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.

Campo Marzio Acropolis fountain pen

If you find yourself in the vicinity of London’s Piccadilly and feel like a pen prowl, then there are several establishments along the way that can all be visited within an hour or so.

Beginning at Piccadilly Circus and heading westwards along Piccadilly, you soon come to Paperchase, a bright and inviting store full of stationery. There are greeting cards, novelty gifts and a huge selection of notebooks to cater for all ages and tastes. As for fountain pens, there are racks of Lamy Safaris and a few others but head to the back and you find a large glass display counter, with fountain pens including Cross, Kaweco, Faber Castell, Lamy, Tombow and Waterman.

Continue along Piccadilly a little further and you will reach Fortnum & Mason, an elegant and prestigious department store where the staff still wear morning suits. The Stationery department is up the stairs on the first floor. On a recent visit I found that the display counters had been re-arranged from one side, out to form an island in the middle so that you can walk all round them. It is a good place to see luxury pens from Yard-O-Led, such as the Viceroy Grand in Sterling Silver. Also you will find some Visconti Rembrandts and Homo Sapiens and Cross pens as well as calligraphy pen sets and leather covered note books. I once bought a Faber Castell E-motion in dark pearwood here and was delighted to be given two of their test pads of Faber Castell paper and then went to find the mens’ room where I could fill it up from a newly purchased bottle of Waterman Harmonious Green.

After Fortnum & Mason, head into the Burlington Arcade on the north side, to the far end where you find the delightful shop Penfriend.

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The shop is one of the few places I know where you can find the Japanese Sailor pens in London and also many vintage pens and a good choice of inks.

Finally, back on Piccadilly, do not miss Campo Marzio, a small Italian shop selling their own brand of competitively-priced modern pens starting from just over £20 and up to around £80. The display is quite unique and eye-catching, with the fountain pens and ball pens and roller-balls each nestling horizontally in a felt-lined rack of little ledges, mounted on a wall, each section containing  models of the pen in each of the available colours.

On my last visit I chose a Campo Marzio Acropolis, a lovely cigar-shaped pen in dark blue marbled effect “Celluloide mix” (according to their web site) with black section and a large, (size 6) German-made stainless steel nib. The pen is a cartridge/converter filler, taking standard international cartridges. I had already purchased the Ambassador in marbled brown, which is similar but larger but using the same large nibs.

One advantage of these pens is that the entire nib unit can be unscrewed from the section for disassembly and cleaning, making it easy to flush the nib and feed if changing inks. You unscrew the unit from the section and are then left with a collar, housing the nib and feed. The nib is friction fit and so you then pull out the nib and feed together, using some grippy material. The shop sells these nib units separately (consisting of a nib, feed and collar) for only £5.00 and so it is well worth buying one or two spares in different widths as you can chose what you need, from a selection of silver and gold coloured nibs.

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The packaging is a simple but attractive carboard tray in a sleeve, with a cut-out for a “bottle” of ink which in fact contains six cartridges. However the shop also sells converters and its own range of bottled ink in attractive retro-looking bottles with enticing names such as “Tobacco brown”.

Departing the shop, there are plenty of coffee shops nearby where you can ink your pen and try it out. Mine proved to be very pleasing, smooth and on the wet side but not overly so and I have put it into immediate use.

I like the look, size, and feel of the pen which is beautifully tactile. I prefer to write with the cap posted. My only slight niggle is that the screw-on cap does not post very deeply and perches on the barrel a little crookedly if you are not careful. I worry then about accidently forcing it onto the back of the barrel with too much force and cracking the cap but there are no signs of this happening so far and I will take care not to over-tighten it on the metal threads when capping the pen.

I mostly use bottled ink and the pen will take a converter but it is nice sometimes to have pens to use up one’s bags of standard cartridges and enjoy the convenience of easy refills if travelling.

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