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Jean Esterbrook.

Truffle Finder

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Thank you AAAndrew, your contributions are very comprehensive, and have certainly added a different dimension to this thread.

In so doing you also seem to have bumped up the number of people who have been 'looking-in' to see what's going on.

It is lovely to think that Jean Esterbrook will be remembered for quite some time to come.

Truffle Finder. :) :D

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Yes, this thread is still being read by people like me who knew nothing about Esterbrook history and are wowed by the story. Thanks to all the contributors for memorialising it here.

"In my early days there were few schools to help us in the pursuit of learning.

If we wanted to climb, we had first to make our own ladders".

Benjamin Brierley (1825-1896),

English weaver and self taught writer/publisher in Lancashire dialect.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Having read the above regarding all the Richards Esterbrook, I thoght I'd add, perhaps, a bit of additional reality to the discussion. Some years back, I decided to create a series of Esterbrook picture ink blotters documenting various Esty memorabilia. It was just some things I made up, and included pictures of the Richards, which Dorothy Jean sent me during the period of 1992 thru 1995, following the publication of my book, "Fountain Pens of Esterbrook".


Long story short, a couple of months after I presented the book at the 1992 L.A. Pen Show, I received a message on the phone from this lady who stated emphatically, "I want to speak to the person who's using my name in vain." A three-year (mostly correspondence) friendship ensued from that point, which I reflect upon to this day with great fondness.


So, I scanned the pictures, cleaned them up as best I could and put them on blotters. I also wrote up some blurbs that included information related to me by "D.J.", info I researched, and otherwise made up. Subject to any fact-checking for accuracy, I present them here for your consideration. For the sake of order in my own mind, I've designated the Founder's father as "Richard I", the Founder as "Richard II", the son as "Richard III", etc.




Richard Esterbrook II

There were 5 generations of “Richard Esterbrooks”; four of whom lived during the existence of the Esterbrook Pen Company.

Richard Esterbrook (the first) died in England in 1846, and little more than that is known about him by this writer. His son, Richard, was born to him and his wife, Anna, on February 10, 1813 in the town of Liskeard (Cornwall County) England.

When young Richard II came of age, his father set him up in the stationery business in Liskeard, which became quite prosperous. Esterbrook then invested his profits from the stationery business in the local area’s tin-mining industry, which yielded him a sizeable fortune in a few years. So he retired as a stationer, bought a house and two farms in the Liskeard area, and for nearly 20 years, lived the life of an English gentleman farmer.

It was actually his son, Richard III (nicknamed “Junior” by the family), who, in 1858, convinced him to come “out of retirement”, leave England and invest his money and time making steel pens in America. Esterbrook had a talent for business, and was a genius in personnel selection. With several expert English craftsmen which he hand-selected, and Junior in charge of sales, he engineered the creation of America’s first pen manufacturing company. He remained head of the company until his death in 1895.



Richard Esterbrook III (“Junior”)

Nicknamed “Junior” by family and friends, he was actually the first of the Esterbrooks to get the idea of making steel pens. He attempted to do so in Canada, at the time his father (Richard II) was living the life of an English gentleman farmer in his hometown of Liskeard.

When that venture failed, Junior went back to England and sold his father on the idea of making a second attempt. Convinced of the possibilities, Richard II agreed to get involved and provide the capital. And so, Dad, Mother and Junior, together with a number of craftsmen (some accounts say 5, others say ten) emigrated from England to start a new industry from scratch. This time, the choice was America.

Richard II was acknowledged as The Founder and, because of his business expertise, was the company’s president. Junior became head of the company’s Sales Department; probably due in no small part to the sales job he did on his father.

These few dedicated people proved themselves to be an unstoppable team. Junior’s sales ability, combined with Dad’s business sense and the other artisans’ metalworking skills, soon had the company making and selling mass quantities of America’s first premium quality steel pens.

Junior died in 1892, some three years before his father.




Richard Esterbrook IV

Little in the way of biographical information can be found regarding Richard IV, other than the fact that he assumed leadership of the company following his grandfather’s death in 1895 and continued as such until his own death in 1910 at age 46.

