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.

My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.

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Left to right: Opus 88, TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, Delta Fantasia Vintage, Leonardo Officina Italiana Momento Zero Collection and a Wancher Crystal.

For a London based fountain pen addict, the annual London Pen Show is probably the biggest date in the calendar, for meeting dealers, fellow enthusiasts and some pen shopping. I had been looking forward to it for months.

It is sensible to have some sort of plan or list if you intend to buy something, as the day can be intense. I didn’t do this. I had only a vague idea, perhaps to look at some vintage Parker pens, a Duofold such as a Standard or a Senior, a bit larger than the Junior that I picked up at the Cambridge pen show in March. I was also interested to look at a Big Red, a proper vintage one, having bought a modern Duofold International just the week before. But mostly I came with an open mind and was not looking for anything in particular to buy.

I arrived at the Holiday Inn just after 9.00am, to discover that even the “early bird” admission did not start until 9.30am and that the regular admission was from 10.30am. I headed over to the lounge and met Penultimate Dave from our pen club, who showed me his latest acquisitions.

We paid the extra for early admission and enjoyed the relative quiet of the halls before they got crowded.

Throughout the day, I was to run into numerous other regular members of our London fountain pen club and a few others from further afield, such as Jon, Vijay and Mateusz and so it was a very social occasion. Every time I came out of the halls for a break, there would be a different group of friends to join in the coffee lounge, chatting over their purchases.

In the course of the day, I was to buy five new pens, none of them Parkers, as it turned out. Here is a brief summary.

Delta Fantasia Vintage.

My first stop was the enticing table of Stefano and his wife, of Stilograph Corsani. I had heard great reports of his Delta Fantasia Vintage, his collaboration with Delta to produce a small number of beautiful, traditional looking cartridge-converter fountain pens in celluloid, with steel nibs. My friend Jon has one in turquoise which looks stunning in photographs. I had looked at them online and pondered on ordering one unseen. And then suddenly, here they were in front of me on the table, in the range of five colours. They are limited editions, with only 25 made in each colour.

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Delta Fantasia Vintage, Verde Scuro, Dark Green sounds so much nicer in Italian.

In my wish list, I had thought of choosing the burgundy version. However, in the flesh, albeit under the artificial lighting of the hotel passageway, it was the dark green which most appealed to me. The celluloid has a most luxurious, distinctive feel. Stefano assured me that it is a pen which is meant to be used and that you will not harm the pen by posting the cap if you wish. I was smitten by the patterns in the dark green celluloid, where beautiful parabolas appear as the barrel tapers, yet the pen appears almost black if you revolve it a little. It felt extremely smooth and comfortable in the hand. The nib is firm but very smooth.

My friend Anthony had brought his 6 year old daughter along, who decided that my pen looked like snake skin. I cannot top that. Coincidentally Anthony had just had the pleasure of hiring Jon’s turquoise version, under Jon’s recently launched online Pensharing scheme.

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

My next stop was to see John Hall of Write Here. I am yet to visit his shop in Shrewsbury but have spoken to him several times at pen shows. I was aware that he sells Opus 88 eyedropper pens, from Taiwan but which tend to sell out quickly and take a while to come back in stock. I had tried one at our pen club (Penultimate Dave again) who had bought one and bought two more to ink in different colours. He tends to prefer broad nibs and this makes sense with such a large pen with a voluminous ink capacity.

John Hall had brought just a couple of these along (and this is the real benefit of the early admission) and so I was able to handle one and clinch my purchase of it, beating the crowds.

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The mighty Opus 88 Demonstrator, eye-dropper fountain pen, inked with GvF-C Cobalt Blue.

Like Dave, I opted for a broad nib. I have been using it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, thinking that I want to have an ink that I will not get bored with! I can honestly say that the pen is a joy. It is big, wide and long. The cap does not post but it is very long already at 137mm and the nib is quite possibly the smoothest I have ever used. The great thing is that you can write on ridged paper (white laid writing paper for example) and the large nib will ride over the bumps like a beach buggy over sand dunes.

Wancher Crystal flat top.

My next purchase was at John Twiss’ table, where he had some of his hand-turned fountain pen creations in beautiful colours and some other exotic wares, such as a red urushi Danitrio Bamboo Tamenuri. I witnessed in awe as Dave decided upon and bought that stunning pen, in the same time as it took me to chose one of John’s more accessible £30.00 Wancher Crystal flat-top eyedropper/cartridge converter pens, in a mix of blue and clear plastic of some sort, with a nice size 6 steel nib. I have two of these from John already, but with the bullet shaped ends and so this is essentially the same pen, with all the same great features (sprung inner cap, demonstrator barrel, optional eyedropper or cartridge/converter filling) which I love. They are to my mind extremely good value. Somehow, the large comfortable proportions seem automatically to improve my handwriting.

TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, with 1.1mm stub nib.

This year, Martin Roberts of The Writing Desk was back at the London Pen Show. I had bought my very first TWSBI from him at the same event 4 years ago, a Vac 700, which remains one my most fun pens! I have since gone on to add a Diamond 580, an Eco, and a Classic to my TWSBI line-up, all of which have performed well. This year, the novelty was the TWSBI Go, in grey or sapphire, with a quick and easy push button sprung filling mechanism. However, I let that one go (no pun intended) and instead asked for the new AL-R version Diamond 580 piston filler, with a 1.1mm stub nib. I had not tried this nib before but thought it a good option for the large capacity pen.

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TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, a new finish for a popular classic, piston fill pen.

At home I have also inked this one with the GvF-C Cobalt Blue and am enjoying the stub nib a lot. I am finding it more like a crisp italic nib, a little sharp at the edges but if you hold it right at the sweet spot and keep to that grip, it is smooth and gives a gorgeous amount of line variation, with no effort.

Leonado Officina Italia, Momento Zero Collection

My last purchase of the day, on that fatal “just one more lap” of the halls was this beautiful resin pen with steel nib, from the table of iZods Ink (Roy). He had a selection of colours on display. Prices were displayed for both the celluloid and the resin models. At first I picked up one of resin ones, so impressed by the beautiful finish that I thought it must be one of the pricey celluloid models. When Roy told me that it was the resin pen (and accordingly a very reasonable £135.00) it was irresistible and the only decision remaining was whether to go for dark red marbled or dark blue marbled finish. Both looked stunningly attractive and resistance was futile. I would have been very happy with either but went for the dark red.

At home I filled it with Conway Stewart Tavy, my faithful favourite for an attractive blue black which flows well. With cap posted, it is a sizeable but comfortable and well balanced pen. I have since enjoyed watching Emy’s review of it on Youtube and his film of visiting the founder, Salvatore at his factory in Italy.

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Leonardo Officina Italiana, Momento Zero Collection, red marbled. Numbered edition. Handmade in Italy.

Apart from these five lovely pens, I bought an A4 Leuchtturm journal and two bottles of ink, (or three if you count the bottle of Delta black that was included inside the gift box of my Fantasia Vintage). I chose the Pure Pens Cadwaladr red (recommended by Anthony) and a bottle of Mont Blanc Royal Blue, that will perhaps be used to feed my thirsty Opus in the winter months ahead.

If this all sounds like pen-saturation, well yes it was. I vowed that I did not need to buy any more fountain pens for the foreseeable future. And that decision served me well, for almost nine full days until I happened to come across a solid brass pen, a Monograph Mgcc 099 sold at the Barbican Centre gift shop in the City of London while there to see a Richard Thompson concert last week. So, never say never.

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The team photo. Three Taiwanese flanked by two Italians.

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And I leave you with this walk in the park today.