This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
A Q&A with Brett F. Braley-Palko, Esterbrook‘s Marketing Manager
Esterbrook is a pen company that has a long and rich history. Founded in 1858, the company has been producing high-quality pens for over 150 years and is known for its vintage fountain pens, which are highly sought after by collectors. The company has a reputation for producing pens that are durable, reliable, and well-made.
Brett, what inspired you to start working at Esterbrook?
For me, working at Esterbrook is a dream job and when I was given the opportunity to become a full-time staff member, I immediately said, “Yes.” Esterbrook, as a company, has a way of empowering me to think outside the box of traditional marketing tactics to broaden my own skill sets and be my own boss for the tasks I manage.
Esterbrook, from a brand perspective, is well respected in the American market, as it has been a recognizable name in the pen industry since 1858. With that said, I’m coming in at an exciting time because the brand was resurrected in 2018 and has since matured from its American roots to become a global brand. Since my start at the company, we have grown in regions as far-reaching as Japan, Brazil, Norway, the Middle East. It’s a brand that’s dedicated to heritage while also making pens for the modern user – and their lifestyle.
What’s the philosophy behind the brand, and what are its core values?
Esterbrook is built on its community and that has been a core tenet for the brand. The company works hard to go to trade shows, do trunk shows at local pen and stationery shops, and to build relationships across the world. For example, our VP Bryan recently held two events in Rome and Florence before making his way to Istanbul for a pen show. That community outreach, making sure we are front-facing to our customers and fans, is key to the brand’s philosophy.
We also want to be a brand that’s attainable for the everyday writer while also being seen as a luxury brand. Our prices average about $200 a pen, which really isn’t a lot for pen aficionados but is for someone who perhaps hasn’t fully committed to switching to fountain pens. So we like to provide the best materials at a pricepoint that’s comfortable. We’ll work with small artisans to mix our luxury line of pen acrylics, work with a top-notch German factory for our nibs, and specialty nib grinders for a line of custom nibs. This sourcing has provided us a luxury feel on a reasonable budget and I think bridging that gap is a key component to our values.
The Esterbrook Pen Company is a true American Original, and much of America’s history has been written and created with your pens. Who are some of the famous people in history who used your pens?
As a brand deeply rooted in American history, Esterbrook has had a pretty interesting fan base. We were used by U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. But also, the creator of Charlie Brown and The Peanuts comic strip, Charles Schulz, was a fan. It’s very cool to be able to use this brand heritage as a springboard for a new generation of pen users today.
How has Esterbrook evolved over time and how do you see it in the future?
It absolutely has. Esterbrook has been around since 1858 and is really written into the fabric of the U.S.’s DNA. One of the earliest patents in the United States is from Esterbrook. The company was so well-known that it was called “the dollar pen” for its ubiquity. Since about the mid-1900’s, Esterbrook (like many other pen companies) fell into decline.
As I mentioned, Esterbrook’s parent company (Kenro Industries) brought the brand back to life in 2018 and it is a thoroughly modern brand now. While the “old” Esterbrook relied on a wide product selection of nibs as a revenue source, the current iteration of the brand relies on a broad range of products that make the brand more akin to a lifestyle than a pen company. The brand has launched various themed pens, a premier line (which has diamond dust in its acrylic!), but also candles, journals, and our own line of ink. We’re trying to bring a luxury feel to the everyday task of writing and sitting at one’s desk. This isn’t a schoolhouse brand anymore!
How do you approach design and where do you find inspiration for new products?
At our company, everything is inspiration. Esterbrook’s parent company, Kenro, has been in the business for 30 years and has made great connections and the team has honed their eye on what makes a great pen – and, by extension, a great brand story.
We like to start with a story and work from there. For instance, we’re coming out with a pen that matches the colors of the Painted Desert in Arizona because we were inspired by road trips on Route 66. Previous pens releases have been inspired by beach vacations, Czech painter Alfonse Mucha, Old Hollywood starlets, and even Pumpkin Spice lattes.
What do you do to rebuild interest in fine writing and penmanship, and revolt against the decline of handwriting?
Esterbrook likes to show pens in real use. There’s nothing more stale than seeing a pen on display and not touched. Pens are meant to be written with! So we work with a lot of micro-influencers and artists to show our audience that fountain pens are, quite simply, a superior writing experience for journalers, writers, and even urban sketching artists.
What public figure, past or present, do you feel best represents the overall style of the brand?
It’s hard to not think of JFK when we think of Esterbrook. He was an avid fan of Esterbrook and used an Esterbrook to sign into law the U.S.’s space expansion program.
Leave us with a motto that the company will always believe in.
Our motto is, “The right pen for the way you write!”
Never miss a story – subscribe now to the Gents Cafe Newsletter, a bite-sized read about men’s lifestyle to enjoy over a coffee or a nice cocktail.