How old would you say that stoneware ink bottle is? I can’t say, though I do know that they were in use from around 1860, and might have continued to be made as late as 1950. What I can tell you is that there is blue/black ink in there that’s still perfectly usable! Though the label is damaged it can be seen that this ink was made by Stephens, and I would guess that it was probably a school ink bottle. They’re moderately common.
Stephens made ink from the middle of the nineteenth century and they were by far the most successful ink manufacturer, being seen as the automatic choice for schools, government offices and many businesses. They had their competitors, some very good, like Diamine, which is still around, Colliers and Watsons, both long gone.
It was not until the 1930s that Stephens put their name to a fountain pen. I believe all Stephens pens were manufactured by Langs, who also made the Summit and Savoy pens, and there is a strong resemblance between all of these pens, with their traditional lines, machined patterns and good quality build. Best known is the Leverfill range, issued with different levels of trim to suit different pockets. Most seen today are in black celluloid with an engine turned pattern, but marble-patterned examples in a variety of colours are not uncommon. Stephens clips appear in several shapes – tapered, stepped and in an arrow shape.
Stephens also produced an excellent stud filler, a button-filler with a fixed plunger button. This efficient and durable filling system had been patented by Langs but was employed (so far as I know) exclusively in Stephens pens. It also came in a range of prices, from seven shillings and six pence to twenty-one shillings and was made in the same range of colours as the Leverfill. The nibs were either marked with the Stephens name or warranted 14ct.
I’m fond of Stephens pens, particularly the stud fillers. The nibs are good and often semi-flex. Many of them are broad. They’re reliable and comfortable to use. The patterned examples and the stud fillers sell well, and there are quite a few Stephens collectors around who appreciate their quiet, unpretentious quality and the company’s long history.