It is interesting to note that 3 Richard Esterbrooks (II, III and IV) all passed from this life in a period of 18 years (1892 - 1910).




Richard Esterbrook V

Richard the Fifth was just 17 years old when his father died in 1910, and so was not able to take over as head of the Pen Company. Leadership of the Company following Richard IV’s death, and throughout the Company’s fountain pen production, was in the hands of “in-laws”, if you will. One of them was Frank Wood, and another was Sydney Longmaid.

But judging from the direction he set for his life, Richard had little or no interest in running the Company.

He was 21 years old and a student at Columbia University in 1914, when World War I broke out in Europe. America didn’t become involved in the war (and had declared itself officially Neutral) until after the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat submarine in May of 1915. However, England was one of the countries fighting against Germany. So, Richard went to England and joined the London Irish Rifles, where he served for a while as Captain. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps for the rest of the war, and was either a pilot or an observer (or perhaps both, as the insignia on the breast of his uniform is noted as being for either rank). Historical note: Many Americans who wanted to participate in WW-I as flyers joined England’s RFC, which later became the RAF or Canada’s Aviation Corps or the Canadian Air Force.

Returning home after the end of the war (1918) he then went to work for New York Telephone Co. as an engineer, and after 40 years there, retired in 1958. The Esterbrook pen depicted is that of an actual inscribed “J” model company pen bought by NYTC for employees’ use.


Best Regards

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– Albert Einstein

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Nice summary, Paul. If I could, I can add a bit of detail here and there to fill in some of the corners of the story. Based on my account of the early Esterbrook years on my site.


Richard Esterbrook (the first), was born in Liskeard in Cornwall in 1780. In 1809, he married Anna Olver, also from Liskeard and they had their first child, Martha, in 1810, followed by their son Richard Esterbrook in 1813. Richard (the father) was ranked in local directories as a “yeomen,” meaning he was a small landholder or working man. On his son Richard Esterbrook’s baptism certificate, he is recorded as a patten maker, but he’s mainly listed in various directories of Cornwall over the years as a baker and confectioner. (a Patten is a type of high-heeled shoe) Richard I was buried in the Liskeard Society of Friends graveyard in 1846.


The Esterbrooks were all devout members of the Society of Friends (until Jr. who left the society in 1861). Richard II (aka The Founder, Richard Sr.) was a religious leader for much of his life. We can also trace his movements through the excellent records kept by the Society of Friends, as well as their practice of sending recommendations from one congregation to the next to show movement from one place to another. That's how we know that Richard Sr., his wife and daughter were living in Canada initially from their move from Cornwall in 1859, until they moved to Camden, NJ in 1861 as they opened their factory there. Richard Jr. initially lived with his father, mother and sister in Camden until moving to NYC to oversee the main sales offices.


As I said above, it was in 1861 that Esterbrook opened their factory in Camden. Richard Sr. brought a small group of English skilled toolmakers who had worked in the large steel pen factories in Birmingham, to help him set up a factory along the "modern" lines of the Birmingham makers. The only one these men I've clearly identified is John Turner. Esterbrook also brought over a Birmingham businessman, William Bromsgrove, who had started and run his own steel pen company in Birmingham. Bromsgrove became one of the partners along with Richard Sr. and Joel Cadbury Jr., the son of a successful Philadelphia businessman. Esterbrook, along with his partners and skilled workmen then created the SECOND modern steel pen factory in the US. They were preceded by four years by the Washington Medallion Pen Company in NYC who had also brought a couple of skilled tool makers from the Birmingham pen works: George Harrison and George Bradford. John Turner, brought by Esterbrook, and George Harrison, brought by Washington Medallion, eventually left both manufacturers and finally came together to create Turner & Harrison, another of the first, and longest lasting manufacturers of steel pens.


After Richard IV, the presidency of Esterbrook passed to a series of sons-in-law and descendants until the 1960's when the first non-family member became president. Just in time to reluctantly oversee the sale to Venus.


“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928

Check out my Steel Pen Blog

"No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly."


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