Six Questions for the President of the new Esterbrook Pen Company

"It's going to be huge. A game-changer."

I've known Ryan for a decade in working with Kenro Industries. We started out in the pen industry around the same time and have since grown into pen geeks with a fond appreciation for the happenings within our niche industry. During these meetings, we usually talk openly about whatever is shaking the ground in the pen community. April 4th was different. We were shooting a video to be posted later on our YouTube Channel and he wanted to tease a big announcement to be dropped next week. This piece of news was so big he couldn't even confide in me, even when the cameras were switched off.

Indeed, I was surprised when I stumbled across the following announcement on the Kenro website Monday, April 9th.

"Kenro Industries, Inc., has reached an agreement to acquire the Esterbrook Pen Company and add the iconic brand to its portfolio of luxury lifestyle brands."

My immediate emotional response wasn't one of elation, joy or the kind of ache my wallet would get when I see a new pen that threatens to lighten it. To be honest, I was a bit scared for them.

I'll explain: From the sidelines, we've observed the trajectory of the resurrected Esterbrook Pen Company over the last several years. Rob Rosenberg, the founder of Harpen Brand Holdings, brought back Conklin (before it was sold to Yafa Pen Co.) and Mabie Todd pen brands before and was aiming to do so again in 2014 with "America's original pen company," Esterbrook.

For those that aren't familiar with vintage pens, Esterbrook, Conklin and Mabie Todd are revered names among collectors and writers searching for the cherished writing experience of yesteryear. Vintage Esterbrook pens are commonly seen as an affordable gateway into the realm of vintage pen appreciation. Their relatively low cost, bundled with a wide variety of nib types from rigid to the flexible, and the vintage appeal of their simplistic design make this brand a highly recommended one to explore for those interested in what vintage pens have to offer.

So, it was with a high degree of skepticism, as evidenced by online pen forum discussions and comments on social media, that the new Esterbrook Pen Company was met. Will the new Esterbrook be like picking up a great, old book, keeping its contents while improving it with a new cover? Or, will it be like Dr. Frankenstein's monster, an ungainly act of reanimating a pale shadow of what once was?

The new collections of Esterbrook pens fell quite short of expectations, to say the least. The Esterbrook "J" looked nothing like the original and used a cartridge/converter filling system as opposed to the lever style utilized in the vintage model. The overall build quality and writing experience were less than satisfactory. Online opinion soured and attempts by the brand to liquidate their pens at 70%-80% off left little to the imagination on where this relaunch was heading.

Back to present day, Kenro Industries obtains the Esterbrook Pen Co and my friend, Kenro's Sales Manager Ryan Sirignano, could hardly bottle his excitement over the news.

Having done business with Kenro for well over a decade, we know the track record for the brands that they've distributed - Aurora, Montegrappa, OMAS, Sheaffer, Libelle, Tibaldi, and Aquila to name a few. Kenro represents each of their individual brands with enthusiasm and professionalism. You can expect a gallery of tables for Kenro products at every major pen show across the United States. They understand the outreach that is needed online and in partnerships with both brick & mortar and internet retailers. Their staff works tirelessly to provide excellent service and respond to the needs of pen collectors and the community that flourishes online.

Upon hearing the news, I felt nervous for them. No doubt they know the road ahead is going to be hard, but rewarding. Like a real estate mogul looking to flip a home, they see the potential for Esterbrook to regain its glory as a revered brand of writing instruments.

I know the pen community, especially those who were put off by the modern incarnation of Esterbrook, have questions about the new direction of this brand. As a representative of a pen company and a self-professed pen addict, I also have questions that needed answering. So I asked and received a response from the President of Kenro & the new Esterbrook Pen Company, Joel Blumberg.

Goldspot: Most pen enthusiasts, especially ones that collect vintage Esterbrook, are eager to know if any of the vintage designs will be resurrected. Would you be able to share or hint at any future releases that would be a modern recreation of a historic pen model?

Joel Blumberg: We are planning to do our best to keep some of the old and introduce new ideas with the heritage feeling. We know that a share of the pen market wants us to be loyal to the past, but there is a new group of young writers that are looking for quality in a writing instrument and we are trying to produce pens for both.

GS: Esterbrook pens make a terrific entry into the world of vintage pen collecting. How will the modern interpretation of Esterbrook pens improve upon the heritage of this revered brand?

JB: The last Esterbrook pen was produced in the 1970’S. There are thousands of these pens still around. We will try to make these enthusiasts happy. Honestly, it will not be easy. There were hundreds of different nib sizes. In today's world, this task will not be economical. We will try to offer a quality instrument, in a variety of shapes, styles, and nibs, but it will take time.
 
