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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lamy Safari VS. Esterbrook J - A detailed side-by-side comparison!

The Esterbrook J always seemed to me a sort of vintage counterpart to the Lamy Safari. I believe both these pens can be put into the same category. They are entry-level pens that are very well made for what you can buy them for. I decided to do a head on review comparing the two of them - Their good points and bad points. Let's jump right in!


First off: Pricing

These are both entry level pens that are priced for a beginner, someone on a tight budget, or anyone else who likes them.

Esterbrook J: Usually between $25.00 (beat up or maybe even un-restored) to $45.00 (In near perfect condition).

Lamy Safari: Runs almost the same. I got this one in the review for $25.00 but they can retail for $45.00.


Secondly: Size and weight. I'll do the sizes both in mm and inches.

Lamy Safari: 14cm or 5 1/2" capped, 13cm or 5 1/4" uncapped.

Esterbrook J: 12.7cm or 5" capped, 11.7cm or 4 5/8" uncapped.

Here they are compared right next to each other. The Lamy Safari is longer by a good 1/2".

Here are the pens uncapped next to each other. The Lamy has a very noticeably larger section than the Esterbrook J.

Here's another cap and pen comparison.

As you can see, the Lamy is a bigger pen, but surprisingly it's not as heavy as the Esterbrook J. I don't have a scale currently but the Esterbrook J is definitely heavier than the Lamy Safari. Here are the pens in my hand. I have medium-ish sized hands.


Next up: Nibs

In this area, both pens good advantages and disadvantages.

The Esterbrook has it's awesome trademark feature of interchangeable nibs. This is a huge bonus for any pen especially when extra nibs units can be found for $7.00 and up like the Estie nibs. The downfall of the Esterbrooks nibs is this: They really are hit or miss. I've had some horrible Esterbrook nibs before out of the box and other ones that are just perfect. They are not super dependable. Also, if you're not getting the iridium-tipped 9xxx series of nibs then their lifespan is shortened greatly. The 1xxx and 2xxx series nibs have a folded tine construction making them inexpensive and less durable then their 9xxx series counterparts.

The Lamy on the other hand seems to have a little more dependable nibs. I've heard stories of bad ones but certainly not near as often as the Esterbrook nibs. They also have interchangeable nibs, though not as easily interchanged as the Esterbrook ones. The Lamy nib do have iridium tipping on them so they will last much longer than any 1xxx or 2xxx series Esterbrook nib. Their nibs are actually cheaper most times than Esterbrook nibs. When I say "sometimes" I mean this: If you compare a fine Esterbrook nib of the 2xxx series to a Lamy fine nib you get the following prices:
Esterbrook fine: $7.00
Lamy: $11.00

However, when you get into the range of big nibs such as a 1.9mm cursive italic, a radical change takes place. Let's take a look:
Esterbrook Broad Stub (9xxx series): $40.00 - $60.00 (NOS)
Lamy 1.9mm Italic: $11.00!

So, there's a real difference there! The Esterbrook nibs get very expensive when you increase the tipping size. Now in favor of the Esterbrook you do have a lot more options than with the Lamy. There is around 16+ different tipping sizes of nibs for Esterbrooks. The Lamy has about 3-5.

Here's a shot of the two nibs side by side. The Esterbrook actually has a bigger nib than the Lamy.

Here are the feeds of both nibs.


Next on my list: Filling Systems

The Esterbrook uses a lever filling system to draw its ink supply whereas the Lamy uses a c/c or Cartridge/Converter. I'll dive right in on the advantages and disadvantages if each.

The Esterbrook utilizes a very simple yet exceptional filling system known as a lever-fill. It's very easy to learn and there's something so classic about it! It's main advantage over the Lamy would be this: It's much easier to clean in my experience than the c/c filler used in the Lamy. Also, it will hold more ink than a c/c filler. It's main disadvantage is this: It's much harder to replace if broken than a c/c filler. If your Esterbrook suddenly has a broken j-bar and a leaking sac, you're going to need to send it in for repairs. This will cost around $20.00 and leave you without your precious pen for a while.

