Aurora after World War II
1946. At the end of WW II, Italy, slowly recovering from the division of
a bloody civil war and broken by the heavy destruction of daily bombing
raids, rolled up its sleeves and got back to work.
Italy at the end of the ‘40s looked towards America. American goods
brought by the GIs inspired a number of imitations made by the local
cottage industry and American-sounding names were often adopted for low
quality goods made with scarce resources on machines often cobbled
together by inventive and resourceful individuals. Together with these
cottage ventures, the established Italian industry moved forward and
started designing and manufacturing quality products, made with Italian
flair in a society that was rapidly finding new hope and enthusiasm.
it came to pens, the “in” product in 1946 was, without doubt, the Parker
“51”. Modern, streamlined (or, as it was called at the time in Italy,
“aerodynamic”) and completely reliable, the Parker “51” rapidly became a
world market leader and a desirable status symbol. Italian pen
manufacturers started designing pens that resembled the “51” in order to
retain some market share. They were helped considerably by the poor
availability of the “51”, which Parker could not build fast enough to
keep pace with world demand. Practically every Italian pen maker started
producing streamlined pens with metal caps and nibs that were, to
differing degrees, “hooded”. In Italian, such nibs were called
“corazzato” or “shielded” and the section is still known there as the
“corazza” or shield, even when its design does not incorporate a hooded
of all the manufacturers engaged in designing new pens, it was Aurora of
Turin that created a model destined to become a classic in the history
of fountain pens: the Aurora 88. Aurora was a very design-conscious
company, and for their first post-war pen they enlisted the services of
noted architect and industrial designer Marcello Nizzoli.
Fig.1 – Some of Nizzoli's timeless designs
1946 Nizzoli had designed a revolutionary typewriter for Olivetti, the
“Lexicon.” Nizzoli’s style was defined as “organic.” His work was
distinctive, ranging over a wide variety of media, from industrial
architecture to poster art and logo creation.
His “Lettera 22” portable typewriter of 1950 remained in
production for over 50 years and looks modern and essential even today.
Nizzoli’s task was to create an Italian counterpart to the Parker “51”.
The new pen would use the best materials available, including advanced
plastic materials like nylon.
Fig. 2 – An early ad for the Aurora 88 – “Beautiful and faithful”
Features of the First 88
only was the 88 distinctive in its appearance, it also featured several
technical innovations introduced by Nizzoli and by the Aurora
88 adopted a metal cap, following the lead of the Parker “51”. The cap
was rounded, with a blunt bullet shape. It was designed to slide
smoothly onto the pen barrel and grip the barrel tightly, due to the
presence of two clutch rings at opposite ends of the barrel. These rings
had a circular section and were hard chrome plated in all versions of
the pen. The cap was decorated with vertical lines and was available in
three finishes: solid gold, rolled gold and a silvery chrome and nickel
plate, which Aurora called “Nikargenta.” The slender clip was held in
place by a plastic blind cap which had a stubby stem at its top which
engaged a hole at the base of the clip. It was a simple and functional
technical solution, even though in practice the clip was to prove a
little weak and would be redesigned in later variants of the 88. The
crown of the cap was embellished by a smooth, dome-shaped metal jewel.
The cap jewel was most frequently in polished aluminum or gold, but
examples can also be found in lacquered black, anodised blue and
probably other colors.
most significant technical innovations were in the piston filling
mechanism of the 88. The piston shaft was made of high-density nylon, a
very innovative material for a pen designed in the 1940s. The piston
itself was made up of a stack of small alternating rubber and leather
disks; these were kept in place by a rigid pressure disk that engaged
the thread on the end of the nylon shaft. By adjusting the pressure disk
against the seal, the seal could be adjusted precisely for best sealing
and smoothest movement. A tiny vent hole in the barrel allowed the air
displaced by the movement of the piston to escape and also allowed for
air volume variations caused by changes in temperature or atmospheric
pressure. The barrel of the 88 was made of polished black celluloid, and
featured a large transparent ink view window broken by a series of thin
Aurora gave its customers a choice of seventeen 14kt nibs for the 88,
both flexible and manifold (Fig.3).
