Tim's Thoughts

Why I’m So Fond of Aurora 88s

For some time, I’ve wanted to write about why I love the vintage Aurora 88s. Giving it more thought, I realized there are six reasons:

In part, it’s their looks: they’re handsome, but not beautiful pens; not beautiful like the azure Parker Vacumatic or a Carmine Sheaffer Vac-fil Balance. In addition to their name, 88s look rather like Parker 51s, with their gold or silver friction caps, uniformly black celluloid bodies and sections, and hooded nibs.

In part, it’s their history: the 88’s similarity to Parker 51 is not accidental: in 1947 bombed-out Aurora was reborn by producing their version of the 51s carried by American soldiers arriving to fulfill the Marshall Plan. I’m a history buff, with particular interest in wartime and postwar life and culture, so the 88s hit me in all the right visual and intellectual places.

It’s also because my first restoration of a European piston pen was an 88, including removing the tiny pin without losing it, getting the o-rings installed exactly right so the pen didn’t leak, and slipping its little tabbed nib into place correctly. It wasn’t until later that I discovered, in a bit of serendipity when the piston fell out of an 88 I was restoring, that you generally don’t need to disassemble the entire pen to restore its functionality. Feel free to ask how that works.

The reasons continue: I am also a serious fan of the 1930s Aurora Novum, a great writer with its delicate celluloid and innovative back lever and security clip; but, they and the other 1930s Auroras were fragile and a bit gimmicky, which was how Italian firms competed in those days. After war’s end, Aurora went for high quality and high volume, so 88 parts are sturdy, fit well, are largely interchangeable across pens, and are amazingly durable.

They’re also personal pens: every vintage 88 has an ordered serial number hand-engraved on the section which makes that pen special. Knowing mine was #767195, probably from 1949, made its production feel much more the product of a person’s work, not one of millions completely stamped by machines.

Finally, and what matters most, the 88s are outstanding writers. Some ten years later, the three in my collection — that 88, the 1953 Nikargenta (#1910497) and the 1960 88P (#3272436) are treasured pens that get their share of use, the 88P more than its share. Their nibs are soft, responsive, smooth, and wet, just what I like. A few years ago I purchased a used modern 88 because, well, I needed to experience it and as a pen seller needed to speak with knowledge. I was not surprised to find that it was a beautifully made, wonderful writer and a beautiful large black pen, but eventually I sold it because using it just wasn’t magical for me.

Happily, I have several 88s in future inventory that will appear over time, allowing me to bring 88 magic to their next owners.