If ever there was an entry-level workhorse vintage pen, this would be it.
Esterbrook was a hugely-respected company that made so many cheap pens that it’s not hard to find a specimen or two for almost the same kind of money one would spend on a modern entry-level. The J/LJ/SJ models are by far the most common, and they are the easiest to find these days, only differing in size. J is the longest and fattest pen, the LJ slightly shorter, and the SJ both shorter and slimmer.
I actually bought 3 Esterbrooks in total, one blue J and two copper SJs, but gifted the other two to stationery-enthusiast friends. This here is the first one I received.
The best thing about these Esterbrooks is that they operate on a one-size-fits all model: the nibs are swappable, and there is an absolutely staggering array of nibs to choose from. From a super extra fine cartographic nib (#8440) to several kinds of broad nibs (flexible, firm, rigid, or stub), an Esterbrook user usually ends up with a few to choose from. They even take nibs from other brands: a Pelikan M2xx nib fits in these pens, as do the Osmiroid nibs. Pictured below are three from my collection:
I was lucky enough to come across not one, but two #9128s nibs for a steal — they now cost upwards of $40 on eBay. The different nibs were made to different specifications: the old #1xxx and #2xxx series were untipped and made for disposable use; the newer #9xxx ones were tipped. My #3668 is a rarer English variant of the usual steel “sunburst” nib, which also exists in an even rarer frosted/matte version. And so on…
Given the age of these nibs and pens, there is a lot of variation between individual specimens. My pen uncaps in 1 1/4 turns, while the other two I gave away opened with 1 turn. New old stock (NOS) still exists and might be found if extremely lucky, while there are easily thousands of nibs that still exist unopened in their little original cardboard boxes. The writing sample below thus represents how my nibs write. My #9128 is just a little fragile and I have been told that the #1550 nib I own writes with an especially fine line.
Sometimes I am tempted to go on eBay and pick up another one in a different colour, but then I realise I would probably end up with another three or four of these nibs. I have way too much fun swapping nibs, sometimes on the fly… It never ends!