Vintage Aurora 88 Family Ultra Review

This is an exceptionally exciting post for me–one that is several years in the making. I want to review the original Aurora 88 and all of its descendants because I have an example of all of them (with three exceptions that I’ll get to). I also have some cool documents and paraphernalia I wanted to share, too–partly because I’m an Aurora fanboy/nerd, but also because the English-language information available on these pens is lacking.

I have two main sources of information that I’m citing. The first and most important is Leticia Jacopini’s book La Storia della Stilografica in Italia 1900-1950, Volume One. I own a hard copy of the book, but both volumes are available for download on her website. Her works are the single best resource on Italian fountain pens in English bar none, change my mind.

The second source was an unbelievably detailed post from 2009 by the user “diplomat” on the Fountain Pen Network, here. I’m not a member of FPN–they never bothered to respond to my email for membership–but I have to give credit where credit is due. edit: okay, I’m a member of FPN now, on good terms, as of December 6th. They underwent an extensive site upgrade and users being unable to register was a known issue. I won’t hold it against them.

Left to right: 88, 88K, 88 Duo Cart, 888, 88P, 888P, 98, International, 2017 Duo Cart, 2019 Duo Cart. The Firma is pictured below.
Left to right: 88, 88K, 88 Duo Cart, 888, 88P, 888P, 98, International, 2017 Duo Cart, 2019 Duo Cart. The Firma is pictured below.
Left to right: Firma, 88, 88K, 88 Duo Cart, 888, 88P, 888P, 98, International, 2017 Duo Cart, 2019 Duo Cart.

Before getting into more individual detail, I wanted to cover a few more similarities here to avoid repeating them numerous times. The 88, 88K, and 88P are all piston fillers. They will always have to be restored to working order when you get them, even if the seller claims the pen is in working order (it’s not, I guarantee it, or it won’t be for very long in the best case scenario). One can trust some restorer/sellers like David Nishimura or Mike and Linda of Indy Pen Dance to restore these prior to selling them, but the vast majority of sellers, especially on eBay or similar, will not bother with them. While the process is not hard, in principle, the threaded piston head is incredibly fragile and will usually crumble to dust during the restoration. I recommend that you send these to a pro for restoration. It would be awesome if someone with the know-how could figure out how to 3D print these pistons–then restoring them would be a trivial task akin to replacing a sac on a lever filler. (If you figure out how to do it, I’ll happily buy a dozen of them.)

The oldest 98’s are also piston fillers, but the mechanism is completely different and made of more durable, modern materials. These typically will function okay without a lot of drama.

Newer 98s, the International, and the new Duo Cart pens all use Aurora’s cartridge/converter system, which is readily obtainable.

The rest of the pens are cartridge filled and were never intended to be used with a converter–converters didn’t exist. The pens use old Aurora Biflux cartridges, which are obsolete and not made anymore. By sheer coincidence, Platinum-brand cartridges and converters will mount on these older pens. Because they were not meant to fill via a converter, filling them in such a manner can be fiddly, but it can be done. One could also refill the vintage Aurora cartridges, but I have chosen to retain my cartridges as they are for the sake of collecting.

There were two styles of cartridges–the original cylindrical cartridges (right and bottom, all used), and the later cartridges with a neck (top left, one unopened, one used). Also pictured are the metal carriers that held them back to back in the pens–both generations of cartridges will fit in the carriers.
An early-modern intact Aurora cartridge with an intact vintage cartridge. Standard international cartridge for scale.
Platinum converters fit these older pens, likely by sheer coincidence. I had to modify the top converter to fit in the Firma pen by removing the gold ring at the open end, but otherwise I have had zero issues with this method. Shown with modern Aurora converter for reference.

Because I collect Aurora fountain pens, I incidentally also collect Aurora ballpoints and merchandise more broadly, so I’ll be including that information as well. A quick note on vintage Aurora ballpoints: modern-day ISO G1-style refills (a la the Schneider Express 225 or Aurora’s own Wagon refill not Pilot’s G1!) are dimensionally identical to Aurora’s old ballpoint refills except the modern refills have a plastic tail. Sometimes they fit without modification, but one can also trim the tail back to get them to fit. As far as I can tell, all of Aurora’s pre-1970 ballpoints use the ISO-G1/Wagon refill, at least until they adopted Parker’s standard of refills for all of their pens. Even today, the Wagon refill is used in Aurora’s skinny ballpoints, so they are available.

Top: original Aurora Magnum Refill. Middle: slightly modified modern Aurora Wagon Refill from my 88K ballpoint. Bottom: unused modern Aurora Wagon Refill.

No matter what anyone tells you, the original 88 was not a flex pen. It just wasn’t, pure and simple. The nibs on the early 88’s were quite responsive, maybe I’d go so far as to call them soft, but only if they are equipped with the soft nibs in the first place. Aurora offered 17 nib choices on 88s, and while most of them are, indeed, of the soft extra fine, fine, or medium variety, not all of them were. The nibs on all but two of my pens are downright rigid. I use the term “soft” to differentiate Aurora’s old-school standard nibs from their stiffer nibs throughout this post. I do not recommend these pens for users looking for flex–go get a Waterman 52 or a Mabie-Todd Swan. Hell, even a Sheaffer Jr. with a Junior nib is a better flex pen. I’m serious. You’ll be disappointed. Now, if you’re looking for a bouncy, responsive nib that can add a little bit of flair to writing, you’ll be in luck.

Finally, that Aurora feedback that us Aurora people gush over? Oh yeah, that’s here in droves. And I love it.

Small but mighty.

The 88 was designed by Marcello Nizzoli and released around 1946. The pen is simple in its elegance–a round, cigar-shaped pen made from black celluloid and featuring a metal cap. There aren’t a bunch of different finishes for the 88, but there were many options for the caps, including gold plate, Nikargenta, chrome, sterling, rolled gold, and so on. Mine is a gold-plated cap, which seem to be the most popular option. Again, the 88 fills with a piston and has a nice, functional ink window. The section of the pen, as well as the piston knob, are black ebonite.

Apparently there were also all gold-plated pens and solid gold pens, but I’ve never actually seen one.

The striations on the cap are very fine and tastefully done. The clip is a simple, functional piece.
The cap finial is shiny metal.
Aurora had a long history of engraving their sections and this practice persisted after the war. “Aurora” and “88” inside of Aurora’s shield logo. Not shown is the pen’s serial number, on the reverse.

The star of this show is the nib. Most of the early pens were equipped with either a soft fine or soft medium nib, indicated by a colored dot on the end of the pen–which was missing from mine. Only specialty nib grades were engraved on these pens, which  leads me to believe that this pen is a standard issue, soft fine.

It’s gloriously feedbacky and super responsive. I cannot really describe it. It feels like a vintage Aurora in the best way possible. I know I said don’t flex these pens, but just look at this:

That is with practically zero effort. It is fantastic.

With user-contributed serial numbers and a lot of speculation, users on Fountain Pen Network (again, I’m not affiliated LOL JK guys) generated approximate dates of manufacture. My 88, using their list, was likely manufactured around 1948, give or take.

The 88K was released around 1953, with some overlap in production. The pen itself is dimensionally identical to the original 88. The biggest non-aesthetic change that Aurora made was they began to manufacture the 88K’s section and piston knob out of celluloid.

