The Founding of Excellence
Giuseppe Zanini, Ancora's founder, was born in March 1897 in Schio, Italy. The amount of information we have on him the history of his company has grown over recent years thanks to the contributions of researchers and enthusiasts.
Tracing the milestones of Zanini's life is no easy task, however it is documented that while his early ventures into penmaking and stationery sales date in the early 1919, it was in March 1920 that, in collaboration with a partner by the name of Clerici, Zanini founded a new company with the business name "Fabbrica e Commercio di Penne Stilografiche e Raffinati Oggetti per Arti Grafiche" (Manufacture and sale of fountain pens and luxury accessories for the graphic arts) which would later become Ancora.
Zanini stayed in partnership with Clerici until 1924, when he set up a new sole proprietorship under the name "Fabbrica di Penne Stilografiche e Commercio Stampe in genere, Stampe e Riproduzioni Opere d'Arte" (Manufacture of fountain pens and sale of prints in general. Prints and reproductions of artworks). The address of the firm was Zanini's home at Via Irmerio 17/b, Bologna.
The years spent in Bologna proved vital, serving as Zanini's apprenticeship in the trade. Bologna provided Zanini with numerous contacts in the fountain pen industry, which he was able to take advantage of in later years. It is in Bologna that Zanini became friends and worked with Armando Simoni, the future founder of Omas.
According to an official document registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, Zanini transferred this business to Sesto Calende in September 1925. It remained there until 1938, when the firm moved to new industrial premises in Arona. When Zanini died after World War II, his son Alfredo took over the reins of the company.
Roots of the Distinguished Style
The first Ancoras were black hard rubber safety pens, made in lady's and gentleman's versions. What really sets these pens from the twenties apart is their refined style. Many pens have an enameled design of a blue anchor on a white background on the cap top, for example. The same style of decoration can also be found on models with metal overlays, most of which are of excellent quality and stylistically first rate. Ancora safety pens with precious metal overlays played a fundamental role in the firm's later output.
The first celluloid Ancoras, made in two sizes from marbled, black, and solid colors of celluloid, have the classic clip with a ball tip and either end made of black hard rubber.
These pens were joined by new models, also button-fillers but with more rounded ends, made from celluloid in often unusual and fascinating colors. Produced in very small numbers, these early Ancoras are today extremely rare and much sought after by collectors.
The classic model was replaced by the Duplex line in the early thirties. These are very beautiful, well-finished pens, distinguished by one decorative band on the body and two near the cap lip and barrel end. Ancora made lever-filler and button filler versions of the Duplex. The wordings engraved on the barrel of both versions are identical: "Ancora Duplex" in block letters over a stylized anchor. The pens do, however, differ on a number of fronts, with the level fillers fitted with a roller clip slotted into a cap with three thin bands, and the button fillers sporting a clip with a ball tip with a single cap band.
Ancora made Duplex lever fillers in lady, medium, large and oversized models and in a variety of solid colors and marbled finishes, all of which are extremely beautiful. The filling system used for this line of pens is quite common for the time – by unscrewing the blind end cap, which is longer than average, you uncover a rubber sac. To fill the pen you simply squeeze the sac between your fingers.
Expanding the Brand
The Duplex series was joined by the Dama and the Maxima, both high quality lines made of brightly colored marbled and ringed celluloid.
Destined to become the company's spearhead products, these pens were very original for their day both from the design and technical perspectives. Without doubt their colors are among the most beautiful used by Ancora. In addition to the classic ringed golden brown and gray, both the Dama, made in four sizes, and the Maxima, made in two sizes, can be found in brilliant red, intense green, an unusual purple, as well as in splendid veined and marbled celluloids.
From the technical perspective, the Dama and Maxima expressed the style of their age, the first offering a plunger filler system with a large ink capacity and the second an elegant, modern faceted design.
Broadening the Horizons
Alongside the spearhead Dama and Maxima models, during the same period Ancora also made a series of medium-priced lever-fillers turned from solid bars of celluloid. The cap fittings on these pens include three thin bands and a clip terminating with a rounded triple leaf design. Ancora produced these pens, also made in three sizes, from veined celluloid in very subdued colors. They can be found either with filled-gold or chrome-plated trim, the chrome models dating from the war and the period immediately before it. These pens were joined by another line of fountain pens, also in beautiful shades of celluloid, with cap fittings very similar to those on Damas and Maximas, hut with either a button-fill or lever-fill mechanism.
