On Selling Esterbrooks…

Over the past few months, after placing the large listing here and on the Fountain Pen Network, I’ve sold a lot of Esterbrooks. As usual, this has made me think about the history of what I sell and why a pen sells when another doesn’t. I continually find that selling Esterbrooks isn’t like selling any other pen, because the variety of available components gives the buyer choice in both how the new pen will look and how it will write, a choice that isn’t provided with any other pen. One person bought a red SJ, a grey J, a copper transitional J, and a black LJ, and the colors had to match the sizes. One man told me that the green J felt bigger in his hand than the blue one, so he wanted a second green. One customer wanted a grey to match her black, so she could mix the caps and barrels. And, this doesn’t even touch nib choices!

The curious question for me is whether, and to what extent, this kind of broad choice was what Esterbrook had in mind. Their background, their entire marketing experience, was about nibs and choosing the right nib for the right experience. You’re a secretary? Get the 1555 for Gregg! A lot of letter signing? Get the 2968 Broad! Doing the books? Get the 2550 Firm Extra Fine! On the other hand, I have never seen an Esterbrook ad that broadcasts the color choices. Was this simply a missed opportunity, and others were selling colors? Parker and Sheaffer certainly marketed their colors, so it wasn’t that no one found color important. Perhaps they decided their true strength was in the nibs, and that one had to buy a pen to get the nib, so maybe having to decide a color was thought to be a decision too many.

Another angle that occurred to me is that many magazines (and there were many, many magazines in the 1950s) had color pages and black/white pages. Perhaps the cost of buying a color ad was too high for the Esterbrook marketing budget, and it wouldn’t make sense to write up a green pen that would look grey in black & white, so the magazine placements might have influenced actual advertising spending, and thus the marketing itself.  

Clearly, I don’t have answers this time, only questions.  But this is what I’ve been wondering about. I’d love to hear your thinking, your wondering about this puzzle!