The Esterbrook Pen Company was in business for over 100 years, and only during its last 40 years did it actually get involved in the manufacture of their own fountain pens, the early days being devoted to the manufacture of perhaps the world’s most popular line of steel dip pen nibs. It is therefore appropriate that Esterbrook’s defining feature on their fountain pens to be a quality steel nib. In this case, the nib was removable by the end user. With other brands if you had a problem with your nib, not only was it probably gold and therefore more expensive to begin with, but also required you to take it back to your fountain pen store for repair. Since almost all early nibs during this period where friction fit with the feed in the section, removal or replacement meant removing the section from the pen (probably easier during the day then it is now), and knocking out the nib and feed from the section, inserting the new nib, and then making sure the nib and feed were set correctly to allow the ink to flow properly. The number of pens today found with some other brand of nib inserted in them is testimony to this common procedure. At the time there was no concern over brand A’s nib in brand B’s pen, it just needed to work.
Esterbrook was not the first company to devise the threaded nib and feed unit, but certainly carried it the furthest, having utilized it in their first fountain pens around 1932 and carrying them all the way to the end around 1971. The original patent application (1,999,177) was January 31, 1933 and the patent was granted on April 30, 1935. The concept was a simple one, house the nib and feed together in a threaded sleeve, make the inside of the section threaded to match the nib unit and you’re all set. Now what to call it? Esterbrook initially called it the Re-New-Point, but later dropped the first hyphen to simplify it to Renew-Point. Their advertising really pushed this technology for the remainder of their life, with slogans such as “Chose the Right Point for the Way You Write, By number”, and “To Renew…Here’s All You Do”
Esterbrook divided their nibs up into series. Originally starting with 1xxx, 2xxx, and 3xxx series, other series came and went throughout the lifetime of the company. The 1xxx series nibs were the standard base model nibs, and were also the shortest in length. Typically referred to as a “student’s” nib, they featured no actual tipping material on the nib itself, rather the writing surface was created by folding the tip over at the end. This Patent was applied for on July 27, 1934 and granted on April 21, 1936 (2,037,699). While these can be very smooth nibs, often times they will be found with this part worn down and no real writing surface left.
The 2xxx series nibs were very similar in that their writing surface was also created the same way as the 1xxx series nibs and folded over at the tip. They were, however, a little bit larger and longer nib. Some of Esterbrook’s best nibs were in this relatively inexpensive series, including the 2556 fine, the 2668 medium, and 2284 signature stub.
Early 2xxx series nibs had a little more of an imprint and some had metal sleeves on them. Even rarer still are early gold plated versions.
In an effort to develop a more premium tipped nib, Esterbrook came out with the 3xxx series nibs in what is now referred to as the “sunburst” pattern by collectors. These beautiful nibs had actual Osmiridium tipping and were the top of the line nib in the early 1940’s. Many of these featured a triangle shaped vent hole adding to the more art deco look to the nib. These can also be identified by their usual orange sleeve, although some were in black.
Some later English made nibs were stamped with 3xxx series numbers, but were similar to the 2xxx series nibs with folded tipping, and could be found gold plated and had the imprint orientation running the length of the nib like later 9xxx series nibs.
During World War II, with wartime restrictions, steel nibs were replaced with Palladium Silver 8xxx series nibs. These are easily distinguishable by the Esterbrook name in script running at a diagonal on the nib and their dark rich Palladium Silver finish. These nibs are tipped and of very high quality. These can be found typically on twist filler pens and bandless dollar pens.
The one exception to the 8xxx series nibs is the 8440 Cartographic Super Fine. This two tone sunburst style nib came in special packaging and is exceptionally hard to find in good condition. This nib came with a white sleeve that is easily stained.
The 3xxx and 8xxx series were replaced by the 9xxx series and expanded to a larger number of styles. These nibs had a much higher polish to them than the rest of the series. These nibs featured a green sleeve, although some can also be found in back.
Some 9xxx series nibs made during 1941-2 featured a frosted grey two tone look. These are highly desirable and quite hard to find today. These will typically (but not always) have a triangular shaped vent hole.
Later 9xxx as well as 2xxx and to a lesser extent 1xxx series nibs changed the imprint orientation to run the length of the nib. No other changes to these nibs were made.
During Esterbrook’s final years, they simplified the nib lineup to reflect their three most popular nibs, essentially the 2556 Fine, 2668 Medium, and 2968 Broad and removed the numbering scheme altogether, becoming just Fine, Medium, or Broad. These usually have a clear sleeve on them.
Esterbrook also made nibs in the 5xxx, and 7xxx series, but these were strictly for use with early dip-less pens. With these pens, the nib and feed were separate, and easily interchangeable. The catch was you had to keep the feed with the pen. When Esterbrook came out with the Dip-Less Universal, a pen with a threaded section that could take both the older threadless as well as the new threaded re-new-points, the old style was all but lost. Finding the feeds for these pens is quite hard today. The 5xxx series resembled the 2xxx series nibs and were rather plain with the exception of the word “Dip-Less”.
The 7xxx series resembled the 3xxx sunburst series, also with the addition of the word Dip-Less and Osmiridium.
A rare variation of the 7xxxx series nib has an unusual imprint running the length of the nib with a set of three lines running in an art deco pattern on the nib, but these are very hard to find.
So, where did the 4xxx and 6xxx series end up? We’ve covered every other series from 1xxx to 9xxx. Well, the 4xxx and 6xxx series were nibs developed for use in restoring other fountain pens and did not come with feeds or sleeves. If your brand A fountain pen had a broken nib, you could replace it with a 4xxx, 6xxx, or even 8xxx series steel nib. These were available in both gold plated (Duragold) and two tone (Platigold). Since these do not say Esterbrook on them anywhere, they are next to impossible to identify unless you find them in their original packaging.
One very rare prototype nib was made resembling the Sheaffer Triumph conical nib. This bore the number 6668 and very few are known to exist.
Just to mix things up, Esterbrook also made a special Renew-Point in England for their later Relief line (which resembled a double jewel J series pen but with gold plated trim) in 14ct gold.
So, the next time you grab an Esterbrook and wonder what kind of nib you can put in it, you’ve got lots of options, just “Choose the Right Point for the Way You Write”!