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Aurora after WW2
From the Aurora 88 to the Hastil
By Giovanni Abrate  

Aurora after World War II

By Giovanni Abrate


It’s 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. 

When 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 nib.  

Out 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


In 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 

Not only was the 88 distinctive in its appearance, it also featured several technical innovations introduced by Nizzoli and by the Aurora engineering team. 

The 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. 

The 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 vertical lines.  

Aurora gave its customers a choice of seventeen 14kt nibs for the 88, both flexible and manifold (Fig.3).



Fig.3 – Nib chart


The 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. 

The 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. 

The 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. 

To 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 10,800 lire.



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. 

The 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


The 88K 

It 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. 

The 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.  

The 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 airplanes.

The 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 Aurora DuoCart 

In 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. 

The 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


The most significant innovation of the DuoCart could be found in its filling system. 

In 1952-53 Aurora hired Prof. Giulio Natta, one of the leading researchers for 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.  

Ink 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. (2) (3) 

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. 

The 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.


The 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. 

The 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 88P 

At 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 88P


The 888 

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.  

Two 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


The Auretta School Pen 

In 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. 

This scenario changed radically with the arrival on the scene of the Auretta.

The 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


Made 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. 

The 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


A New Flagship Pen is Born: Enter the Aurora 98 “Riserva Magica”.


The 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. 

The 98 retained the general look of the 88, with a more streamlined and modern appearance due to its thinner barrel and its slightly more angular curves.

The 98 introduced several innovative features:


  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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. 


The 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.  

For 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. 

A 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

It looked like the end was approaching. Aurora was in trouble, and after 69 years of successes, the company was facing bankruptcy.  The owners, the Enriquez family that was related to the founder of Aurora, decided to sell the company. The new owner was Franco Verona.


The Hastil


In 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 considered passé, generate excitement in the buying public of 1970?

If 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



His creation was a trendsetter; he called it the “Hastil” (Italian for “Endowed with style”).

The 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 permanent display. 

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. 

The nib was made of white gold and was offered in six different widths.

The 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.” 

The Hastil became a trendsetter and was probably the most copied pen of the ‘70s and ‘80s.



Fig.18 – Aurora Hastil


Fig.19 – Aurora Hastil

From 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. 

From 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 (U.S.):  2,782,762;  2,802,448; 2,881,737; 2,931,338; 2,987,044; D177,359; D178,033 

(3) 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: 

  1. "Young's efforts, which commenced in April of 1952,  culminated in a drawing of   December 9, 1953."
  2. "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


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