“Buone penne alla portata di tutti”
affordable pens for everyone”
This article is dedicated to
Umberto Legnani and his company, LUS
were innovative, practical and affordable and sold in vast numbers. In
1958 Umberto Legnani was awarded a gold medal by the New York Academy
for his role in the development of the fountain pen: at that time, he
held more than 90 Patents.
Umberto Legnani and his wife, Giuseppina Carnelli started a small
company for the manufacture of drawing pins and steel nibs in the town
of Saronno. This small but active town , where the famous Amaretto
liqueur is made, is located near Milan, in Northern Italy, which was
(and still is) the industrial center of Italy, where the majority of the
capabilities are concentrated.
grew steadily for the Legnanis and their operation took new impetus in
1931, when the company was registered as L.U.S.
stood for “Legnani Umberto, Saronno”, but it also recalled the italian
word “lusso” or “luxury, style” and it was short and catchy.
following 20 years saw the company adding new products and expanding in
new directions: stapling machines, postal scales, paper clips and other
metal stationery supplies. Nibs remained one of the staples of the LUS
product line, gaining success in Italy and abroad.
celluloid fountain pens were also marketed under the Mondial or Mondiale
brands, but they were probably made for LUS by Stilo Everest, a maker of
good quality pens based in Settimo Torinese.
A celluloid Mondial pen, circa 1940
breakthrough for LUS came after WW2. New, modern looking fountain pens
had been introduced by Parker (the famous Parker 51) and Aurora (the
“88”) among others: these new pens had metal caps and their construction
used new plastics that offered consistent quality and low manufacturing
costs. Signor Legnani saw the opportunity offered by the reconstruction
effort after the war and decided to concentrate his company’s
product development efforts on a series of innovative fountain
to expand in two distinct directions: first, the development of high
quality fountain pens that would match or surpass the best pens then
available. These pens would be sold through established fountain pen
shops and stationers. Second, he would build a reliable, attractive,
very low cost fountain pen, affordable by everyone and sold through a
myriad of unconventional outlets such as tobacconists, news-kiosks,
convenience stores and even Bars!
We will now
look at the pens that made LUS famous in the post WW2 era: thanks to the
success of his creations, Signor Legnani saw the workforce of LUS reach
an astonishing 1,000 employees.
and innovation: the incredible LUS Giubileo.
Introduced at the Milan Trade Fair in the Spring of 1953, the LUS
Giubileo (Italian for “Jubilee”, as it marked the 25th anniversary of
the foundation of the company) was aimed squarely at the Parker 51 and
Aurora 88 market.
finished, it used the most advanced materials, including high density
Nylon for the barrel and section. The gold plating used in the top model
(the Giubileo Mod. A) was superb and it survives absolutely umblemished
in the pen that I have in my collection. All metal parts and mechanisms
were covered by a 5-year warranty.
Giubileo Modello “A” was priced at 5,000 Lire, a substantial amount in
1953 (about 9 US $ of the time). It was still less expensive than the
Aurora 88 (6,800 Lire) and the imported Parker 51 (8,000 Lire for an
Legnani was a brilliant innovator: at the time of the Giubileo, he held
56 patents on fountain pen design. His design for the Giubileo was bold
and revolutionary. Legnani designed a mechanism, operated by a knob at
the end of the barrel, that allowed the gold nib to move in and out of
the section shell. This gave the nib different amounts of flex, as the
hidden portion was held in a rigid position within the shell. The blind
cap knob was graduated and etched with the numerals from 1 to 6. Six
different levels of nib flexibility could be selected, tailoring the pen
to the writing style of its owner.
Beautiful, innovative design is
apparent in the Giubileo “A” of 1953
used a simple syringe filling system and the whole pen mechanism,
including the collector, feed and nib could slide within the outer Nylon
that shows you your own writing style”
of the slogans used in the heavy advertising campaign mounted by Signor
The pen was
a success and even though it never really threatened the market
dominance of the Aurora 88 and the Parker 51, it highlighted the spirit
of innovation and technical
ability that became the hallmark of the LUS company.
Cutaway drawing of the Giubileo showing the
nib adjustment mechanism
tried to apply the variable flex feature to other LUS pens. The
adjustment scale was moved to the area where barrel and section met:
this simplified the construction of the pen, as the whole barrel could
now be turned to set the flex, intead of using a dedicated knob.
models were introduced and LUS even produced several school pens with
the same feature, equipped with lower cost steel nibs.
