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The pens of LUS
Umberto Legnani and his pens
By Giovanni Abrate  





“Buone penne alla portata di tutti”

“Good, affordable pens for everyone”


This article is dedicated to Umberto Legnani and his company, LUS

LUS pens 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.



In 1928, 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 Country’s  manufacturing capabilities are concentrated.

Business grew steadily for the Legnanis and their operation took new impetus in 1931, when the company was registered as L.U.S.

The acronym stood for “Legnani Umberto, Saronno”, but it also recalled the italian word “lusso” or “luxury, style” and it was short and catchy.

The 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.

Some 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


The 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 pens. 

He decided 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.


High quality 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.

Impeccably 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.

The flagship 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 equivalent model).

Umberto 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


The Giubileo used a simple syringe filling system and the whole pen mechanism, including the collector, feed and nib could slide within the outer Nylon barrel.

“The pen that shows you your own writing style”

was one of the slogans used in the heavy advertising campaign mounted by Signor Legnani.

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 


Legnani 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.

Lower cost 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 deserved.

Umberto 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!


“LUS Atomica, the pen that will replace the ballpoint pen!”

A bold claim, for sure! This was the slogan used to promote the new pen.

The 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.

What were the innovations offered by the LUS Atomica? 

Low 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.


Ease 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 itself.


With the 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 employees. 


Read our article about the LUS factory here

A Showcase of LUS Pens


Following is a look at the most significant pens made by LUS after WW2.


We begin 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. Some 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



Next in 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

To this 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 Atomica.




LUS The original LUS Atomica

 The pen that made cartridges popular in Italy


The original 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.

Looking at 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!

The Atomica 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 Atomicas.

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.

The Atomica cartridges sold for 10 lire each and could be bought nearly everywhere, greatly contributing to the success and widespread diffusion of the Atomica. 

I do 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. 

The weak 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.

The Atomica was heavily advertised and two of the most famous slogans used in the campaign were:

“LUS Atomica, the pen that replaces the ballpoint”


“Each cartridge writes for 20 Kilometers!”

Alongside the standard versions, special variants of the Atomica were also produced; these included a colorful “Home desk set”  ...



 LUS AtomicaDesk 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 elementary-school children.



LUS AtomicaSchool Pen

 A well designed pen for school children, designed to replace the dip pens still in use in Italian schools at the time.


The Atomica Scolastica could be used for normal writing and also for beginners’ calligraphy lessons. It was produced in five attractive colors. 

The evolution of the Atomica would continue during the 1950s and ‘60s, with many refinements to the basic model and also with several totally new designs.

In 1954, 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.

The DuoCart 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 cartridges.


The Bi-LUS was slimmer and sleeker than the original Atomica and used an ebonite feed and a U.S.-made Wing-Flow brand #3 nib.

These 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. 

Signor 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”!




 Atomica”Super Molleggiata”

 The Super Molleggiata promised a new level of writing comfort and a nib that could survive an accidental drop.


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 dropped.

It also 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

The next couple of years saw the introduction of two new pens.

The first 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.



LUS “Cuoricino”

 The inexpensive student pen with its characteristic heart decoration on the clip, in its two variants.


The second 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.





LUS Atomica Mk2

 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 vintage.



Shortly 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:

the “C” 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” = open).

Both pens 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 .



The 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. 

For the 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”!

The 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.

The Magica was launched with the slogan “You fill it with water, it writes with ink!”

The success 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.

Another 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, Signor Legnani’s  inventiveness and the innovation of his designs.



LUS  AtomicaMagica

 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.



LUS Atomica Magica

 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.


The huge 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 cartridge.

Empex launched its AquaPen with the slogan: “Fill with water! Write with ink!”...   Signor 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 Empex AquaPen

 The AquaPen was launched in the United States as a revolutionary innovation. Empex copied the Atomica Magica’s slogan almost verbatim!


The arrival 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 foreign-sounding name. 

BIC Crystal 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.

LUS invested wisely and started manufacturing ballpoint pens with a difference: they were made of chrome plated metal and held multiple refills, of different colors. 

The Bi-Lus 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.

The Bi-Lus 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 Ballpoint Pens

 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.



The Bi-Lus 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.

The 1970s 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”.


In recent 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.

A new 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.

And yet, 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


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