A few months ago I purchased a lot of fountain and ballpoint pens from an eBay seller because I could see that there were a couple of interesting pens and some useful parts pens included. I planned to keep what I wanted/needed and resell the remainder of the lot.
When the lot arrived, I found that one of the items I had been unable to identify in the eBay pictures was Italian fountain pens of the early 1950s, an Aurora 88k. I was completely unfamiliar with the Aurora, but it was a beautiful pen with a black barrel, hooded nib, and gold-filled cap – very reminiscent of a Parker 51 – and I was intrigued.
Some online searching yielded the history of Aurora, which dates from 1919 and is still in business today, and its best-known pen, the 88/88k/88P family. Briefly, when the company struggled to get back into production immediately after WWII, they recognized the popularity of the Parker 51 and undertook to design a pen equally modern. They hired well-known industrial designer Marcello Nizzoli, who created a design so successful that it ultimately resulted in sales of over five million pens.
The original Aurora 88 was introduced in 1946 and had sold 750,000 pieces before a slightly upgraded version, the 88k, replaced it in 1953. The third version, the 88P, came along in 1958. Almost all of the 88 family pens were serial numbered, and my 88k is number 2123809.
When I examined the pen, I found that its cosmetic condition was very good, but the nib was badly bent upward, perhaps from a drop, and the piston filling mechanism moved freely but did not draw in any water. While straightening the nib was within my skill set, I had no interest in learning to repair the piston system since I would not likely ever use that knowledge again. So, I offered it for sale in this condition in the Fountain Pen Network classifieds.
Before long I received a reasonable offer for the pen and I mailed it away to its new owner – Ralf St. Clair, of Victoria, BC, Canada – but only after making him promise that he would give me a full report on repairing it. Within a month or so I received an email from Ralf with a MS Word document detailing the entire repair process in words and pictures – much more than I had expected. There definitely were some tricks to disassembling the pen that I would never have discovered on my own! I commented to him that, had I known all that his report showed, I would have tried it myself.
Shortly afterward, I received an offer from him to sell me the restored pen at a very reasonable price, and I quickly accepted. Now the pen is back in my hands and I am using it every day because it is such an attractive pen and an excellent writer with its smooth fine nib.
Thanks very much to Ralf for his work in returning this classic pen to working order.
Here are some “before” and “after” pictures:
The following is the repair report sent to me by Ralf St. Clair:
Fixing up the 88
As requested, here’s the story! The Aurora are good to work on. The parts are stable and pretty strong, designed to be fixed up easily. There’s one exception, which I’ll come to later. The first step is to remove a tiny plastic cover on the butt of the pen to reveal a screw………………………………………………………..When it’s loosened, like this:
You can remove the piston knob. There is a tiny spring on the screw; it’s used to tension the piston knob. The screw isn’t tight; it’s just got enough torque to hold the assembly together. If you over-tighten, the knob won’t turn.
Under the piston knob there are a couple of different designs. In this case there is a hex-nut that the knob fits over. When the knob turns, it drives the hex-nut which in turn works the piston mechanism. It’s a brilliant design for a couple of reasons. First, the piston knob does not back away from the body of the pen when the piston is being operated, so it’s a very clean operation aesthetically and mechanically speaking. Second, the parts are light but not so specialized that a handy person couldn’t jury-rig something if they had to – quite an asset in post-War Italy.
The white plastic piece is a bushing for the piston mechanism. I usually don’t remove them (I’m always wary of screwing things in and out of celluloid) but in this case I had to, so we’ll see more of it later! The piston mech can be removed as one unit from the back of the pen, or in pieces from the front (section) end.
Now to the front. After application of heat, the incredibly tacky substance the factory use to hold the section on gets a little softer, and the section can be loosened. I find two bits of old inner tube work well for this- section pliers make me nervous. When fully removed you have this:
And now it gets interesting. The section goes into cold water for a soak.
And it’s time to strip the piston mech. Careful examination of the hex-nut shows that there is actually a tiny pin running through it. It’s not tight, but it is tiny. I usually knock it out with a drift until there is enough showing to pull it out with pliers. Here it is halfway out.
And when removed, the hex-nut slides off the brass shaft:
Now the piston and brass shaft come out the front of the pen, leaving you with:
These are the actual parts that move the piston:
The hole in the brass shaft is, of course, where the pin through the nut goes. The piston looks like this:
It’s hard to see in a photograph, but the piston consists of the big black piece with the hex shape (this fits into a hex shape in the white plastic bushing to prevent the piston just spinning when the piston knob is turned), a strange slotted nut that goes on the end nearest us in the photo, and a range of felt/leather/fibre washers in between. Taken apart it looks like this:
The most delicate piece of these old pens is the black piston itself. In the case of this pen it was definitely crumbly, which led to some challenges. The recommended repair is to replace all those little washers with two O-rings of a specific size (available from David Nishimura). This gives you:
And when re-installed into the piston unit, the whole assembly looks like:
(I left the pin slightly out for the photo, then snugged it home)
The problem with this 88 was that the piston was so soft that I couldn’t tension the o-rings correctly. By turning the slotted “nut” you squeeze the o-rings and change their diameter to get the right “snug but not draggy” fit inside the barrel. Eventually, I was able to get it right with one o-ring, a couple of packing washers, and a spare slotted nut I happened to have from previous Aurora repairs.
Talking of the barrel, after a good wash and scrub with a bottle brush, it looked like this…The ink window was back!!!
So now I had the piston assembly back in a nice clean barrel (This picture captures the hole for the pin through the hex-nut quite nicely).
And so to the front.
There are only three parts to the front end of an 88: the section/nose, the feed, and the nib. They tend to be a tight fit, and to glue themselves together with ink. After a good soak (there was a LOT of blue ink in this 88) they come apart, with the feed coming out the FRONT of the section (this is quite counter-intuitive looking at the parts). NOTE: I asked the author how the feed/nib is removed from the section and he gave this explanation:
“The feed is not a very tight friction fit. It usually needs a light tap on the “inner” end to free it, but that’s about all if it’s been properly soaked. It seals nicely against the end of the barrel when the section is screwed into place.
The nib is a lot like a Lamy 2000, with little wings that fold over the feed and keep it in place. Theoretically, you could remove the nib from the front, with the feed in place in the pen, but I’ve always considered that bad practice.
The back of the feed has a screw affair in it in some version, and I’ve seen people claim that they can adjust ink flow by turning it. I’ve played with these a little, but I’m not convinced that they really make any difference at all.”
Look at that poor nib! It slides off the front of the feed.
You can see how tiny the nib is (the paper is 5mm square). I really thought this one was wrecked, but to my surprise I was wrong, and managed to get it lined up and working again. After some smoothing it’s very acceptable. Here is an overview of the whole pen.
And here are a couple of it re-assembled:
Written with the pen!