Unfortunately for Sig. Legnani, the ballpoint pen was becoming the pen
of choice for everyday use and was threatening the very survival of the
fountain pen. In addition, the new Parker 51 and the Aurora 88 had
gained a well deserved reputation for reliability and quality that
prevented the Giubileo from gaining the success that it certainly
Legnani then focused his attention and his design skills on a new
concept: a fountain pen that would be sold everywhere, even outside the
traditional pen sales outlets and would rival in cost the more popular
inexpensive ballpoint pens. It would be reliable (many ballpoint pens in
the early 1950s were still very fragile) and it would be practical,
eliminating the need to use an ink bottle for refilling. The early 1950s
were the years of the “Atomic Age” (l’”Era Atomica”, in Italian) and
Legnani designed a pen so modern and revolutionary that he decided to
call it “Atomica”!
LUS Atomica Mk1
The pen that dared to challenge the
ballpoint...and almost won!
Atomica, the pen that will replace the ballpoint pen!”
claim, for sure! This was the slogan used to promote the new pen.
advertising campaign was huge: daily newspapers, street posters, store
displays. The pen itself could be found everywhere, clipped to
crescent-shaped bright-red card displays, in two slightly different
styles, with a rounded barrel like the one used on the Aurora 88 or with
a jeweled barrel, like the one on the early Parker 51s. Its success was
nothing short of sensational and the inexpensive Atomica quickly became
the best-selling writing instrument in Italy, overtaking even the
“Biros” that were rapidly gaining widespread acceptance.
the innovations offered by the LUS Atomica?
cost: at a time when
quality fountain pens sold for between 3,000 and 8,000 Lire, the LUS
Atomica offered a reliable, smooth writing alternative for the price of
only 100 Lire.
of operation: the
Atomica was the first post-WW2 mass-produced pen to use polistyrene ink
cartridges. Waterman introduced its own cartridge pen, the CF, a year
after the launch of the Atomica. The fact that LUS had a monopoly on the
replacement cartridges, enabled them to price the pen at a very low
figure, as most of the profits would be realized through the sale of ink
cartridges. The LUS cartridge design was well-thought out and quite
advanced and was covered by a patent: the cartridges held a large
quantity of ink, the blunt end was reinforced by a metal cap and the
nipple was sealed by a ball bearing that, released upon cartridge
installation into the pen, contributed to the regular flow of ink from
the cartridge by breaking any surface tension within the cartridge
success of the Atomica, LUS moved into a new manufacturing plant and, as
mentioned earlier, its workforce grew to the astonishing figure of 1,000
Read our article about the LUS factory
A Showcase of LUS Pens
is a look at the most significant pens made by LUS after WW2.
with a look at the LUS Mondiale model 61/62, introduced in the immediate
post-war years. The Mod. 61 had plated chrome trim, while the Mod. 62
was finished in gold plated trim.
The Mod. 61
was basically a re-styled version of the earlier LUS 58; the styling of
the Mod. 61 is reminiscent of the first variant of the Aurora 88, with a
similarly shaped domed metal cap. The overall build quality was quite
good, especially considering that this was a fairly utilitarian pen. The
nib was made of steel, chrome plated in the Mod. 61 and gold plated in
the Mod. 61.
The nib is well formed and iridium tipped.
features were quite unusual, as befits a creation of Sig. Legnani: the
nib could easily be replaced by the user; the bottom section unscrews
and replacement sections could be purchased from LUS. The other
peculiarity was the filling system: the pen was a twist filler, a knob
was used to twist a rubber sac inside the pen. The ink level could be
checked via a clear ink-view window.
The stylish Mod. 61, shown next to its
original box and instructions sheet.
The Mod. 61’s
sleek and modern lines
our showcase is the already-mentioned LUS flagship pen: the 1953 LUS
Giubileo. The pen in our collection is the top of the line Model “A”.
This is the
pen that Sig. Legnani designed to take on the very best pens of the
time: Parker, Aurora and OMAS. The gold filled cap, with its
arrow-shaped clip and top onyx jewel was clearly modeled after the
Parker 51. The quality of this pen was absolutely superb: the gold fill
has survived 50 years without the slightest sign of wear or corrosion.
