One of my first pens was two Parker 51 pens that I inherited from my parents. I’ve always loved the form factor of the hooded nibs (and semi-hooded nibs) so when I read of the announcement of the 2017 Aurora Duo Cart re-release just 63 short years since the pen was first released in 1954, I became very interested in the pen. When Pen Chalet gave me the opportunity to review this pen I was eager to try it.
The original Aurora Duo Cart is the third iteration from the Aurora 88 line of pens. The original Aurora 88 came to market after the invention of the Parker 51 and featured a different filling mechanism, different material and different nib design. Due to the poor availability of the Parker 51, the Aurora 88 proved popular selling hundreds of thousands of pieces. After a revision of the Aurora 99, namely the Aurora 88K, Aurora released the Duo Cart; intended to be a school pen, it was one of the first fountain pens to offer a cartridge system, and certainly the first to offer two. This offered a simpler and cleaner method of refilling the pen. The pen featured a metal holder for two cartridges with one acting as a spare, and a bell on a chain at the end of the inside of the barrel that would rattle if one of the cartridges wasn’t present to alert the user that once the currently used cartridge ended they had no backup.
As for the the hooded nature of the nib, the original Parker 51’s hooded nib was designed to be used with Parker’s "51" ink. This ink was designed to dry very quickly and would dry out in pens of the day that had an exposed feed during normal writing. To combat this Parker enclosed the feed and the nib and also invented an extra reservoir of ink or an ink “collector” around the feed so that there was a constant supply of ink right next to the nib. While Aurora didn’t have the specific requirements resulting from the 51 ink, the hooded nib system still helped with regular inks not drying out with the pen uncapped during more sporadic writing sessions. With increased fins on the upper and lower of the feed in more modern pens, the requirement for a hooded or semi-hooded (or in-laid which also offered some protection) was less prominent as the more modern ‘normal’ exposed nibs and feeds did an acceptable job of preventing ink from drying out during those sporadic writing sessions.
Moving forward to today (and past seven other iterations of the Aurora 88) and to the release of the modern Aurora Duo Cart. The pen comes in two colours, Black and Chrome, or Burgundy and Gold (the second of which commands a slight premium for one reason or another). It is a bit of a misnomer to call this a re-release because this really is a new pen. It doesn’t have the rattling ball, it has a different material, a different clip, and a different cap. It also doesn’t have the “Aurora 88 Duo Cart” engraved on the section (nor the identification number) and it doesn’t allow two cartridges. This pen, while a homage to the Duo Cart is definitely a new pen in and of itself.
Here are some interesting links for further reading on or around the pen's history:
The Aurora 88 Dynasty -—- Aurora Duocart The pen with the ink-alarm -—- Vintage Aurora 88: HeartBreaking Pens of Staggering Genius -—- My Aurora 88k -—- Aurora after World War II -—- To the Point: Nibz ’n the Hood -—- Design Features: Hooded Nibs
Packaging and Design
The packaging for the new Aurora Duo Cart is decently extensive. It comes with a slip over cardboard box and within that is, above a sponge cushion, is a coupon for what appears to be a writing museum in Torino Italy. Below that is an authenticity slip, a bottle of ink, two small red boxes containing the converter and two long cartridges. Finally there is the coffin-style box made of a faux-leather with the Aurora logo debossing on the top that holds the pen. The ink, I believe, is black as I already have Aurora black (blue and blue black) and because the bottle has a seal that you need to break I have not opened it to test this out. I was pleased with the presentation and packaging, and the inclusion of a bottle of black ink; it isn’t extravagant but it's more than I’d expect; if this pen was released with just the coffin-style box I don’t think anyone would have been surprised.
The pen has flat ends with the edges of the flat ends on the barrel side being very crisp and the flat end on the finial being softer and very reflective. The body is a black resin material that feels fairly hard; harder than, for example, the Precious Resin of a Montblanc, the resin used for a Pilot Custom 823, than an Ebonite pen or than a celluloid pen. The cap has groups of striated lines down its length not unlike some of the caps of the Parker 51. Etched around where the band of the cap would be is “AURORA” and “MADE IN ITALY”. The clip is somewhat angular with a few edges and angles. The clip slips over fabric (such as clothing or a pen case) quite easily.
