A vintage Aurora 88 has been on my grail list ever since I first encountered pelahale’s landmark video paean to this pen, HeartBreaking Pens of Staggering Genius. Naturally, I set my sights on an original 88 in Nikargenta.
The Aurora 88 is intriguing on many levels. It is iconic as much for its place in the history of design as for the quality, functionality and beauty it brought to customers.
Giovanni Abrate tells the story in his Pentrace article Aurora after World War II.
“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.”
So it was just a matter of finding the Aurora 88 for me. At one point, I tried to get an Italian colleague to help me track one down. But he was not a pen person and that never worked out. I was reluctant to roll the dice on ebay sellers. I’ve bought a few vintage pens with mixed results.
Time passed. I found other things to occupy my mind.
2018 turned out to be the year. Lightning stuck, and I was standing in the right place. I came across a well-regarded seller in the FPN classifieds offering a nice original 88 in nice condition at a OK price. Not Nikargenta but beggars can’t be choosers. I went for it.
Count me among Aurora 88 fans. The pen lives up to the legend.
I love the size of the pen. It’s substantial, both heavier and ever-so-slightly larger-feeling than Parker 51-style pens such as the Wing Sung 601 and 618.
The 88 is very comfortable in the hand. The push-on cap means no threads on the barrel and the front clutch ring is ergonomically rounded and serves as a tactile reference when holding the pen. The relatively large diameter of the section also makes the pen comfortable for extended writing.
The Aurora 88 writes equally well posted and unposted, with excellent balance both ways. The cap posts deeply and securely. The rear clutch ring keeps the cap from scratching the barrel so no worries there.
Unposted, the pen is nimble and perfect for writing quickly. Posted, writing slows down fractionally but is more flowing. Great for longer writing sessions and signatures.
My pen was sold as a flexible 14K F nib. The seller’s picture shows flowing flex.
In practice, I’ve found the nib harder to flex. It’s still possible to get the tines to spread but it does take a fair bit of pressure. More than I am really comfortable with. I think of the pen as wet, soft, fine writer, similar to a Lamy 2000 F.
The nib type is shown by a small dot on the filler knob.
Aurora supplied a wide range of nib options. Giovanni Abrate notes in his article that special-purpose nibs also had a nib identification code engraved on the section.
The nib is a wingflow style used by a number of companies with tabs that wrap around the feed to maintain alignment. The nibs are known for reliability and lower cost because they use less gold.
The feed is fairly conventional but includes an ink flow regulator that I'd not previously seen.
Rotating the spiral insert fit into the end of the feed adjusts the ink flow.
The piston filling system on the pen is as good as any I have. The pen holds roughly 2ml of ink. The filler nob moves freely, stays in place and doesn't extend away from the back of the pen. Giovanni Abrate describes it well.
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.
The Aurora 88 reminds me greatly of the Lamy 2000. The come from different but adjacent eras.
They booth share roots in design: Olivetti for Aurora vs Braun for Lamy. They are both piston-filler pens with hooded nibs and pull-off caps. They are similar in size (the Lamy at being a little heavier) and both write well posted and unposted.
I wonder if the Lamy 2000 would be here today if the Aurora 88 had not come along.
The Lamy 2000 was one of the first higher-end pens I added to my collection. I'm glad to be working backwards toward one of the earlier lights of the world of fountain pens.
More often that not, my desk is my pocket. But everyday desk items doesn't have the same ring.