Fig.3 – Nib chart
section of the original 88 was made of hard rubber, and was threaded
into the barrel and sealed using rosin-based sealing pitch. The section
was engraved with the 88 logo and was individually numbered. Pens
delivered from the factory with special-purpose nibs also had a nib
identification code engraved on the section.
88 was equipped with a hard rubber feed of simple design and with a
large capacity collector. The arrow-shaped short nib was secured to the
feed by two small tabs or clips that hugged the sides of the feed, in a
way that was reminiscent of certain American wingflow nibs.
filler knob, at the opposite end of the barrel, was also made of hard
rubber and was held in place by a brass screw, hidden from view by a
small round plastic cover, which was also engraved with a symbol that
represented the width of the installed nib.
reinforce the image of a fashionable “concept pen”, Aurora packaged the
88 in an elliptical-shaped tubular aluminum case, containing the pen,
warranty certificate, instruction booklet and a soft yellow cloth for
keeping the pen clean and shiny. The original 88 was priced at 4,800
lire for the Nikargenta version and 6,800 lire for the gold filled
version. A later version, with gold filled barrel and cap, sold for
Fig.4 – The 88 design concept extended to its packaging
Together with the 88, Aurora introduced a new line of inks, called
BiFlux, which promised smooth flow and rapid drying.
Aurora 88 was launched in November of 1948, and met with immediate
success. Accompanied by a well-managed advertising campaign, sales were
brisk. The fact that the Parker “51” was in short supply at the time
also helped the sales of the new Aurora pen. Within a few months Aurora
manufactured over 300,000 pens, helped in part by brisk sales in foreign
markets. By November of 1952 Aurora had sold its millionth 88.
Fig.5 – The timeless 88
was because of demands from foreign Aurora distributors that Aurora
decided to introduce a model with a stronger and more resilient clip.
This new variant of the 88, introduced in 1950 for the export market,
soon replaced the original version, which is now known by collectors as
the “Nizzoli 88”. The new 88 was called 88K (1951). This new 88 featured
evolutionary changes and refinements over the original. The most visible
new element of the 88K was the clip. As already mentioned, the original
clip was not very strong, and Aurora decided to introduce a new clip
design in the 88K. The new clip was more modern in appearance, being
flat and embellished by a long vertical teardrop-shaped groove that was
filled with glossy black enamel. The finish of the cap was also
improved, especially in the Nikargenta version, which sported a glossier
and much more hard-wearing surface finish.
section and the filler knob of the 88K were made of celluloid like the
rest of the barrel, and the shape of the filler knob was made slightly
thinner and more streamlined. Additionally, the metal ring that
separated the filler knob from the barrel was thinner in the 88K than in
the earlier model.
88K was sold in a stylish rectangular box, practical and well made, but
lacking in the design finesse of the original aluminum tube that Nizzoli
had conceived for his pen.
There were changes inside the pen, too, especially in the feed, which
was more reliable and supposedly better suited to operations onboard
88K, which during its production run was the best selling high-quality
pen in Italy, is today considered a transitional model. At the end of
the 1950s, the Aurora 88 would be subjected to one more restyling
exercise, which gave it a more modern, contemporary look.
Fig. 6 – The Aurora 88K
the years between 1954 and 1959 Aurora introduced new models, largely
based on the writing “engine” of the 88. The most historically
noteworthy of these pens is, without doubt, the Aurora DuoCart.
DuoCart was an innovative pen in many respects, and another major design
effort on the part of Aurora. For this important new product, Aurora
enlisted the services of another famous name of modern industrial
design: Albe Steiner.
Aurora gave Albe Steiner two things: an Eversharp 5th Avenue and a stock
88. Aurora liked the short
cap design of the Eversharp pen, which had been launched as a serious
competitor to the Parker 51, but failed mainly because of its very small
ink capacity. They also told Albe Steiner that the new pen had to use the
section of the 88, as this would save on retooling costs and simplify
the after sales support logistics. Albe Steiner fused some elements of
the American pen with the general shape of the 88. The new pen sported a
unique look, with its short metal cap and large diameter barrel. The
writing unit was lifted from the 88, but in the DuoCart the section
could also be had in Burgundy and the surface markings were specific to
the model. The back of the section was also equipped with a small device
which was, in a way, revolutionary: a cartridge piercing device.