The clip is friction fit over the band at the centre of the body of the pen. Three undulations make up the band, possibly for added friction. The feeling of the metal clip sliding over the metal band (when putting the clip on) isn’t the nicest feeling, but the cap does provide a good seal and a satisfying pop (this time without the slightly uneasy feeling) when the cap is removed. As the cap is friction fit, using the clip to hold the pen on clothing might be ill advised. The cap does seem easily solid enough to stay on the pen when the clip isn’t being anchored in place, however.
Cleaning the pen was very quick and easy. This is relevant because in my experience and in the experience of other’s I’ve talked to, the Parker 51 is is very difficult to properly clean.
The pen is at its fattest for a bit after where the barrel starts after the centre band and tapers fairly symmetrically to either end. The feed shapes exponentially from the bottom of the pen to thinly pressed against the nib which juts out 4.6mm (0.18”) from the end of the section.
The name of the pen “Duo Cart” is clearly a homage to the original 1954 Duo Cart but the original Duo Cart which was named so because it would take two cartridges (one as a spare). This 2017 Duo Cart, however, does not take two cartridges in the barrel! This wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that the pen is named “Duo Cart” if they named the pen “88C” (which would be somewhat in line with their naming conventions for pens in the series which are: 88, 88K, Duo Cart, 888, 88P, 888P, and 98) it wouldn’t bother me at all. However, this solution wouldn’t work as in 1989 Aurora introduces the new Aurora 88 which was a “normal” pen with a normal exposed nib and feed and this pen with the 88 name continue today (and it might be confusing to also offer a similarly named pen in such a wildly different form factor). That said, I think Aurora still should have named this something else as not only is the pen different from original Duo Cart but it doesn’t live up to the name.
Nib and performance
One thing that makes Aurora’s nibs stand out is that they are made in-house. This is something that many (even larger) pen companies don’t do. The Aurora Duo Cart has a stainless steel semi-hooded nib and only comes in one size, Medium. It’s a fairly average western medium that it decently wet and has pretty consistent line width in all directions. The flow is consistent and keeps up with slow and fast writing. It’s nice and smooth but not completely buttery; it has a hint of pleasant feedback and even on coarser paper such a G. Lalo or Original Crown Mill it still feels decently smooth. The nib is definitely hard but is not a complete nail. I find the pen very comfortable to write with for longer writing sessions, it’s light and I can grip it comfortably. The pen is also very capable for quick notes.
With a filled hooded nib such as the Parker 51 there is absolutely no softness as there’s no room for the nib to to flex. With a semi-hooded nib this restriction isn’t as prominent. The original gold-nibbed Aurora 88 came in 17 different sizes and stiff or flex. I’m not sure what nib my 1949 Aurora 88 is (as you need to remove the piston cap to check, I believe, and I haven’t tried to do that), but it certainly offers some softness (though I wouldn’t call it flex at all) and some line variation so semi-hooded nibs do not need to be firm. The 2017 Aurora Duo Cart’s steel nib is probably somewhat responsible for the almost complete lack of softness.
As for the reason nibs were hooded in the first place, to stop the nib and feed from drying out, it does seem to do just that. I left the 2017 Aurora Duo Cart, a Parker 51, Sailor Pro Gear, Parker Sonnet, Lamy Safari, Pilot Vanishing Point, Montblanc 146 Le Grand, Visconti LE Wall Street and the Parker Duofold International uncapped for 10 minutes. The Aurora Duo Cart, Parker 51, Sailor Pro Gear, Parker Sonnet, and Lamy Safari all started immediately; the Pilot Vanishing Point, Montblanc 146, and Visconti Wall Street had one line stroke that wasn’t running well before improving; and the Parker Duofold International took several figure 8s before the ink started running again. Does this show that a hooded or semi-hooded nib is necessary to stop a pen from drying out? Probably not, but it shows that a pen with a traditional nib (and the Pilot Vanishing Point’s small nib and feed) can dry out. Of course, the inks were different in these pens so it wasn’t a straight one for one comparison.
