Montegrappa is one of if not the oldest of the fountain pen makers in Italy, founded in 1912. As Montegrappa enters its second century I thought it might be worthwhile exploring some of their more recent regular edition as opposed to Special or Limited Edition fountain pens, those made during the period from the mid 1970s that lead up to the current pens in 2013.
There is a lot of information available on the older editions, for example the comprehensive two volume "The History of the Italian Fountain Pen" by Letizia Jacopini, but far less on those pens that followed. The Montegrappa website has information on their current pens and also on all of the Limited Editions.
As with so many fountain pen makers, the 50's and 60's and the proliferation of the ball point pens looked like it would doom Montegrappa. The Marzotto family (owners of Montegrappa at the time) decided to sell the company and the Aquila's bought it.
Mr. Aquila picks up the story here...
It is quite a challenge compiling facts and details of an old established Company particularly if one has not been involved since its inception in the day to day business recording important events and people. My historic research has been based on the study of existing documents and the testimony of former employees, long retired, which in some instances gives credibility to some of the myths and legends surrounding the name MONTEGRAPPA.
An important contributing factor in my research has been a collection of vintage pens and old catalogues which are to be found in the security of the Company's vaults. Also highly valuable and revered is a collection of old tools, moulds and machines. The ELMO-MONTE-GRAPPA Company was first established in 1912 and situated along the shores of the River Brenta, in one of the most peaceful and tranquil parts of Bassano del Grappa.
The Company's name is indicative of the location of the manufacturing facility. ELMO is the Italian interpretation of the name of one of the Founders who was of German origin, Eng. Heinrich Helm. MONTEGRAPPA is the name of the famous mountain which rises to a height of 1775 meters and dominates the Bassanese landscape. Heinrich Helm's partner was Eng. Alessandro Marzotto, a member of an aristocratic Venetian family. The partnership of the two men of different backgrounds and cultures, joined in unison by a mutual obsession and passion for quality and innovative mechanization resulted in Italy's first Fountain Pen factory.
The manufacturing facility was housed in a most impressive building which was formerly an ancient location of a Thermo-Electric Power Plant and was suitably adapted to the needs of the creative minds of the two partners. Even today MONTEGRAPPA is enjoying the fruit of its labours in the same building. At the beginning production was concentrated mainly on the manufacture of gold nibs with iridium and the processing of ebonite and precious metals culminating in the introduction of piston filling pens. ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA was one of the pioneers in the manufacture of writing instruments made from galalith and celluloid and their endeavours enabled them to become leaders in their domestic market.
Production from the Bassanese Company in the early days was for “private labels", which is one of the reasons for the scarcity today of some of the original models i.e. ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA, MONTEGRAPPA EXTRA, ELMO and DUCALE. During World War I all the models and also the “private labels" enjoyed considerable success. The labour force was increased to 300 employees to achieve the necessary production level required to cope with the demands of the armed forces. The Fountain Pen became an essential part of a soldier's equipment to enable him to maintain contact with home. This is when the practicability of the piston filling Fountain Pen came into its own.
Close to the ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA factory was situated the Villa Azzalin, which during the conflict. was converted into a field hospital. Two volunteer ambulance drivers for the Italian Red Cross at that time were the famous writers Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, both of whom spent many happy hours visiting the factory and experimenting and testing various MONTEGRAPPA fountain pens. and availing themselves of the Company's "after-sales service". In 1921 the Marzotto family acquired a majority interest which gave them control of ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA, and their marketing activity resulted in wider distribution, public awareness and appreciation of the quality and design of MONTEGRAPPA Pens. During the Second World War the Bassano del Grappa area was subjected to considerable military activity precipitating the loss of valuable raw materials. Records show the difficulties involved in obtaining certain metals which necessitated the manufacture of glass nibs. In 1946 a fire in the celluloid store caused the complete destruction of an entire section of the factory where records of co-operation with WATERMAN and other large companies were kept.
Following the fire, the management decided to discontinue the use of celluloid and concentrate their efforts using precious metals i.e. gold and silver.
From the hands of MONTEGRAPPA‘s technicians exciting new models were introduced which were acknowledged from competitors for their originality.
The introduction and worldwide acceptance of the revolutionary ball point pen from the USA. severely affected the sales of Fountain Pens; not only MONTEGRAPPA's but many other famous makes. The progressive decline in the demand for MONTEGRAPPA products depressed the Marzotto's shareholders to such an extent that a decision was made to dispose of the Company. Although this was MONTEGRAPPA's darkest period the entrepreneurial Aquila family purchased the Company. The connection between the Aquilas and MONTEGRAPPA dates back to 1938 when Leopoldo Aquila purchased from ELMO-MONTEGRAPPA “private label" pens. The decision to acquire the company was made by Gianfranco Aquila, the son of Leopoldo, who was faced with the momentous task of resurrecting the fortunes of MONTEGRAPPA. The new proprietors brought a new stimulus to the company and it was unanimously decided that the best way to restore the reputation of MONTEGRAPPA was by relaunching the original models which had made former generations proud owners of MONTEGRAPPA writing instruments. In I983 the first reproduction version of the 1915 MONTEGRAPPA Reminiscence was successfully introduced to the market.
At that time the company became a market leader in the fervent world of writing, being the first to suggest the revival of pens which had enjoyed favour in past epochs.
The classical design and exquisite taste coupled with its variety of models enabled the subsequent Reminiscence range by MONTEGRAPPA to penetrate not only the domestic market but also many export markets.
In 1992, to commemorate the 8oth Anniversary of the foundation of MONTEGRAPPA, a limited edition fountain pen of only 1,912 pieces was produced for worldwide distribution in 1993.
The 80th Anniversary fountain pen typified the craftsmanship of MONTEGRAPPA writing instruments from Italy's oldest pen factory. This signaled the beginning of the production, on an annual basis, of numbered limited edition pens appealing especially to a more exclusive and discerning audience.
The continuing presence of the Aquila family in the "hands-on" management of MONTEGRAPPA ensures continuity of attention to quality, uniqueness of design and perfect performance which encapsulates the old traditions which have distinguished MONTEGRAPPA products since 1912.
This is why writing with a MONTEGRAPPA is a privilege, “THE PRIVILEGE OF A LIFETIME".