I’m getting near the end of the quest through my accumulation of Esterbrook nibs. It’s time for the Esterbrook #9668 Firm Medium Nib. Like all 9xxx series nibs it’s osmiridium tipped. Nib charts from the 1950s list the nib as being for “general writing.” It’s a basic, middle of the road nib that’s not very exciting. This one has “Esterbook” and “9668” engraved the length of the nib, with Esterbrook on top of the nib number. It’s a nice clean design which I like. My particular nib was in a batch of nibs I bought on eBay, I didn’t have a box but did appear to be in mint condition. The nib is a nice smooth writer that puts down a wide medium line. It helps that the nib is wider than the fines so it doesn’t dig into the paper fibers. There’s good flow and no hint of skipping. While it does have “firm” in the name it doesn’t feel as nail-like as the fine nibs. I’m becoming more accepting of medium nibs and this one has a nice feel to it. It’s a basic nib that was probably pretty popular in its time. But it is a Master DuraCrome which were more expensive, so it isn’t a bargain basement nib these days. An eBay search finds one with a $15 BIN price. Anderson Pens lists it for $20 although it is out of stock. It’s a nice medium nib. That’s not exactly a raving endorsement from me since I prefer fines and extra fines. Despite that it’s a nice writing nib and I may find myself inking it up in the future as medium nibs seem to be growing on me. The Esterbrook #9668 Firm Medium is a keeper.
Next on my Esterbrook nib parade is the Esterbrook #9556 Firm Fine nib. It’s very similar to last week’s #9555 shorthand nib. The #9556 feels just slightly less smooth, although it is still very smooth. I really have to use the nibs together to notice. The difference is so minor it could be a manufacturing variation or age and the nibs could be intended to be duplicates. Although, logically the Gregg certified shorthand nib would be expected to be smoother out of the box since it’s intended to be used for shorthand. (Both nibs came to me as mint.) The nib has “Esterbrook 9556” engraved the length of the nib on two lines which is a clean design that I like a lot. The ink flow from the nib is very good. Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun can be hard to read if the ink is thin plus it’s a fairly dry writing ink. The nib puts down a nice consistent, dark, even line even when writing fast. Like all 9xxx nibs it’s Osmiridium tipped. So, in all likelihood the nib will outlast me. My particular nib was an eBay purchase of a half dozen nibs giving it a nice low price. A recent search shows single nibs on eBay for $23 (BIN). It’s out of stock at Anderson Pens but they list it for $15.00. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – any nib called “Firm Fine” is OK in my book. Esterbrook also labelled this nib for “general writing” and “fine writing.” But whatever it’s called, I like the Esterbrook #9556 Firm Fine a lot and will keep the pen inked up so I can continue to enjoy the nib.
I missed last weeks Esterbrook nib notes, but I’m picking back up up this week with a very nice fine nib. The Esterbrook #9555 Fine nib is listed in a 1955 nib chart as being for “Fine Writing” and includes shorthand marks. It’s listed in a 1959 nib chart as being for shorthand, no mention of fine writing and it’s not listed as a fine nib, just “shorthand”. Although it is listed between an extra fine and a fine nib. The nib is 9xxx series “Master Duracrome Point” nib that is tipped with Osmiridium. Esterbrook called it Osmiridium which is an alloy of osmium and iridium. At the time the make-up of Osmiridium wasn’t clearly defined and it may have been more iridium than anything else. The nib has “Esterbrook 9555” engraved lengthwise on the nib which looks sharp and is a style I like. My particular nib came with a pen and was in mint condition without any signs of use. I see the nib on eBay for just over $20 (buy it now). Anderson Pens lists it at $12 but doesn’t have it in stock so the price may change if they get some. As I found when I researched the #1555 nib, Gregg Publishing licensed the name for pens (and nibs) that met their standards. Thin and firm nibs were preferred for shorthand because they allowed for quicker writing. But it looks like there were additional requirements beyond just a firm fine nib. Like the #1555, this nib meets those requirements and is very smooth. I can see that it would perform very well with quick writing and frequent direction changes. The nib puts down a nice crisp, solid line with a good amount of ink. Even though Fuyu-syogun is on the dry flowing side, there’s very good flow from this nib. I like the Esterbrook #9555 Fine nib a lot. It’s a relatively low cost 9xxx series Esterbrook nib which makes it even easier to like. I’ll be keeping this Esterbrook inked up and I’ll use it until it runs dry.