The Nylon body has a wonderful glossy finish and the flex-adjustment
numbers on the blind cap knob are tastefully inobtrusive. One third of
the way up from the nib, on the elongated section, a fine engraving
shows the letter “A” surrounded by a laurel wreath with the name LUS at
the bottom. Very stylish!
The clean lines of the LUS Giubileo
observer, the Giubileo looks more elegant and better finished than
either the Aurora 88 or the Parker 51. Truly a flagship pen and one of
the lesser-known classics of its time.
In spite of
the quality of the Giubileo and the brilliance of its design, it was the
next pen in our showcase that launched LUS into the big time: the LUS
LUS The original LUS Atomica
The pen that made cartridges popular in Italy
LUS Atomica was produced in two slightly different versions, almost identical,
but for the presence of an end jewel on the barrel in the first variant.
the Atomica, there is no mistaking the fact that the Atomica was an
inexpensive pen, built to a price and many would not hesitate to define
it “cheap”. Inexpensive also in its price; 100 Lire, which meant that
for the price of an Aurora 88 you could have bought 68 Atomicas!
was designed to compete with the new wave of ballpoint pens and it
offered for the same price a smooth writing, reliable pen which sported
the “in” look of the early 1950s: hooded nib, aerodynamic styling and a
metal cap. What made the Atomica unique and revolutionary, for a pen in
this price class, was the filling method: the Atomica used a disposable,
high capacity styrene cartridge. It was launched a few months before the
Waterman CF (which is incorrectly considered by many as the first
successful modern cartridge pen) and LUS eventually sold millions of
A look at
the Atomica Mk1 reveals a nice and pleasing design, with a black or
maroon plastic body and a plated steel hooded nib of simple design. The
feed had a characteristic appearance as it was made of transparent blue
plastic. The Atomica cartridge is long, approximately like a vintage
Sheaffer cartridge, but it is not symmetrical like its american
counterpart. One end of the cartridge is covered by a metal reinforcing
cap and the opposite side is shaped into a narrow nozzle, stopped by a
ball bearing that is displaced when inserting the cartridge into the
section of the pen. The ball bearing, once released, contributed to
assuring an even and regular flow of ink.
cartridges sold for 10 lire each and could be bought nearly everywhere,
greatly contributing to the success and widespread diffusion of the
remember using the Atomica, as it was my first fountain pen and also the
pen that we would buy, for very little money, any time we needed a pen
for doing the crosswords on a train trip or to write some quick letters.
spot of the Atomica was its nib: it wrote quite well and felt smooth
when writing. The ink flow was generous, to increase the smoothness of
the pen and also to sell more cartridges (..!), but the nib was made of
a very soft alloy and would easily lose its shape unless one wrote with
a very light touch.
was heavily advertised and two of the most famous slogans used in the
Atomica, the pen that replaces the ballpoint”
cartridge writes for 20 Kilometers!”
the standard versions, special variants of the Atomica were also
produced; these included a colorful “Home desk set”
The colorful packaging promoted this
set as the ideal pen for the modern housewife.
... and the
Atomica Scolastica (“School Pen”), a clipless variant of the basic pen,
fitted with a flexible nib and an elongated barrel and aimed at
A well designed pen for school
children, designed to replace the dip pens still in use in Italian
schools at the time.
Scolastica could be used for normal writing and also for beginners’
calligraphy lessons. It was produced in five attractive colors.
evolution of the Atomica would continue during the 1950s and ‘60s, with
many refinements to the basic model and also with several totally new
having noted the success of the LUS Atomica, Aurora introduced an
upmarket cartridge pen, the DuoCart.The DuoCart was available in two
sizes and offered the same writing unit as the successful Aurora 88,
coupled to a barrel that could carry two polystyrene cartridges,
held in a metal holder. The pen was quite attractive and modern-looking:
it was designed by famed architect Inge Steiner and its shape was
slightly reminiscent of the proportions of the contemporary Eversharp
5th Avenue pen.
was very successful and the idea of carrying a spare cartridge inside
the pen proved quite appealing, especially to students who needed a
reliable, long lasting ink supply when writing test papers.
LUS saw the
success of the DuoCart and introduced a dual-cartridge version of the
Atomica: the Atomica Bi-LUS.