Aurora used this style of clip well into the 70s. The striations on the cap are not as finely engraved as before.
The shiny metal finial was replaced by a black lacquered or painted metal finial. It’s much more pointy than the original, too. Also note the more pronounced cap striations.
This is actually the matching ballpoint and is the earliest example I have in which Aurora stamped their brand on the cap’s lip, something they still do to this day. Notice how the letters are uneven. This stamping only appears on the ballpoint.
Here, 88K is engraved in Aurora’s shield logo. The serial number appears, as does the nib grade and the Aurora name.

The 88K was available with the same cap options and nib options as the 88. I actually have seen pens that were entirely gold-plated, unlike the 88, so I know those exist.

My pen is equipped with a hard fine nib. It’s rigid, smooth, feedbacky, and wet.

My 88K came to me new old stock in a box labeled FIAT. It was likely a corporate gift that sat in a desk somewhere for 65 years before coming to me, along with all of the sweet retro paperwork!

HF=Hard Fine
Nib grades. Aurora themselves said, on this page, that 93% of users are served just fine by soft EF, F, and M nibs, shaded in yellow. That’s probably why 93% of their pens are EF, F, or M. They also offered obliques and stubs–I would love to get my hands on one of those soft OBB nibs! The writing in red states that an H indicates a hard version of a given nib. The D nibs, as far as I can figure out, were manifold nibs (Google translate tells me that the word ricalco that appears below the headings means “tracing”). I don’t know what the K nibs were–like a waverly-style nib, maybe?
This is just informing the user that this pen uses 18k gold plating on the caps, apparently.
Filling instructions with the Aurora Biflux ink bottle. We need to get Aurora to put ink in a bottle like this again.

My 88K was made around 1955.

Next came the Aurora Duo Cart in 1954, which was revolutionary in its own right. This pen was an early example of a cartridge pen, mostly aimed at school kids. Aurora used the sections right off of 88’s in an attempt to cut some costs, so these pens write just as well as full-fledged 88’s. The pen used the dual cartridge carrier–seen above–and when the user was out of ink they were to discard the empty cartridge and flip the carrier around. An ink alarm feature–a tiny ball on the end of a tiny chain in the pen’s barrel–reminded the user to get a new cartridge. This feature is more annoying than useful and was omitted in Aurora’s later cartridge pens. Modern users are forced to find a way to disable this alarm–I cut the nipple end off an empty international cartridge and placed it over the turning knob of the pen’s converter to act as a spacer to keep the alarm from driving me nuts.

Unfortunately, my 88 Duo Cart is in rough shape–tons of cap brassing, the clip is loose and floppy, and the jewel on the end of the barrel was obviously super glued into place at some point. But it writes. The nib feels very similar to the hard fine nib on my 88K; Aurora did not engrave the nib grade on these pens, so I’m left guessing once again.

The serial number is on the reverse. Even the school pens got serial numbers.
Note that the 88 logo is identical to the 88 pens and DUO-CART added underneath.
It’s seen better days.

The pens were available with a couple different plastic bodies and either black or red ebonite sections. I don’t know what Aurora’s serial number methodology was, but I get the sense that this pen was a very early 88 Duo Cart.

This pen is kind of cool. It’s aesthetically unique and different from the rest of the family–it’s a little blocky and chunky, and the short cap just works, in a weird way. The pen also changed the way people used fountain pens–cartridge/converter pens are the most prolific type now, and this was one of the earliest, commercially successful cartridge pens, along with the Waterman C/F that was introduced in 1953.

The 888 was a more grown-up version of the 88 Duo Cart and was released around 1956. It was a unique design, not just the section off of a more expensive pen made cheaper. It made use of the Duo Cart’s cartridge system with the ink alarm feature.

The lid swings open revealing what was a very modern pen by 1950s standards.
888 is engraved in the Aurora shield logo. On reverse is the serial number and the nib grade–K13. Aurora is engraved to the left of this logo.
The 888 (center) has a longer, more tapered section than other pens in this family.
The pen stays true to the 88 family’s roots with a nice cigar shape. The plug at the end is where the ink alarm feature is attached.
Interestingly, it introduced the cap style that Aurora stuck with for many years. The clip is the same as the 88K, but the domed finial is replaced by a slanted plastic disk.

The nib on this pen is a K13, which is stamped on the included warranty card and engraved on the pen’s section. Once again, I have no idea what the K nibs are supposed to be. The tipping material on this pen is not shaped like the K nib illustrations on the above documentation, but the nib is ever so slightly up-swept. Regardless, this may be my favorite nib out of all of these pens. It appears to be a fine and is slightly more rigid than the soft nib on my 88, but far more responsive than the hard fine on my 88K. It is perfectly tuned and an absolute joy to write with.

Of the cartridge converter pens I own in this family, this is by a wide margin my favorite, and is probably in the top three of my favorite vintage Auroras. The pen is very light, well balanced, and has a long, comfortable section. Plus it writes like a dream.

Unfortunately, people living in Italy during the late 50s were not as enthusiastic about this pen as I am and it was not the hot seller Aurora hoped for. The 888 was only made until 1959 or so; mine has a late-ish serial number and is probably a ’57 or ’58, if I had to guess.

Warranty card. The 888 included a strip of paper showing the factory’s testing of the nib (shown at the bottom)
Reverse of the above warranty card, detailing the use of the pen. Aurora’s Biflux ink cartridges shipped in a plastic holder (see the illustration #7).

The Firma (Italian for “Signature”) was released around 1957 and is an interesting, but often overlooked variant. Desk pens were far more popular in the past than they are presently.

The Firma uses Aurora’s Biflux cartridges just like the Duo Cart and 888, but it did not make use of the cartridge carrier or the ink alarm–I checked, the double cartridge carrier does not fit in the pen. I am not sure if they decided it wasn’t necessary for a desk pen or if they were already in the process of phasing the system out.

The pen itself came in a long, slender cardboard box.
Section engraving. The serial number and “M” for medium nib are on the reverse. This one is still chalked, too!
The long barrel tapers to a point and features a simple gold band.

The nib is a gloriously juicy medium and very pleasant to use. It is at this point that I noticed the pens start to feel much more “modern.” The sections and bodies on these newer pens are obviously plastic–not celluloid–and the nibs start to feel stiffer and are not as responsive. It’s still a good writer and it is nicely balanced, as desk pens tend to be.

The pen came with a thick glass base and pen trumpet–which looks like a rocket ship or something. It feels very, very late 50’s.

Thick, shiny black glass.
The Firma logo is printed on the cork bottom and is still legible on mine, which I thought was pretty cool.

The 88P debuted around the same time, circa 1958 or so. It is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the 88 family of pens–it was made entirely in celluloid, the cap–which came in the same options as every other 88-type pen except Nikargenta–was the most finely engraved. I will admit that the 88P feels more refined than the 88K and much, much more modern than the 88–which would have been considered a good thing in 1958.

My 88P is a later model, as indicated by its lack of serial number. Aurora stopped serializing the 88P in 1963.

