Review: Esterbrook Estie

Esterbrook Estie - in box

The Esterbrook Estie is my latest fountain pen acquisition. This Estie, along with a couple of TWSBI Go fountain pens, are my only pen purchases of the year. So, expectations are high. I also go the optional $40 MV adapter which allows the use of vintage Esterbrook nibs with the pen. For me, the MV adapter was the sole reason to get the pen. This made it a fountain pen with a street price of nearly $200.

What I Got

Esterbrook Estie as delivered

I bought the regular size Esterbrook Estie with the tortoise acrylic, palladium trim, and a fine steel nib. The pen comes with a standard Schmidt converter already in the barrel. It takes standard international cartridges & converters. An oversized version of the pen is also available, but only with the ebony acrylic.

I also got the MV (modern to vintage) adapter, which is only available in black. Black does work with any of the acrylics, but it would have been nice to have matching adapters. At $40 the adapter seems a bit expensive, so offering a variety of colors would probably be cost prohibitive.

The MV adapter comes in a cloth pouch that includes a converter that fits the adapter. The included international converter is a tad too long to screw the barrel and section together. It also seemed a little loose, so I’d recommend only using the converter that came with the adapter, even if you have a shorter standard international converter.

First Impressions

Esterbrook Estie - capped

I like the classic torpedo shape of the Estie. This is probably a good time to mention that nothing about this pen reminds me of my vintage Esterbrooks. I could probably conjure a link, but I didn’t buy the pen because of nostalgia, so I’m not at all disappointed.

View on the internal rings, most noticeable just above the cap in the photo
View on the internal rings, most noticeable just above the cap in the photo

The acrylic has more translucence than I expected. This isn’t a good thing because the rings from drilling (or polishing) are visible inside the barrel. The solid lines around the barrel detract from the beautiful design of the acrylic. Once seen, they can’t be unseen. They’re slightly less visible once the converter is added and blocks some of the light. The other, less translucent, acrylics wouldn’t have this problem. Still, for a $200 pen, I would expect the polishing to be complete if the acrylic is translucent.

Overall, the pen made a good first impression. The incomplete polishing inside the barrel keeps it from being a great first impression.

Writing with the Estie

Esterbrook Estie w/modern JoWo nib and converter
Esterbrook Estie w/modern JoWo nib and converter

I decided to try the stock JoWo nib before moving on to Esterbrook nibs. I inked it up with Sheaffer red. The fine nib was a smooth writer. I left it stored nib up for over 24 hours, and it wrote immediately without any skipping. There wasn’t any skipping or hard starts from the time I inked it up to when I wrote it dry. Overall, the writing experience was delightful.

Estie with vintage nib, MV adapter and converter
Estie with vintage nib, MV adapter and converter

Then I switched to vintage Esterbrook nibs, using the MV adapter. My expectations were high, which probably amplified my disappointment., but it was a rough start. I picked the Esterbrook #8440 as my first nib. It fits in the adapter just fine, and I filled the converter through the nib. It failed to write, a total lack of ink flowing through the nib, even after spending over an hour nib down. The #8440 is a super fine cartography nib, so I switched to the #9550 extra fine nib. I again filled it through the nib, and there was a complete lack of ink flow. Both nibs worked fine and immediately wrote in a vintage Esterbrook J pen. Which annoyed me since I now had another pen to clean. I went up a couple nib sizes and installed a #9460 medium nib. It did take a little time, but eventually, the ink flow hit its stride after the pen spent a couple minutes nib down. If I pause and hold the pen nib up for even a few moments (~10 seconds) the line becomes very thin and requires some time nib down for the flow to return.

Esterbrook Estie with vintage Esterbrook Nib
Esterbrook Estie with vintage Esterbrook Nib

My uninformed guess is that the ink needs to collect between the converter and nib unit, and if it isn’t there the converter can’t get enough ink to in time. My Newton Eastman (which is customized for vintage Esterbrook nibs) is eyedropper filled and doesn’t have any flow problems (except so much flow that ink splatter inside the cap if the pen is jostled in a bag). There’s metal inside the Estie’s barrel, so eyedropper filling isn’t an option.

