Since I made some progress in my database of Italian FP producers, I thought it would be a good idea to post it in a new thread. For completeness and future reference, the previous can be found here
I hope you'll enjoy reading as I did writing it.
NB: to avoid some problems in formatting, the text is split in two subsequent posts.Introduction
To trace a complete picture of the Italian production of FP from its origin it’s almost an impossible task. Letizia Jacopini did already an outstanding job in this field with her work “The history of the Italian fountain pen, 1900 – 1950”
[Editore O.P.S. Milano, 2001]. The main difficulty lies in the economic and productive characteristics of Italy. Historically Italy is no home of “corporate identity” or organized industrial activity. Italy economic strength always lived in the singular ingeniousness of its people. Individual risk propensity, flexibility, ability to quickly apt to market conditions or supply changes are the characteristic of such industrial structure. This ultimately led to business fragmentation, small size companies, short time lived brands, lack of documentation and so on…
Therefore my goal here is “only” to describe as better as I can the currently (2008/9) existing Italian Fountain Pen producers or brand.
For your reference, please consider this post was originally published the 19 of January 2008 (a mere two weeks after the creation of the Italian for a!) and has been revised in September 2009.
As general pattern, we can split the history of the “product” fountain pen in Italy as follows:
- 1900/1918 – The only fountain pens available in Italy are foreigner, mainly German or American. Few sellers and repairers get acquainted with the new imported product and start to experiment;
- 1920s – This decade represented the real start of a national business. Most of the historical producers and brands started during the 20s by simply copying the most known models: notably the Waterman 42 and the Montblancs. In the later part of the decade the Duofold was the reference model. Celluloid was introduced in the same period replacing ebonite (hard rubber);</li>
- 1930s – The 30s represented for the fountain pen the definitive consecration on the Italian market: new professions transformed the pen from an elite instrument to an indispensable day-to-day tool. Additionally the government, taking pride on the “italianess” of the economy, push customers to buy Italian products. As the demand increase, producers grew in numbers and the prominent of them launches brand new products, never seen on the international scene;
- 1940s – From the second half of the 30s to the end of the war, the international sanctions and embargoes push the producers towards “autartic” products: gold is replaced with various leagues in pens. The war represented the first filter for such a large number of producers. Most plants were damaged or closed.
- 1950/1970 – These years represented a slow but unstoppable fall in both market popularity and overall quality (to compete with cheap BP the producers move in the low fork of the price range). Increasing popularity of BP is the second main reason for closing plants/companies.</li>
- 1980/1990 – The 80s saw a turnpoint in the market: the fountain pens stopped to be perceived as a commodity and started to gain the “fashion” or “luxury” label. Slowly the supply adapt to this new image, new companies were made to launch new high positioned brands. Older historical brands were brushed up to exploit their recognizability.
Now, to the business!!
In my opinion existing Italian brands can be split in five different groups or categories:
1. Historical writing instruments producers
2. Revamped historical brands
3. Modern luxury items producers
4. Designer factories
5. General stationery companies1. Historical Writing Instruments Producers
I would put in this category those producers generally founded before WWII, that are in the business with continuity from the beginning. They are usually characterized for making their own pen bodies and nibs in house (at least at the beginning of their history) and for taking pride of their story, often mentioning historical events in LE or using “old fashioned” features and logos. Those producers are:
2. Revamped Historical Brands
- AURORA, based in Turin, founded 1919. It’s possibly the most famous Italian producer, the only one to cover the whole writing instruments market from cheap ball points to lower end FP until expensive Limited Edition Fountain Pens. The firm was founded by Isaia Levi in Torino (north west Italy) just after WWI. Soon Aurora became one of the leaders of the newly formed market of the FP (the full corporate name was “Fabbrica Italiana Penne a Serbatoio” “Fountain Pens Italian Manufacture”). The key of Aurora success was (along with quality products) marketing: they extensively advertised both in magazines and with the distributors. Additionally Aurora often used – during the 30s –government slogans and images (like the lictorian fasces or the imperial eagle) to exploit “free” extensive marketing campaigns. Aurora was seriously close to an early end when in 1945 the main plant was completely destroyed by a fire. Aurora kept to its name (in English is: dawn, rise) and in short was able to find resources to build a new plant and to create a new breakthrough model: the “88” the most successful Italian FP ever (look here for a short history of this model). Currently the firm is the only Italian from the “big” to produce everything in-house and they managed to stay an independent company, still led by the fourth generation of the original family (Cesare Verona). In 2007 they purchased the Firma and Nettuno (see) brands.