Shown with matching ballpoint.
Here, Aurora chose to engrave the model in the shield logo with Aurora underneath. It looks much cleaner than engraving stuff all around the section. The nib grade is engraved on the reverse. No serial number on my particular pen.
Aurora used the same cap style as the 888. The engravings are smooth and crisp and the brand’s name is tastefully engraved on the cap. It is a beautiful, well made pen.

Unfortunately, as nicely finished as the 88P is, it debuted right as ballpoints and cheaper fountain pen options were growing in popularity. Even so, Aurora managed to sell well over a million of these beautiful pens before they ceased production sometime in the 60’s.

Filling instructions and warranty information for the 88P. Notice that the Biflux bottle isn’t the cool two chambered one at this point, which is a shame.
Reverse of the above. I don’t think Paola used her pens that much because they were in fabulous shape when I got them.

The 888P was the natural evolution of the 888 and started production sometime in 1959. Early models may have included the ink alarm system, but mine does not. The pen did make use of the Duo Cart cartridge carrier system, though. The pen is entirely plastic and uses the exact same cap as the 88P. The section is interchangeable with the section of the Firma.

My 888P is heavily worn; the section engraving is barely visible and it is covered in light surface scratches but it does not appear to have been abused or left in some cellar somewhere.

Notice the cap–it is identical to the 88P cap. This pen also brought the flat end back.
I mean it when I say the caps are identical–I can interchange them.
Notice the scuffing around the end–caused by being posted over and over again through the years.
The engraving is there but very worn. It uses a similar style to the 88P. No serial number, just a tiny “F” on the reverse, indicating that this is a fine nib.

At first, I was least impressed by this pen. It seemed to me that Aurora was just trying to cut costs with this model (using the same parts, cheapening the materials, etc.) and I was just adding it to the collection for the sake of completion. But the more I look at the way it is worn, along with the fact that the pen came in the original box with an old box of modern Aurora cartridges tucked inside, the more I realize that it tells a story of a pen that was heavily used and well-loved. A pen put away once the last ink cartridge was used up, but not before the owner tried one final time to use the new line of cartridges. Someone loved this pen. That’s part of the appeal of collecting vintage pens.

The 98. The final evolution of the 88 proper. This is where Aurora really tries to engage in the modern age with something completely new.

The 98 was released in 1963, and keeping with the tastes of the time, the pen was thinner and blockier. It’s still a piston filler, but the pen uses modern, durable plastics.

My 98 happens to be a sterling silver model in a set with a ballpoint. It was a corporate gift for someone working at Alitalia–the largest airline in Italy. I think that’s pretty cool. The deep blue velvet clam shell box is housed in a pinstriped cardboard outer sleeve.

End of the cardboard outer sleeve.
Certificate indicating that the pen is 92.5% Silver with a 14k nib.
I wish my company gifted like this.
Fountain pen with ballpoint.
Sterling hallmark.
Here you can see the clip; it’s the same overall shape and design as the clip introduced on the 88K, a full ten years prior. The size is different and the cut-out is not painted black, though.
The round cap finial from earlier models was replaced by this style of finial.
The Aurora logo and the nib grade on the reverse are the only engravings for this pen. Also note the small ink window.
The piston turning knob must be pushed to extend, like clicking the back of a ballpoint pen. Here it is unextended.
Here is the piston knob extended for use.

I love the 98. I think the design is clever and the pen is slick. It’s a nice size–not too fat, not too heavy. The pen writes well, posts well, and feels good in the hand. Despite being made of silver, it’s only a gram heavier than the 888P. And it writes well–it’s a smooth, toothy medium that feels good. Granted, the piston design would be called a captive converter and scoffed at today, but at the time there was no such thing as a captive converter, it was just a piston filler–converters for cartridge pens were just sort of starting to take off when this pen hit the market. The pen only holds 0.9mL of ink.

But what makes this pen awesome is the influence it had on Aurora’s future pens. This pen introduced the Riserva Magica concept, which Aurora still uses. And we still see design elements from the 98 floating around in Auora’s modern lineup–the Style series comes to mind. The 98 was also a transitional piece; it bridges the gap between the thicker cigar-shaped pens of the past and the thinner pens of the 1970s. I think it’s a really interesting pen.

At some point, Aurora stopped making the Riserva Magica 98’s and was only churning out cartridge/converter 98s. There was also some overlap with another series of pen called the International, which is, as far as I can tell, a cartridge/converter 98 but made with cheaper materials. The pen I have isn’t vintage per se, it was released in the early 2000s as part of Aurora’s Archivi Storici series–the story goes that Aurora found some new-old-stock parts, slapped some pens together, and sold them. So this is the Archivi Storici model 016, a new/old Aurora International:

Aurora must have liked this box because they re-used it for the modern Duo Cart pens. I like this box, too, so I’m glad they did.
Aurora did an exceptionally nice job with this clam shell box as well. I wish they’d make more of them.
The entire pen has a brushed, matte appearance without any section engravings. The pen is, overall, shorter and skinnier than the 98, making it the skinniest of them all.
Same clip design, same cap finial.
Here is a flat, shiny end instead of the piston knob from before.

This is also the generation of pens in which Aurora began using the Parker standard of cartridge/converter, which would have been in the late 60s or so.

I like this pen quite a bit; it was the third Aurora I purchased and the one that got me interested in vintage Aurora pens. Unfortunately, it’s also the last retro pen that I own that is a direct descendant of the granddaddy 88. I considered discussing the Hastil, but it’s not related to the 88 in any way. Similarly, the modern 88 doesn’t truly belong here either.

What does belong in this discussion, however, is the modern rendition of the Duo Cart. It’s pretty easy to trace their lineage back to the 88.

I already talked about the 2017 release of the modern Duo Cart here. I won’t drone about the 2019 version, except to say that it kept all of the good parts of the 2017 version but fixed the bad parts. It’s a solid, modern day pen.

Far right. I specifically chose the black modern Duo Cart because of how similar it looks to actual vintage Auroras.
Yes, the nib is steel and not 14k gold. But it’s a champion.

There are few more models floating around that probably belong on this list that I’ve overlooked, as well as a few that I’m aware of that are worth mentioning that I don’t have examples of. In the 1960s, Aurora replaced the (old) Duo Cart with the updated Aurora 2Cart, which gave rise to the Auretta family of school pens. Those are extremely collectable in themselves. Finally, there is a model called Per Lei (For Her) which was a line of Aurora 98s without clips, sometimes with tassels on the caps. These were ladies purse pens, and while I think they’re lovely, I just don’t have any on hand.

Asking me to identify which is my favorite is like asking me to identify which of my kids are my favorite–I love all of them. If pressed, I could limit the list to three (pens, not kids)–the 88, the 888, and the 98–but I couldn’t rank them. The 88K makes the list sometimes, too, but I think that’s just because it was a white whale for me–I had a heck of a time finding an 88K for a non-insane price to add to my collection.

I suppose the real question is “why?” Why would a young Midwestern man, who neither speaks Italian, nor has any Italian heritage, who’s never even been to Italy, be so interested in an Italian pen company?

A pen is just a stick that makes marks on a page. A free ballpoint from the bank is realistically the only writing device one would ever need. A crayon picked up from the floor of Applebee’s accomplishes the same practical task, too.

But sometimes you just have to listen to your heart. I believe Dan Smith called it “feeding your soul” in one of his videos back in the day. Aurora feeds my soul.

