One of the most recognizable images associated with the Esterbrook company is the signature of “R. Esterbrook & Co.”
It’s found on every box of steel pens, just about every fountain pen the company made, and many of the other ephemera produced by the company. (The image at the top is from an advertising card of pens from the 1940’s).
Steel pen manufacturers have used a signature on the back of the box as “proof” that the box was authentic and not a fake from very early. Here’s an ad from 1830 for Perry’s pens, paper and ink packets. The paper as well as the pens contain the signature of Perry as proof of authenticity.
Gillott, in this 1840 ad make it totally clear that the signature is to prevent people from being fooled into buying a Gillot, or Gilott, or similar rip-off pen.
Esterbrook was no different than the other big names. They also included the signature of Richard Esterbrook on the back of the box as proof it was genuine.
If you start to look at the various designs of back-panels from the earliest to the latest, it starts to become clear that they did not use just some standard “signature” image until fairly late. I appears that Esterbrook actually used a different signature each time they changed the design. Someone had to actually sign, with a pen, on each design at least up to 1920 or so.
Here are some examples in roughly chronological order. The earliest boxes do not have “Successors” in the lower right as this was added after Richard Esterbrook Sr. died in 1895.
Which is the back of this glorious box.
This one below is a small, tin box. It’s the only other one with a flourish under the name like the Jackson Stub box above. But it’s a different flourish.
The following one is from the back of one of the old maroon-colored Radio Pen boxes. The next few are what I consider the “modern” era and are fully stylized by then.
This last signature is the one best known during the fountain pen era of Esterbrook. It is closely-related, but not exactly the same as on the last steel pen boxes.
It’s interesting to look at the first, big E, the “r’s” and the “k” especially. I’m not sure there’s any way to date based on signature, but it is clear that each change of label resulted in slight changes to the signature.