How Pens Were Made at Esterbrook in 1885 (and c.1920)

In my post on how pens were made in 1857 (and 1890), I list the main processes used by the Washington Medallion Pen Co. in 1857, and the general process used by British manufacturers in 1890.

I pointed out in that post that the similarities between Washington Medallion in New York City, and the process described by Henry Bore in Birmingham 33 years later, were almost certainly due to the fact that the American factory was set up by British-trained pen tool makers.

I also mentioned that another famous pen maker of the time also had their factory set up by British-trained pen tool makers: Esterbrook.

Esterbrook opened their Camden, NJ factory in 1858, a year after the Washington Medallion article came out. I’ve not been able to find any detailed records of those early years, but I did run across an amazing image of the factory from 1885 made by Sanborn and used by insurance companies.

Sanborn map of 1885 Esterbrook Factory in Camden

As a reminder, the steps in 1857 included:

  1. Rolling sheets of steel
  2. Cutting
  3. Piercing
  4. Annealing
  5. Stamping
  6. Raising or Shaping
  7. Hardening
  8. Scouring
  9. Grinding
  10. Slitting
  11. Polishing
  12. Coloring
  13. Varnishing
  14. Inspection
  15. Boxing

All of these steps can be seen in the map. In building A, for example, on the first floor is scouring, second floor is cutting, third is raising and fourth is piercing. You also find rolling and hardening furnaces in the back, varnishing over along the east wall, and examining, weighing and box making in the front. (Esterbrook made their own boxes at this point).

You also find some additional work, such as a machine shop, engineering and offices. They also included a place where they did plating. That’s where they plated pens with various finishes, like gold, silver and “tar.”

Another example of how these same basic steps carried over into the 20th-century, we find a sample card used by salesmen to shows the various steps used in making a pen. The sample card probably dates from the 19-teens or maybe 20’s. The captions for the pens are above the objects.

Steps in making a pen sample card