My Aurora Ipsilon fountain pen and I.

In recent years I have become a fan of Aurora fountain pens. Certainly my black and gold Aurora 88 with its medium nib and my red Aurora Optima with an oblique broad, are among the most prized in my accumulation. But neither of these was the first Aurora that I had bought. That honour goes to the Ipsilon.

Aurora Ipsilon, marbled blue lacquer.

It is true to say that I did not immediately take to the Ipsilon. The buying experience was memorable and hard to beat. My wife and I were on holiday in Italy in July 2018 staying near Lake Garda and took a bus for a day’s visit to Verona. There I found a delightful fountain pen shop called Manella, in the via Guiseppe Mazzini – a pedestrian thoroughfare in a shopping district and thronged with tourists like myself heading from the stunning Roman amphitheatre, towards the Case di Giulietta, to visit Juliet’s famous balcony from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The shop was easily spotted by its vintage Pelikan pen sign. Unfortunately it was closed for the day (or so I thought) and I contented myself with looking at the displays in the window and peering into the shady depths of the shop within.

Some hours later, on passing the small shop again, I was thrilled to discover that it was now open and went inside. I asked to see a red Aurora Ipsilon which had caught my eye in the window. The genial proprietor seemed pleased to have a keen customer and I was eager not to leave empty handed! He told me that he had a larger selection in his other shop close by and so locked up this one and took me to see it, in an arcade literally just around a corner but off the beaten track. It was much less cramped and had displays of leather goods as well as pens.

As for the Ipsilon, he recommended a superior version being of lacquered metal and which had a14k gold nib. He showed me a new edition, in a marbled dark blue and black lacquer and with a fine nib, which seemed to tick all the boxes as a suitable souvenir from Italy. I added a Pelikano to my purchases and the proprietor kindly included an orange ball point pen for my wife. Genius.

Aurora nibs are handmade in Turin.

The Ipsilon comes in various different versions. From an old catalogue, I see that the metal lacquered model was also available in a marbled tortoise or grey finish. It is a cartridge converter pen, taking the Aurora proprietary cartridges. A useful tip is that Parker Quink cartridges also fit and are easier to come by. It has a snap on cap, which also posts securely with a polite click, to make a very comfortable package. The pen measures about 137mm closed, 118mm open (slightly short for my preference) but a decent 148mm with cap posted. It weighs about 31 grams, being 19g when uncapped and 12g for the cap alone.

Well matched with Parker Quink blue black cartridges.

After such auspicious beginnings, you would think that I would be delighted with my new Italian fountain pen. However, perhaps for a combination of reasons, I did not bond with it sufficiently in those important early weeks after purchase. On close inspection of the nib under a powerful loupe, I noticed some mystery parallel lines or scratches across the face of the nib. Perhaps it had been held in pliers during or after the plating process. These were only cosmetic and not visible to the naked eye. Secondly I had an unfortunate experience with the included converter, which seemed to be leaking and made a mess. With hindsight, I should have been more systematic in my diagnosis of this problem but I was further put off the pen. Thirdly, and perhaps the biggest issue was that the fine nib was rather on the dry side for my liking. And so, rather embarrassingly, I put the pen away and hardly looked at it for three years.

Fast forwarding to last autumn, by which time I was enjoying my Aurora 88 and Optima, I got out the Ipsilon again. I have been revisiting lesser-used pens and tweaking the nibs with brass shims in some instances, now that I have gathered a little experience and confidence in this area. Often it is a very quick and easy fix to just open up the tine gap very minimally, to improve ink flow, lubrication and smoothness which makes a big difference to your experience with a pen.

I also bought a pack of Parker Quink blue black cartridges (reduced in a sale at WH Smiths) which fit perfectly, removing the risk of leaky converters. The colour is an ideal match for the pen. And the mystery striations on the nib plating no longer bother me at all. There are bigger things to worry about in life.

The net result is that I now have an enjoyable and reliable pen and a trio of Auroras, with fine, medium and oblique broad nibs. It is currently filled and always starts up immediately. The moral of this little tale is not to overlook the bonding phase when you have a precious new fountain pen arrival. But even if you do, all is not lost and you and your pen may still achieve fulfilment at a later stage.

The Aurora Ipsilon, 88 and Optima.

My Italian fountain pen line-up.

If you were to ask me about my experience of Italian fountain pens, I could tell you a bit about the ones that I own. In real life however, as fountain pen enthusiasts know, such a question never comes up around the office water cooler. Perhaps just as well. So I will resort to giving my response here.