Slim and attractive, the Bi-LUS carried
a spare cartridge in the barrel. The cartridges used by the Bi-LUS were
smaller than the standard Atomica cartridges and resembled the DuoCart
was slimmer and sleeker than the original Atomica and used an ebonite
feed and a U.S.-made Wing-Flow brand #3 nib.
american nibs were becoming very common in the low-cost italian pens of
the time; they were only marginally better than the original Atomica
nibs, but they proved to be more durable. Wing-Flow brand nibs were
bought by LUS from a Swiss distributor.
Legnani loved to introduce his new pens at the prestigious Milan Trade
Fair: his flair for unusual and innovative design was extraordinary.
The next pen
was quite unique and attracted much attention from the press and the
public: enter the LUS Atomica “Super Molleggiata”!
The Super Molleggiata promised a new
level of writing comfort and a nib that could survive an accidental
In this pen,
which had gone back to the slightly wider girth of the original Atomica,
the nib (the same iridium-tipped american Wing-Flow #3 used in the
Bi-LUS) was mounted on a sliding module, closely resembling the one used
in the Giubileo of 1953. This sliding module included the syringe
filler-reservoir unit and it was cushioned by a spring mechanism, which
allowed the nib to “ride” vertically according to the pressure applied
by the writer. “Molleggiata” in Italian means “cushioned” and the effect
was designed to reduce writing fatigue and to ensure protection for the
nib in case of an accidental impact, as, for instance, when the pen was
helped reduce nib wear and the “Super Molleggiata” sold in good numbers
and proved itself a reliable and functional pen.
Super Molleggiata shock absorbing structure
couple of years saw the introduction of two new pens.
pen was an all-metal, low cost pen aimed at the female teen market. It
came in two versions: a cartridge filled variant that had a high degree
of commonality with the original Atomica and a syringe filled version of
the same basic pen, sporting an ink window just above the section.
The inexpensive student pen with its
characteristic heart decoration on the clip, in its two variants.
new pen represented the first major re-styling of the popular Atomica:
the Atomica Secondo Modello, or Atomica Mk II.
The cap of
the new Atomica was chrome plated and made of thicker and more durable
metal. The clip was stronger and more flexible and styled in a new, more
elegant pattern. The nib remained the same as in the original Atomica,
but the plastic feed was modified and improved. The barrel was sleeker
and sported a transparent plastic jewel on its end.
The Atomica Mk II represented a huge
improvement in the overall quality of the pen. It is shown here over the
cover of Walt Disney’s popular book “Our Friend the Atom”, of the same
after the introduction of the new-style Atomica, LUS launched the Super
Atomica, a direct derivative of the Atomica Mk II that gave the customer
a choice of nib styles:
model used a hooded plated steel nib made by LUS, coupled with an
ebonite feed. (the letter “C” stood for “corazzato” = hooded), while the
otherwise identical “S” model was equipped with an exposed
#4 Wing-Flow nib, made in the U.S. and coupled with a
generously-finned ebonite feed. (The letter “S” stood for “scoperto” =
sold well in the school pen market, as by now most people had turned to
ballpoint pens for everyday use, while school children were still
required to use a fountain pen.
LUS Super Atomica pens
The Super Atomica was available in two
versions and became a popular school pen in a market that was dominated
by the Auretta and the low cost Pelikan pens .
ballpoint pen was quickly becoming everyone’s favorite pen and Signor
Legnani designed a line of innovative multi-color ballpoint pens, sleek
and futuristic: a line that would be copied by many major penmakers and
that kept LUS in business for the following twenty years.
swan-song of his beloved Atomica, he prepared another bombshell! I still
remember the sensation his new pen caused when it was introduced at the
Milan Trade Fair in 1959: hailed as a breakthrough in fountain pen
design, the new LUS pen was named the “Atomica Magica”!
was a sleek, modern looking syringe filler, sold at a very competitive
price of 300 Lire. The unique feature of the Magica (and the rerason for
its name) was the built-in dispenser of solid ink pellets.
was launched with the slogan “You fill it with water, it writes with
of the pen was enormous,
but short lived. The ink created by the pellets had a rather muddy
appearance and I well remember its pungent smell. After the initial
excitement, most users eventually filled the pen with regular ink and
kept the “magic” feature for emergency use only.
