I know a bit about fountain pens and how to repair them but I’m utterly ignorant about ink. I am often asked which inks to use in sac fillers. I usually reply to the effect that I use Waterman or Quink when testing the pens I repair. I advise against using heavily saturated inks in sac fillers because they can be difficult to flush. Baystate Blue, lovely though it is, is an absolute no-no.

Beyond those few simple guidelines I am woefully ignorant. I do have a wide variety of colourful inks but I use them in converter fillers. I know nothing about their suitability for use in sac fillers.

One piece of advice that I am confident about is that sac fillers, especially lever fillers, are not the pens to use if you want to change colours often. It takes a lot of cranking of the lever to fully flush such a pen and doing that too often will stress it and may lead to damage. Button fillers are a little better but not ideal for that purpose either.

After all, back when our Conway Stewarts and Swans were in everyday use most people, whether at work or at home, would have one bottle of ink that they repeatedly refilled from. They would only flush the pen when the ink flow began to be affected. With a large daily throughput of ink that would not happen often.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you very careful and only use Waterman Mysterious Blue in your sac-fillers or do you just fill the pen with whatever comes to hand and never mind the consequences?


20 thoughts on “Ink

  1. I am a fan of sac pens and of course of vintage fountain pens. They are usually wet writers, thanks to their feeds. Given the low quality of paper usually found in offices, I find that Pelikan 4001 brilliant black is a nice choice, my standard choice actually.
    I never had any problem with it, on any pen, be it Summit, Swan, Unique, Omas, Parker, Sheaffer…

  2. Waterman’s Mysterious Blue is in several of my vintage pens. Lots of advice recommends it and thankfully I like it. Mind you I learned the hard way. I won an Ebay bottle of Baystate Blue and learned just how much flushing it takes to clean a sac pen.

  3. I actually avoid lever/sac fillers for the very reasons of effort to clean, and the inks I like to use. As much as I am a fan and collector of vintage fountsin pens, I accept the restrictions equitably.

      1. You’re probably right, but I’m also concerned about there being “more to go wrong” with a lever-filler — I’ve seen a lever snap off before now, and a mechanism seize up and simply break apart, and I would not have a clue where to start in repairing levers and sacs. But with a cartridge/converter/piston I’ve been known to have a little personal success and keep a substantial “box of spares”.

      2. I’m not sure I agree. I see plenty of lever fillers in good condition, most more than fifty years old, many almost one hundred. There are several types of lever filler, most pretty robust, especially the common type which is held in place by an internal wire circle. Cartridge fillers are more prone to failure in the short time most of them have been around. Some are impossible to fix and others cannot be used because appropriate carts and converters aren’t available. Repairing a piston filler that has been left for the seal to dry out takes much more effort than replacing a sac and I see many of them. It really takes brutal abuse to damage a lever filler.

      3. One of the very best lever fillers is the Swan with the long locking lever (bit of alliteration there!) There are examples over a thirty-year period. I like the 1930s flat-top self-fillers.

        I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog. I especially like your poem He Cried in Hatred.

      4. Thanks so much for that! It, er, didn’t meet with universal approval 🤣 I’ll take your advice and go shopping!

        And the blogging appreciation is very much mutual!

  4. Deb, This is a HUGE subject ! and the involvement in it seems to cover users from….
    ” Meh , I just use Quink ..” through to ….” I’ve just bought the entire range of obscure limited edition ink from some backstreet national treasure in Japan that has twenty seven different shades of Fuchsia. (Don’t laugh, I know one !!!)

    I have dipped my toes into the madness to a small extent and as budget allows, and my recommendation would be … for older / antique lever / button sac fillers and pens that are valuable and or irreplaceable…stick with the bigger well known brands of ink.

    Eyedroppers , not having sacs, are a bit more tolerant of inks that stray from ‘neutral’ ,but can still have their feeds clogged or damaged.
    Safety / Retractable pens which withdraw their nib/ feed into the ink when not used , are much more able to handle suspect inks.

    Personally, and (by most accounts) generally), I recommend that boutique inks
    ( Krishna and Organics Studio, to some extent Private Reserve, and anything with amazing shimmer like Jaques Herbin 1670 -1798 ) be kept well away from older sac fillers and anything valuable or irreplaceable.

    My favourites, and ones I have had no problems with at all. Would be Iroshizuku, and Diamine, (Although both brands have one or two inks that if left to dry in the pen will cause some efflorescence ….’Yama Budo’, and the limited edition Diamine sheeners.)
    And Pelikan, Lamy and Waterman.