Letting the World Know
The success of the new models was partly the result of Ancora's major advertising investments. From 1938 thirties through 1943, well-designed black-and-white advertisements for the Dama and Maxima appeared in Italy's national newspapers.
Many Italian companies at the time, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, paid scant attention to advertising, concentrating all their efforts on manufacturing and distribution. Zanini, however, always supported Ancora's products with a broad range of quality advertisements.
Like all of the major pen manufacturers of the day, Ancora resolved the problem of the scarcity of gold created by the war by using a steel alloy to make nibs. Zanini dubbed the Ancora alloy "Zanio". Ancora fountain pens with chrome trim will therefore also have Zanio nibs. Today these nibs are much rarer than 14-karat gold classic Ancora nibs. During World War II, Ancora also made a series of beautiful pens with the same features as the standard models. Bases are generally grained gray marble or crystal.
Immediately after the war Ancora gave its products a stylistic and technical overhaul. This new generation of more streamlined fountain pens was more in tune with tastes of the day, which were influenced by the popular American brands.
Ancora also introduced a new prestige range, simply named Lusso (luxury), which includes four sizes of piston-fillers made of brightly colored ringed celluloid. The slim, aerodynamic Lusso has either a celluloid cap with three hands or, following the lead of the Parker 5, a gold-filled cap.
What really distinguishes the Lusso is the attention Ancora paid to the details, which notably enrich the pen's appearance. The clip, straight with a rounded profile, extends above the cap top and features a charming anchor design set inside an enameled oval. The gold-filled caps have a celluloid top the same color as the body of the pen - the contrast between the metal, celluloid, and clip creating a highly original effect.
The Lusso line was released parallel to a series of fountain pens, also in four sizes, with the same design but made of marbled celluloid and with a lever-fill system. All the Lusso fountain pens were paired with matching mechanical pencils. For the lower market bracket, Ancora introduced a line of celluloid piston-fillers and lever-fillers in three sizes, also turned from solid bars of the material, with plain trim, a single cap hand, and a straight clip with a fiat profile.
Throughout the fifties Ancora continued to make celluloid fountain pens, turned from solid bars of material, with a range of filling systems. Tracing Ancora's output shows that as the firm grew it never lost sight of the high quality standards set by Zanini at the beginning of the century. Quality, design, and reliability always came first, including with the inexpensive lines. Even the so-called sub-brands, Goliarda and Studium, designed as low-cost products, were high quality pens, made of beautiful celluloid and almost always with a 14-carat gold nib.
Golden Nib: the Mark of History
Apart from anything else, it is particularly worth remembering that Ancora's most expensive and most inexpensive products were all the product of the highest manufacturing standards. Few other Italian firms were able to maintain their quality and design standards throughout their existence.
While significant variations have been incorporated into the nib designs throughout the century, with a few notable exceptions like the wartime Zanio nibs and two-toned Dama nibs, Ancora’s classic 14-karat gold nib (and its current evolution, the 18-k gold nib that is still manufactured in-house) have been heralded as being the top tier of smoothest nibs of the highest quality.
In 1998 Giovanni Santini, who owned a pen store in Turin that sold new and vintage pens, assumed control of the company. He worked as a pen repairman and knew the ins and outs of how pens were made.
Ancora pens are handmade in its workshop located about 50 km south of Milan, still keeping the whole manufacturing process firmly in-house. Throughout the late decades of the company’s history its focus shifted towards rare and notable materials used in the pens’ construction, with the lineup now including some of the rarest and most exquisite pens made using marble, volcanic stone, wood and diamonds.
Today Ancora is independent family owned company with limited production of pens, which allows company to keep high standards of exclusivity and quality. Each new model makes people to fall in love with its pens. Ancora pens are expensive, due to investment in quality and uniqueness of product.
In June 2018 Ancora has acquired Omas - the other iconic Italian brand and one of the world's most recognized writing instrument manufacturers, including all of the company's brands. This deal signified the long-awaited rebirth of the brand: Omas was put in liquidation in early 2016. Since then pen collectors and enthusiasts have been vividly interested in the legendary brand's future, prompting a number of false claims regarding the re-launch of Omas products and widespread misuse of the brand name. Omas is set to resume production of classic pens including the iconic 360 and Paragon models. Production of accessories and spare parts will also be renewed to support the existing owners of Omas pens.
Finally, the heritage of Giuseppe Zanini and Armando Simoni will go hand-in-hand to new horizons.