A quick scroll through my pen accumulation database today, identified 12 fountain pens of Italian origin. This surprised me. I had not realised that I had so many.

I remember once watching a reviewer on YouTube, make a sweeping generalisation that Italian pens were a bit like Italian cars, by which he meant that they were flashy looking and fantastic when they worked but perhaps not the most reliable. This is probably unfair to both pen and car.

For my part, within the last four years or so, I have amassed this small sample. It is fair to say that these are all in the lower echelons of the price range. Of my twelve only one has a gold nib. This is the Aurora Ipsilon blue lacquer, with a 14k gold nib, rhodium plated. And that has not been my favourite of the bunch.

From left to right: 1. Aurora Ipsilon blue lacquer; 2. Campo Marzio Ambassador; 3. Campo Marzio Acropolis; 4. Delta Fantasia Vintage; 5. La Kaligrafica; 6. Leonardo Furore; 7. Leonardo Momento Zero; 8. Montegrappa Fortuna; 9. Pineider Avatar, lipstick red; 10. Visconti Rembrandt twilight; 11. Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night and 12. Vittorio Martini Col Disore.

Here again, capped:-

If I were to see this tray of pens at a pen show, the one to jump out at me the most would be the orange one: the Leonardo Officina Italiana, Furore “Arancio”. It is the brightest, the longest, the most flamboyant and also one of the most enjoyable to use. Oh, and the serial number of mine is number 001.

So here is a brief run down of my thoughts on these:

Aurora Ipsilon, blue lacquer.

This is the lacquered metal and gold nibbed version. It is on the small side but posts deeply and with a secure click. I enjoyed buying it whilst visiting Verona but for some reason did not take to it and it has not had much use. The black and blue marbled finish is nice. The fine nib, I recall, was not the most enjoyable.

Campo Marzio Ambassador.

Campo Marzio hails from Rome. They have a small but delightful shop in Piccadilly and sell their own range of fountain pens from around £20 up to £80. They are colourful, good value, standard international cartridge or converter pens with steel nibs. The Ambassador was, when I bought it, at the higher end of their price range. I enjoyed being able to swap out the number 6 nibs easily. It was a big comfortable pen, posted well but could have done with being just slightly longer to be as comfortable un-posted. I think it was the first Italian pen that I had owned. I have a suspicion that it may share a common heritage with the Conklin All American as they seem to have very similar dimensions.

Campo Marzio Ambassador.

Campo Marzio Acropolis.

I later added this blue marbled resin Acropolis, which was similar to the Ambassador but a bit slimmer and with a black section and with metal cap threads on the barrel. My only gripe was that the cap did not post as well as I would have liked. I was afraid of pushing it on too hard and cracking it.

Delta Fantasia Vintage.

This was bought at the London Pen Show and is my only celluloid pen. The steel nib keeps the cost down. It has a lovely swirly dark green finish and I have since learned how to cap the pen such that the patterns of the cap and barrel align. Hold it with nib facing you; place the cap on; turn cap two clicks “the wrong way” and then screw it down. Hey presto. The benefits of attending a pen club. It is a beautiful pen and the steel medium nib works well.

La Kaligrafica.

This is included for completeness but is not one to dwell on. It has a vibrant red acrylic body, some metal lattice work on the cap and a medium Iridium point, Germany, nib. It was a spontaneous and inexpensive purchase on holiday last year. Cap does not post securely. Too short without posting.

Leonardo Officina Italiana, Momento Zero.

This is an excellent pen and excellent value. New on the scene a year or two ago, I found mine for sale by Izods at the London Pen Show. Mine had some slight teething trouble, a tiny crack in the section, which Leonardos, via Roy of Izods promptly replaced for me, sending me a complete front section with nib and feed. The replacement section had no such problem although this time, the nib tines tended to click together a little. Another issue which I and others have noted, is that the converter rattles against the barrel unless you put some tape around it. But the size of the pen and the colours are great.

Leonardo Officina Italiana, Furore.

This is a very similar pen to the Momento Zero, but with bullet shaped ends. I love mine. I took to using it with Waterman Tender Purple ink. The pen really stands out in the pen cup, for its size and orangeness.

Montegrappa Fortuna.

This is standard black resin version. It is big, girthy, comfortable and posts nicely. I felt at first that the shiny plated threads were a bit of a distraction when you hold the pen, but I think with use you forget this or position your fingers to avoid the threads. The nib is smooth although very firm but that makes for a good pen for fast note-taking. It is a little pricey for a steel nib pen, but similar in price I suppose, to the Visconti Van Gogh.

Montegrappa Fortuna, meets Waterman Audacious Red.