Anyways, that’s the story I’m sticking to.

The modern 88 must have been adopted. Oldest on the left to youngest on the right.
Ballpoints. Top to bottom: 88K, 88P, 98, modern 88.

Specs:

  • Vintage Aurora 88
    • Cap:
      • Friction fit, postable.
      • There were a bunch of options out there.
    • Nib:
      • 14k semi-hooded, soft fine.
      • 17 options available. Almost all of them that survived are fine or medium.
    • Body:
      • Black celluloid body with ink window. Section and piston knob in black ebonite.
    • Filling system:
      • Piston, 1.7mL capacity.
    • Length:
      • Capped: 138mm
      • Uncapped: 127mm
      • Posted: 148mm
    • Weight:
      • Total: 22g
      • Pen: 14g
      • Cap: 8g
    • Section diameter:
      • 8-11.5mm
  • Aurora 88K
    • Cap: friction fit, postable, a lot of options.
    • Nib: 14k HF, a lot of options.
    • Body: black celluloid.
    • Filling system: piston, 1.7mL capacity.
    • Length: capped 138mm; uncapped 128mm; posted 148mm
    • Weight: total 22g; pen 14g; cap 8g
    • Section diameter: 8-11.5mm
  • Vintage Aurora Duo Cart
    • Cap: friction fit; postable. Chrome or gold plated.
    • Nib: Fine? I don’t know what options were available.
    • Body: black plastic; black ebonite section. There were a bunch of options back in the day.
    • Filling system: Duo Cart cartridge carrier with ink alarm, originally with Aurora Biflux cartridges. Accepts modern Platinum cartridge/converters. Around 0.5mL capacity with converter.
    • Length: capped 137mm; uncapped 129mm; posted 152mm
    • Weight: total 19g, pen 12g; cap 7g
    • Section diameter: 8-11.5mm
  • Vintage Aurora 888:
    • Cap: friction fit; postable. Several historic options.
    • Nib: “K13.” Probably fine. Probably 17 nib options, historically.
    • Body: black…plastic? Maybe celluloid.
    • Filling system: Duo Cart cartridge carrier with ink alarm, originally with Aurora Biflux cartridges. Accepts modern Platinum cartridge/converters. Around 0.5mL capacity with converter.
    • Length: capped 138mm; uncapped 127mm; posted 151mm
    • Weight: total 20g; pen 12g; cap 8g
    • Section diameter: 8-11.5mm
  • Aurora Firma:
    • Cap: Not applicable. It’s a desk pen. It does rest in a cool desk stand.
    • Nib: 14k medium. I don’t know what options were available.
    • Body: black plastic.
    • Filling system: Historically Aurora Biflux cartridges. Accepts modern Platinum cartridge/converters. Around 0.5mL capacity with converter.
    • Length: 172mm
    • Weight:13g
    • Section diameter: 8-11mm
  • Aurora 88P
    • Cap: friction fit, postable. All of the usual cap options.
    • Nib: 14k Fine, I don’t know what historic options are out there.
    • Body: black celluloid.
    • Filling system: piston, 1.7mL capacity.
    • Length: capped 135mm; uncapped 127mm; posted 146mm
    • Weight: total 21g; pen 14g; cap 7g
    • Section diameter: 8-11mm
  • Aurora 888P
    • Cap: friction fit, postable.
    • Nib: 14k fine. Probably other options out there.
    • Body: black plastic.
    • Filling system: Duo Cart cartridge carrier with ink alarm, originally with Aurora Biflux cartridges. Accepts modern Platinum cartridge/converters. Around 0.5mL capacity with converter.
    • Length: capped 137mm; uncapped 127mm; posted 145mm
    • Weight: total 22g; pen 14g; cap 8g
    • Section Diameter: 8-11mm
  • Aurora 98 Riserva Magica
    • Cap: friction fit, postable.
    • Nib: 14k medium; probably other options out there.
    • Body: usually black plastic; shown in sterling silver.
    • Filling system: riserva magica piston; 0.9mL capacity.
    • Length: capped 140mm; uncapped 127mm; posted 145mm
    • Weight: total 23g; pen 15g; cap 8g
    • Section diameter: 8-10mm
  • Aurora International/98 Cartridge
    • Cap: friction fit, postable.
    • Nib: 14k medium; probably other options out there.
    • Body: matte finished plastic shown, other versions were available.
    • Filling system: modern Aurora; capacity around 0.8mL with converter.
    • Length: capped 137mm; uncapped 126mm; posted 144mm
    • Weight: total 17g, pen 10g, cap 7g
    • Section diameter: 8-10mm
  • Aurora 2017 Duo Cart
    • Specs at the end of the review, here.
  • Aurora 2019 Duo Cart
    • As 2017 version, except:
      • Uncapped length is 119mm, posted length is 140mm
      • Weight: total 26g; pen 15g; cap 11g

Aurora Talentum

Usual bias alert: I collect Aurora pens. That Aurora logo means I’m emotionally invested at baseline, but I always challenge myself to be objective when writing about Aurora Pens.

I don’t usually get into matte black pens, but this one caught my eye.

The Talentum is the “entry level” pen in Aurora’s upper tier. It uses the same nib unit as their more expensive pens but in a less expensive cartridge/converter format. Actually, it’s not uncommon for users who want an extra Aurora nib unit to just buy a Talentum as the pen is not that much more than a spare nib ($396 vs. $316 street price.)

talentum_nib

That said, the Talentum isn’t just a cartridge/converter 88 or Optima. It’s a cool pen in its own right.

First off, the pen is a great size and shape. It’s well balanced towards the nib, and long enough to use very comfortably unposted. It posts extremely well, but becomes a bit back-heavy. I prefer to use this pen unposted, but the option to post the cap is always welcome.

talentum_finial
The metal finial shifts the pen’s balance rearward when posted.

I like the matte resin body; it has a subtle, grippy texture and is comfortable to use for long writing sessions. The matte finish on the trim is not durable at all, however. The finish on the ring on the end of the grip section has flaked-off entirely, and in other places it’s simply scratched off under normal use. The metal underneath has a shiny ruthenium or polished hematite appearance, though, so it’s not terrible–on the contrary, I love the way this pen is aging. I do know that some people would really hate that though, so it’s important to point-out, and it sort of cheapens the feel of the pen a bit. Nit picky? Maybe.

talentum_trim
Note the areas where the finish has worn revealing the shiny metal underneath.

Here is a proper nit-pick: I don’t like the way the inside of the cap is finished where the metal finial is connected to the end of the cap. I think Aurora could have done a better job–polished it better or covered it with a plastic inner cap or something. It doesn’t impact the writing or performance of this pen in any way. One can only see this if one is looking inside of the cap with a bright flashlight. But I noticed it, and I cannot un-notice it. There’s no way I can photograph this in a way that makes sense, but it bugs me. Maybe it is a minor qualm, but this is not a cheap pen and I have very little tolerance for tomfoolery and corner-cutting in pens this expensive.

