Posted in Restoration

Brown is the New Black

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. This style pen was manufactured from 1934-1942, the clip design was changed in 1938 as was the introduction of a new lever shape. I believe this pen was manufactured at the very beginning of 1938 using both old and new component parts, because the lever is a new style paddle shape, yet it retains the original clip design. 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 sun light. Light damage is not immediately obvious, after some time the pen will turn to a brown color, its gloss will fade to a light tan color. The good news is the damaged areas can be repair but hence forth the pen is also susceptible to water damage (spots).

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 prominent so I assume the light damage is extensive and complicated by some water damage. Well nothing ventured, nothing gained so I set about removing the light and water damage done to the cap and barrel. On a side note, pens made of celluloid also suffer from light damage, they generally darken and damage done to them is irreversible.

Before

After accessing the pen it was clearly in good shape apart from the coloration issue. It needed a new ink sac, the logo imprinted on the barrel was in great shape, no cracks or significant abrasions. So begins the process of disassembling the pen. I was able to remove the nib and section with a minimal effort. The old hardened sac mostly came out but not in its entirety so I removed the lever and snap clip and the remainder of the sac fell out. Over the course of 3 nights and several movies I progressively sanded first the cap then the barrel, using tape when possible to protect the logo imprint and the cap band. Starting with 1000 grit paper, which will remove the discoloration then progressing to 2000, 3000, 5000 and finally 7000 grit paper leaving a perfectly smooth surface. The only issue is the process discolors and renders useless the 1000 grit paper very quickly. I cut strips about an inch wide so I could better focus on a small area at a time. I went through the entire process on the cap and barrel 4 times.

Then the time came for the Sunshine cloth, the nib cleaned up instantly as did the lever. The snap clip ring and J-bar needed a light sanding as did the underside of the leaver. Afterwards they too were polished with the Sunshine cloth. The section required a sanding as well followed by a polishing. Next came the new sac installation followed by putting it all back together. Damn I think it looks good!

After