does cause the nib to catch on the paper.
While I did write the draft of this article using the nib, this isn’t a nib I’d use for every day writing. I’d use it more for marking up other documents or writing notes when space is limited. While writing with a light touch isn’t a problem for me, I start getting careless when I start writing fast and the nib can catch on all but the smoothest paper. I have the same issue with other needlepoint nibs, so it isn’t unique to this nib.
I didn’t have any problems with Rhodia, Doane (Jotter & writing pads) or Field Notes (Original and the “Drink Local” editions). No skipping or false starts and a smooth writing experience. Well, smooth within the parameters of a needlepoint nib that needs a light touch. It writes better than a couple modern needlepoint nibs that I have.
Despite the thin nib, and limited ink on its tip, I find it takes surprisingly long for the ink to evaporate off the nib. I can consistently put the nib down for over 2 minutes and its still wet when it meets the paper again. So far, only R&K Blau-Schwarz ink has been used, other inks may evaporate faster.
I have two nibs that are similar to the #8440 nib, the Esterbrook #1550 and #2550, and used them in the sample for comparison. Both are “Firm Extra Fine” nibs. Viewed through a loupe the #8440 is clearly thinner than the other two. The #9550 is also similar and has tipping material but I don’t have one of those. You’ll see two #1550s in the writing sample. The first one just didn’t seem to be writing right so I tried a second that I had (it’s a very common nib) and it was much better.
The 1550, 2550, and 9550 could all be purchased for a fraction of an Esterbrook #8440. The writing experience isn’t all that different. I want to say the #8440 is smoother but that could be my brain wishing it to be. It is worth mentioning that these are all old nibs and there could be variations in performance even within the same nib type as seen in the two #1550s I used in the sample.