In 1948, OMAS, a fountain pen manufacturer located in Bologna, Italy, patented and released the 361 model.
It would be almost 30 years before Parker released the 180; so-called because you could rotate the pen 180 degrees and write using a different nib – one side Fine and the other Extra Fine, for example. However, the OMAS 361 was a different beast altogether. (In fact, it’s said that Parker tried to buy OMAS’s patent more than once…) One side allowed you to write with a flex nib for daily work. Rotate the pen and you had a fine, monoline nib that was rigid enough for writing carbon copies. As is nicely stated in the patent:
With this nib construction the pen may be used with the convex portion of the nib turned either upwardly, in which case it operates as an ordinary pen with a flexible point, or downwardly, in which case it operates as a transfer pen with a rigid point.
The photo at the top shows the view of the nib you’d get when writing in “flex mode”. The photo below shows the monoline configuration.
There seems to be some discussion online whether the nib’s hood can rotate to indicate which side you’re about to use. In theory, this is possible, since the hood is indeed able to rotate. However, on my particular pen, not only does that rotation takes a little more force than I’m willing to use on a daily basis, but the hood occasionally hooks the nib on the way around as well. So, mine will be left as it looks here.
There were multiple variants of the 361. This one is the the black “T” version, which stands for “tondo” – Italian for “round”. Other variants can be seen on this excellent page describing the history of the model.
Personally, I’m very excited about this pen, since it’s my first OMAS – a brand I fell in love with on a family vacation to Bologna some years ago. A couple of conversations with some of the older stationers in the city (F.Lli Biagini on Via Gugliemo Oberdan was one of them), telling the story of the brand and its demise were the bait. After some of them let me test drive some REALLY nice older flex pens, I was hooked. The problem is that an old flex OMAS is not an inexpensive undertaking… They’ve become quite collectible. I managed to snag this 361 on an auction for a decent price because it was listed as needing a LOT of work. The piston cork needed replacing, the cap clutch was worn enough that it almost fell off the pen, and worst of all, the nib was bent. However, with the help of this page on the Fountain Pen Network forum and a LOT of slow and patient poking, this pen is back in action.
There’s a danger that this might become one of my favourite pens… It’s certainly love at first write. The flex is easy to control with the Edelstein ink on Maruman paper, and the monoline mode is a really useful feature. Of course, I know that ANY fountain pen should be usable “upside down” – however, when I try this trick on my other favourite flex nibs, the monoline results range from unusable to acceptable. This one is just downright pleasurable!
I’ve started thinking about making my own piston filler from scratch. There are some challenges associated with this, however, the design of the 361’s piston is quite inspiring. It’s a really smart design that looks to be not only fairly straight-forward to make but also appears to be a very reliable mechanism.