Saturday, April 16, 2011
When the pen was mighty
I came across this cardboard sample card of Esterbrook steel pen nibs in a junk store and couldn't resist. I liked that half the nibs were gone and that some were rusting. But what sealed the deal was the bravado of the motto "Made in America by Men Who Know Pens" (indeed) and the discovery that the company was housed for its first seven decades in Camden, N.J.
Back in the day, I lived in a commune in Camden. The 19th century house sat in front of a toilet seat factory where I could watch seats float by on the assembly line from my tiny, third floor room. Although the city is rough - well, a disaster, actually - I have vivid memories of it and a kind of fondness. As I do for ink pens. I own dozens of calligraphy pens and fountain pens.
Esterbrook began as the United States Steel Pen Manufacturing Co. but was renamed for its founder, Richard Esterbrook. He was a Brit who saw a market across the pond and went after it, creating the only company in America making steel pen nibs at the time. He died in 1896, before things really took off, and, inevitably, declined. But Esterbrook lives on as a teensy part of Berol, a British manufacturer, and on sites across the Web.