Back on Oct 25 I got to see a very old Esterbrook salesman sample board. I figured it was from the early-mid 1870's based on the address listed (49 Maiden Lane). (Esterbrook was founded in 1858 and opened their first factory in Camden in 1861).
The owner was kind enough to send me some better images and I've gone through them and found some interesting things, as well as a possibly narrower date.
First off, you should know, or be reminded, that Gillott sued Esterbrook for trademark infringement. The judgement was handed down in January of 1872. Part of the judgement against Esterbrook said that they had to rename several pens which were too much like Gillott's. Specifically, Esterbrook had to rename the 303, the 404, the 170 and a few others. The case centered around the 303 and 404, but others were included in the final judgement. Esterbrook changed them to the 333, 444 and 1170.
Anytime I look at an early Esterbrook artifact I will immediately look for one of these nibs to give us an idea of pre-1872, or post 1872. This board has slots labeled 333 and 444. But, the 444 slot still has one of the 404 pens in it. Since the pen was identical, just numbered differently, I'm sure they felt fine using up old stock they couldn't sell for these cards. They could get away with this for a short time, but not for very long, I would suspect.
Ok, that seems to point to a time near the lawsuit date. Any other evidence to support this?
Well, it turns out that there is one more pen in this list that was affected by the lawsuit, but seems to not have been changed yet. By the time of the 1876 catalog, the earliest extant catalog that I know of, the 353 Engrossing pen was already changed to the 356. (and if you have a list of pens sold by Esterbrook, even if from a stationer catalog, prior to 1876, I would LOVE to get a look at it.)
This leads me to believe that this is from very close around 1872. If the judgement was handed down in January of 1872, I'd say this book was most likely made before all of the changes to the numbers were determined, hence the 353, and the continued use of a 404. Say, 1872-1874 at the latest. We know that names had changed by 1876. But there's one more pen on these cards that points to a pre-1876 date: the #63 Albata.
Esterbrook's #11 Albata was one of their earliest patterns, and was made for quite a while. On the salesman's card is a pen marked as #63, and the pen is very clearly an Albata both in shape as well as imprint. But when you compare it to the number 11 from the same sample book, it seems perhaps a bit shorter. It would take an actual measurement to confirm. It also does not have a number on it, unlike the #11.
And just when I thought it might be a mistake, or placed incorrectly, the impossible happened. Another salesman sample book from the same era showed up and it too has a #63 Albata. So, I guess that confirms it, even without an actual number imprinted on the pen itself this Albata Pen was meant to be #63.
This lacking a number is actually not unusual in either of these salesman's books, but that is one of the very unusual things about them. Every other Esterbrook pen I've seen has a number. This book proves that not all Esterbrook pens in the early days were imprinted with numbers. This gives some possibly interesting meaning then to a few pictures from the 1876 catalog of pens with no number imprint, and no Esterbrook imprint, and some pens I have with the same lack of imprint. But that's for another post.
The really cool thing about this #63 is that there is no other evidence that a #63 existed until the 1920's when Esterbrook came out with a line of art pens and made a crow quill numbered 63. It doesn't show up in the 1876 catalog or any other list we have. This is a completely new pen never recognized before.
There's more here, including some very rare, early pens for which we have no other images, but this is enough for now. I'll be adding these images to the updated Esterbrook Project so all can revel in these early Esterbrooks.