I was really excited about the Pen Nooks when Esterbrook parent company Kenro shared images of them with me a while ago. It’s always good to see a new entry to any market, and I hoped these products would be a fresh competitor to cases from the likes of Nock, Hurlestone and Franklin-Christoph.
And phwoar, you can see why I was excited:
Esterbrook sent me a six-pen Nook (“the Half Dozen”) and a one-pen version to review.
I quickly came to realise that these are very different products from Nock and co. I believe the Pen Nooks work beautifully, but they’re best kept as storage back at your desk, or for bulk transportation from A to B, rather than on-the-go use.
Let’s see why.
The Pen Nooks come in a range of sizes to hold from one to 12 pens. All function the same way: there’s a distinctly jazzy paisley-lined drawer containing the pen slots. This drawer slides in to a plush outer box, which is done up in saddle-brown pleather with white stitching.
While the cases from Nock and F-C are soft or semi-rigid, the Nooks are completely rigid inside and out, solidly glued and stitched together.
This rigidity is a good thing in that your precious pens won’t get crushed by the normal jostling in a bag, but it has a number of disadvantages too.
First, the dreaded rattling. The pen slots are big, easily big enough to hold my chubby Kasama and 17mm Nakaya, with room to spare in width and length. So while you won’t have to leave any of your oversized pens at home, you’ll find that the pens actually rattle around inside their little boxes, and although the paisley fabric looks soft, there is actually no padding behind it. I’d have either liked the slots to be padded, or to have some kind of elastic loop to hold the pens still.
Second, there’s portability. On the outside, the drawer-in-box construction makes the Pen Nooks feel quite bulky, and they have a square-edged profile, too. This is particularly noticeable with the single-pen case, which is incredibly space-inefficient.
The bigger case is not so inefficient in width, although it is distinctly thick. You’ll struggle to fit the half-dozen case in a bag where even the Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6 happily fits because it has no give to it.
The third disadvantage is accessibility. To get pens out of most pen cases, you hold the case and either unzip an end or open a flap, after which you can see and draw out the pen you’re looking for. The Visconti case below is one example:
On the Pen Nooks, you have to completely remove the drawer from the box before you can access a pen from its tray (believe me, I’ve tried to get pens out with it half-open, and even smaller pens won’t budge until the tray is at least two-thirds out; larger pens not at all).
This means that 1) you’re already holding two items when you go to reach for a pen, and 2) your pens are almost fully exposed, because the tray has only an inch-deep ‘lip’ at the bottom (compare that to the Visconti case above, where the flap only reveals half the pen).
If you’ve got six expensive pens rattling around in a tray, you probably want to do all this juggling sitting down. You certainly can’t grab a pen from the Nook while it’s in a shoulder bag; the whole operation has to be done in the open air, with the tray positioned horizontally.
I have one particular nightmare about this operation, too. As I’ve said, the Pen Nook is essentially a tray or drawer inside a box. It’s very important to hold that tray the right way up so all your pens don’t fall out. When closed, the only indication of orientation is the branded Esterbrook logo on the outer box — the pen tray itself looks the same top and bottom. That means if you put the outer box on the wrong way up from usual, the next time you pick up the Nook you’re likely to hold it with the logo facing you, and therefore the tray upside down. Hopefully you’ll notice your mistake before you pull the tray all the way out, but if you’re in a rush you could find all your pens on the floor.
If it sounds like I’m poking holes in the Pen Nooks, I’m not. I think these are lovely products, but for a few reasons they’re not really suited for on-the-go use: they’re big and bulky, they have no interior padding for your pens, and there’s no quick and safe way to access your pens without taking the tray completely out.
But in a desk environment, they’re great, for all kinds of reasons:
- The Nooks look brilliant, for starters: the stitched leather and paisley makes a funky backdrop to any collection, and I expect the larger trays will be a hit on Instagram.
- The square and rigid construction means they stand upright, stack well and you don’t have to worry about crushing your pens.
- The drawer-in-box construction means your pens are safe from dust, moisture, UV and other threats.
- Opened up, the fully exposed tray puts your pens on display to choose from as you go about your working day without mucking about with zips and flaps.
- The wide unpadded slots make it easy to grab each pen as you need it, without wrestling them out of elastic loops.
In fact, price is my only real sticking point. Goulet has them in the US for $120 from an RRP of $150, which is £98 at current exchange rates. That I can deal with.
The RRP is $150, and in the UK, the six pen Nook is on sale at the Writing Desk for £114, a wonderful retailer that I’m pleased to recommend.
Being honest, £114 seems a little high. The construction of these cases is quite complex, but ultimately it’s still a pleather and polyester, made-in-China case. The Visconti case I pictured above doesn’t look nearly so fancy, but it’s £92 and made in Italy. Galen Leather do a six-pen zip case for 45 euros, which is hand made from top quality materials. The Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6 is about $60 depending on finish. You can buy the made in USA Nock Brasstown in the UK for £49. Pineider has a beautiful six-pen case with magnetic closure for £95.
In its defense, none of these cases have the jazzy style and sliding-drawer mechanism of the Esterbrook, and the Pen Nook’s pricing is more competitive at larger sizes (the pick of the range for me is the 12-pen case, which is clearly a collection-transporter, and priced at £132).
Kenro sent me these two Pen Nooks for free, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to use them. I’m definitely thinking about getting the 12-pen version to house my ever-growing collection.