Pineider Avatar, Lipstick Red.

Aah. Seldom have I enjoyed buying a new pen so much. I bought mine in Harrods, although they were no longer selling Pineider pens the last time I was there. I loved the vibrant red, mottled velvet-like pattern in the glossy red cap and barrel, the magnetic cap closure, the elegant clip, the Florence sky line on the cap ring and above all, the smooth soft nib. Everyone who tried it said it felt like a gold nib. I enjoyed basking in its reflected glory at our pen club meet ups.

The Pineider Avator, in lipstick red. And one of the nicest pen boxes I have ever received, with some welcome free Pineider stationery.

Visconti Rembrandt, Twilight.

This was my first Visconti, (if I do not count a Homo Sapiens Elegance Oversize, which I bought and promptly returned as the nib was unacceptably dry and too expensive to adjust myself). The Visconti Rembrandt also wrote on the dry side but I was able to adjust the nib by using a simple technique learned from SBRE Brown’s videos, whereby you put your thumb on the middle of the nib and then push the nib down against a hard surface, (such as your other thumbnail) and so bend the tines upwards very slightly, opening up the tine spacing. This made a great improvement and now it writes beautifully.

Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night.

I had fancied getting a Van Gogh to go with my Rembrandt, (you get the picture?). This one was was being sold by my friend Penultimate Dave at our June pen club meet. When I had seen the full range in a shop in Cardiff once, the Starry Night was my favourite. I may have had to do the same trick with this Fine nib but now it writes superbly, smooth and wet.

Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night.
The faceted cap and body, in the palette of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Vittorio Martini (established 1866), the Col Disore.

This was spotted in the window of a stationery shop in Sirmione, on Lake Garda, for 56 euros. I was attracted by the unusual fluted Maple wood barrel, which I felt looked a bit like the Diplomat Aero. It was a holiday purchase and a nice souvenir. I used it throughout my stay in Italy, with a black cartridge and the cap posted. However, with more comfortable and better-performing pens at my disposal, I have not used it so much since then but it is well made and it is nice to have a shiny, chrome, screw-on cap at this modest price.

Maple wood and chrome.
Vittorio Martini Col Disore fountain pen, next to Daniel’s Diplomat Aero at our July pen meet.

So that has been my experience of owning Italian pens, so far. I still have the urge one day to acquire a superior Montegrappa something, in blue celluloid and sterling silver. And the Aurora Talentum is still on my wish list, notwithstanding the lacklustre experience with the Ipsilon. The Italian allure lives on.

Finally, this has been my 100th post and it seems a fitting milestone at which to say a big Thank you for reading, liking, commenting and following this blog.

Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Lake Garda.

Once again it has been holiday time and an opportunity to visit a beautiful part of the world, that is northern Italy. My wife and I and mother-in-law were to spend a week at Garda Town, on the eastern side of Lake Garda (or Lago di Garda).

My forward planning had consisted of chosing what pens to bring for journaling and deciding upon a Wing Sung 601 (clear demonstrator, vacumatic filler), plus a Kaweco Dia 2 and a Perkeo. Rather than bring bottled ink this time I brought some cartridges for the Kawecos. I also packed a WH Smith exercise book. However, at the last minute, at Stanstead airport, I spotted a soft cover Leuchtturm plain paper journal with elastic loop closure. I stuffed it in my bag and took to the skies feeling like an Ernest Hemingway.

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Wing Sung 601, vac filler.

I had also googled “pen shop Verona” and jotted down the name of a shop on the via Mazzini called Manella, to check out when we got there.

Lake Garda, set among the spectacular backdrop of the Dolomites, has a perimeter of 158km (98 miles). Early in our holiday, we joined a coach tour to go all the way round, visiting four of the lakeside towns, Sirmione, Limone, Riva and Malcesine.

Sirmione is located at the tip of a narrow peninsula, on the southern banks of the lake, and famed for its thermal baths, a medieval castle and the remains of a Roman villa. We arrived via a motor launch for the short journey to the tip of the peninsula and cruised into the castle, which was very cool. Busy with tourists on this hot June day, I did stumble across a stationery shop with some attractive fountain pens in the window and went to investigate. I did not recognise any of the brands on display but was drawn to a red resin pen with shiny chrome lattice work around the cap, sold with a converter and a bottle of black ink and one standard cartridge. The brand was La Kaligrafica and at under 30 euros and with a nice steel nib it seemed like a good buy.