There aren’t too many surprised with the dimensions and weights. The main surprise would be how heavy the cap is on the Aurora Duo Cart; it’s almost the wight on the pen! Otherwise all the hooded and semi-hooded nibs are comparable in weight and size.
|Capped||Body||Posted||Barrel diameter||Section Diameter (fattest)||Section Diameter (mid)||Section Diameter (thinnest)|
|Aurora Duo Cart||134||121||141||12||11||10.5||8.5|
|Montblanc 146 Le Grand||143||125||≈160||13.2||11.3||-||-|
|Pilot Vanishing Point||142 (unextended)||139 (extended)||-||12.7||11.8||10.5||8.1|
|Sailor Pro Gear||129||117||150||13.6||11.5||11.1||10.6|
|Aurora Duo Cart||27.4||15.4||12|
|Montblanc 146 Le Grand||30.2||20.3||10|
|Pilot Vanishing Point||30.2||-||-|
|Sailor Pro Gear||23.8||15.6||8.2|
Comparison to hooded nibs
The Parker 51 is one of the more common vintage pens, they have a large range of prices and is the most obvious comparison to the Aurora Duo Cart. The general shape and form factor of both pens are obviously similar but the Parker has smoother lines feels lighter. The Duo Cart is considerably easier to clean due to the fact you can use a bulb syringe to fast clean it. You can find the Parker 51 in a variety nib sizes as well (though some of the more exotic sizes cost considerably more) compared to the Duo Cart’s Medium-only nib. The fact that the Parker 51 still contains a “Pli-Glass” sac filling mechanism might make you hesitant to try some modern inks with the pen for fear of damaging the the filling mechanism. The Aurora Duo Cart has a Cartridge Convert system so, while caution is always recommended, the chance of more dangerous inks damaging the pen is much less likely.
The Aurora 88 is not the most direct comparison within the brand. That would be the original Duo Cart, but the 1946 88 is also a valid comparison. Like the Parker 51 and possibly because of the Parker 51, the Aurora 88 has softer lines than the 2017 Duo Cart. Design-wise, the 88 is closer to the Parker 51 than the 2017 Duo Cart with the mid band in a similar position, the smoother lines, and with it sporting a built-in filling mechanism (though different to the Parker 51). The semi-hooded nib is very similar to the 2017 Duo Cart; similar shape, and similar amount uncovered. My 1949 88 has a softer nib and has a noticeable amount of very pleasant feedback. Where I wish they were more similar is with how the Aurora 88 (and the original Aurora Duo Cart) have the Aurora logo, "Duo Cart", and the identification number etched into the section. This would have been a nice touch (even if it was just the Aurora logo).
Other hooded nibs
The Lamy 2000 is another a modern pen with a strong history with the pen being invented in 1966 and remains mostly unchanged and still in production today. It, like the 2017 Aurora Duo Cart, has a semi-hooded nib, this one gold, and also pretty firm.
The Parker 45 also has a similar semi-hooded nib and is also a cartridge converter pen. The gold nib is firm but softer than the Duo Cart. The pen is pretty thin and noticeably thinner than the Duo Cart.
The Pelikan MK10 is another student pen this one with a firm, steel semi-hooded nib. The nib is less hooded than all of the other semi-hooded pens and has a piston filling mechanism.
I am surprised by how seeming all of the hooded and semi-hooded pens are friction or at best snap fit caps. Why can’t some of them have a screw cap?
The Duo Cart is a similar length to the Montblanc 146 Le Grand, Sailor Pro Gear and Platinum Century but because the the nib is hooded those who like to hold the pen closer to the tip of the nib may prefer the Aurora Duo Cart (or other hooded nibs, or in-laid nibs).