The star of this show is the nib, however. The nib is unique with its matte finish. I’ve had no issues with the nib’s finish unlike the trim rings, and I was not able to find any examples on the internet of the nib’s finish being defective, so that’s good. This nib is an extra fine; it is rigid and precise and the ebonite feed provides a very generous ink flow. This is how I like my extra fine nibs. Mine was purchased from nibs.com and John Mottishaw tuned it a bit, so this isn’t exactly how it came out of the factory. Keep in mind that tuning and grinding a nib with any finish other than gold–not just this matte finish–will reveal the raw gold color underneath. This is how I know he ground this nib a bit before sending it. I don’t mind because this pen is a sweet writer, and it’s not like he ground a bunch of the finish off. I am just pointing it out. Nibs.com will, of course, not tune your pen, if requested.

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Note the yellow gold underneath the finish where the nib was worked on. This happens with any plated nib that gets worked on.
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I love the Talentum model. It is a superb choice for users who prefer its looks or prefer cartridge/converter pens. I would, however, recommend the gold or rhodium trim pens for users concerned with the matte pen’s durability.

Pros:

  • Sweet looking pen.
  • Writes really well. Aurora’s pens typically do, in my experience, but tuning by a nibmeister like John Mottishaw always helps.
  • Full sized and comfortable. Lovely balance. This pen is meant to write.

Cons:

  • The finish isn’t durable.
  • I recognize that most of the cost of this pen is in the nib, but this pen is still pricey for what it is.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap, push to post.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Available in matching resin or metal caps.
  • Nib:
    • 14k Large Aurora proprietary nib unit with ebonite feed, shown in extra fine.
    • Available in yellow gold, rhodium plated, or matte black finish.
    • Nib units screw-out and are interchangeable with like Aurora pens.
    • Commonly available nib grades are extra fine, fine, medium, and broad. Specialty nib grades include BB, Factory Stub, Factory Italic, and oblique nibs (OM, OB, OBB,) along with the Goccia EF, F, and M nibs. Not all retailers carry specialty nibs, so potential users will have to search for them (and pay extra).
    • I know for certain that Oblique Fine and reverse obliques (OFR, OMR, OBR, and OBBR) were available at one time, but I’ve only seen them on vintage pens from “nib testing” sets. Writers interested in those may be able to special-order them, however.
    • The nib grade’s availability depends on the trim. I seriously doubt one can get the more exotic nibs in the matte black finish.
  • Body:
    • Resin body. Available in matte black (shown), black, and burgundy. There is/was a yellow Talentum as well.
  • Filling system:
    • Aurora proprietary cartridge/converter.
    • Converter capacity is 0.8mL.
    • Aurora cartridge capacity is around 1.2mL.
    • Aurora’s system is patterned after Parker’s, so those probably work. I haven’t tested them.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 137mm
    • Uncapped: 133mm
    • Posted: 162mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 29g
    • Pen: 18g
    • Cap: 11g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-12mm

Alternatives:

  • Aurora’s own 88 and Optima are good choices. The 88 is closer in size, the Optima is closer in shape.
  • Aurora Tu is also a cheaper choice from Aurora.
  • Pelikan m800.
  • Parker Duofold Centennial.
  • Sailor Pro Gear (especially the Imperial Black finish, if one is after the all black look.)
  • Conklin Duragraph or Jinhao Centennial are similar in size and shape, on the less expensive side of things.
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Top to bottom: Aurora Optima, Aurora Talentum, Aurora 88, Lamy Safari.
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Aurora Internazionale

Usual bias alert: I collect Aurora pens. That Aurora logo means I’m emotionally invested at baseline, but I always challenge myself to be objective when writing about Aurora Pens.

My “grail” pen is the Aurora Duplex in the lapis finish. Senior sized. I don’t even know if they made lapis Duplexes in the big size, but I want one.

The price of senior size Duplexes in okay condition–if they show up for sale–can easily exceed a thousand dollars. The lapis finish is especially desirable.

The Aurora Internazionale is modeled after these pre-war pens and I knew I had to have one the moment I saw it. I might not actually have a chance to acquire my white whale, so this is a nice substitute.

aurinterbesidecapThe Internazionale is a bit larger than a big Duplex, but otherwise Aurora did a fantastic job keeping this pen as close to its roots as practically possible. If it were a lever filler, one may be hard pressed to know the Internazionale is a modern pen, at least at first glance.

The vermeil trim ring and engraved clip are very classy, perhaps approaching garish to some. The details are fabulous.aurintercapband

aurinterclipThe pen is comfortable in hand. It sports a classic-styled gripping section that is quite thick and the pen is well balanced. The cap posts, but it is very long while posted so I don’t do that. It takes nearly 2 turns to remove the cap.

The celluloid material is soft to the touch and beautiful to behold. It doesn’t appear identical to the vintage material in all aspects, but it’s a great homage.

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aurinterwholepenThe nib is a fine and it writes as an Aurora should. This pen features the unadorned nib  that appears on some of Aurora’s limited edition pens that closely resembles the Aurora nibs of yore. The nib unit is otherwise a modern Aurora and is interchangeable between similarly sized Aurora models–sacrilege, but doable.

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The piston filler is functionally identical to all other modern Auroras. It operates smoothly and draws 1.5mL of ink into the pen. The pen is equipped with Aurora’s (in)famous Magic Reserve system as well.

Aurora is releasing other finishes of the Internazionale–black with rose gold trim and a jade finish–but I’ll stick with just the lapis, for the time being. I’ll give Aurora credit, here–many companies (including Aurora) have a tendency to release the same pens over and over again in different finishes. They took a risk with something different, and they absolutely crushed it in my opinion.

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While it’s not my dream pen, the Internazionale is as close as it’s likely going to get for me. I don’t use it often, but once I have it inked up I can barely put it down.

Pros:

  • This pen is a work of art, and a masterpiece at that.
  • It is a very functional pen. Writes like a dream.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t have an ink window–which would mess with the aesthetic anyways.
  • Cumbersome when posted.
  • The magic reserve can be handy, but also makes cleaning the pen completely a bit more challenging.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap. Push to post.
    • 1.9 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Aurora 18k nib unit.
    • Theoretically it could be equipped with any large Aurora nib unit. I think the Internazionale-style nibs are limited to EF, F, M, and B and maybe Stub.
  • Body:
    • Lapis Auroloid (Aurora’s celluloid.)
    • Black is available. Jade is becoming available as of this writing.
  • Filling system:
    • Piston filler.
    • 1.5mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 138mm
    • Uncapped: 132mm
    • Posted: 175mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 25g
    • Pen: 17g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 10.5-11.5mm

Alternatives:

  • Obviously there’s a bunch of vintage pen alternatives.
  • Parker Duofold Centennial.
  • The Aurora Talentum is a cartridge/converter pen that is very similar in size and shape.
  • Pelikan m800.
  • Ranga model 3.
  • Conklin Duragraph.
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Aurora Optima

The current state of affairs in the world has kept me rather busy, but I am back with a review of the Aurora Optima.

Bias Alert: I love Aurora pens. I collect Aurora pens. I try to be as objective as possible when dealing Aurora pens, but I’m not perfect. That said, I am not compensated by Aurora or their North American distributor Kenro in any way, shape, or form.

These pens are named after the original Optima, Aurora’s top of the line pen from 1938 until 1945. There is some family semblance–they’re close in size, the cap bands from early Optimas are similar to modern Optimas, and both bear Aurora’s barrel embossing, but the similarities basically stop there. The original Optimas were vacuum fillers, and the modern versions have other functional and aesthetic differences.

