The company that became Montegrappa was founded by Austrians in 1912 in the northern Italy town of Bassano del Grappa. Its first pen was the Elmo, which was based on the design of the Waterman safety pen. The company had its first brush with fame during World War I, when Ernest Hemingway used one of the company’s pens while working as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross. John Dos Passos, who was also in Italy at the time, may have written parts of his first novel with an Elmo.

A pair of Italians bought the company in 1925, renaming it Industria Pennini Oro e Penne Stilografiche Elmo. The firm’s initials (IPOPSE) remained on its gold nibs until the mid-1930s, by which time the company was well regarded for its celluloid-and-silver fountain pens. Early pens had button or lever fillers, while ones made just prior to World War II had piston fillers and transparent housings, so the user could see the pen’s ink level at a glance. Today, Montegrappa is best known for its limited-edition pens named for signs of the Chinese zodiac, its Dragon pen being the most famous. The celluloid caps and bodies of these high-end writing instruments are baked for up to six months, and are often cured for a year.

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