Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed the Esterbrook JR, a plucky little pen that impressed me much more than I expected it would.
On paper the JR is nothing much: a small plastic pen with a converter and a generic steel nib, that sells for about £40 more than rivals like the piston-equipped Pelikan M200.
In the hand though the JR feels properly grown up, with classy colours and a solid feel. The fit and finish is miles better than the Pelikan, and I really enjoyed the writing experience, too. I couldn’t help myself: I liked it.
And now the JR is back, having swapped its sober suit and tie for a Hawaiian shirt and shades.
The new Paradise edition landed about a month ago, backed by the usual guns-blazing Esterbrook marketing campaign, this time with t-shirts and enamel pins depicting cocktails, parrots and sunglasses.
The Paradise theme is gloriously bright and 80s, and it carries through into the pens themselves. You have a choice of bright orange, yellow or turquoise, each with a contrasting finial.
I went for the turquoise, called “Blue Breeze”, which sports a bright yellow disc and gold trim. It’s very fetching, in the vein of the Sailor cocktail series.
The blue resin is pearlescent and just translucent enough that threads, metal inserts and other interior details are visible, but not in a distracting way.
The yellow disc sits around Esterbrook’s gold-coloured coin, adding just a little pop of accent colour.
Overall, I like it. It’s fresh and summery, and completely answers any criticism one might have had of the original JR’s “boring” colours of red, black and blue.
Normally, I wouldn’t do a ‘re-review’ just for a different colour. To be clear, this is exactly the same pen I wrote with a year ago, in the same box, for about the same price (there seems to be a £10 premium on the Paradise range in the market right now).
Yep, it’s still much smaller than I normally go for. It’s still well-built. It still has good ‘bones’ and proportions. I still recommend it, even though it’s definitely on the pricey side.
But this particular Paradise has a surprise: Esterbrook’s second specialist nib (after the ‘Journaler’ stub nib), an architect grind called the ‘Scribe’, created by Joshua of JJ Lax Pen Company in New York.
The base nib itself is a #5 JoWo in gold-plated steel, with a plastic feed.
It started out as a B, but has been ground down to a very definite architect shape that lays a line roughly 0.8mm at its widest.
Although my particular example arrived ever so slightly misaligned on the feed, it was easy to push back and writes smoothly and with a good medium flow. Not crazy wet by any means, but enough. Under a loupe the grind is really well done, even and crisp.
If you want to try out an architect grind, this is one of the more accessible versions out there, and it’s certainly easier and less risky than sending your own nib off to a nibmeister.
I have one huge problem with this grind, though, and it’s kinda the nature of the beast for architect grinds, as you’ll see if you look at the pictures.
JJ Lax have set the writing angle of the nib at about 45 degrees: in other words, if you want the full ‘foot’ of the nib to contact the page, the barrel of the pen will sit at 45 degrees from the flat surface of the paper.
Unfortunately, I hold my pen normally at somewhere between 60 and 70 degrees, more vertical than JJ Lax intended.
In my normal grip, the Scribe nib does still write, but it’s scratchy and leaves a much thinner, drier line than it’s designed to.
I don’t have enormous hands, but the JR is a small pen. To get the pen laid down to 45 degrees, I have to move my hand way back away from the nib, so I can get it out from underneath the barrel. It feels very unnatural for me and my natural lefty grip.
This is one of those situations where your mileage may vary!
Architect nibs are the only grind where this situation occurs, because they have a flat foot. Stubs and italics don’t care. Even a Zoom or fude nib has a much wider range of usable angles. Normally when I’m having an architect nib made for me, I’ll specify the writing angle to the nibmeister or even send some photos of my grip. But when making nibs for stock as JJ Lax is doing, there’s no way to have that kind of personalisation. And it would be deeply impractical to make multiple versions with the foot set at different angles. It’s just the way it is.
And what about the price? In the US, getting Esterbrook’s specialist nibs seems to add about a $50 premium to the price of the pen, which is decent value and about what a nibmeister would charge, but without the inconvenience.
Here in the UK the value proposition is a lot more wobbly. It’s about £85 to get the Scribe added to a JR. Now, the UK has a few nibmeisters, and I don’t think any of them would charge more than £50 all-in to grind you an architect to your spec. It’s up to you whether you want that ‘factory’ experience, of course.
So: a bright and cheerful pen for what’s left of the summer, and a fun, well-executed nib grind to add some variety to your pen tray. I’m still fond of the JR. But if you want to spring for the Scribe, especially for the price, make sure it fits your grip first.
The JR Paradise was sent to me (along with a rather jazzy t-shirt) for review. You can get yours from the lovely folks at Cult Pens, for £145 with a normal nib or £230 with the Scribe.