The Estie has a “pressure fit” cap which should prevent ink evaporation. The cap takes a little over one complete rotation to cap or uncap. The “pressure fit” aspect is noticeable when uncapping and uncapping. I haven’t used the pen long enough to judge this, but it sure seems like a tight seal. That said, I was a little annoyed by the cap, and it takes some getting used to. I often hold and fidget with, the cap in my left hand as I write and will, almost absent-mindlessly, cap the pen when I pause. I found this jarring when I did it with this cap. I did eventually become more used to it, but I still notice it, and it interrupts my thoughts. I will probably get used to it.

The clip easily slips over my shirt pocket material.


As a modern fountain pen, ignoring the MV adapter, this pen has a lot of competition at its $150 price point ($185 MSRP). If the pen appeals to you, then it would be worth getting. There’s nothing that stands out as superior about this pen. It’s a nice fountain pen, comfortable in my hand, and a good writer. I’d recommend a finish other than the tortoise acrylic unless you can inspect the quality of the interior polishing before purchasing.

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase, It will allow me to use my vintage Esterbrook nibs in a pen that’s comfortable to use.

Ink & Pen Notes: Esterbrook Dip-Less with Montblanc Corn Poppy Red

Esterbrook Inkwell and Displess Pen. Dusty, stained and ready to be cleaned.

I poured a full bottle of Montblanc Corn Poppy Red into the Esterbrook #407 Inkwell back on Feb. 28th of this year. It went dry this past Sunday, after 10 months of use and evaporation. The pen used was exclusively a bright red Esterbrook Dip-less with an #7550 firm extra fine nib. Both the pen and nib are gorgeous. I never get bored with the inkwell and pen on my desk.

I primarily used the pen to mark up documents, a task which suits the nib and ink perfectly. Occasionally I’d use it for short notes. The nib does hold a lot of ink with each dip, living up to its name. I rarely used the pen to write so much that multiple dips were needed. I may not write much at one time, but it does get used nearly every day since it’s so convenient and quick to use.

On the downside, it is a project to clean the pen and inkwell, although I can’t complain since I only need to do it once, maybe twice, a year. I do have to give the nib and pen receptor a quick cleaning every six weeks or so to remove the dried ink. This is more aesthetically annoying rather than something that causes a problems using the pen, although having the pen sticking in the receptor can be a little disconcerting.

The photos below show a nib that hasn’t been cleaned in over 6 weeks while the inkwell was nearing empty. It looks corroded and bad.

But that’s a cruel illusion. A quick pass through running water gets most of the Montblanc Corn Poppy Red out.

Getting all traces of the ink out was a different story. No quick flush here. Although staining wasn’t a problem the ink had plenty of time to work its way into every nook and cranny.

The inkwell soaked for hours and yet traces of red kept appearing. Now the reality is that I could have stopped and everything would have been fine. There wasn’t any staining and any ink left wouldn’t have affected the next ink I picked.

I don’t like pulling the nib out of this pen since I’m paranoid that I’ll break the lever. The last time I was immediately refilling with the same color ink so I just held the pen in the ultrasonic cleaner for short time to remove as much ink as possible. This time I plan to store the pen for a month or so and then refill the inkwell with a different ink color. I wanted a thorough cleaning. So after some time soaking and a pass in the ultrasonic cleaner I figured the dried ink wouldn’t be a problem so I took the pen apart. There was still ink in the feed and more than a couple drops in the pen cavity above the feed.

So now the pen and inkwell sparkle. I’ll let them air-dry a couple days and then store them away. In a month or so the Esterbrook Dip-Less with the #7550 nib will return with a blue-black ink or similar ink. Something suitable for letters or business.

Ink and Pen Notes: Esterbrook J with #8440 nib and Pelikan Blue-Black

Esterbrook #8440 Superfine nib and Pelikan Blue-Black

The Esterbrook #8440 Calligraphy nib is my thinnest Esterbrook nib and one of my thinnest nibs overall. It puts down a very thin line. Because of this it needs a ink with a solid color.  For some reason Pelikan Blue-Black is one of their 4001 series inks and isn’t available in the U.S. and I ordered mine from Cult Pens sometime last year.

Pelikan Blue-Black is a fairly dry writing ink which is to my preference but I was concerned since the #8440 nib is so thin, but it performed admirably.