Fig. 7 – Albe Steiner’s DuoCart
most significant innovation of the DuoCart could be found in its filling
1952-53 Aurora hired Prof. Giulio Natta, one of the leading researchers
plastics manufacturer Montecatini.
In a separate development, Aurora engineer Ing. Torchi had
created a design for a flexible plastic cartridge. Natta was asked to
produce the ideal plastic material and to assist in the detailed design
of the cartridge. The Aurora cartridge had to be transparent, flexible
and practically indestructible.
cartridges had been used before, in particular the American Eagle pen of
1890, which used a glass cartridge, and Jif Waterman in France, who
introduced a successful line of glass cartridge pens in 1936. But the
glass vials that were used as cartridges were prone to breakage,
resulting in messy consequences. Additionally, the nipple that sealed
the cartridge against the ink feed was often a source of leaks.
Starting with the Torchi idea, Natta created the first modern plastic
cartridge. The DuoCart cartridge had a wide nozzle (mouth) and was
designed to provide a smooth and regular flow of ink. Prof. Natta’s
career is a distinguished one: in the 1960s he led a research team that
developed a new plastic material, the Moplen polypropylene. His
work won him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1963. The patent for the
Aurora plastic cartridge was filed in Italy on August 26, 1953, with
Torchi named as the inventor. The Italian patent thus precedes the U.S.
Waterman patent for a similar cartridge, which Waterman introduced in
1954. Aurora applied for a patent in the U.S. on July 27, 1954, but
delays in validating the Italian patent allowed Waterman to gain
approval of their cartridge patent first. During a 1967 Court
case (1) between Waterman and the Sheaffer Company, it was shown
that Waterman’s earliest sketches of a plastic cartridge were dated
December 9, 1953, well after the Aurora design had been completed and
samples had been manufactured and tested.
Getting back to the DuoCart, the pen offered yet more innovative
features. The DuoCart cartridges were housed in a nylon holder and could
be “loaded” into the pen by inserting a metal cartridge extractor that
held two cartridges back-to-back and stayed inside the pen during use.
The top of the barrel was fitted with a flat, chrome plated jewel, which
also worked as an anchor point for a short metal chain that dangled
inside the barrel. The purpose of the chain was unique: when one of the
two cartridges was spent and discarded, the chain would touch the metal
cartridge holder inside the barrel and would rattle, reminding the user
that he was down to his/her last cartridge. When both cartridges were
inside the barrel, the chain would be kept in place by the topmost
cartridge and the pen would emit no warning sound.
DuoCart was priced at 3,800 lire for the Nikargenta version and 6,400
lire for the gold filled version.
Fig. 8 – The DuoCart and DuoCart Jr.
DuoCart met with great commercial success.
The cartridges were practical, efficient and mess-free. Another
Italian pen, the low-cost and popular LUS Atomica, was introduced soon
after the DuoCart and used another type of plastic cartridge. Aurora
quickly introduced the “DuoCart Jr.,” a smaller version of the DuoCart,
aimed at the student market.
DuoCart remained in production for many years, and underwent a major
restyling exercise in 1960, which gave it a more “mainstream” look,
doing away with the short cap and bringing it closer to the look of the
88. Unlike the 88, the DuoCart (now advertised as the 2Cart) was produced in several colors, including
grey, green, turquoise and burgundy.
Fig.9 – 1960 2Cart colors ad
the end of the 1950s the 88 went through a major styling and engineering
update. The new variant was called the 88P and was, in this writer’s
opinion, the best 88 yet. The cap was given a more modern profile, with
a slanted crown embellished by an elliptical black jewel. The guilloche’
pattern of the cap was a new design, featuring converging thin vertical
lines alternating with polished metal. The engineering changes revolved
around a new nib, which moved the fastening wings further back, out of
view when the nib was fitted to the feed. The new nibs were rigid,
following the trend of the period which was heavily influenced by the
Parker “51”, which was still in production and still acting as the
inspiration for a large number of new pen designs. In addition, by the
end of the 1950s the ballpoint was firmly established as the most
popular writing instrument, and flexible nibs were too fragile for
writers who had been conditioned by years of ballpoint use.
Considering the fact that the market for fountain pens was rapidly being
eroded by the ubiquitous ballpoint, the success of the 88P was truly
extraordinary and the new pen would bring the total number of 88s
produced to 4 million pens.