The biggest question I have heard to be hanging over the Aurora Duo Cart is it’s cost and value. This is something that I have been thoughtful of with the rest of Aurora’s line as well and when talking to other pen people it seems to be a somewhat common concern. Aurora certainly has made more of a statement this year with the release of Limited Edition new 88s, Limited Edition Optimas, this Duo Cart, Aurora Blue Black ink, and their flexible/soft nib so they are making inroads into that concern, at least for me.
At US$156 (AU$193, €130) for the Black/Chrome model and US$180 (AU$223, €150) for the Burgundy/Gold model (note that Pen Chalet do offer discount codes) the price, both with steel nibs (in only Medium size), and with a proprietary cartridge/converter, the price is definitely a contentious point. By comparison the Lamy 2000 is US$159 (AU$198, €132). It’s with noting as well that the Aurora Duo Cart does come with a bottle of ink. All things being equal the the Aurora Duo Cart doesn't seem to be very competitively priced, but I don't think all things are equal and without getting too much into the topic of value with fountain pens there’s more to value that statistics.
For this purpose I will use the Lamy 2000 as a comparison. Regarding the gold vs steel nib, the value from the gold nib in this instance is mostly in knowing that the material is worth more monetarily. Practically, however, both pens have the same tipping material, and the gold material in the Lamy 2000 doesn’t make the nib softer. In fact the Medium nib on my Lamy 2000 and the Medium nib on this Aurora Duo Cart are similarly firm (with a very slight advantage to the 2000, possibly). With the Piston vs C/C there are other objective pros and cons for both: a larger fill capacity for the 2000, an easier to clean the C/C system of the Duo Cart (with a bulb syringe) and also the simple ability to use a cartridge. These objective differences show advantages to both and determining which of these advantages work for you is where it becomes subjective and that doesn’t take into account the very subjective element of aesthetics.
For me personally, I don’t care one way or another whether it’s a C/C pen or a piston, and a good steel nib (which the Duo Cart has) is perfectly acceptable for me as well and I appreciate that the nib is made in-house. The Medium nib is a nib size I enjoy, and I use bottled ink so the proprietary C/C system doesn’t affect me. And finally, I really like the aesthetics of the pen; I like that it’s a modern pen that I can use modern inks with with peace of mind but is a design that brings you back in history. I get enough value from the pen to accept the price. Even the Burgundy/Gold (which I don’t understand why it costs more) has enough value for me because I love the look of it.
For people that aren’t me, the value of this pen might be less apparent. You might value the higher capacity or workmanship of the Piston mechanism of the Lamy 2000 more than a C/C, you might prefer EF nibs, or you might like Standard International cartridges, or you may like knowing you have a gold nib. As another comparison, Franklin-Christoph Model 31 Omnis comes with a steel JoWo nib, is a cartridge converter pen and costs US$165 (AU$205, €137) there are different factor to consider here as well. The point is, though, that value is different from what something is worth and to me this pen has the requisite value.
As I received with pen discounted in exchange for an honest review, my statement that I get value from the pen at least equal to the cost of the pen may come across as hollow. To put my money were my mouth is, I will be getting the Burgundy/Gold Model of the Aurora Duo Cart soon (granted I haven’t yet but I will have definitely done so by year's end!). I really do like the form factor of this pen and the colours of the Burgundy/Gold model to warrant having another Aurora Duo Cart.
The Aurora Duo Cart is a modern pen from a bygone era and I think it’s great they are bringing the look and feel back. The pen is well packaged, you get all the accessories you need (cartridges, converters, and a bottle of ink), it has a well ground in-house nib, and it’s a comfortable pen for long, short, or interrupted writing sessions. I disagree with the Burgundy/Gold model costing more than the Black/Chrome but I think the price for at least the Black/Chrome is within the margin of a reasonable price.
You can buy this Black/Chrome Aurora Duo Cart or the Burgundy/Gold model from Pen Chalet.
I received this pen at a discounted for the purpose of giving an honest review. I was not otherwise compensated and everything here is my own honest opinion. There are no affiliate links.