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Note the cap band variations.

The Optima can be had in six or seven different celluloid finishes, black resin with different cap options, the sterling silver Riflessi variant, and countless limited edition options. In many ways it still remains at the top of Aurora’s lineup, even if the 88 is widely considered the flagship model.

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Functionally, the Optima is identical to the Aurora 88 and much of what I said about the 88 applies to the Optima as well. The Optima is a shorter pen–both capped and uncapped–but has the same girth as the 88. Even with its shorter length, I can use the Optima posted or unposted, but it feels like it should be posted. Writers with larger hands may find the Optima a bit too short to use unposted.

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I have two versions of the Optima. The gray Nero Perla variant is a regular edition pen and has a lovely factory oblique double broad nib. The nib is very smooth but not especially forgiving. I generally prefer an obliquely-cut italic nib over a straight-cut stub nib, but that’s just me. I would caution potential buyers to try a cheaper pen with an oblique nib to make sure it’s compatible with their writing style before dropping the serious change for an Optima (and enduring the wait, as Aurora’s specialty nibs are generally made to order.)

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I was always curious how Aurora Optima’s Nero Perla (Black Pearl) finish compared to the Cracked Ice Conklin Duragraph, shown here if someone else is equally curious. They’re vaguely similar, but Aurora’s celluloid is a fair bit deeper, shinier, and feels much softer/warmer than the Conklin acrylic.

My other Optima, and the one I actually purchased first, is the 365 Abissi Limited Edition model from a few years ago. Aurora over-hyped the pen and released doctored promotional materials; subsequently the pen was maligned on the internet. I won’t excuse Aurora’s snafu, but I was able to pick this pen up for a steal because of it. I will say that the Abissi material is quite interesting, even if it’s nothing like the promo photos: it almost appears black, but subtle colors and chatoyance shimmer and dance below the surface. It reminds me a lot of an especially deep lake near my home that I kayak often–it’s usually too dark to peer into its murky depths, but floating sediment and shapes glimmer in the correct light. Abissi is Italian for Abyss, after all. My photos here accentuate the glittery qualities of the pen a little bit more than what it typically looks like in person.

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This is a very subtle finish, much more subtle than the promo photos would have one believe.

Both pens are extremely warm, soft, and smooth, as celluloid pens tend to be.

The Aurora Optima is well made and oozes class. It doesn’t feel as “timelessly modern” as the 88, instead staying true to its art deco roots. The Optima feels like a pen from the late 30’s, but made today.

Pros:

  • Many beautiful options to suit any taste.
  • Pleasant, usable size.
  • Available with Aurora’s full lineup of nibs.
  • It is an Aurora.
  • It has the magic reserve feature but. . .

Cons:

  • . . .it’s a pain in the ass to clean.
  • Optimas are very pricey out of the gate, but the price quickly escalates when special editions, precious materials, or specialty nibs get involved.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Posts very securely.
  • Nib:
    • 14k or 18k Large Aurora proprietary nib unit with ebonite feed, shown in Fine and Oblique Double Broad.
    • Available in yellow gold, rose gold, or rhodium plated depending on the model.
    • Nib units screw-out and are interchangeable with like Aurora pens.
    • Commonly available nib grades are extra fine, fine, medium, and broad. Specialty nib grades include BB, Factory Stub, Factory Italic, and oblique nibs (OM, OB, OBB,) along with the Goccia EF, F, and M nibs. Not all retailers carry specialty nibs, so potential users will have to search for them (and pay extra).
    • I know for certain that Oblique Fine and reverse obliques (OFR, OMR, OBR, and OBBR) were available at one time, but I’ve only seen them on vintage pens from “nib testing” sets. Writers interested in those may be able to special-order them, however.
  • Body:
    • Resin, Auroloide (celluloid), or precious metal overlay.
    • Pictured here: Nero Perla and Abissi celluloid.
  • Filling System:
    • Piston filler with magic reserve.
    • 1.2mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 126mm
    • Uncapped: 124mm
    • Posted: 155mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 21g
    • Body: 14g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-12mm

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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Aurora Ipsilon

Bias alert: I love and collect Auroras, but I try to be as objective as possible with them.

The Ipsilon is one of Aurora’s entry-level offerings and seemingly their most popular, given the options available with this model and the fancier Deluxe version.

Like all Auroras, it is entirely made in in Italy. The Ipsilon is much simpler than its more expensive siblings; it’s light but well balanced, has a snap cap, and has a steel nib.

But the Ipsilon writes like an Aurora. The nib is smooth with some feedback and lays down a fairly fine, moderately wet line. The fit and finish, like all Auroras in my experience, is great with no rough spots, seams, or any other obvious flaws.

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The small, steel nib is simply embellished, but it writes like a dream

The cap snaps on and off and posts with a satisfying *click*. Once capped, it’s very secure–my Ipsilon went through the laundry without coming uncapped.

Does the Ipsilon evoke the same metaphysical feel-goodery in my soul as an 88 or Optima? No, not even close. But for $120 retail, this pen is fantastic step into the brand and a way to get a feel for Aurora nibs without dropping serious cash. There are cheaper options in the Aurora line-up like the Kappa and Style, but the Ipsilon has the largest selection of nibs and finishes, from a simple resin pen with a steel nib like mine clear up to sterling silver bodies and 14k gold nibs.

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On my particular pen, the fine nib is more comparable to Aurora’s 14k extra fine, and it seems that Aurora’s steel nibs are a bit finer in general. Those who love finer nibs will do just fine with the Aurora Ipsilon.

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Ipsilon is line 2.

Even though this pen has a steel nib, it writes as well as my other Auroras. Its performance is why I feel the Ipsilon is a worthy contender in the crowded $100-$200 category. That Aurora feel is why this cartridge/converter, steel nib pen competes with the likes of the Platinum 3776 and the Lamy 2000. That’s not to say that the Ipsilon is better than those other pens, just different, and ultimately it comes down to the user’s tastes.

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My Ipsilon is an older model with a discontinued color and different style of cap band but is otherwise functionally the same as a production Ipsilon. I actually purchased it used in set with a matching ballpoint because I’m a sucker for matching fountain pen/ballpoint combos. The knock style ballpoint accepts common Parker pattern refills and works as expected with a tiny bit more tip wiggle than I’d like.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and well balanced.
  • Solid performance.
  • A good introduction to the Aurora brand.
  • Caps and posts very securely.

Cons:

  • For what it is, it’s hard to find fault with the Ipsilon.
  • It’s a standard size pen, so it may be too small for some users.
  • While it’s basically competitively priced, I’d like to see the base model price come down a bit.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Snap cap.
    • Snaps to post.
  • Nib:
    • Steel Fine.
    • Also available in:
      • Steel: extra fine, fine, medium, broad, italic.
      • 14k gold: extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, italic.
    • Gold, BB, and Italic nibs come at a premium.
  • Body:
    • Polished resin.
    • Numerous other finishes are available, including matte resin, lacquered metal, and sterling silver.
    • The fancier the body, the more it costs.
  • Filling system:
    • Aurora proprietary cartridge/converter.
    • Converter included with pen.
    • Converter capacity: 0.8mL.
    • Cartridge capacity is around 1.2mL.
    • Parker cartridges/converters and Aurora’s own Trik Trak converter also fit.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 138mm
    • Uncapped: 120mm
    • Posted: 150mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 22g
    • Pen: 15g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11mm
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Aurora Duo-Cart–2017 Version

This is the first release of Aurora’s modern Duo-Cart pen. It’s recently been re-released and I do not have the new one to compare to my first edition. Yet.

edit: I now have the 2019 version. I’ll review that release soon. Much of what I have to say about the new release is the same as the 2017 version, but the biggest problems I had with the old version have been fixed by Aurora–no more cap **POP!,** the trim ring isn’t loose, and the nib was splendid out of the box.