GS: Where will the pens be manufactured?

JB: Europe and Asia

GS: Vintage Esterbrooks are known for their wide array of nib types. While most people wouldn't expect a modern pen company to have so many different varieties of tip sizes, will there be any effort to broaden the range of nib sizes beyond the normal core of standard offerings? Will they be stainless steel or will some feature gold as well?

JB: The plan is to deliver steel and some gold nibs. Honestly, the nib’s sizes will be basic in 5 sizes to begin and possibly expand in the future.

GS: What kind of role will Mr. Rosenberg play within the new, Kenro-owned Esterbrook company?

JB: Rob Rosenberg is an employee of Kenro. We have a long history with Rob, as he was involved at the beginning of Kenro 26 years ago. He started many new pen lines, such as Mabie Todd, Conklin, Chilton, and Esterbrook. Rob, seems to have pens in his blood since his father was so involved with pen brands like Pilot, Waterman, and Parker. We believe he will be an asset.

GS: Will the current models of Esterbrook Pens (like the "J", Abraham Lincoln, Nostalgia, M2, etc) continue to be produced, or will they be cleared out to make room for the new designs?

JB: These pens will be replaced with new designs; however, we are planning to keep the President series among other licensed and fashion designs.

Taking stock of Mr. Blumberg's answers and the trust cultivated in our relationship with Kenro Industries over the years, we're confident that the acquisition of Esterbrook will net a quality product enjoyed by pen enthusiasts around the world.

To ensure they hit as close to the mark as possible in their objective, they have asked for feedback from the community. What did you love about the original Esterbrook pens? What would you like to see in a future Esterbrook pen? Please let them know in the comments below.


8 comments

  • I hope that, under new management, Esterbrook will be a producer of excellent pens.
    Like others who have shared their thoughts, I hope (at least some) Esterbrooks will be made for interchangeable nibs. That ability to swap nibs was the real virtue of Esterbrooks.

    Rob
  • This interview, unfortunately, does not give me confidence that Kenro’s vision for Esterbrook is any different than Rosenberg’s was.

    When I think of Esterbrook Pens, I think of multiple nib choices, easy repair and affordability.

    If I was Kenro and relaunching Esterbrook, I would offer multiple nib sizes keeping the prior name and numbering system ie #2284…broad stub, etc. TWISBI offers multiple nib sizes that are affordable so it can be done. I would make sure the nibs would work in the vintage Esties as well as the modern ones. I would consider having a line of the modern pens be lever filled. I would make them as affordable as possible…preferably under $50. I would duplicate the pen size system Esterbrook used…J, LJ, SJ.

    If all Kenro does is make pens and slap the Esterbrook name on them I, for one, won’t be interested…because I’m buying an “Esterbrook Pen” not the Esterbrook name.

    Good luck to Kenro.

    Mary Garavaglia
  • Make your pens Renew-Point compatible. Make brand new Renew-Point nibs and sell them separately – folks are paying crazy money now for 2314 stub nibs, 2048 “flex” nibs, etc., and I’m sure there’s a market for modern versions, perhaps gold? You’d want to make the nib unit removable anyway to permit easy cleaning (like Pelikans), so make them renew-point compatible.

    Make a “J” pen, almost a clone, that uses international cartridges and converters, in the traditional “J” colors/patterns. Charge $30-$50 for an entry-level model – according to the BLS inflation calculator, the $1.50 that Esterbrook charged in 1933 for a “Dollar Pen” in colors other than black is equivalent to $29.03 today.

    Make a deluxe model, derived from classic Esterbrook designs, but 50 years more modern – let your designers have fun. Use quality materials, and charge $100-$200.

    Whatever you do, make sure you get straight with the Andersons – pissing off the world experts on the brand you’re trying to revive is not a good business plan.

    AND MAKE ALL THE PENS RENEW-POINT COMPATIBLE !!!!

    Tadas Osmolskis
  • I hope that Kenro remembers that Esterbrooks are workhorse pens and were affordable so everyone could have one. I get so discouraged when I see ultra high priced pens I’d love to have , but can’t have them because I don’t have that kind of disposable income. I am not a fan of lever filled pens though, having a modern Esty as a cc that looks like the old ones would be awesome.

    Katherine Stewart
  • I’ve never had so much fun as restoring old Esties. I just love them. The nibs are so much fun and easily found. I love gold nibs, but the Esterbrooks are stellar writers and I can see why they’ve persevered through the ages. My chum who is 70 had to have an Esterbrook for her schoolwork but she said it leaked horribly (it was a pastel that I’ve no experience with). I’ve had great luck with the J series. Thanks for such a great interview!!!!!!!

    Marcia Greer

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