The Lamy on the other hand uses a very easily replaceable c/c filler. New ones can be purchased for about $5.00 and can be put in by anyone including you! The c/c filler is very simple to operate and does not break easily. Its main advantage over the Esterbrook would be it's ease of replacement and the fact that you can see how much ink is left in the c/c by just looking at it. You can do no such thing with an Esterbrook. Its main disadvantages are such: It can be a real bugger to clean sometimes and c/c fillers in general don't hold much ink.

Here are the filling systems compared side-by-side.


Lastly I'll go over: Fit and finish

Both pens are nice and have their advantages in very different areas. I'll go into detail here:

The Esterbrook is just such a classic design! It doesn't look cheap but it's not overly flashy either. The Esterbrook comes in the following colors: Red, Blue, Copper (brown), Green, Grey, Black, and White (these are rare). The Esterbrook has a twist cap and I personally think that is more secure than the Lamy's push cap. The Esterbrook does have its disadvantages in this: The clip is not very flexible. It's not springy like the Lamy clip. If it gets pulled, it'll get bent. Also, the jewels on top of the pen can be fragile. I often see an Esterbrook with one or both jewels broken.

The Lamy looks a little more cheap. It has the feel of a kid's school-pen. On the same note, it's built to withstand being a kid's school pen! The Lamy definitely wins over the Esterbrook in terms of sheer durability. The plastic they use in its construction is very resistant to breaking. Also, the clip on the Lamy is very strong. The Lamy comes in the following colors: Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow, White, Black, and Clear. The main disadvantages to the Lamy is this: If you were to carry this around and pull it out in the middle of a business meeting it might look a little... Childish. The Esterbrook certainly looks more elegant.

Here are both pens compared. As you can see, the Esterbrook does indeed look more elegant than the Lamy.

Here are the pen caps/jewels compared with each other.

Here's the bottom of both pens.


So, to wrap things up: These are both great pens and I like them almost equally. I am (of course!) slightly slanted towards the Esterbrook mainly because I love vintage pens. It all depends on what you want! If you want super-durable, bullet proof, and modern - Go with a Lamy Safari. If you want classic, vintage, and quality - I'd lean towards the Esterbrook J!

I hope you've enjoyed this extensive review of these two wonderful pens. Hopefully this will help someone make a decision or just be informative to the general population!

Best Regards,
777 - Tyler Dahl


  1. Nice review/comparison, thank you!

    I think you meant centimeters, not millimeters in your measurements. 14mm is about 9/16 of one inch. That would be a very small pen indeed!

  2. First off, glad you liked it Steven! Second, you're absolutely right about the mm/cm error. I've changed it to say the correct thing. Thanks for your sharp eyes!

    777 - Tyler Dahl

  3. I have both but, so far, I prefer my Esties over my Lamy Vista (the clear demonstrator Safari). I think one reason for that is, while I like a fine line, I ordered mine with an extra fine nib and I actually find it too fine. I am planning on ordering either a fine or medium nib to see if either of those will make me happier with the Lamy. Both are fine pens and I enjoyed your side by side comparison.

  4. Hello Freddy! Glad to hear you enjoyed the review/comparison! I must say, I'm not a big fan of fine or extra-fine nibs anymore though I used to be. Perhaps a nib-change will help get that Lamy "back in the game" again! Indeed both are great pens though I do prefer an Esterbrook because of the aesthetics of it.

    777 - Tyler Dahl

  5. Nice review! I have both, and will say that my esterbrook gets a lot more use than my lamy. For me it's because I was able to fit my estie with a semi-flex nib, not to mention I prefer lever fillers.

  6. Yea, I love my lever filler! It's very easy to use and IMHO hold more ink than a converter.

    I've always wanted to get a flex nib for my Estie but I know it'd look horrible with my handwriting! :)

    777 - Tyler Dahl