Next stop for the Esterbrook nib train is my Esterbrook #9550 Firm Extra Fine nib. As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite three nib related words are firm, extra and fine, preferably in that order. So this nib has a lot of promise. Like other 9xxx series nibs the #9550 is osmiridium tipped and part of their Master DuraCrome Point line. My particular nib has quite a bit of feedback, especially when writing on paper that’s not smooth. I say not smooth, rather than rough or coarse, because I don’t consider Doane Writing Pads to be coarse or rough paper. But the feedback on this paper makes the writing experience less than enjoyable. The line put down on Doane paper, at least the writing pads, is much thinner and I have to press harder to get a good solid line. On the other hand, writing on smooth paper is a much more pleasant experience. It’s still a dry writing pen on smooth paper but a light touch can be used and the line is consistent. No skipping, but not an abundance of ink either. There’s not much more to say about this nib, It’s name covers everything you need to know – Esterbrook #9550 Firm Extra Fine. I enjoy the nib on smooth paper but it’s not enjoyable on the types of paper I typically use during the day. It’s just too thin. Next time I ink it up I may try a more lubricated ink to see if it helps smooth the writing a bit. But I’m not hopeful. The Esterbrook #9550 Firm Extra Fine, at least the one I have, doesn’t live up to the potential of its great name.
This FPN thread mentions some smooth 9550s Grandmia Pens shows an Esterbrook with the #9550 nib on YouTube. The nib is unveiled at the 4:48 mark.
This pen changed my life. Well, not really. But I was surprised at how much I’ve loved using this pen. I bought the pen over a year ago and it sat unused until about two weeks ago. I’ve used it just about every day since then. This nib review is a little different than my previous Esterbrook nib notes. That’s because this nib is different. Unlike the previous Esterbrook nibs this one is for an early Esterbrook Dip-Less pen. Since I’ve only got one nib for the pen this will be a combined nib and pen review, even though the nib is interchangeable. (Technically, any of my Esterbrook nibs will fit, but I’ve only got one nib that’s specifically for this pen.) I purchased the pen on eBay about a year ago. It came with the #7550 Firm Extra Fine nib. The pen box was in very good shape and included the original instructions. It was listed as New Old Stock (NOS) and I liked the color so I made a bid and was surprised when I won the auction. I obviously wasn’t too excited because the pen sat for a year. Thanks to modern marketing, when I read “Dip-less” my first thought was that the pen didn’t need dipping. Was it just a marketing name for a fountain pen? Obviously that’s not the case. “Dip-less” means it can be dipped less often since, unlike early dip pens, this one includes a feed. My only other dip pen was my glass dip pen, so I can’t really compare this one to other dip pens. What I can say is that the feed holds a surprisingly large amount of ink. Sometimes it seems like it can go on forever.
What I Got
This nib is unlike my previously reviewed Esterbrook nibs. It doesn’t screw into the pen. A lever is used to unlock the feed and slide it, and the nib, out. The nib and feed are two pieces. A nib swap just replaces the metal nib, the same feed is used. The feed is designed so that the nib slides into the right place. There a small ridge where the back of the nib butts into place. The nib and feed then slide easily into the pen. It’s hard to insert the nib incorrectly. The pen also takes the regular Esterbrook screw in nibs (Renew-points), such as the ones that are also used in the Esterbrook J pens. Other than screwing a nib in to make sure it fits I haven’t used one of the screw in nibs. The #7550 nib will only work in this pen (among the Esterbrooks I own) and I love the extra fine line it puts down so I’m not looking to swap it. The pen barrel is engraved “Esterbrook PAT.PEND. MADE IN U.S.A. DIP-LESS UNIVERSAL”. The black taper can be unscrewed and replaced. I’ve also seen clear and red tapers. The “Universal” means the pen can take either the original two piece nib (such as the #7550) or it can take one of the screw in nibs. I’m still not used to removing the nib. The nib (and feed) are a little hard to slide out and I’m afraid I’ll break the lever, or the plastic around the feed. From what I’ve read this wasn’t uncommon (the breaking that is). While removing the nib and feed allow a thorough washing, it’s not necessary and it doesn’t take much longer to clean the feed while in the pen. I’ve been cleaning it a lot lately since I’ve been using dozens of inks with it and I haven’t had to take it apart. The #7550 is another manifold