Posted in Pens, Stories

The Esterbrook V Clip

In 1858, entrepreneur Richard Esterbrook established the “Esterbrook Pen Company” in Camden, NJ, which would soon become one of the biggest and most beloved pen makers in the world. The company produced dip pens, until the early 1930’s when their focus changed to fountain pens. At its height, Esterbrook was the largest pen manufacturer in the United States, employing 600 workers producing 216,000,000 pens a year.

Much of America’s history has been written and created using Esterbrook pens. U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation with their Esterbrook pens. While John F. Kennedy called upon our nation to literally reach for the stars, signing documents that promised to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth.

The pen is not assign an official name; however, it’s popular name comes from the “V” styling of the large open clip. Esterbrook is considered a tier 2 manufacture but they used stainless steel in the manufacture of their clips while their tier 1 competition still used electroplating. This pen was Esterbrook’s first attempt at a self filling fountain pen in the U.S., manufacturing of fountain pens started in 1932, the pens were available in hard rubber and in a celluloid (plastic). The clip proved to be a major design disaster, as the flimsy metal often caused sprung clips, or worse, broke clips. Esterbrook designers quickly changed to the more common two hole clip found on “Dollar” pens. The V-Clip pen was only manufactured for a little longer than a year. It is hard to find V-Clip pens and quite uncommon, even rare to find them in colors other than black.

The pen in my collection is a green marble celluloid plastic, I found it in Trappe on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The pen is in immaculate shape and sports a Relief 314 Medium nib, which is very unusual. The Relief 314 nib is a oblique dip pen nib with a 15° slant that gives nice line variations without having to use a flexible nib. Esterbrook began manufacturing the nib in England in the 1870’s, eventually manufacturing the nib in the U.S. when the quality of U.S. steel was deemed acceptable. When Esterbrook began making 314 renew point nibs (interchangeable) the nibs adopted the established numbering sequence and 314 became 1314, 2314, and 9314 where the first number indicates the quality/material of the nib and the next three correspond to the dip pen nib. Esterbrook made 250 different dip pen nibs, thus this nib predates the numbering adoption.

British “Relief “ nib vs US “Relief” nib

In addition to the defect in the clip design, there were issues with the celluloid plastic, apparently it does not fare well when exposed to water and has a tendency to warp. This inferior plastic was only used for a short period of time until better plastics were developed. My pen has a slight wobble when the barrel is rolled on a desk. When I inked up the pen I can’t say it writes well, I believe the nib needs some attention. It is supposed to be a medium writing nib but it is writing fine. If I hold the pen just right, turning it toward the oblique angle it works much better but still writes very scratchy. I need to apply some TLC to it and it that fails the nib will need some professional attention.

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