- OMAS, based in Bologna, founded 1925. Omas was from the beginning one of the most innovative and successful Italian pen enterprises, brainchild of Armando Simoni (born 1891) a Railway Manometer toolmaker in Bologna that started creating his own pens since 1919. The “Officina Meccanica Armando Simoni” was created in 1925 and proceeded from innovation to innovation (between their most famous early models: Doctor’s Pen, Extra, Lucens, 361, 352) until 2000 when the Simoni family sold it to LVMH French luxury group. In 2007 LVMH sold Omas to one of his controlled Chinese company (Xinyu Hengdeli Group of Hong Kong). That looks more like a change in the holding, without affecting the board, the management (unchanged) or the product strategy. Omas always produced everything in house until 2005 when they started outsourcing nibs from Bock. They now specialize in beautiful high end pens, both with classic design (Arte Italiana, that continues the “Extra” model desing from the 30s virtually unchanged) and modern (360, Emotica). A large number of Limited Editions is being released each year too.
- MONTEGRAPPA, based in Bassano del Grappa, founded 1912. The company was founded by Edwige Hoffman with the help of Ing. Heinrich Helm from which the company took its initial name: “Elmo”. At the beginning Elmo was in the business to produce gold nibs only. In 1925 Elmo already changed ownership. The new proprietors (Alessandro Marzotto and Domenico Manea) continued to employ Mr. Helm as chief technician. He was the real man behind the success of the company. The production of Fountains Pens started in the early 20s. In 1925 the first “Montegrappa” (a model name) was introduced. Then during the 30s the name Montegrappa was used to identify the high end models, while Elmo was used for the low end, mass market models. The company succeeded during the 30s thanks to its ability to diversify and for the huge work for third parties. In 1947 the company definitively changed its name in Montegrappa. In 1979 Montegrappa was acquired by the Aquila family (see below). They managed to successfully restructure the brand from a mass market to a luxury items one and in 2000 Montegrappa was sold again to the Swiss based Richemont Group (Montblanc, Cartier, Panerai, etc…). Richemont main strategy was to lower the producing costs by creating “synergies” with Montblanc. Ultimately, during the 2009 recession the Swiss Group sold back the Bassano based company to the Aquila family. It’s difficult to say where the new ownership will lead Montegrappa in the next years. As first move the prices went down by 40%, showing maybe that in the future Montegrappa will be a more mainstream brands than before.
- COLUMBUS, based in Milano, founded in 1919. Columbus was, until the 50s one of the most important FP producers. Eugenio Verga (born 1895) was working in the business as commercial traveler between the years 1907 and 1915. When WWI was over he started his own business with the help of his younger brother Alfredo who left his brother in 1927 to start his own brand: Omega. Their pens got a well deserved image of good quality and excellent value for the money during the 20s/30s. To keep up with quality was not easy: Columbus moved twice in the 30s and the main plant was partially destroyed in 1942 bombing of Milano. It is said that the friendship between Verga and Simoni (Omas) helped Columbus to keep continuity in production by using Omas rebranded products. Unfortunately in the 50s, to react to the fast shift of the market towards the ballpoints, they started to position themselves in the bottom part of the market and they still are there, producing nevertheless good quality writing instruments. In addition to that Eugenio died in 1957 and was substituted by his son Enrico Verga. In 1992, after the death of Enrico, the company was acquired by the Santara Group (Italian distributors of Sheaffer, Ballograf and Kaweco). They don’t produce anymore their nibs and have a small production of mid priced fountain pens, but the majority of the sales come from the pencil and ball point ranges.
- FILCAO, based in Settimo Torinese, founded in 1964. Even though Filcao (Fabbrica Italiana Lavorazione Cappucci Alluminio e Ottone) was created after the WWII, I don’t’ see any better place in my categories for them. Additionally they are based in Settimo Torinese, that was considered the Italian “pen district”, having a long tradition and long list of producers from the 20s to the 60s. Filcao is a family business still run by the founder, Franco Grisolia. They produce mid priced piston fillers, button fillers and c/c pens.