Later, inking the pen up with the supplied cartridge, I was quite content with the nib (the ubiquitous “Iridium point, Germany”) but found that the pen was a little short to use unposted. It was clearly designed to have the cap posted, where it sits flush with the barrel. But the problems were (a) the metal furniture on the cap makes the pen a bit top heavy and (b) the cap does not grip securely on the barrel and very easily works loose as you write, which is very irritating. There is a risk of it falling onto a hard floor and breaking or disappearing over a balcony. I tried wedging a scrap of paper under the cap but this did not seem to help. I think this pen is destined for someone with smaller hands who will not need to post the cap.

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La Kaligrafica, Italian cartridge-converter fountain pen.

We travelled up the west side of the lake by coach, passing through many tunnels, built in the 1930s by Mussolini. Lunch was at another pretty town, Limone, before taking a ferry up to Riva on the northern bank, from where there were marvellous views down the lake. Having some free time to explore Riva, I found another stationery shop, selling leather bound journals, ornate glass handled dip pens (with steel nibs) for calligraphy or for display and a few inexpensive Italian fountain pens geared for the tourist trade at between 20 to 30 euros. I was able to resist these.

The final visit on the lake tour was Malcesine on the eastern side, with another castle and also boasting a cable car to the top of Mount Baldo. The cable car gondola is round and actually revolves very slowly as it ascends. (We returned to do the cable car trip another day).

The lake tour was a very good start to our holiday, giving a good introduction and a taster, to plan trips by ferry during the rest of the week.

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Typical scene on Lake Garda

Later in the week we took a bus to Verona which is only an hour away. The bus terminates in the centre of the city right next to the impressive arena, a Roman amphitheatre, still used as a venue for opera. The scenery for a performance of Aida was laid out in the square.

We walked down the via Mazzini, the pedestrian shopping street which takes you from the arena to the piazza delle Erbe, a beautiful square with a bustling market.

I found the Manella pen shop, under a Pelikan sign! Unfortunately it was closed so I was resigned to missing it this time. I had to content myself with pressing my nose up to the windows and taking a few photos (marred by reflections from the busy street) of the displays of Pelikans, Auroras, Delta, Montegrappa and other delights.

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Manella, fountain pen shop, Via Mazzini 5, Verona.

However, after spending some time exploring Verona, including a visit to the casa di Giuletta (the “house” of Shakespeare’s Juliet) and the impressive Cathedral, we passed the pen shop again and this time it was open! The very cordial proprietor told me that this shop had been here since 1940 and run by his father before him. On telling him that I was keen on fountain pens he kept getting things out to show me,such as a Montegrappa Fortuna although I had to tell him that I had one already.

I was interested to try an Aurora, not having owned one and he showed me the Aurora Ipsilon Deluxe, in red resin with a gold nib. However, he had some more colours and models in his other, larger shop, literally just around the corner and together we walked around to look at some more pens.

There he also had an Aurora Ipsilon Lacca, the metal lacquer version, in a new dark blue and black finish and also with a gold nib, which looked to be rhodium plated with matching furniture. This I chose as my souvenir from Verona. Oh, and I spotted a display of “Pelikano Up” pens and one of those went home with me as well.

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Aurora Ipsilon Lacca.

Back in London, I filled the Aurora, rather unimaginatively with Aurora blue. It is a smallish pen but weighs a solid 31.5g. It is short when uncapped, at around 118mm, but the cap posts well with a secure click.

My Fine nib version wrote well. But the nib is small and firm without much give. I was also a bit troubled by what looked like rows of tiny mysterious scratches right across the mid part of the nib, from edge to edge, although only visible with a loupe. Also the nib was not precisely centred over the feed and I have not yet figured out how to remove the nib and line it up more symmetrically. However neither of these issues affects writing performance.

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Detail of the Fine, 14k gold nib, Aurora Ipsilon Lacca.

I must confess, that I did find the pen a bit bland, particularly matched with royal blue ink. I then flushed it and refilled it with Monteverde Napa Burgundy, which has injected some more life into it. I think it is a decent pen but on reflection, I enjoyed the buying experience more than the pen itself. Perhaps it is just that I am “penned out” at the moment and spoilt from a surfeit of other very satisfying aquisitions in recent weeks. I had been happier with the Montegrappa Fortuna and Pineider Avatar pens bought earlier this year, two Italian pens which both have steel nibs.

Finally, the modest Wing Sung 601 served me well on the trip, as did the Leuchtturm journal. After about 35 pages the Wing Sung (with its fine nib) still had half a fill of ink remaining and I had no need of my two Kawecos or spare cartridges which came to Italy for the ride.

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View of Lake Garda, from Riva on the north bank.