Fig. 10 – The
Aurora team decided that the time was right for a cartridge version of
the 88. Unlike the DuoCart, which was always priced considerably below
the 88, the new pen was going to be a full-fledged 88 and would be
priced very close to the piston fill version. The new pen was called
Aurora 888, and it maintained the look of the standard 88. There were
some minor changes at the top of the barrel, where the new pen obviously
did not have a filler knob and which was given a truncated cone shape.
versions of the 888 were produced, but, unfortunately for Aurora, the
pen was not very successful; the fountain pen market was entering a very
challenging period, with rapidly dwindling sales and a shift toward
ballpoint pens, which were becoming increasingly reliable and offered a
low cost, practical solution for everyday writing. Because of their
limited success and subsequent scarcity, the 888s are today much sought
after by collectors.
Fig. 11 – The two variants of the 888
Auretta School Pen
the 1950s, Italian students had to use a fountain pen until they reached
high school. The fountain pen that was most sought after by Italian
students at the time was the classic Pelikan 120, green and black,
totally reliable and filled from a bottle. Pelikans were so popular in
Italy that a production line was set up in Milan by the parent company.
Those students who could not afford a Pelikan could choose a LUS
Atomica, practical and very inexpensive (you could buy 80 LUS Atomica
pens for the cost of one Aurora 88) and which used practical plastic
cartridges. There were also several inexpensive piston-fill brands made
in the town of Settimo Torinese, fitted with cheap, but workable nibs
and using generally low grade components. These were assembled in huge
numbers in many family-run workshops and sold in street markets, cheap
department stores and small stationery shops.
scenario changed radically with the arrival on the scene of the Auretta.
Auretta was Aurora’s student pen, offering excellent writing qualities,
modern styling and affordable pricing. The Auretta used plastic
cartridges, with two cartridges held back-to-back in the barrel, in a
configuration that was derived from the DuoCart (but the Auretta did not
use a metal holder). This design was later adopted by Pelikan and
several other manufacturers. The Auretta cartridges were smaller than
those of the DuoCart and looked very similar to today’s “international
size” cartridges, which were developed for the Pelikano and were clearly
based on the design of the Auretta cartridge; Pelikan changed the
dimensions of the nozzle (mouth) to avoid legal action by Aurora. The
Auretta looked streamlined and modern and reprised some of the styling
motifs of the 88P.
Fig.12 – The Auretta school pen
entirely of plastics, the Auretta was a sturdy pen that could withstand
the daily abuses of schoolchildren and was fitted with a semi-hooded
steel nib that wrote smoothly and reliably.
section was reminiscent of the one used in the 98, a pen which had
recently been launched and that was to be, in Aurora’s plans, the new
flagship and a valid competitor for the new Parker 61. The barrel
sported an end jewel similar to the one used in the DuoCart. Just one
look and people knew they were looking at an Aurora pen, and the build
quality did not disappoint. The Auretta was immediately successful and
sold in huge quantities. The original Auretta of 1964 was made in grey
or black polystyrene, with chrome trim. After a few years the Auretta
was given a face-lift. The shape remained practically unchanged, but the
pen was made a little shorter and was made of a new plastic material,
more durable and scratch resistant and dubbed by Aurora as
“Crack-proof.” With the new plastics, the Auretta introduced many new
and bright colors. The pen was sold ready for use, with a cartridge
already in place. This second variant of the Auretta remained in
production for over fifteen years. In the mid-1970s a new school pen was
launched by Aurora and was given the Auretta name, even though the pen
was of a completely new design and used a different nib. The nib was
designed to make it easier for ballpoint users to transition to this
fountain pen: the tip of the nib was in the center of the cross section
of the pen, like the ball of a BIC stick pen.
Fig. 13 – Threee Auretta Mk2 pens and one Mk3
New Flagship Pen is Born: Enter the Aurora 98 “Riserva Magica”.
early 1960s were eventful years in Italy and the world: Italy celebrated
the centenary of its unification with a World’s Fair in Turin, an
occasion to look back at the past of the city and the country and
forward to the future achievements of science and technology. In the
Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin’s space flight sparked a new interest in the
cosmos and in space exploration. Fountain pens, in 1961, were already
old fashioned. Struggling pen makers made an all-out effort to update
their designs and project an image of forward-looking technology and
futuristic design. Parker introduced the Parker 61, the pen that “filled
itself,” thanks to its capillary reservoir. Italian pen maker LUS
presented the “Magica,” a pen that was filled with water and wrote with
ink, thanks to an ingenious reservoir of ink pellets.