Duo-Cart is sort of an interesting choice for this pen’s name. It certainly looks like the Duo-Cart of the 1950’s, which was an early attempt at a cartridge-filled pen and a way to reduce costs and sell a cheaper pen. The original Duo-Carts pretty much just used the sections off of 88s but dispensed with the more complex piston filling mechanism. Fewer parts to machine and assemble means a cheaper pen. Companies still preferentially make cartridge/converter pens because they’re easier to produce. The concept was simple–the pen held two cartridges back-to-back with a carrier; when one cartridge was empty, they were swapped and the user could continue writing without having to refill the pen.

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But they were called Duo-Carts because they held two cartridges. The modern Duo-Cart does not do this. To be fair, Aurora’s modern cartridge probably holds as much or more ink as the original system and making this pen with their current system versus creating a new rendition of a cartridge carrier or whatever probably helped keep the costs down.

This pen can also be found on the internet advertised as the “Archivi Storici,” which is a bit misleading. Archivi Storici translates to “historical archives.” Aurora did have another set of pens in this line 10 or 15 years ago that were, basically, a run of pens made from new old stock 98 and 88 parts they found lying around in their archive, hence the name. The modern Duo-Cart is entirely that–modern. It’s a reproduction, or more accurately, a modern pen inspired by historic pens. My Duo-Cart’s box is identical to these older Archivi Storici boxes and it says Archivi Storici on the box–not Duo-Cart–so that’s probably where the confusion is coming from. I feel like the distinction needs to be made, in one place, for the sake of collectors trying to figure all of this out.

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“Mythical Pens of Fabulous Years” according to Google Translate.
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That said, I’ll review my vintage 888 Duo-Cart and my Archivi Storici model 16–basically a NOS cartridge/converter 98–at some point. If (when) I decide to buy a 2019 or a vintage 88 Duo-Cart, I’ll review those as well.

Anyways, the year was 2017. I decided that I love pens with hooded nibs and I had to have them all. I’d also recently determined that I adored Aurora pens. Enter the Duo-Cart. Supposedly, the story goes, Aurora made a bunch of these pens for a company’s special event and then decided to release them. They discontinued them due to quality control complaints, which hopefully they’ve addressed.

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It was/currently is only available with a medium nib. I wasn’t crazy about the nib out of the box–it was serviceable after adjustment, but the tipping material was uneven with a misaligned nib slit and it just wrote. . .weird. I’m not saying the tines were misaligned–I mean, they were, but that’s a simple fix–I’m saying the slit in the nib was cut off-center.  This isn’t a fatal flaw, but it was obviously defective.  Instead of sending it back like I probably should have, I dealt with it. Eventually I modified it into its current state based on my examples of vintage Aurora nibs, but to date it’s the only Aurora pen I’ve bought that wasn’t spot-on out of the box.

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Here you can see the off-center slit in the nib. Pens with this defect aren’t necessarily trash, but it’s not optimal.
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I tried to modify my Duo-Cart to write roughly equivalent to vintage Auroras. It feels pretty close and looks close enough on paper.

The cap on my example is tight and comes off of the pen with a sizable and somewhat obnoxious “POP!” One of the complaints about the first run of these pens was that caps were not tight. Mine is not loose at all. The cap posts securely and seems to be made out of some non-ferrous metal, aside from the springy steel clip. Brass maybe? In any case, it’s pretty heavy and can make the pen feel back heavy when posted.

The section is quite long, which gives users some flexibility in finding the most comfortable way to hold it. I like this about Aurora pens.

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The trim ring between the section and the barrel is not secured and can be lost when the pen is disassembled. This cheapens the pen, really, and I hope Aurora fixed that in the new release.

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WHY?

The pen fills with Aurora’s cartridge/converter system, as stated. Aurora’s converters are overpriced, but it came with the pen. Their converters hold around 0.8mL of ink while their cavernous cartridges hold 1.3mL.

I collect Aurora pens, so it’s pretty much impossible for me to be 100% objective with them. Still, I will say that this pen isn’t as up to snuff as my other Auroras. The obnoxious *POP!* when uncapping this pen can draw a vacuum and lead to ink splatter, it really bothers me that the trim ring is just. . .there. . .and I’ve never had a defective nib on any other Aurora, vintage or new, except this one. Aurora is synonymous with quality to me and I honestly feel their prices reflect this fairly, but this one missed the mark. It was close, but not quite there.

It was essentially a beta test and Aurora has since reworked the pen. Also this is nowhere near the top of Aurora’s lineup. My post-purchase support from Aurora (and Kenro, their North American distributor) has been top-shelf, so I’ve no doubt that they would have taken care of me, had I chosen to go that route. In the past, Aurora has delayed the release of their special edition pens by months to make sure they got QC problems worked out, and I think this pen could have benefited from a bit of a delay. We’ll see if it did.

Even with its faults, I’d still place it in the top five modern-production pens with hooded nibs, if that’s your thing, but Aurora will have to work harder to de-throne the Lamy 2000, which is a better pen for the cash. Compared to the rest of the viciously competitive sub-$200 market, the Duo-Cart a pretty decent choice and aesthetically unique, Parker 51 knock-offs notwithstanding.

The modern Duo-Cart has some stiff competition with its past self, too. The street price of this pen is $180–for that price, it’s pretty easy to score a user grade, restored 88 or its variants. For even less money, 98s, 888s, and vintage Duo-Carts are out there. This pen isn’t “better” or “worse” than a vintage pen: the ability to use a modern cartridge/converter system, the enhanced durability afforded by modern materials, and the warranty and support of the company definitely win out, here. It comes down to user choice.

I still love the pen and its unique place in Aurora’s history. This pen can trace its lineage back to the legendary Aurora 88 much more so than the modern 88, which makes it pretty cool.

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There is definitely a family resemblance, here.

Pros:

  • Basically a solid pen.
  • Classic, old-school aesthetic.
  • Re-released after working out the kinks. Hopefully.

