Posted in Pens, Restoration, Reviews

Esterbrook Dollar pen, the review

I wrote about this pen in April 2021. It was my 6th post, and I’m afraid to read it. Anyway, I got this pen at a great price from a seller in Michigan, it really looks more green than brown to me and the presence of white spots is prominently indicating extensive light damage with complications caused by water damage. But fear not…….

Pen Back Story

A late first-generation Esterbrook Dollar pen, so called because they cost a dollar in their time when the average hourly salary was 70 cents per hour.

Esterbrook manufactured this style pen from 1934-1942, a new wider clip design was introduced in 1938 as was a new fishtail shape lever.

I believe this pen was manufactured at the very beginning of 1938 using both old and new component parts. This pen sports the new design fish tail lever and the original clip design. The contradictory parts could also indicate the cap does not belong to this pen.

First Gen clip 1934-1937

A notable feature of the Dollar Pen was the use of expensive material. Most notably the company had chosen to use the newly available wonder metal – stainless steel. The pen is made of hard rubber (aka ebonite or vulcanite) and is very durable but subject to damage by sunlight. Light damage is not immediately obvious, after some time the pen will turn to a brown color, and its gloss will fade to a light tan color. The good news is the damaged areas can be repaired but henceforth the pen is also susceptible to water damage (spots).

Pen prior to refurbishment

I set about refurbishing the pen and all went better than I hoped. I encourage you to read the original unremastered post here, Brown is the new black.

The review

When choosing a pen to enter rotation this month I said to myself, “self, you have never reviewed a pen you refurbished, now is a good time.” Agreed, I present to you my 1938 Esterbrook Dollar pen. Let’s begin with the overall condition of the pen. I just published a rating system I apply to vintage pens primarily and this one scores well. I give it a B.07 – Micro defects. There are no significant scratches or teeth marks, the logo on the barrel is crisp, and the cap clip and lever are both stiff and have a spring to them. Overall a very impressive pen. The A quality code is because I could have done better in the refurb. The pen is stellar.

The refurbished Dollar Pen

This is an awkward review, the pen is 85 years old, and that comes with baggage not found with a contemporary pen. The first thing I noticed is the feel of the barrel, it is warm to the touch compared to a contemporary acrylic and very lightweight. Capped the pen is a hair longer than a Pilot Prera. The metal accents of the pen are all stainless steel. The clip is short (31mm), extending only half the length of the cap. It bends at the top of the cap and becomes an end piece with a script Esterbrook stamped in it.

Pilot Prera vs Esterbrook Dollar pens

The cap is a screw-on and is removed after 1 full turn. The pen is best suited for smaller hands. The section is minimal, only half the length of a Prera section. As I normally hold a pen at or behind the cap threads, this doesn’t affect me. The pen fits nicely in my hand, even unposted.

The pen came with a 2556 nib that was heavily stained. Turns out the tip on the right tine is missing. I changed out that nib for a 9461 Rigid Fine Manifold nib and inked up the pen (SCRIBO Rosso Chianti) then gave it a go.

The nib was not the most smooth which I was initially surprised by. The 9xxx series Esterbrook nibs are their best, but wait, this is a manifold nib. The term “manifold” is an older, more formal description meaning “many.” The nib is rigid to support use with carbon paper. For those too young to know, carbon paper was a means of making duplicate copies. It was placed between sheets of paper, as you wrote, applying a little more pressure than normal the carbon paper created one or more copies simultaneously.

For a pen that has seen a bunch of decades, it worked wonderfully. I left it in my pen cup – nib up – for the weekend and it started instantly on Monday morning. There were no ink accidents, the nib was a bit wet. Overall I am impressed and can only hope I work so well when I’m 85.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length: 122mm
  • Uncapped length: 114mm
  • Barrel diameter: 11mm
  • Cap diameter: 12.25mm
  • Weighs in at 12g


I'm a loser as my wife likes to tell me, I enjoy researching dead cousins and playing with fountain pens.

7 thoughts on “Esterbrook Dollar pen, the review

  1. I seem to remember reading your original blog a fair while back now. It was the polishing system you used that rings a bell. Long time later, having purchased a Blackbird Mabie Todd with the ‘brown is the new black’ phrase you coined a feature of mine, it was of interest to see this polished result. The only ways I have read about is using a colourant ‘paint’ or de-oxidisation. I’ve read that the painted option can result in a terrible looking pen if not done correctly. Also, people ask the question ‘is patina a must?’ In order to show the pen was loved and used often. Did it maybe simply sit in sunshine for a long time? Your polishing is amazing and has meant a really nice user feel I should imagine. Especially now it’s your pen for the month. Like that ink. Very rich. Great insights again Danny. All the best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Gray, I’ve considered trying a de-oxidation liquid but it is harsh. The process I used only works with smooth barrel pens. I’ve missed a couple spots around the cap band and at the top. I agree the results were phenomenal. To me the patina is a sign of misuse. There I go making accusations that cannot be refuted. Ultimately it is a matter of opinion. All the best

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Saw someone using super glue in very small drops into barrel/cap dents and then a polish follow up. I think of the fountain pen I used on the hospital ward. Misuse is too harsh a word for me to put how I handled them I suppose. But in the act of everyday continuous use they could still suffer somewhat. Never took a fave into work therefore. All the best to you too.


  2. I love that these pens can last forever. You won’t find a gel pen or a ballpoint pen that’s 85 years old and still working. Malaysia has never really been big on fountain pens, so I don’t get to enjoy as many vintage items as you without needing to pay exorbitant shipping fees. So I’m leaving vicariously through you, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing Esterbrook, no doubt you are proud to have it in your collection. The before and after pictures prove you did a very good job. Another vintage pen saved, keep up the good work!


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