Aurora started the design of its new flagship pen, the 98, in 1962, and
the new pen was officially launched in 1963. It was an elegant pen, thin
and slender like the Parker 61, and it could be filled, if not by
itself, at least without the need to remove the barrel.
98 retained the general look of the 88, with a more streamlined and
modern appearance due to its thinner barrel and its slightly more
98 introduced several innovative features:
The pen could be filled without having to remove its barrel. By
pressing down on the metal “jewel” located at the top of the barrel,
it could be extracted and rotated to operate the piston filling
mechanism. After the filling operation was completed, a press of the
thumb would retract the button to its stowed position.
The 98 offered the so called “Riserva Magica” (Magic Reserve)
feature. The plastic piston used to fill the pen featured a small
receptacle that was used to trap a drop of ink. When the ink
reservoir was empty, the writer could lower the piston all the way
down the barrel until the drop of ink trapped inside the receptacle
in the piston came into contact with the ink feed. This allowed the
nib to draw enough ink for an extra page or two of writing. The
feature was quite successful, at least as a marketing gimmick and
Parker adopted a similar device when they designed their ink
cartridges for the Parker 45 (and all following Parker cartridge
pens, to the present day).
The ink reservoir was made with a tapered cross section, which was
wider at the section end and slightly narrower at the filler knob
end. This enabled the pen to keep a very tight seal when the piston
was fully retracted, even after the piston had suffered some wear.
This greatly extended the useful life of the plastic piston seal: it
is not uncommon to find 98s these days that are still operating
perfectly and show no signs of a leaking piston.
98, appreciated for its balance and writing qualities, was a good pen
and sold in good quantities. Unfortunately, Italy, like most of the
Western world, was moving away from fountain pens and was embracing the
many new ballpoint pen models, which offered maintenance-free writing in
slender, practical pens that by the 1960s had become reliable and long
lasting. Aurora introduced a stylish retractable ballpoint pen, which
sold well in spite of hard competition from such pens as the Parker
Jotter, Ballograf Epoca and low priced pens from Pelikan and from local
pen maker Universal, among many others.
Aurora, it was the beginning of a dark period, with dwindling fountain
pen sales that hurt the bottom line. Only the Auretta, with its steady
sales at the beginning of each school year, kept Aurora afloat. The 88
was still being produced, even while the 98 was being made. The 88
retained a core of passionate fans that preferred its stately looks to
the newer, sleeker lines of the 98.
new variant of the 88 was introduced in the mid-sixties: it was made of
a new, resilient plastic material and sported a “frosted” look. Both the
plastic parts and the cap had a surface treatment that gave a
non-reflective appearance to the pen and provided a pleasant, non-slip
feel to the writer. A very similar finish was later adopted by the Lamy
2000 from Germany, a pen that was clearly inspired by the Italian pen.
Fig.14 – The superb Aurora 98 "Riserva Magica"
Pressed by a rapidly shrinking market, Aurora modified the 98,
simplifying its design and lowering its production costs. Aurora
abandoned the piston filling system and the 98 was made into a
cartridge-fill pen. The early cartridge 98s were beautifully made and
could compete with the best pens from America.
Fig.15 – Cartridge version of the Aurora 98
Sales of fountain pens dwindled: the world was using ballpoint pens and
the trend could not be reversed. Later versions of Aurora fountain pens
did not show the same level of quality of the older pens. The 98 was now
made of the same plastic as the frosted 88 and it was offered in a great
number of different finishes. The workmanship
suffered somewhat, and the 98s of the late 1960s were not in the same
class as the original “Riserva Magica” model of 1963.
Fig.16 – A late model 88 and two cartridge 98s
looked like the end was approaching. Aurora was in trouble, and after 69
years of successes, the company was facing bankruptcy.
owners, the Enriquez family that was related to the founder of Aurora,
decided to sell the company. The new owner was Franco Verona.
