One of the most durable pens of vintage pendom is without question, the Esterbrook. Predominant in the marketplace as a low cost pen for the masses, these pens can still be found today with original marked sacs still in tact and look, feel, and perform as if they were just purchased from the local five and dime. One staple characteristic of Esterbrook pens was maintaining the same six colors for almost the entire duration of their production lifespan. An excellent marketing strategy, or perhaps a lazy one, an Esterbrook could always be easily identifiable by the five marbled plastics (or black) with the distinctive steel trim and nib.
In the beginning, however, Esterbrook did try out some of the fancier plastics that others in the market were using. In fact, you can find comparable plastics in use by Conklin, Waterman, and others during this time. Esterbrook charged a premium for these fancier colors, and at 50% higher than the standard line, this $1.50 pen was rarely bought and few find their way into collectors’ hands. As such they are highly sought after and the most beautiful, hands down, of all the Esterbrook pens. Let’s take a look at some of the color combinations.
Starting with the introduction of the V-clip pen in 1932, a number of different color choices were available. We’ll skip black in all cases for this post, as it is, well, black. In the beginning, Esterbrook decided to give their colors “fancy” names. This often causes problems as the colors are not indicative of the actual color and the common colors often get the wrong names attributed to them. The better colors, then, are Morocco Red, Foliage Green, Pearl Grey, and a so-far uncatalogued color, Grey with Red Veins.
These colors were available on both V Clip models as well as two hole clip models. There were also three additional colors available for a very short time, presumably before 1941 and only as a two hole clip pen (presumably also offered at $1.50). These thus far have not appeared in any publications or catalogs, and have been referred to as “cracked ice” variants. Esterbrook unfortunately, was not as prolific in producing catalogs to its dealers as other manufacturers so there are some significant gaps with respect to naming conventions and as to when products were introduced to market.
The Yellow is perhaps the most common of the series, and the White by far the hardest to find. However, few can dispute the beauty of the Green or Blue variant (called to by both names, there are not two different colors), which is why it is labeled by some as perhaps the most stunning color ever produced by Esterbrook. Certainly not a cracked ice pattern compared to those models produced by Conway Stewart, this pattern is unique in and of itself and when seen in person does resemble an icy pattern.
While there were originally “fancy” names for the other five colors, this was short lived and the descriptive names for the colors were dropped somewhere between 1934 and 1941. Black was always just Black, and apparently Esterbrook couldn’t come up with any creative name for Copper, so it also was just that, Copper. The other colors were Dubonnet Red (Later just Red), Fern Green (Green), Dawn Grey (Grey), and Cobalt Blue (Blue). By the time the double jeweled J series of pens came out those fancy names were long gone.
What trips up collectors today are these fancy names and the fact certain colors were more susceptible to variances in rod stock coloration. The more notable are Copper, Green, and Gray, Blue also having some slight variances, and Red being most consistent amongst the bunch.
While these variances exist, they are not, in fact, different colors according to Esterbrook. Esterbrook only made and defined six colors: Black, Blue, Grey, Red, Green, and Copper. That’s it. Recent attempts have been made by some collectors to rename each of the different shades or patterning of these colors, Copper perhaps being the most sought after victim of these new naming schemes.
Green also shows a number of variances:
Grey had some interesting shades:
Blue saw a bit of purple creen in some variants:
Red seemed to maintain the most stable coloring:
While there are certainly more variations of shades then presented here, this gives you a good idea of some of the more common ones available. Be careful when trying to find a particular color, however. The best method, and my recommendation, is to ask for a dark or light shade of a particular color, and to omit the “fancy” names, unless you are specifically referring to the seven $1.50 models in the early V clip and/or two hole clip styles. Also, one should note that $1.50 marbled plastics are the only color variations which command a premium due to rarity. Relative ease of acquiring the five basic colors makes them all roughly the same in price. You should not be fooled into thinking a darker shade of copper is rarer than a lighter shade. Collectors seem to be drawn more to the darker shades at the present which does have an effect on the supply and demand and the pricing, but a higher price on these models does not constitute rarity.
Brian Anderson lives in Appleton, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Lisa Anderson, own and operate Anderson Pens. Brian has been collecting for well over a decade and claims to have “stopped counting” when he reached 1200 pens. You can read more from Brian – and enjoy the podcast that he and Lisa produce – at his blog: Vintage Writing Elements