nib, intended for carbon copies. This seems like a good choice for a desk pen that would be for public use. At a bank counter for example. The nib is Osmiridium coated which would provide added durability and smoothness. My particular nib was NOS and was in good shape. There is some feedback from the nib, but this is expected from an extra fine nib. I would say this nib is near the top, if not on the top, of the smoothness list for my Esterbrook extra fine nibs. Most 7xxx nibs had the Sunburst pattern. Mine doesn’t. It’s has he imprinting vertically along the nib and boxed in by three lines. I didn’t know it at the time but this nib is considered rare. I was thinking the sunburst pattern would be more desirable until I read this article by Brian Anderson. Based upon the instructions that were included with the pen it was intended for use with the No. 407 inkwell (or at least one that looked like it). The instructions lists nine 5xxx series nibs as designed for the pen (The #5442 is not listed). The instructions also say Renew-points in the 2xxx and 3xxx series can be used. Since there’s no mention of 7xxx series nibs this would seem to indicate that my #7550 nib, the pen and the instructions were not originally packaged together. But some research (mainly reading Paul Hoban’s “The Fountain Pens of Esterbrook) makes it clear that the 7xxx series nibs were available when the instructions were printed and they were intended for Dip-less pens. The 7xxx series nibs are in the c.1939 catalog. The 3xxx series nibs were introduced around 1938 and phased out around 1944 which would put the instructions in that date range. The 7xxx series nibs are the Osmiridium tipped versions of the 5xxx series nibs, although there are only four 7xxx series nibs. I would have expected any instructions to mention the 7xxx series nibs since they were available at the time, especially if the nib was sold with the pen. The nib obviously works in the pen. I was just curious, not concerned.
Length: 6.3815″ (162.09 mm)
Diameter (near nib): 0.39″ (9.90 mm)
Barrel Diameter: 0.4185″ (10.63 mm)
Weight: 0.2 oz. (6 g)
Writing with the Pen
I do have a couple Esterbrook #407 inkwells but I didn’t start cleaning them up until I learned how much I liked this pen and that I wanted it on my desk.I used the cleanest parts from both to get a working inkwell. I just filled the inkwell with Sheaffer red as I was getting ready to publish this post. (I also have a 447 “hockey puck” inkwell and the pen does not fit as snugly as it does in the #407.) The 407s hold a lot of ink – a full 50ml bottle of Sheaffer Red fit with room to spare. Because I just filled the inkwell last night all my writing has been done bottle dipping. This results in a coating of ink on the top of the nib. While it looks nice, it could result in errant ink drops so I wipe the ink off on the edge of the bottle. This takes a little longer but using the pen was very enjoyable. The inkwell to solves most of this problem although there’s a little ink on top of the nib. Despite getting the pen over a year ago this is the first time I’ve dipped it in ink. And I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. I used the nib when I swabbed/tested my Private Reserve and Noodler’s inks and the writing samples are in the Gallery. There weren’t any problems, although the inks are very old and a couple of the colors obviously haven’t aged well. That’s not the fault of the pen. I’ve been on an ink sampling tear thanks in part to this pen and have used it with several dozen inks. Some inks work better than others, just like in a fountain pen, but in general they all worked great. I don’t know why I expected writing with the pen to suck, but since it was actually pleasant I’ve probably over re-acted on the positive side. It’s rather fun to see how much the pen can write with one dip. (A lot.) For my first extended writing session (the draft of this review) I picked Montblanc Bordeaux as the ink. It seemed appropriate and was a perfect match. Using a dip pen is a different writing experience. Some of the enjoyment was obviously because it was different, but I’ve continued to enjoy the pen. If I held the pen in the bottle for a little longer than a quick dip it would take up enough ink so that I could write about 3/4 of a page, including some pauses. I made it through the first draft (a couple lines over two pages) with four dips and the fourth was close to the end but there just wasn’t enough ink without that fourth dip.
Unfortunately dip pens aren’t as convenient to use, for obvious reasons. Still, the Esterbrook Dip-less with the #7550 Firm Extra Fine nib is a pleasure to use so I’ll find reasons to use it while at my desk. I started cleaning up the inkwells and plan on putting the Esterbrook Dip-less in a prominent spot on my desk.