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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Parker 51

Some say that the Parker 51 is the best pen ever made.

So, do I think it’s best? “Best” is subjective. If we define “best” as “a no bull-shit pen that writes a consistent line every time, holds a crap load of ink, is virtually indestructible, and has otherwise stood the test of time” than the Parker 51 is easily in the top ten, maybe the top five. I love the streamlined fountain pen aesthetic and rigid, hooded nibs but that’s not for everyone. Some people accuse pens like this–the Lamy 2000, Pilot Vanishing Point, vintage Montblancs, Auroras, and the titular Parker 51–of being glorified roller ball pens because of their aesthetic. This isn’t a philosophy of aesthetics blog: love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that the Parker 51 didn’t revolutionize fountain pens and set the trend for fountain pens in the 1950’s and 60’s.

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My P51 is a vacumatic, dated to 1948, which is late for a vacumatic. In ’48, Parker introduced the aerometric filler, which is a simpler, more durable filling system. Many of the original aerometric fillers are still functional today whereas vacumatic filled pens invariably fail and require specialized tools to replace. Most 51s are aerometric fillers. Vacumatic pens hold a ton of ink–my P51 holds a whopping 1.6mL–but are impossible to clean out. I just use blue in mine.

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The nib is a fairly rigid 14k medium, or it was sold to me as a medium. Vintage American pens tend to be ground finer than modern German equivalents, so a medium Parker 51 is going to appear pretty fine on paper. Parker also produced 51 Specials, which are the same pen but with high-quality steel nibs.

Parker 51s are made from Lucite, a brand of acrylic. When compared to injection molded plastics, it feels high quality and robust. Compared to a celluloid or ebonite material, it feels cold, hard, and lifeless. It doesn’t feel cheap in any case, and the material has a proven track record of durability. Mine is dove gray and has a few areas of discoloration, which isn’t entirely uncommon on the lighter materials. They came in twelve or thirteen different colors during their production, with gold trims or not. There is also a smaller version of the 51, called the Demi.

The cap is a clutch mechanism–the cap is “locked” onto the barrel’s clutch ring with “lugs” on the inside of the cap, which is sort of opposite of the Lamy 2000 that has lugs on the pen that lock onto the cap. This isn’t the perfect way to describe this, but suffice to say capping and uncapping the P51 is quite satisfying compared to a typical friction-fit snap cap that just gets smooshed onto the pen. It posts well, too.

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I like the Parker 51. It–along with the Esterbrook J series–is the prototypical, indestructible vintage American pen that is both easy to collect and a sensible choice for everyday writing. Every American pen brand and many European brands had a pen that was inspired by the 51’s looks (including the Aurora 88 that was legendary in its own right), and the pen itself has been copied ad nauseam; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

If one is looking for a beautiful and responsive open nib or gorgeous, deep materials, however, one will have to look elsewhere.

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Pros:

  • Great writer.
  • Lightweight and well balanced.
  • Huge ink capacity.
  • Durable.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • Aesthetically, it’s not for everyone.
  • Vacumatic pens are impossible to clean and wear-out over time.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Clutch type.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14K Medium on this pen.
    • Parker 51s almost always have fine or medium nibs, although Parker made other grades including broad, stubs, and obliques; these nibs are extraordinarily rare and usually insanely expensive.
    • Octanium nibs are common, too. Octanium is Parker’s proprietary steel alloy.
  • Body:
    • Dove Gray Lucite on this pen.
    • Other colors exist on both the full sized 51 and Demi model.
  • Filling system:
    • Vacumatic with 1.6mL capacity.
    • Only 1941-1948 pens had vacumatic systems, the rest are aerometric.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 140mm
    • Uncapped: 130mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 19g
    • Cap: 8g
    • Pen: 11g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11mm
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Sheaffer Balance Oversize

I had a thing for large pens and vintage Sheaffer fountain pens back in 2016, so when I saw a pen that was both I knew I had to have it.

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Using Richard Binder’s site once again, I’ve dated this pen to between 1936 and the Early 40’s, and for a pen that is 80ish years old, this thing is pretty sweet.

When it debuted, this was the top of the line Balance. The barrel is marked “1000,” which isn’t a model number but rather the MSRP of $10, or around $180 adjusted for inflation. Identifying what model a Sheaffer balance is requires examining the clip, nib, the pen material, and its dimensions and comparing it to records like those found on Richard Binder’s website.

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Now by modern standards, this oversized pen isn’t that big. It’s closer to what we would call a full size pen, like an Aurora 88, Pelikan m800, Sailor 1911 Large, and so on. Back then, huge pens weren’t in style; after all, in fountain pens’ heyday they were just pens, and not everyone wanted a flashy status symbol.

The Lifetime nib on this pen is stunning–14k two tone, heart shaped breather hole, and an up-swept medium point. It’s a very smooth writing experience. The nib is also one of the most rigid nibs in my collection, second only to an Esterbrook fine manifold nib. Gold nibs aren’t always softer than steel nibs. I like rigid nibs for most applications, but not everyone does.

