What can I write about for your delectation today? I don’t happen to have to hand some unusual pen that you’ve never heard of, though I’m sure I will, shortly. Today I want to talk about ink, but not as someone in Fountain Pen Network would. You know the sort of thing, he’s verging on a nervous breakdown because among his 400 bottles of ink there isn’t one that will suit his new limited edition fluorescent pink Montblanc that contains the DNA of Liberace.

No, I’m more inclined to talk about ink getting into the wrong places. For many years I only used fountain pens to write with and I was very careful filling them. I might get the occasional spot of ink on my fingers but by the time I’d washed the dishes it had faded to near-invisible.

I began restoring and selling pens. In the early days when I was selling in eBay, I might be write testing as many as 20 at a time. Doing as many as that and flushing them too, it was impossible to keep the ink off my little paws. And not just the occasional spot, either. Even washing the dishes and doing the housecleaning was not enough to remove it. I know that some of you wear it as a badge of honor but I think it’s quite unsightly on my ladylike pinkies.

I ordered a box of black latex gloves, the ones that some tattoo artists use. They were great. Not only did they keep the tide of ink at bay, they improved my grip when I was taking pens apart. A few weeks later, though, I began to feel itchy and uncomfortable wearing them. I know that latex allergy is common and I began buying nitrile gloves instead. It’s equally grippy and not at all allergenic. I believe it’s what most of the other tattoo artists use.

Problem solved, no more ink-staining of the digits unless I got impatient and started messing with pens without putting on the gloves. But that wasn’t the end of my concerns with ink. I’ve never had one of those horrible major accidents (touch wood) where an entire bottle of ink gets tipped over and you need to make an insurance claim for everything in the room, but ink, like blood, when escaped, leaves traces of its presence all around.

When the pens are ready for testing, I set out my necessaries – two grades of paper, several grades of micromesh, kitchen towel and the all-important ink bottle. I don’t do as many pens as I used to but thoroughly testing ten pens will take most of an afternoon. A few spots of ink will escape unnoticed until later, when I’m tidying up. As I’m working on our gorgeous oak dining table, it becomes a matter of some anxiety and concern to remove every last trace or shadow of ink. I use Diamine Sargasso Sea which wipes up very well but I don’t like taking risks with our lovely table. I found a plastic table cover which relieves my mind immensely.

To finish up this rambling discourse on ink, I know I was a smidgen sarcastic about those people who become a little obsessed with ink. Each to his own. Many inks are absolutely lovely. I often read those beautifully and scientifically constructed reviews of inks that Chrissy does in Fountain Pen Geeks. She is undoubtedly a great asset to the fountain pen world.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t have more inks. First of all, many of them are very expensive. I spend a lot of money on pens and there isn’t much left over for inks. Also, as well as the Diamine ink I usually use, I have several vintage inks, Swan, Colliers and the original Webster’s Diamine among them, and I like to use those sometimes. Finally, and I hope I don’t cause too much offense saying this, my love is for pens, not ink.


11 thoughts on “Ink

  1. I agree and thats why I generally use either cartridges or quink. I only buy bottles of ink that are over 57ml. Shrinkflation at work here. πŸ™‚

  2. very interesting Deb, and some insightful thoughts there.

    one of my other less obsessive interests is Victorian ink wells – many of which are virtually ‘untipoverable’ – certainly vastly less so than a standard Quink bottle. So, you might try one, and in general they look a lot more graceful than a commercial ink bottle too – a touch of class on the desk.
    I expect we all at some time appear a tad obsessive to those who don’t share our interest.

    1. I have to confess I don’t know what “untipoverable” means, so that one has whizzed over my head. I’ve had one or two Victorian and Edwardian inkwells in all sorts of styles, but I don’t have much room on my desk for more clutter than is already there.

      Of course we’re all obsessed or we wouldn’t be here; some are more obsessed than others…

  3. I’m interested that you sometimes use vintage ink. I have a 2 pint and a couple of 1 pint bottles of Quink (and similar for Swan and Stephens) but am worried what they might do to a pen after all of these years. Is a vigorous shake enough to redissolve any residue or is it better not to shake at all but just take the ink straight off the top? I presume you haven’t seen any adverse effects otherwise you would keep using the old stuff.

    PS un tip over able

    1. Hi Simon,

      I’m no expert, I’m afraid. If the residue in the bottom is crystalline, adding a little water should make it liquid again. Otherwise, perhaps you can take some out and experiment.

      The first bottle of Swan that I had, had some residue in the bottom and the ink I took off the top was quite pale. I tried various things but I was unable to redissolve it. In the end I dumped the ink and kept the bottle! After that I got some Swan blue/black which had never been opened and it was perfectly fine. I have various other inks that also seem fine. I’m very careful. Until I have used any old ink quite extensively, that’s what cheap Chinese pens are for. I was was once warned not to sniff old bottles of ink as they include phenols which are apparently better out of your lungs than in!

      PS un tip over able – indeed!

  4. I am ashamed of myself every time I open my drawer of ink; I refuse to count the bottles, as the number will no doubt make me cringe. For a while I was more interested in inks than pens. Now I’ve reached a sort of equilibrium, were I have enough of both pens and ink. If I live to be 130, I’ll never use all the ink I own, which troubles me: maybe I’ll start giving bottles away.

  5. Deb, such an awesome resource, this blog…..I keep discovering things from way back…

    Here’s my 2c worth 🀣.

    I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about inkwells too, and without being too obsessive, have quite a few nice inks as well .
    So, I often get those Bakelite ‘travelling’ ink bottle holders, and more than once they have had an original Swan/ Waterman/ Onoto bottle in them.
    On three occasions the ( usually empty ) bottles have had some ancient dust coating the sides and bottom.
    The first one, a bottle of Watermans Violet was just about to be washed out, when I had a brainwave, and added just a half bottle of tap water, capped it then shook it for a minute or so.
    Lo and behold, it reconstituted the powder to a very intense , smooth and completely usable violet ink.

    The other two bottles , an Auditors green Swan ink and a Swan washable Pacific blue both did exactly the same !!

    I don’t know enough chemistry to say whether it became the exact same ..formula as it was originally, but they all work just fine in the pens I’ve inked !

    1. I’ve had a few of those travelling inkwells – I have a Stephens one at the moment but it is sadly very clean. I also have many vintage inks but I’ve never had the opportunity to reconstitute dried ink. I’m sure your ink will be correct. After all, Stephens supplied some schools with ink in powdered form and it was the job of the Ink Monitor to mix it up with water and fill the inkwells. Those inks of yours are very special!

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