Since Kenro Industries bought the reincarnated Esterbrook they have been doing some good work bringing the brand in to the 21st century while also keeping links to the original company’s past. Late 2018 a new model was brought to the range, the Phaeton 300R, playing homage to the Phaeton 300 pen which was released back in 1964.
It was surprisingly hard to find pictures of the original pen, but thanks to http://www.esterbrook.net (by Brian Anderson of Anderson Pens fame) I was able to compare the two and they are similar at a glance. Both have friction fit caps though the original sits flush with the barrel and is one piece and colour. The 300R has a colour coded plastic finial and the clip is gold coloured and branded. Both have hooded nibs, with some decorative differences, just the filling mechanisms are different, but more on that later. Over all a good job in making a modern representation of the pen, assuming you know what the original looks like.
Not having a Phaeton 300 I can not say how close the new pen is in size, however I do have both a M2 and a J and compared to those I would suspect the dimensions of the 300R are not that far off the original. As a result the pen is of a decent length, but at the same time is comparatively thin.
The cap slides smoothly on and off with a slight resistance due to pressure release or build up, depending on the action. Annoyingly there appeared to be some machining residue inside the cap with the result there were small blotches on the section. The same happened to the barrel when the cap was posted. Over time this stopped, however not all the marks could be wiped away and this did make me wonder how cheaply this pen may have been made. Additionally in the photo above you can see more micro scratches than you would expect from a new pen, almost certainly also due to posting cap.
As mentioned the cap does post and does so deeply. There is a plastic inner cap that helps securely grip the rear of the barrel, however this is only towards the end, not the whole length, and the sharp edge of the opening to the cap quite probably does account for the large amount of micro-scratches I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Being light, posting the cap does not affect the balance of the pen in the hand much.
The clip is the traditional Esterbrook shape, however it is extremely tight, so even with the suitably shaped nub I was never able to get it to slide over a pocket seem. Net result, useless.
In the hand the pen is light, very light. The balance point is around half way along the pen but you would not notice as there’s no real weight. It does mean you could use the 300R for a long time without your wrist becoming tired. Additionally with the section merging near smoothly in to the barrel and the angle of the tapering being mild, it is easy to find a comfortable hold, assuming the pen is not too thin for you. In some respects, without the step of the original, this is closer to a Parker 61, or thinned representation of a 51.
Using callipers I was able to prove the barrel does actually widen slightly, before going straight, and then tapering in at the end. This does provide a smooth transition and makes the pen attractive in appearance.
The steel nib is hooded and only available in a medium size. I found mine to have very poor ink flow, despite multiple flushes, and as a result was dry. With very little to work on I managed to floss the tines using the plastic cleaning strip from a Pilot Parallel and this did improve both the flow and the writing experience. The produced line is closer to a fine, however my 300R does now write consistently and there is no skipping. The experience, however, is mixed as the short nib is very stiff and there is a slight scratchiness to it. Under a loupe I can see the tipping is not on straight and has been smoothed to a slight oblique angle, alas for me to the right, where as I rotate my pens slightly anti-clockwise. Additionally the nib itself may not be straight, it is hard to tell. I am certain that 20 careful seconds on micro-mesh would produce a smoother experience and I may yet attempt this.
The original pen was available with an aerometric converter and would also take cartridges. I am not aware if these were proprietary or a shared standard. Both my classic Esterbrook pens use fixed fillers with secured in place ink sacs. The filling mechanism is a plunger filler which can be unscrewed, however I am not sure I would recommend this as you would need to grease the threads each time, making sure there is no ingress in to the reservoir, added to which I have known similar systems to start to leak once they have been removed and replaced. Still Esterbrook are normally good with their warranties and they do say for the ‘life of the pen’ so if you do remove the plunger system to clean it and then find your 300R is starting to leak then you should be able to get a replacement.
It is noticeable that there is no mention on the pen or box of where the Phaeton300R is made. There are however two strong indications of where it will be. First there is only one country I am aware of that has a factory that makes plunger fillers of this style and second is potentially an issue for some of you. The smell. Remove the cap and there is an odour, remove the barrel, the same. It is an indication the material used to make the body and section of this pen is vegetable resin. Again there is only one country I am aware of where this material is used for fountain pens – India. Why no mention is made I do not know, perhaps Kenro Industries are trying to give the impression that Esterbrooks are still made in the USA despite most actually coming from China.
The above is moot though, for while you can still find this pen on the Esterbrook website, I struggled to find any retailers still stocking it. In the UK just three of the online stores I looked at still had it in stock and with two of those the prices were long term reduced (which is how I got mine for just £42 from Cult Pens). Looking also at the usual suspects in the US, I could find no mention of this model on their websites. At £65/$85 MRP it is/was good value, after all it is a lot cheaper than all the other pens in the Esterbrook range. Problem is the pen also looks and feels a lot cheaper, and this might be why the Phaeton 300R appears to have been dropped after just 2-3 years.
The packaging is the standard retro-style Esterbrook box, which I do like. There is also an outer cardboard sleeve, which presumably is to stop the magnetically held lid from opening while in transit.
So what are my thoughts. This is a cheaply made pen with some short comings, however at the same time it does appear to capture the looks and spirit of the original. I find it comfortable to hold and relatively comfortable to use, at least once I got the ink flow sorted. At this price point, particularly with the discounts, I can ignore the faults, assuming I can smooth the nib out, though with the way it came out of the box I would be disappointed, after all it effectively would not write.
Could I recommend this pen to others. Hard to say. After all the pen appears to have been dropped by Esterbrook, though that does mean there are discounts to be had. There are not many hooded nib fountain pens out there, and many are retro designs (Parker 51, Aurora Duo Cart, etc) or blatant clones. Controversially I would suggest the Phaeton 300R is far closer to it’s original than the aforementioned pens and also a superior pen to the new generation Parker 51. If you are ok with the smell of the resin and willing to risk the nib, then for £65 maybe, in a sale/reduced to clear then yes. It is different enough to justify the decision and if ~£40-45, then cheap enough to not cause too much regret if you do not get on with it.
- Close looks to the original.
- Comfortable to hold.
- Cheap for an Esterbrook fountain pen.
- Plunger filling system.
- Pen may be too thin for some.
- Pen may be too light for some.
- My nib had poor ink flow.
- Vegetal resin smell.
- Manufacturing residues left marks on the section and barrel.
- Clip is useless.
- Nib slightly off angle and tipping not well applied.