1969 Aurora needed a new pen, in fact, a new image. The world was
changing, man had reached the Moon and society was going through an
evolutionary turmoil. Nobody bought fountain pens anymore. The next
Aurora pen had to be something new, exciting and revolutionary: a new
flagship pen for the new decade. All experts advised Verona to produce a
high-end ballpoint pen. After all, how could a fountain pen, an object
generate excitement in the buying public of 1970?
it failed, it might be the last Aurora fountain pen.
Franco Verona took his inspiration from the way Aurora had developed the
88 in 1946 and decided to hire the top Italian industrial designer of
the time: Marco Zanuso. Zanuso had been a disciple of Marcello Nizzoli’s
and had developed a personal style which was elegant and essential
almost to the point of minimalism.
Fig.17 – Some Zanuso designs
creation was a trendsetter; he called it the “Hastil” (Italian for
“Endowed with style”).
Hastil’s introduction had an incredible impact in Italy. It is said that
98% of all Italian pen retailers bought the new pen. The pen immediately
became an “objet d’art” and it became the pen of choice of architects,
designers, successful executives, intellectuals and all those Italians
who loved simple lines and innovative design. The Hastil was the first
modern cylindrical pen. Like the Nizzoli 88 before it, the design
concept of the Hastil extended beyond the pen, to its container. The
cylindrical case was designed to complement the lines and capture the
essence of the pen. The design of the Hastil took Marco Zanuso and the
Aurora project office over two years. The pen was so innovative that the
New York Museum of Modern Art requested a pen from Aurora to place on
Aurora called the bright satin finish “Ecosteel Diamantato.” The clip,
which was hinged and controlled by a spring mechanism, was made entirely
of selenium steel, forged and hand finished. The clip mechanism was
ultrasonically cleaned after assembly. The barrel and cap were first
treated with a process called “Chromolight” by Aurora, then diamond
etched (diamantatura), polished and finally given a satin finish. These
three last operations were done entirely by hand.
nib was made of white gold and was offered in six different widths.
cap could be posted without causing scratches to the barrel thanks to a
unique system of spacers and retaining tabs. The ink collector was
oversized and designed for safe operation on aircraft. The pen used
cartridges or a converter, which Aurora named “trik-trak.”
Hastil became a trendsetter and was probably the most copied pen of the
‘70s and ‘80s.
Fig.18 – Aurora Hastil
Fig.19 – Aurora Hastil
the original Hastil, Aurora, over the years, would develop several
variants, including gold guilloche’ pens, pens with lacquer over
precious metals and other finishes that, frankly, go against the pure
and essential sprit of the Zanuso design. The only exception, in this
writer’s opinion, is the beautiful and understated “Flighter” version in
steel with gold accents that was sold exclusively on board transatlantic
flights of the Italian airline Alitalia.
After the success of the Hastil fountain pen, Aurora introduced a
ballpoint version of the same pen, with a telescopic retractable point.
the original 88 to the Hastil, from 1946 to 1970 – twenty-four years, in
which Aurora recovered from a war that left it without even a factory,
designed a classic pen, the 88, which remained in production for over 20
years, invented the modern plastic cartridge and finally introduced a
pen, the Hastil, which revolutionized the canons of pen design.
Aurora not only survived the post-war years, but managed to
produce innovative, groundbreaking pens that will influence writing
instrument designs for years to come.
(1) "Waterman v. Sheaffer, Civ. A. No. 2273, U.
S. District Court D.
Delaware, April 20, 1967",
(2) Waterman cartridge pen patent numbers
2,782,762; 2,802,448; 2,881,737;
2,931,338; 2,987,044; D177,359; D178,033
Statements concerning Donald H. Young (Waterman’s cartridge pen
designer – n.d.a.) in the opinion written by the judge in the
"Waterman v. Sheaffer, Civ. A. No. 2273, U.S.
District Court D.- Delaware, April 20, 1967 " court case:
"Young's efforts, which commenced in April of 1952, culminated in a
"Waterman has produced a December 9, 1953 drawing which incorporates
all the elements of the patent, but the other earlier drawings
offered are incomplete, and cannot serve to give Young an earlier
date of invention."
This article originally appeared,
with some minor changes, in the Spring and Summer 2006 issues of the
Pennant magazine. Text and images © Giovanni Abrate