This category encompass the old brands (again, pre-WWII), that did not operate with continuity during their life. This means that the link with their origin (location, production philosophy, owners etc…) is lost. What generally happened to them is that in their early years they manage to emerge as brand of quality FP, then they somehow (after the death of the owner or because of the war or the market crisis of the 60s) closed down. Then during the 90s, with the surge of the “class FP objects” some new firm acquired the brand to market their newly produced pens.
- ANCORA, now based in Pavia, originally founded in Bologna (but production moved in Sesto Calende from 1925 and in Arona from 1938) in early 1920s. Ancora was the brainchild of Giuseppe Zanini (born 1897). Even though Andreas Lambrou and others date back the start of the company in 1909, this is unlikely. Anyway, all available information tell us that the first fountain pens were produced in the early 20s. After his early death in 1929, the company was run for years by his son Alfredo, that managed to accomplish his father dream to produce all parts of the FP “in house”. Between their most famous models are: Duplex, Dama, Lusso. In 1975 Ancora close down and it was not until 1998 that Giovanni Santini, who owned a pen store in Turin that sold new and vintage pens, started up the company once more. He worked as a pen repairman so he knew the ins and outs of how pens were made. Ancora is now a small company, notable because all pens are made by hand from the nib to the clip on Pavia. They are an independent owned company.
- NETTUNO, originally based in Bologna and founded in 1911. At the beginning of the 20th century in Bologna there was wholesale of stationery registered under Ada Vecchietti. Ada’s husband, Umberto has been working at the railway workshop and during his leisure time he started to repair the first fountain pens that arrived in Italy. He immediately developed a passion for pens and started to realize new pens, giving them the name NETTUNO. The first one (Sicurezza, a copy of the Waterman #52) was created in 1911. In the second half of the fifties the son Alfonso, due to the upcoming of the ballpoint pens, closed the production of Nettuno pens as he did not want to engage in this new adventure. In the 1996, Stipula (see below) made two LE's (Idra and Superba) based on Nettuno pens of the early 20th Century. Then the brand was re launched in 2001 by Firma, a stationery firm based on Bergamo that was later on (02/2007) purchased by Aurora. Nettuno is now a sub brand of Aurora, but a new market strategy seems still to lack (no new models, the old website is “working in progress” since early 2008, old Barracuda product was re-released under the Firma brand with a new name).
- TIBALDI, originally founded in 1916 in Florence. Giuseppe Tibaldi (born 1876) produced some beautiful pens during the 30s (Iride, Trasparente). After his death (1935), the company was held by his nephew, Giorgio Schiassi, not really interested in the business. In 1937 Schiassi sold the company to Toraldo di Francia, that led Tibaldi through the war years without any important innovation. In 1957 Remo Pagliuca that collaborated with Tibaldi since the end of WWII became the new owner. Pagliuca was an enthusiast and brought Tibaldi to new glory. Unfortunately, after 1960 death of his son, Remo close down the production. In 1992 the brand was acquired from Pagliuca widow by Plastimoda Group (owner of the famous "Mandarina Duck") and enjoyed some time of renaissance using some old celluloid stock to produce beautiful high end fountain pens; The model of this period are know as “Tibaldi second generation”. In 2000 Tibaldi was acquired again by Hopa (something close to an hedge found, I understand), and then again became in 2005 part of the Aquila Brand Group (see below). The Tibaldi name (in his “third generation”) is now used to host high end Limited Editions from the Aquila Brand Group.
- LALEX1938, originally (? - See my considerations on the Aquila section) founded in 1938 in Naples by Leopoldo Aquila. Actually Lalex is a brand new name for a FP. Leopoldo Aquila was – during the 30s – the distributor of Montegrappa products for the south of Italy and Lalex was the name of the distributing company. Starting from 1938 Lalex included in his product range several “Aquila” branded FPs. Those were Montegrappa made (or rebranded) FPs, produced in Bassano and distributed by Leopoldo. It was not since year 2000 that Lalex became a separated FP brand. To better understand this part of the story, refer to Aquila Brand chapter below.