My appreciation of things Italian is coloured by two things which show up with some frequency in North American popular culture; cars and films. Neither of these tends to cast the best light on Italian products, and if I am uncomplimentary in what follows, it is a result of this acknowledgedly poor foundation. Italian cars, you see, had in my childhood a reputation for great looks and rather problematic reliability. Much of my experience with Italian films suggests an industry founded in enthusiastically sucking the juice out of ideas lifted from Hollywood (or, for a short period, from Australian post-apocalyptic car-themed items) and mounting productions whose ambition almost uniformly over-ran their budgets and technical expertise. These are the prejudices I must overcome when examining an Italian pen which began life as a very pretty apparent knock-off of the Parker “51”.
Let me begin my amelioration of the prejudices by pointing out that, as I have mentioned elsewhere, Italy was not the only place where emulation of Parker’s hooded design was happening. Indeed, given that Italy was just pulling itself together following the Second World War and the civil war that attended the greater conflict’s latter phase (some Italians were willing to give fascism a shove as early as 1943), and the fact that Aurora was just rebuilding its smashed production facilities, it made a lot of sense to adopt the new look in pens rather than defer to the traditional styling.
On the subject of styling, Aurora borrowed a page from Eversharp’s book in hiring on a big-name industrial designer. Marcello Nizzoli was a graphic artist who had expanded into industrial design while working for the office equipment maker Olivetti. Thus, unlike some of the pens following the hooded pattern, there are some distinct variations on the theme in the 88. The point was rather more exposed than that of the Parker “51”. There was a raised clutch ring at either end of the pen, which allowed for extremely positive posting of the cap while the pen was in use. The pen’s filler was a piston, which seems a serious departure from the inspiration but was likely just a following of a general European inclination for that method. While using a metal cap in the mode of the “51”, the materials for the rest of the pen were rather more traditional: a celluloid body (which included a clear ink window) and a hard rubber section.
Traditional materials and a new factory seem to have allowed Aurora to really crank out the pens; the 88’s production numbers were in the hundreds of thousands in the first year of production. The first variant of the 88 appeared in 1951, somewhat before the model’s millionth unit was produced. The 88K had a strengthened clip, improved feed and an all-celluloid body. This was followed by the 88P in 1958, which had some amendments in the body design and somewhat more robust points.
The 88 was retired, at least in name, in 1963, when it was replaced by the 98. The differences between the two models are slight enough that some consider the 98 to be little more than a nom de plume (if you’ll allow the joke) of a continued 88 model. Similar near-88s appeared as cartridge-filling variants called the DuoCart (1954), 888 (1956) and 888P (1959).
One of the interesting things about the Aurora 88 is the presence of sequential serial numbers. These apparently have little meaning beyond giving a rough sense of how many pens were made prior to the one you’re looking at, but that is attractive to a certain sort of mind.
In 1989, the line was revived, but in a rather different form. The new, and still current, Aurora 88 is a more traditionally shaped pen, and a cynic might wonder if the company was following the lead of Parker once again, who had reissued the Duofold in the previous year; the shape of the Italian pen is suggestively similar.
Production Run: 1948 to 1963, but not all models; the 88K took over in 1951 (possibly with the 88 continuing for a while), followed by the 88P in 1958. There was a limited re-issue in 2008, when Aurora stumbled upon a stock of unused parts The modern open-point version appeared in 1989 and continues in production.
Cost when new: The first year, depending up trim level, 4,800 to 10,800 Lire ($8.85 to $19.95; for modern value, try this calculator)
Size: 88K; 13.8 cm long capped, 14.9 cm posted.
Point: 14k gold
Filler: Piston, capacity approx. 1.4 ml (based upon the data of others; I’ve failed to measure while I’ve had one in hand).
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