Cons:

  • It was an experiment, intentional or not, or it was simply rushed to market.
  • The nib was. . .so so out of the box. Serviceable, but atypically crappy for an Aurora.
  • Medium only. I wanted a fine nib, so I had to make my own.
  • It’s back heavy when posted. May or may not be a con, depending on the user.
  • Unless you like the looks, prefer a cartridge/converter pen for changing ink easier, or are an Aurora fanboy like me, the Lamy 2000 is a better value.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Snap cap.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • Semi-hooded steel nib.
    • Gold plated or polished to match the pen’s trim.
    • Medium only.
  • Body:
    • Burgundy resin. Other colors are available with the new release, but the 2017 version was black or burgundy only.
    • I swore this pen’s barrel was injection molded, but I’ll be damned if I can find a seam on it. The section is injection molded but the seam is extraordinarily discrete. The threads joining the two are amazingly smooth and precise. This is the Aurora quality I’m talking about.
    • The pen barrel has a brass sleeve on the inside to add a little weight and balance, which is also typical of Aurora.
  • Filling system:
    • Aurora’s proprietary cartridge/converter system.
    • Converter capacity is 0.8mL.
    • Aurora’s system is patterned off of Parker’s, so Parker cartridges and converters probably work.
    • Aurora’s TrikTrak converter will also work, but that converter is expensive, hard to find, barely holds any ink, and basically sucks. I don’t know why anyone would use that in this pen, but they could if they wanted to.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 134mm
    • Uncapped: 121mm
    • Posted: 142mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 27g
    • Cap: 12g
    • Pen: 15g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11 mm
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Capped, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Uncapped, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Posted, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Aurora 88

When I started this blog I said that I was going to review my pens in roughly the order I bought them.

We’re taking a bit of a detour because I cannot wait anymore. I have to write about my modern Aurora 88.

Before this pen, I was exploring what I liked about fountain pens and I acquired a bunch without any real direction. I went through a try everything phase, then an oversize phase, followed by a hooded nib phase. The Aurora 88 is none of those things (the modern 88 isn’t anyways).

I knew about Aurora as a newbie, of course, but I was pretty nervous about their reputation for having nibs with feedback, and they seemed fairly expensive–relative to the Delta Dolcevita Oversize, Pelikan m1000, Yard-O-Led Viceroy Grand, and other pens I’d bought, Auroras aren’t really any more expensive, but I wasn’t sure about them. I found this 88 used on the Peyton Street Pens website for a good price, and decided I’d give it a shot.

I wish I’d bought the 88 first. Or maybe not because I wouldn’t have bothered buying any other pens. The Aurora 88, to me, is The Pen.

Not “my grail pen,” no, I have a different pen in mind for that–the 88 is The Pen. I cannot tell you what The Pen is–it’s a feeling, a state of mind. It’s the instrument that checks all of the “Yes” boxes and none of the “No” boxes. It feeds your soul, whether by the company’s story, the product itself, the writing experience, or (more likely) some combination of those things. A grail pen could be The Pen, but I don’t think they necessarily are the same thing. If you could only have one pen, The Pen is it, and the humble (by Aurora’s standards, anyways) 88 is My Pen.

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It’s a perfect fit for my hand. It’s classy and beautiful. The nib? Perfection: wet, smooth, and with perfect feedback. On premium paper and with a wet ink it’s a smooth, luxurious writing experience. On the other hand, I can tame the medium nib with a drier ink like Rohrer & Klingner Salix to write smaller or on crappy paper, so it’s adaptable to either writing bold and beautiful letters or small, precise every day writing. No skipping, hard starts, or drying out. The writing sample is done in R&K Salix, but my favorite ink to use with this pen is the beautifully dark, velvety Aurora Black–Aurora Black is extremely well behaved given how wet and lubricated it is, and the combination is simply divine, especially on a premium paper like Rhodia, Midori, or Tomoe River.

The pen is a piston filler. I measured 1.4mL capacity through my usual measurement technique. It does have the “magic reserve” feature, which is supposed to keep a little bit of ink in the piston and allow an extra couple of pages of writing by fully extending the piston, should one be caught without enough ink. It’s sort of a gimmick, but it works as intended. The ink window is subtle but functional.

It doesn’t matter if the 88 is used posted or unposted because the balance is perfect. Some pens feel like they need to be posted and some feel better unposted but it doesn’t matter with the 88–although I almost always post it. Through some Italian wizardry, the 88 somehow manages to be shorter than comparable pens when capped, longer when unposted, and roughly the same length as its peers when posted, so it fits in any pocket or pouch, feels substantial when not posted, and remains comfortable when posted. The long, tapered section helps with writing comfort.

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Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Sailor 1911L, Platinum 3776 Century
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Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Platinum 3776 Century Sailor 1911L,
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Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Sailor 1911L, Platinum 3776 Century

Auroras are entirely made in house in Turin Italy and their nibs are unique–ground finer than German equivalent but perhaps not as fine as equivalent Japanese nibs.  The feedback of Aurora’s nibs is a grossly over-exaggerated topic, in my opinion. The nib isn’t perfectly smooth, sure, but it is far from scratchy. Like I’ve said before, a nib can have feedback and be smooth because feedback is an audiotactile sensation whereas scratchiness is a defect. When I was a newbie, this distinction was not very clear and it’s scary to think about buying an expensive pen that one won’t like, which kept me from pulling the trigger on an Aurora. It turns out that I love feedbacky nibs but not everyone will. I think Platinum nibs are the closest to Aurora’s in feeling, so I would recommend that newbies try a cheaper Platinum first to get an idea before dropping serious cash on an Aurora. The other alternative is to order Auroras from a nibmeister who can adjust the pens to have less feedback. That said, all of my Auroras except one have written perfectly out of the box, and the one weird one was pretty close to perfect.

I swear, I am being paid by neither Aurora nor their American distributor Kenro (although I’d be happy to review some new Aurora stuff, hit me up guys!) I discovered my love for Aurora independently and my fountain pen collecting has largely shifted to Aurora, both vintage and modern, because of the Aurora 88.

If I was forced to say anything bad about the Aurora 88, it would be that it can be a chore to clean the pen because of the magic reserve feature. This can bother some people–I don’t care–but it’s worth mentioning. Another point is that I’ve found Aurora’s ebonite feeds to be wholly incompatible with pigmented inks like Sailor Kiwa-Guro. It seems like the narrow feed channels cannot handle the particulates in these inks and it leads to poor performance and clogging regardless of flushing, at least in my experience. This isn’t a ding on Aurora per se as they are not advertised to be compatible with these inks nor are these inks designed to work in Aurora pens specifically, but I would stay away from shimmer or pigmented inks with these pens.

Pros:

  • Perfect.

Cons:

  • None.
  • All right, cleaning can be a hassle.
  • This level of quality comes at a price.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • 14k Large Proprietary Aurora  medium nib with ebonite feed.
    • About #6 size.
    • Nib units screw-out and are interchangeable with like Aurora pens.
    • Available nib grades are extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, oblique broad, oblique double broad, factory stub, factory italic, and Goccia EF, F, and M. Aurora did make a flexible fine nib that is still available. Factory reverse oblique nibs and an oblique triple broad nib may also exist.
    • Edit: I have officially confirmed that Aurora no longer makes O3B nibs. Aurora’s nib lineup, best as I can tell, is EF, F, M, B, BB, Factory Stub, Factory Italic, OF, OM, OB, OBB, and reverse obliques (OFR, OMR, OBR, and OBBR) along with the Goccia EF, F, and M. While this a very impressive lineup by modern standards, obtaining one of the more exotic grinds will almost certainly require a special order through a participating retailer–along with an additional fee.
  • Filling System:
    • Piston filler with magic reserve.
    • 1.4mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 136mm
    • Uncapped: 132mm
    • Posted: 160mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 21g
    • Body: 14g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-12mm
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