Heritage? Handle with care…
When the Estie was launched a couple of years ago as ‘America’s original, reborn’, there was really nothing about it that evoked the ‘original’ Esterbrook pens. Although the Esterbrook name was displayed proudly, the emphasis was very much on the ‘reborn’ part of the slogan.
From the first time I handled it, I felt the Estie was designed to be a thoroughly modern pen. It dispensed with the old-style sac and lever filler in favour of an international converter. Gone were the J’s stately design features like the cap rings, stepped finials, and detailed clip. Even the brand’s trademark interchangeable proprietary nibs were replaced with standard JoWo (unless you invested in the clever MV nib adapter). Overall, the Estie dispensed with the J’s legacy and took a clean design style, with a couple of smart features like the sprung inner cap, and fresh, simple packaging. This brand isn’t a Conway Stewart or Onoto that aims to echo the past; more carrying the spirit forward.
Since then, Esterbrook has carved out a place for itself in the market based on quality finishing and a slowly growing selection of attractive resins (which also have little to do with the pearly plastics used on many original Esterbrooks). In fact, with an oversize version and glittery diamondcast resin in the latest releases, like the Montana shown here, the Estie is moving further away from its retro roots.
In hindsight, this focus on a modern style for the brand was a very smart strategy (marred only by the Phaeton misstep). The Esterbrook J that made the original company’s reputation is a true legend that sold in tens of thousands, and any attempt by a new company to simply replicate and modernise it would be met with skepticism by a community of enthusiasts suspicious of an attempt to ‘cash in’ — especially when that community had been burned before.
Ready to face the past at last
But today Esterbrook has announced a new model that explicitly calls out the original Esterbrook J series built from the 1940s on. It seems that now the brand is confident that it has proven itself to the community, and it’s ready to put a new product out there that sits squarely side by side with the legendary J at last.
Meet the Esterbrook JR Pocket Pen. It’s the J, remixed.
While the Estie is a large, clean, torpedo design, the JR could not be more different.
Small, but perfectly formed
Despite its name, in my opinion the JR is not quite a pocket pen, but it’s small: think Pelikan M200 size.
In overall size and proportions, it’s very true to the original Esterbrook J, albeit narrower across the barrel and longer in the section.
This is the first sign that we’re talking about a deliberately heritage design: much like mid-century wristwatches, pens of the past were on the whole smaller and slimmer than today’s.
Unlike the rounded Estie, the JR has nearly flat ends: the end of the barrel is topped with a metal coin, and there’s an inset coin in the end of the cap that’s been engraved with a cloverleaf-style symbol, filled with black. It’s not quite like the stepped ends of the original J, but again it’s a more traditional look.
There’s a thick metal band around the cap that’s laser-engraved with the Esterbrook name in its cursive typeface, and a narrower metal band breaking up the barrel.
And one more piece of metal: there’s a detailed folded-metal clip that is the closest thing in the design to a direct homage to the original J, but nothing like the clip on the new Esties.
No flashy resins here
The JR Pocket Pen is turned from acrylic, available at launch in the classic colours of black, red, and the blue you see here (which is very close to the blue on my Scribo 3 from Write Here).
To set the JR apart from modern multi-coloured resins, and from the patterned resins in the Estie, is a sensible move.
The resin isn’t flat; from the right angles it’s very chattoyant and extremely pretty.
Trim is in gold or rhodium depending on the colour; the blue here is trimmed in gold and it enhances the classic feel of the pen. Unfortunately, the interior metalwork doesn’t match — it’s plain steel.
Although it looks like there’s a piston knob on the pen, the JR is a converter filler. The original J was a lever filler.
Both cartridge and branded converter are included in the usual Esterbrook red fabric box. Despite being a pocket pen, a standard full-length converter happily fits.
More comfortable than you’d think
The cap unscrews in 1.75 turns, on standard resin threads. There’s no spring pushing the cap against your hands like the Estie, but in my testing the nib didn’t dry out regardless — there’s a good seal. The cap posts fairly securely (which matters on a pen this small), but not deeply, through friction alone. It becomes very long.
The section is small, but it is actually not that short — it’s almost identical in length to the Estie and Estie Oversize, and as I said, considerably longer than the section on the original J. To stop your hands slipping, it has a little dishing towards the end, and the threads are not sharp at all.
So I found the JR to be much, much more comfortable to use than the Pelikan M200 and M400 series, with their sharp threads and sharp section lip.
In the hand, the JR feels like a premium product. The resin has good shine, the metal bands fit well, the edge of the cap is rounded and polished, the barrel and cap are thick and solid. Even the underside of the folded metal clip, a usual problem area on cheaper pens, is smooth and snag-free.
A pen this small is naturally never going to be that heavy, but given its tiny proportions, the JR is not a complete lightweight, and that’s reassuring. It’s 19g capped, 12g ready to write. The M200 is about 9g uncapped, by comparison.
No vintage flex, but plenty of personality
Now, what about on the page? I was REALLY impressed with the personality of this little pen while writing. The nib is a screw-in JoWo #5 unit, steel of course, and mine was supplied in medium size — it’ll be available from EF to 1.1 stub.
The cloverleaf symbol makes another appearance — it’s a bit of an odd, squat logo but fills the space better than the long, thin wordmark normally used.
Flow was nice and wet with Scribo Rosso Melograno, and most surprisingly, my nib was rather soft, even giving some line variation just in normal use, without any real pressure.
The only problem I found was some occasional ink starvation in extended use, especially when taking advantage of the line variation! Note that the sample below is not simply railroading — the ink stops completely and doesn’t resume until you coax it back down.
But in normal use over the course of a week, I had no issues.
The return of the Dollar Pen? Adjusting for inflation…
One of Esterbrook’s original claims to fame was its ‘dollar pens’, affordable enough for every pocket. RRP on this pen is $175, which is roughly £130 in straight currency conversion. At the time of writing, I’m not sure how UK retailers will price it with tax and all that taken into account.
At £130, that puts the JR Pocket Pen into some serious competition, for instance against Otto Hutt’s 06, Edison’s Beaumont, and the Pelikan M200. Or, if you want a true pocket pen, you can get a Schon Pocket Six or a couple of Kaweco AL Sports. You can even squeeze in to getting a Lamy 2000, Platinum 3776 or Pilot Capless for that kind of money, with a gold nib. On paper, the price is probably too high and I would expect it to hit £115 to start feeling like a really good deal.
A pleasant surprise
Pricing aside, all I can say is that I really, really liked this pen from the first time I unboxed it. That surprised me. Kenro sent it to me along with their new Nook pen case, with nothing but a tease in their emails, so I had literally no expectations for what it would look like or how it would be specified.
But it charmed the hell out of me. The traditional styling is really handsome, and it feels like a premium product. Although it is its own design, put it next to an original J and the family resemblance is obvious. It’s clear that the JR has been conceived with a lot of respect for the classic J. Even more importantly, I enjoy writing with the JR a lot, and I say that as a guy that actively avoids small pens.
The Estie, too, was premium priced when it was launched, and even I wondered how it would stand up against handmade-in-Italy competitors. But it proved that its design was sound and that it feels great and writes well. On paper it was nothing special, but it had the recipe for a good pen nailed, and people love it. I think the JR does the same. Small, steel-nib pen with a bit of laser engraving and an old brand slapped on it? Yawn. But put it all together with the Esterbrook secret sauce and you get a smile on your face.