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The pens of Settimo

The Pens of Settimo Torinese



by Giovanni Abrate


The town of Settimo Torinese, situated a few kilometers East of Turin, on the Northern shore of the river Po, has its origins in early medieval times.

The town has always been an industrious one, with a large number of industries and factories, attracting a large number of immigrants looking for a job, a home and schools for the children of the household.

Settimo Torinese in the 1920s


Immigration, in the 20th century, came in two large waves: in the 1920s and through the late 1940s, a large number of families moved into Settimo from the Veneto region, in the North-East of Italy.

The main sources of employment in Settimo were the brick factories and a number of chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Judging by the photographs that remain, life in those days must have been tough for these hard working immigrants.

The second wave of immigration came in the late 1950s, primarily from Southern Italy, with the massive exodus of poor rural families looking for employment in the automotive industries of the North.


Another booming cottage industry in Settimo was button manufacturing, an activity that had started in the 1800s. Buttons were normally manufactured in small shops, often run as family businesses, and were made of bone, horn or galatite.

In the 1920, a revolutionary material was introduced and quickly became the new standard for “fancy” buttons and one that was to generate the establishment of a whole new industry in Settimo: celluloid.



Celluloid plates and rods



Celluloid or, more precisely Cellulose Nitrate, was manufactured by combining cellulose and camphor and could be made in a great variety of colors and patterns. It was light, bright and almost indestructible and quickly became the material of choice for quality fountain pens.

Neighboring Turin, the first capital of the new Kingdom of Italy in the second half of the 19th century was the administrative center of the fledgling new nation and local manufacture of steel nibs and production of quality ink were booming, with companies like BO-FIM emerging as the leading Italian producers (with Gnocchi of Milan) of writing instruments and ink.


In 1919, Isaia Levi, a Turin businessman, provided financial backing for a new company that was to have a profound influence in the pen manufacturing landscape of Europe: the Fabbrica Italiana di Penne a Serbatoio Aurora, better known simply as “AURORA”.

The success of the Aurora company inspired a number of entrepreneurs to start other pen manufacturing businesses: Armando Simoni started OMAS in Bologna and several hundred new pen companies of all sizes sprouted in Italy, helped by the sanctions launched by the Society of Nations against Italy after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The sanctions greatly restricted international business for Italian companies and forced Italy to quickly develop national solutions for its every needs.


The center of fountain pen manufacturing had to be in the industrial North, near a source of nibs, ink, celluloid and where skilled machinists could be found in great numbers.


A lathe for manufacturing ebonite feeds, circa 1930



Settimo Torinese fit the description and became the undisputed capital of Italian pen production, with over 160 pen manufacturers in operation at the peak of its activity, in the late 1940s.


Settimo Torinese in 1960


The skill and ingenuity of the local manufacturers made the pens made in Settimo very sought after and they quickly established a firm position in the market, some even being exported, in spite of the political climate. 


Stilus pens from the 1960s.

Stilus is still in business. A few years ago they introduced a line of celluloid pens made for them by Kato of Japan.

stilus kato

A modern Stilus pen (top) made by Kato of Japan

 pens celluloide

Celluloid pens made in Settimo in the 1940s

genoso e rosso

A set by Genoso & Rosso from the 1960s



Penne Williamson, Torino 

One of the most interesting Settimo companies was Williamson.

Williamson was an American manufacturer of steel nibs that was already active in the early 1800s. At the turn of the century, Williamson established a factory in Janesville, not far from the Parker plant, and began to manufacture high quality hard- rubber reservoir pens. Williamson fountain pens were initially very successful in America and Riccardo Amisani, a Turin businessman began importing them into Italy just before the First World War. The pens sold very well in Italy and Williamson became one of the best selling foreign pen manufacturers. Amisani then started building spare parts for Williamson pens in a small workshop in Settimo. Unfortunately, Williamson pens fared a lot worse in their home market and the company folded in the late 1920s.


 Williamson advertisement from the 1920s


At that point, Amisani made a bold decision: he would continue to build the Williamson pens in his shop in Settimo. The company continued to grow and soon new models were designed and produced. The best Williamson of Turin (as the company was now called) pens are undoubtedly the ones built, in high quality celluloid) in the 1930s and 1940s.

The inspiration came clearly from Parker (as many button-fill Williamson pens closely resembled the Vacumatic) and from Wahl-Eversharp (with Doric-inspired lever-fill pens).


williamson ad 

Williamson ad from the 1930s


 williamson and parker

Williamson Button-fill pen (right) next to a Parker Vacumatic



williamson faceted

Faceted, Doric-styled Williamson pen

These pens are quite rare today, especially the Doric-style pens.

Williamson of Turin remained in business until the 1950s, surviving the heavy bombing that had destroyed the Aurora factory and had caused the closing of many smaller pen manufacturers.

One of the latter pens made by Williamson was a Parker 51 look alike, in celluloid, and produced even in a laminated pearl-gray celluloid that resembles the material used by Parker for its Vacumatics: it is quite interesting, in that it looks like a hybrid between a Vacumatic and a Parker 51!



Detail of Williamson Parker 51/Aurora 88 clone, in laminated celluloid


The Williamson company eventually fell victim to the arrival of the Ballpoint pen: one of many fountain pen manufacturers that did not survive the transition to the new invention from Argentina! In Settimo alone, in the 1950s over 120 manufacturers closed down their operations!

Some of the companies that disappeared after the war are: Pagliero Stilografiche, a company that lasted into the 1960s and produced a number of noteworthy pens, under a variety of brand names; Stilo Pecchi, famous for its high quality celluloid work, using innovative techniques developed in house, such as the shaping of celluloid in metal dies submerged in hot mineral oil, Original GoldMichel, founded by a German Immigrant and producing some high quality piston-fill pens; Stilo Cavallina, with its clear “demonstrator” pens, Stilo Forever, with a line of syringe-filled school pens and many, many others.


A picture of the Pagliero pen factory in the early 1960s



The Penne  Pecchio production line in 1960


Most fountain pen manufacturers in Settimo also built, in the 1950s, piston-filled pens closely resembling the then popular Aurora 88. One of them was  “Penne Welcome” a company that built an 88 clone that rivaled the original in the quality of its materials and workmanship.  Original GoldMichel also built a nice, ornate, Aurora 88 clone.




Among the companies that survived the onslaught caused by the ballpoint pen and that are still in business there are some noteworthy names: Continental/Universal, a company that is thriving and has become the world’s second largest manufacturer of ballpoint pens (after BIC), Penne Wilson, Lecce Pens and many others. New companies such as Cesare Emiliano are successfully competing in the world markets with quality writing instruments and innovative designs.



Universal Ballpoint pen ad from 1961


Settimo is still the pen capital of Europe: there are about fifty companies that carry on the long standing tradition of Italian pen manufacturing and that produce ballpoint and rollerball pens for a number of international brands. It is not widely known that many luxury pens that carry the exclusive brand names of top French or British jewelers are actually OEM manufactured in Settimo Torinese. Most gold guilloche work and precious metal trim is delivered from the town of Valenza Po, a center for quality goldsmith work located a hundred kilometers from Settimo to the local pen manufacturers.

While ballpoint pens are made by the millions in Settimo, few fountain pen manufacturers remain, as the last generation of old craftsmen who started making pens in the 1960s slowly retire and close the doors of their small businesses.

An era that lasted 8 decades is coming to an end.

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