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The Balance pens were meant to be posted, but mine is a little warped from being posted over the years. I still like to post it, but I feel like I have to push it on harder than I’d like to get the cap to post because of the warping. When I post it, I do so cautiously to avoid cracking the cap lip.

This particular pen also suffers from ink starvation–it writes perfectly for a page and then starts writing drier and drier until finally it stops writing altogether. This isn’t a particularly difficult thing to fix, depending on what’s causing the issue, but I’m not in a huge hurry to correct it. I consider it a quirk of an 80 year old pen rather than a flaw. Maybe I’ll send it out, eventually.

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I have a lever filler, but vacuum filled Balances were made towards the end of production. My Balance holds a sizeable 1.4mL of ink.

Sheaffer Balances are widely available in a bunch of different sizes and finishes, so they’re pretty accessible to someone looking to pick one up. They are good pens.

Pros:

  • Light and well balanced.
  • Pretty.
  • Writes well.
  • Holds a bunch of ink and has a visulated section to check ink levels.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • Old pens have quirks.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14k Lifetime nib, in Medium.
    • Other nibs came on Balances. The most common nib grade is Fine, but Medium and Extra Fine are somewhat common. They aren’t marked, so it takes some guesswork to figure out what’s in one’s hand.
    • Sheaffer also made Broad, Stub, and Accountant nibs–those range between pretty uncommon to exceptionally rare.
  • Filling System:
    • Lever fill.
    • 1.4mL ink capacity.
    • Vacuum fillers were also made towards the end of the pen’s life.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 143mm
    • Uncapped: 124mm
    • Posted: 165mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 20g
    • Pen: 12g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 10-12mm
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Sheaffer Balance Junior

I’ve been reviewing full-sized and oversized pens  for the most part, but I decided to break it up with this sweet pocket pen.

The Balance Junior was one of Sheaffer’s lower-tiered, non-white dot pens, but it’s largely made from the same materials as the larger Balance pens–14k nibs, the same celluloid, and so on. This one doesn’t have gold-plated trim, but otherwise there isn’t much difference between this and a white dot Balance, except the size. Sheaffer made Balances from 1929 until the early 1940’s; Sheaffer didn’t introduce the Marine Green striated celluloid until 1937, so this pen is at least that old (more Sheaffer balance information can be found on Richard Binder’s Website.)

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Trying to capture the depth of the celluloid.

Unlike larger Balances, the Junior can be found with the Junior nib–a beautiful, semi-flex nib. Typically, vintage 14k nibs from Sheaffer are extremely rigid; the Junior was available with these rigid nibs too, but the Junior nib is anything but. Perhaps it’s not as flexible as a full-flex vintage nib, but I doubt that any modern flex nib can outperform this nib and feed.

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Tiny nib with a lot of character. Also shown is the visulated section that helps keep track of the pen’s ink level.

I don’t really write with flex pens but this one is very enjoyable. It takes zero effort to flex, snaps back quickly, and the feed keeps up well. It’s perfect for adding a little bit of a flair to writing, but I wouldn’t push it too hard.DSC_0165

That said, a nib this flexible isn’t really all that great for everyday writing unless using a light touch. The pen is very tiny, too, so I don’t like it for long writing sessions. Someone with a smaller hand and delicate touch could make it work.

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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport

The street price for this pen is $50-$100, depending on the material, filling system, nib, and condition of the pen, so someone in the market for a self-filling, high-quality pocket pen could do a heck of a lot worse. However, pens that fill with sacs–like lever fillers–are more sensitive to jostling, temperature, and pressure changes so it should still be carried in a secure way, not rattling around in a purse or jeans pocket.

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Made in the U.S.A in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Pros:

  • Stunning materials.
  • Basically affordable and still around.
  • Pocket-sized, self-filling pen with an ink window (technically a “visulated” section, but functionally similar).
  • Wonderful nibs.
  • Holds more ink than a typical cartridge only pocket pen.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • It is small. That might be a pro, depending on the writer.
  • The youngest of these pens have been around since World War II, so they’ll come with vintage pen “quirks”.
  • Lever fillers suck to clean and pens that fill with sacs are more likely to burp/splatter/do weird stuff in response to vigorous movement, temperature changes, or air pressure changes.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14K Sheaffer Junior; EF/F Semi-Flex.
    • They were also made with rigid two-tone 14k Lifetime nibs and Sheaffer #3 nibs, almost always in fine or sometimes medium.
  • Filling System:
    • Lever filler with visulated section.
    • Ink Capacity: 0.8mL.
    • Vacuum fillers were an option on later pens. These are harder to restore than lever fillers and have a higher price tag.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 123mm.
    • Uncapped: 117mm.
    • Posted: 143mm.
  • Weight:
    • Total: 11g.
    • Cap: 4g.
    • Pen: 7g.
  • Section diameter:
    • 8-9.1mm.
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport