After having re-read the Jean Esterbrook thread, I was inspired to do some delving of my own back in the Old Country. I reached out to the fine folks at the Liskard History Museum in the town in Cornwall where Richard was from and asked if they had any information. I received a nice note back with some interesting tidbits which I thought I'd compile into what else I've figured out and share it with you all here.
The first thing that pops up is that the Esterbrooks really liked "Richard" and "Mary" as names. The Richard Esterbrook who was the founder of the company here in the US, is often called Richard Esterbrook Sr. and his son, who was first to the New World and brought his dad over, is commonly known as Richard Esterbrook Jr. The confusion begins to set in when you realize that there was a Richard Esterbrook before "Sr." and another Richard Esterbrook after "Jr." who was also often called "Jr."
So, let's start in Liskeard Cornwall. A small town in Northeast Cornwall, just about a 30 minute drive west of Plymouth. In 1778, the first Richard Esterbrook was born in the parish and married Mary Anne Oliver. At some point he moved just down the road to the small hamlet of St. Austell. It was here that Richard (Sr.) Esterbrook was born in 1813. At some point they moved back to Liskeard where Richard (Sr.) married Mary Date from Travistock in West Devon, (where the Esterbrooks are first found in the 17th-century). By 1841, Richard Esterbrook (Sr.) was running a Bookshop/Stationer at 20 Pike St. in Liskeard. The building, just down from the museum, is currently a travel agency. He was still there in 1851, but gone by the 1861 census, though he still owned the bookshop. In the collection of the museum are posters dated 1844, 1848 and 1850 showing Esterbrook as the printer. This means that Esterbrook was like most stationer/bookshops of the time, he also did printing.
He eventually sold the bookshop in 1866, the same year in which he dissolved the original partnership with Cadbury and Bromsgrove, and formed R. Esterbrook & Co. with his son, Richard Jr. who had just turned 30 that year. (Sr. also voted in local Liskeard elections in 1861 and 1863/64. So, he hadn't completed severed ties with this home, despite becoming an American Industrialist.)
Speaking of Richard Jr., he was born in Liskeard in 1836. The nice person at the museum found the deed of sale for the shop in 1866 and said that someone, no identification of who or when, had placed a note in along with the deed which says, "Richard junior was apprenticed to a well known pen and nib manufacturer and eventually emigrated to America and set up business on his own account ….with great success.. The firm he founded, still in existence, the Esterbrook Corporation, is a firm of international repute but particularly in the USA of the standing of the Parker Pen and Shaffer Pen companies." The reference and comparison to Parker and Sheaffer tell me that this was a 20th-century, fountain pen reference, perhaps in the 40's? There's no indication where the info on the apprenticeship came from. But it leaves a key question unanswered.
Was that Richard (Sr.) who was really a Jr, or Richard Jr. who was really Richard the Third? (can understand why you'd not want to be known as that) If we look at the date, apprenticeships traditionally started when one was 13 or so. That would have been c. 1826 for Richard Sr., or c. 1849 for Richard Jr. My guess is that it was Richard Jr., not Richard Sr. In 1826, the pen industry was in its real infancy in Birmingham. Only a few years earlier, Gillott was tempering his pens in a cast-iron skillet and selling them in boxes he packed personally. It's highly unlikely that someone would have come all the way from Cornwall to do an apprenticeship with a relatively new and small industry way up in Birmingham. But by 1849, the industry is growing tremendously, and it's much more likely for this to happen. This could also help explain why Richard Jr. would have left instead of sticking around to take over the family business. It was not uncommon for apprentices, after finishing their proscribed time, from taking off and seeing other ways of doing the same work, or looking for fresh fields away from where they did their apprenticeship. John Turner, later founder of Turner & Harrison, and possibly one of Richard Esterbrook's skilled workmen from Birmingham, went to France after his apprenticeship.
So, Richard Jr., assuming he actually finished his apprenticeship, would have completed his time around 1855. Just in time for him to come to Canada and the US and try and get his father to come over. Fortunately for us, his father left his shop behind, but, prudent man that he was, he didn't sell it right away. He kept a second basket for some of his eggs until it was clear the new venture was going to work after all.
By 1858 they had their factory in Camden and offices and warehouses in Philadelphia. The rest is history, that has been told elsewhere.
I just wanted to fill in some of the early history that has been so foggy up to now, at least for me. There are still many gaps, like how Richard Sr. ended up with a bookshop, or if Richard Jr. did finish an apprenticeship, and if it may have been some of his friends who were the skilled workmen his father supposedly brought from Birmingham? I always assumed that being in the stationery business, Richard Sr. had contacts in Birmingham, which is how he got the workmen. Now, it's possible that Jr. came to the US to find out how pens were made here, realized that we didn't really know what we were doing, and that there were only a couple of people making pens here, so had the idea to bring Birmingham here and start their own factory along "modern lines."
If I find out more, I'll let you know.