I inked the pen up back on February 2nd so it took me awhile to run through the ink but I did finally write it dry. This nib is so thin, and also the most expensive Esterbrook nib that I have, so I find myself being a bit timid when it comes to using this nib. I pick it primarily for note taking and marking up document, not for longer writing sessions. I also avoid using the nib on course or fibrous paper. It’s especially nice on Tomoe River and Rhodia paper. I tend to concentrate more on my writing with this pen, which isn’t a bad thing, so that I don’t damage the pen.

I immediately refilled the Esterbrook J with Pelikan Blue-Black ink since it fills a nice spot in my writing arsenal, even though ink doesn’t flow through it as fast as some of my other fountain pens. [Update May 3, 2014] In this case I must have been careless filling it up and it was written dry by the weekend. This time I flushed and cleaned it out.

Ink and Pen Notes: Esterbrook Dip-Less with #7550 nib and Sheaffer Red

Esterbrook Dip-Less #7550 nib and Sheaffer Red bottle

I poured the full bottle of Sheaffer Red ink into the Esterbrook 407 Inkwell back in August of last year. It went dry yesterday, just a bit over six months later, and I cleaned it out today. I’ll be refilling it tomorrow, again with the same Sheaffer Red, but I wanted to clean it out before I did. Removing the stopper was a bit messy, some ink splattered when it came loose, but it stayed within the sink. Other than that it was easy to clean out.
No doubt some of the ink was lost due to evaporation, but I did do a lot of writing with the pen.
The nib photos show the ink drying and crusting up where the pen rests in the inkwell. I would clean that off every couple of months although it didn’t affect the writing. It cleaned off easily and there wasn’t any staining.
The nib has a lot of ink when it’s pulled from the inkwell and in most cases it was enough for what I needed to write at the time. Towards the end the ink began to have more of a burgundy look to it. I gave both the Esterbrook Dip-Less and the Sheaffer Red Ink full reviews.

Nib Notes: Esterbrook #9788 Flexible Medium

Esterbrook #9788 nib

Next up in my Esterbrook nib list is the Esterbrook #9788 Flexible Medium nib. Like all 9xxx series nibs it’s one of the nibs Esterbrook called a “Master DuraCrome Nib.” It’s osmiridium tipped. Osmiridium is what Esterbrook called the tipping material although it’s probably mostly iridium. At that time osmiridium wasn’t clearly defined and was an alloy of different metals. Iridium was one of those materials although there wasn’t any standard for the mix of metals.
Esterbrook promoted the pen as being for “shaded writing”, at least on nib charts from the 1950s. The box I have is labeled both “Flexible Medium” and “Shaded Writing.”
There is some flex in the nib, as the name implies. I’m not proficient at using flexible nibs so I’m not the best judge, so take this for what it’s worth. It’s a steel nib so there’s not a great deal of flex. The tines do spread with pressure and variation in line width is possible. Ink flow is excellent and I didn’t have any problems when flexing the nib. I also found the nib enjoyable to use normally (no flex). I’d pick it over the #9668 that I have. There’s slightly more ink flow and I like the line better. Of course, I may say the opposite with a wetter, more free flowing ink.
My particular nib has the final feed design and the Esterbrook name and nib number are engraved the length of the nib. Aesthetically I prefer this lengthwise engraving over engraving across the nib.
My particular nib was an eBay purchase and was new-old-stock (NOS) and arrived with the box. Prices seemed to have spiked since I got my nib. I found current eBay buy it now prices of $75. Anderson Pens prices the nib at $45 but it’s out of stock.
As I also said with the #9688 nib, the #9788 is a very nice medium. I’d pick the #9788 over the #9688 if price wasn’t considered. With the Esterbrook #9788 currently selling for five times the #9688 I’d be hard pressed to justify it’s purchase unless my skills with flex nibs dramatically improve. I’d also think skilled flex writers could do better with some other vintage flex pen for about the same money. So my Esterbrook #9788 Flexible Medium is a keeper, but not one I’d replace if it’s lost or damaged.
This is the last of my Esterbrook nibs, so the last nib notes. At least until I find some more. You can find all the, nibs and links to their nib notes on my Esterbrook Nibs accumulation page.