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Ancora "Acqua" Demonstrator

Ancora "Acqua" Demonstrator, c 2000

The dingus known as the "demonstrator pen" traces its origins back to the necessity for pen sellers to show off some of the otherwise-invisible virtues of their products to prospective buyers. Through the 1920s or so, these might have been complete hard rubber pens that were sawed in half lengthwise (!), or that might have had big peepholes cut into the barrel and cap at various points. Later, once transparent plastics came into use, these could be used to create a true "see through" demonstrator pen.

Sometimes the demonstrator was nonfunctional (as in the case of some older Montblancs I've seen that did not have slits in their points), or else it might have made do with lower-grade trim (after all, the intention was mainly to show off the filler inside, and not the doodads on the outside). Sometimes, the piece would be stamped "DEMONSTRATOR" to keep the customers from confusing it with the real deal.

No good penmaker's rep from the classic era would have stepped off the train without a couple of these demonstrators in his sample case; he would use them to show dealers the latest tricks for keeping ink inside a pen, and these transparent doohickeys sometimes found their way into the hands of individual dealers or even customers (although they were never meant for retail sale). Today, many collectors seek out these rare old gimmicks, the most prominent of which may be the several varieties of Parker 51 demonstrators (and, if ever a pen benefitted from show-and-tell, it would have to be the radical 51).

The demonstrator is still with us today, although it is no longer just a sales tool; modern demonstrators are offered to the buying public as "special editions" of established pen lines. For example, Aurora recently offered a completely transparent version of its venerable 88, while the translucent Pelikan 200 would also have to count as a demonstrator of sorts (although its colors are a bit too dark perhaps for true demonstrator status). Lamy offers a demonstrator in its Vista variant of the low-priced Safari line (although there's not much interesting to see inside the Vista, you can at least get an accurate check on ink level at any time). OMAS has also offered numerous see-thru pens, including the latest based on its famous 360. There are plenty of other examples to be found among modern luxury penmakers.

Which brings us to the current specimen, the green Acqua ("water") demonstrator offered by Ancora, part of a series that also included the blue Cielo ("Sky") and red Fuoco ("Fire"). Like Conway Stewart, and Conklin, Ancora is a very old name in the pen business that has recently been revived by modern entrepreneurs.

Our knowledge of the original history of Ancora, as with many Italian makers, is rather full of holes and contradictions. According to Mr. Lambrou, Ancora was founded in 1909 by one Giuseppe Zanini along the shores of Lake Maggiore in northwestern Italy (between Milan and Turin). Company publicity, on the other hand, gives the founding date as 1919; this may conflict with the claim in Lambrou's FPOTW that Ancora is the oldest pen brand in Italy (since Montegrappa, Aurora, and Nettuno, among others, were also in business by 1919). What we do know about the company is that it started out making fairly luxurious safety pens (many with elaborate metal overlays), before diversifying its line with celluloid barrels and a variety of filling systems beginning in the 1930s. Ancora continued to make stylish, high-quality pens until about 1975, when the firm closed its doors.

The big and stunning Paua, made of red hard rubber with blue pearl barrel, typical of the pens made by Ancora during the 1990s.

The modern Ancora pen company got its start in 1988, when the Turin stationer Giovanni Santini re-established the firm in Milan. For the first decade or so, these modern Ancoras were decidedly expensive and exclusive; furthermore, Ancora did virtually all work in-house, including the manufacture of points and feeds (highly unusual in this modern age of outsourcing and job-shopping). These early products came in smallish runs of many different models, but were most often made from red hard rubber with overlays in various kinds of pearl; they were large, heavy pens seling for $600 and up. More recently, Ancora has worked to bring its prices down to wage-slave territory with the Perla, Prima, and Gioconda lines, acrylic cartridge/converter fillers with gold points selling below $250 in the USA.

This particular pen dates from about 2000, and is typical in size and shape of the earlier neo-Ancoras; it is made from a pale green acrylic that, like Britney Spears' stage wardrobe, allows you to see it all. The trim is vermeil (gold-plated sterling silver), and comprises two elaborately-carved barrel bands and an equally-intricate washer clip and band carrying the brand imprint.

The Acqua uses a Vacumatic-style filler, technologically updated for modern times.

This pen, like many of the more expensive Ancoras of the time, has an unusual filling system that is perhaps most closely related to that of the Parker Vacumatic; you unscrew the blind cap which pops up on a big coil spring, and then you repeatedly pump it to draw ink into the barrel through a breather tube. Happily for current owners and future collectors, there is no evil diaphragm, and the soft parts of the filler are made from a modern chemically-resistant synthetic elastomer, so they likely will never rot or dry out. The capacity of the pen is immense, and you will probably grow bored with either the ink color the pen itself before you run out of bug juice. Of course, it would be hard to get bored with a pen that has such a nice write; the point is not what you would call flexible, but nib grind with its unusual flat spot makes this pen write a very precise, singing line.

Another attractive feature of the Ancora demonstrator is the fact that you can break it down pretty easily for thorough cleaning; you can take the cap completely apart and even remove the point and feed unit if you are careful. This is fortunate, since ink can often get into nooks and crannies and make the pen look rather ugly (if it weren't a demonstrator, you'd never see the stains).

I'm not usually a particular fan of large, heavy pens, or of most pens of modern manufacture, but I do seem to make the occasional exception in the case of Italian pens. I also have a particular weakness for the big Ancoras of the 1990s; perhaps someday I'll get my hands on a Paua, but until then this handsome green demonstrator will suffice.

Maker Ancora
Origin Italy (Milan)
Production c 2000
Type "Vacumatic" filler
Point 18k
Construction Translucent green acrylic; vermeil trim.