The pen was
a competent writer, with the proven LUS hooded nib and plastic feed,
millions of which had by then been produced.
feature made the Magica a breakthrough pen: the complete filler could be
removed from the section (it was threaded) and a cartridge could be used
in its place. The Magica was the first cartridge/converter pen to reach
the market and its converter looked very similar to the units in use
today. It preceded the Parker 45 by a year, confirming, once more,
inventiveness and the innovation of his designs.
The Atomica Magica was the first modern
pen to re-introduce the use of ink pellets, housed in a convenient
plastic sleeve inside the filler stem.
The removable filler unit served as the
prototype for today’s Ink Converters. It was fitted by screwing it into
the section of the pen and it contained the ink pellets in a clear
plastic sleeve housed inside the stem of the syringe filler.
success of the Atomica Magica did not go unnoticed and soon a number of
copies began to appear on the market. In the United States, the Empex
company introduced the “AquaPen”, a nice looking fountain pen that used
a simple squeeze-filler (in reality a flexible styrene cartridge) with a
thick layer of concentrated solid ink housed in the top portion of the
launched its AquaPen with the slogan: “Fill with water! Write with
Legnani never found out about the AquaPen and the American firm’s
appropriation of his slogan, but his marketing flair and innovative
designs had, once again, exercised a profound influence over pen
designers around the globe.
The AquaPen was launched in the United
States as a revolutionary innovation. Empex copied the Atomica Magica’s
slogan almost verbatim!
of the 1960s brought the final decline of the fountain pen as the pen of
choice for the average Italian. The ‘60s were years of economic growth,
widespread motorization and a penchant for all things modern and
preferably of foreign origin. In Italy, this attitude is known as
“esterofilia” or “love al all things foreign” and in the 1960s it
affected everything, from motion pictures to TV shows, to clothing and
Rock’n Roll. It also meant that THE pen that Italian wanted in their
pocket had to be a ballpoint pen, preferably one sporting a
stick pens were available for a mere 50 Lire and had become reliable and
long-lasting. A more refined version could be had for 100 Lire, sporting
a metal cap and a transparent ink-view section.
wisely and started manufacturing ballpoint pens with a difference: they
were made of chrome plated metal and held multiple refills, of different
Automatica was the first and the most successful of the new pens. Its
styling looks modern even today, with its brightly chromed aerodynamic
body. The surface was textured and etched with thin horizontal grooves,
providing a sure, non-slip grip surface. The Bi-Lus was equipped with
two standard plastic DIN refills: one filled with blue ink and the other
with red (DIN was the German standard universally adopted by European
penmakers in the 1960s). Two flush-mounted side buttons controlled the
extraction of the colored refills and a top-mounted white button caused
the refills to retract out of the way.
Automatica proved a great success because of its competitive price, good
reliable operation and stylish design. It was widely copied by a large
number of other penmakers, including BIC, that still makes a pen based
on the LUS design.
The LUS multi-color ballpoint pens were
reliable and extremely successful. Their design formed the basis for
many pens manufactured in Europe, America and the Far East.
Automatica was followed by two more pens: a Four-color variant of
similar design, called the “Poker” and a four-plus-one pen, that
combined four color ballpoint refills and a clever mechanical pencil
into one sleek pen. It was called the LUS RM5.
and ‘80s brought many changes in the LUS company. After the loss of its
founder, the company underwent several transformations and acquired a
new corporate identity: the company changed its name to “Mondial LUS”.
years, Mondial LUS has become a major manufacturer of stick ballpoint
pens, color markers, fineliners and has maintained a leading position in
the manufacture of metal office accessories.
generation of Legnani family members still lead the company and have not
forgotten the roots of the success of the LUS company.
More and more schools even in Italy encourage their pupils to use
gel pens or refillable roller ball pens, considered more practical and
less messy than the old-fashioned fountain pen.
Today’s LUS sells gel pens, fluorescent roller balls, colorful
markers and the very successful “Stilosfera” refillable roller ball, as
befits a company that is still an industry leader in the new millennium.
there is still a simple, cheap fountain pen in the LUS catalog: it is
inexpensive, brightly colored and sold in department stores next to the
Gel Pens. The name emblazoned in bright and modern letters on the
blister pack tells a story: “Fantasy” it says at the top of the
packaging and just below, in large bold letters....
“ Stilo ATOMICA”!
The author is grateful to the Mondial LUS
company for the cooperation in the preparation of this article -
Text and images © Giovanni Abrate