A History of Pen Ink

Ink is a fluid or a paste that includes ingredients such as solvents, pigments and lubricants. People use the product with a brush, pen or quill to write or draw. In addition, producers make ink in thin or thick varieties. Thin ink is ideal for handwritten print while thicker ink works best in letterpress projects and for making lithographs.

Vintage Ink Bottle Williams Ink NY

The Origination of Ink in China

In China, early man invented ink by mixing oil with the soot from wood smoke. To thicken the mixture, ink makers added animal skin gelatin and musk. Chinese crafters created a solid form of ink more than 1700 years ago, which they molded into cakes or sticks. When they needed to write, they would shave off sections of the stick or cake and combine it with water to make the ink fluid enough for printing. To print or create artwork, Chinese artisans used brushes or bamboo pens.

Chinese ink makers began adding extracts, plant substances, indigo and sepia to produce their ink. They also combined soluble iron salt with a tanning extract, which is the foundation for today's blue and black inks. During the 11th century, Chinese artisans created block printing. To write block letters more easily, they needed ink that was heavier and more jellylike. Therefore, they invented a sturdier ink.

Ink in Medieval Europe

Instead of using traditional paper, medieval European scribes used parchment for their important documents. However, parchment paper is greasy and carbon inks did not work well with the material. In the 9th century, they began experimenting with different ink ingredients, and when European ink producers added iron salt to tannic acid, they invented iron gall ink, which allowed scribes to print on parchment. Initially, the print added to parchment with iron gall ink was invisible, but after it was applied, the salt and acid would create a chemical reaction, which left a dark permanent mark. Later, ink makers began adding gum Arabic as a thickener, and it improved the ink's flow. The material also increased the product's durability.

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Ink in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries

In 1772, ink manufacturers in England requested the first patent for mixing colored ink. Later, during the 19th century, ink producers discovered chemical drying agents, which allowed them to make ink in more colors. By the mid-1800s, they were making the product with ammonia aniline dye technology, and as a result, producers could mix ink in many colors. In addition, the ink was less caustic to pens and papers. Once a scribe wrote on a piece of paper with the ammonia aniline ink, he or she would leave the paper in the light to dry since the product smeared when it was wet. To prevent smudging, ink makers began adding varnish with different stiffness levels. They would select the varnish according to the type of paper or presses that they were using. Once high-speed newspaper presses became common, ink makers replaced the mineral oil in ink with varnish to dry rapidly and permeate the newsprint quickly.

Ink during the 20th Century

In the 20th century, ink production became intricate as it involved many complex chemicals. In addition, people gained access to home computers that included printers, and with their development, people began buying ink cartridges. Furthermore, approximately 90 percent of ink is printing ink, and today, manufacturers add color with pigments instead of dyes. With pigmented color, producers create a product that will not dissolve in water. Also, the ingredients in modern day ink delay early drying, prevent fungal and bacterial development and control the ink flow.

32 oz Large Bottle Carnations Watermans Red Ink #532 USA Fountain PenVintage 1950'S Carter Cobalt Blue 32 Ounce Master Ink Bottle

Types of Ink

The two most popular types of ink used throughout history include carbon and iron gall inks. Unfortunately, both types are difficult to preserve.

About Carbon Ink

The particles in carbon ink will not evaporate due to the gum Arabic ingredient, which holds the particles in deferment. In fact, the product remains intact even when it becomes bleached or is left in sunlight. Carbon ink will not damage paper as it is chemically stable. Furthermore, it will not cause paper to weaken. Despite the many advantages of the product, it is not durable. For instance, when writers use carbon ink in a humid environment, it frequently smudges.

About Iron Gall Ink

In the 12th century, iron gall inks became widely used. Initially, producers thought that the ink would be long lasting. Unfortunately, time proved that the ink is corrosive to paper. In fact, since Johann Sebastian Bach printed his original scores with iron gall ink, historians may not be able to preserve his work.

Renowned Ink Companies

Several ink companies have produced the product for many years including Manders PLC, Scheaffer, Aurora and Parker. Collectors can purchase vintage ink and bottles manufactured by the companies to display.

Vintage Sanford 2 ounce Ink BottlezVintage Sanford 2 Ounce Ink Original Box

Mander Brothers Ink

In 1773, the Mander Brothers began their chemical and varnish business. They supplied many national markets as well as the Midland Japan trades. During 1865, the company expanded into printing ink and making paint. In the 20th century, the company reestablished itself several times. For instance, it became Mander Brother Limited during 1924 and Manders PLC in the 1990s. As Manders PLC, the company focused on producing specialty chemicals and printing ink. In fact, Manders PLC obtained additional ink manufacturing companies including Croda and Premier Inks. During 1998, Flint Ink Corporation, which is located in Detroit, purchased the Manders PLC ink division.

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Aurora Pen Company

In 1919, the Aurora Pen Company was founded. Today, collectors can purchase vintage Aurora ink bottles. The company made just two ink shades, which are black and blue. However, the company's ink is especially vibrant. Aurora's classic ink bottles include a black twist lid and a silver logo placed near the bottom of the bottle. The company included its red and silver brand along with a title describing the ink's color. Collectors can also purchase classic Aurora cartridges in black or blue.

Parker Quink Inks

Parker Quink Ink became available in 1931. It is free flowing, and collectors can use it with their vintage fountain pens. A classic Parker inkbottle is black with a blue label that features the name "Parker Quink." The company also produced a container with a dark blue label and white writing. Cartridges and ballpoint refills are available from the Parker Company. Furthermore, the company manufactures ink in a variety of colors including red, green, black and blue. Parker even makes gel ink and rollerball ink refills.
vintage Parker Quink Blue Black Round Bottle w/Box 2 oz

Pelikan Ink

The Pelikan Company called its first inks 4001, and collectors can purchase classic Pelikan bottles, which are black with a blue circle on the front. The company also added the name "Pelikan 4001" on the bottle. Furthermore, the company makes the ink in seven different colors including bright green, brown and violet. Pelikan also produces India and rollerball ink as well as cartridges.

Vintage Pelikan Ink Glass Bottle Original Box Unopened Bottle of Royal Blue Pelikan Tinte InkVintage Royal Blue Pelikan Tinte Ink Original Box

Sheaffer Ink

The Sheaffer Company's original ink featured a formula that allowed the fluid to flow easily into a pen's reservoir and through the nib. During the 1930s, Sheaffer made its famous Skrip ink, which was available in a permanent and washable version. Vintage Sheaffer bottles are clear and feature a yellow and blue label. The label's writing is white and blue. In addition, the lid is black with gold writing that lists the instructions for using the ink. Color varieties include black, blue and red. Moreover, Sheaffer currently produces ink cartridges as well as ballpoint and rollerball refills.

Sheaffer Skrip 1952 Royal Blue Ink 2 oz NOS (New Old Stock) Permanent


Early man invented ink to create a historical record of his life. Moreover, modern day ink often has the same purpose.