    Shimmer and Sheen inks are great fun to experiment with, and for calligraphy are almost compulsory ! But should really only be used in more modern cheaper pens, that can be easily disassembled .

    I have a pic of one of my pens nib/feed that had efflorescence coming off it that reminded me of those little novelty xmas trees that one places in a saucer of water, and which then ‘grows’ a coating of lovely coloured crystals !! …

    In closing, I doubt one would find too many restorers / repairers that haven’t come across FP innards that have been reduced to a sticky mess by suspect ink coupled with lack of maintenance.

    Phew…just my 2c worth.

    1. I’m not quite at the “only Quink” level – I have about 20 or so inks including vintage ones – but I just don’t have all that much interest in inks. With what I already have, I will never get through all the ink I have.

  5. I’ve been a one ink person for a number of years now (although there’s a shelf full of little used ‘other’ inks!), That ‘one ink to rule them all’ is Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies Registrar’s Ink (ESRI) and I use it exclusively in both my modern and vintage pens whether sac, piston or converter fillers. I like it because it is permanent, easy to flush out and doesn’t stain the pens. I also like that it goes from bright blue to dark blue/black as it dries and has some very nice shading qualities when used with my favourite italic nibs. Currently it is in a late 40’s Parker Duofold AF, a 50’s Pelikan 400NN and a modern MB146.

    1. Hi Deb and domnortheast!

      Yes, ESSRI! I would even say it is THE ink for vintage sac pens!
      I like it’s noble dark and low saturated color and how fine and crisp lines get with EF or F stub nibs.
      And it is a style that was common when our Swans or Onotos (…) were made.
      Just don’t get confused by the low prise, it is worth as much as the most expensive inks out there… 😉

      Best wishes

      1. I had a look at an advert for ESSRI!. It certainly is inexpensive. The advert says,”For use in Registry Offices.” My husband was a registrar for many years and left when it was all computerised. Not that he had a problem with PCs, he felt that the paperwork became very impersonal. Now it’s only signatures that are done in ink so the bottle would last several generations. In his time the Scottish registration service used a Parker ink.

        Prior to computerisaion, birth and marriage certificates were a work of art. Now they are just another printed form.

  6. Jen, Debs,
    Yes it was. It is my understanding that what is now sold as ESSRI was, back in the day, the product of the Stephens Ink Company, founded by Henry Charles ‘Inky’ Stephens, with production of the Blue/Black Record Ink being continued by the current owners when the Stephens Ink Company was split up and sold off in the 1960s. The history of the Stephens Ink Co. is much more convoluted than that. There’s even a museum!
    It is a very well behaved ink, as you say Jen, and stays put on the page where it’s placed, no feathering or bleeding through paper.

  7. I found some nice old ink bottles at a market last week, Parker, Stephens and Waterman. Many are empty but a few have some ink left in them, although I generally don’t use these. Does anybody know of a resource to help me date these bottles? I have picked up quite a few old bottles over the years and it is interesting to see the development in the designs, only I can only guess at the order at present.

    I think possibly the bottle design, or rather lack of it, is why ESRI is reasonably priced. I hadn’t heard of it before reading this post, but have ordered a bottle to give it a try. I wonder if they have had a little flurry of sales as a result of Domnortheast’s comment. I like to think of them coming in to the office on Monday morning to be greeted by a burst of orders with no idea why.

    1. I have a few old bottles too and in most cases I have no way of dating them and I know of no reference work. I have a large bottle of Parker Quink with Solv-X which was originally priced at 7/6, then later 37 1/2. I take that to mean the bottle was in stock some time before decimalisation in 1971 and remained in stock after that date. I don’t know of any way to date the older, stoneware bottles.

  8. I have been using fountain pens for only about 6 years and began restoring them professionally about 5 years ago. My first ink was Noodler’s Black Eel. I used it a lot. I use a variety of inks but I also still use Noodler’s inks, including Bay State Blue. I know several of the old school restorers recommend against letting Noodler’s near a fountain pen, including some with chemistry backgrounds.

    I have yet to experience any of the problems many mention with Noodler’s. I have even left a pen inked with Noodler’s BSB for weeks at a time without using it. I have a theory that those whose ink sacs and feeds melt, nibs corrode, etc. is a result of the pen not being properly cleaned out and the user has used another brand prior to filling with Noodler’s ink or was using Noodler’s and did not properly flush the pen before filing with another brand. This , in turn, led to a chemical reaction between the residue of the previous ink mixing with the ink used to refill the pen.

    Now, it also matters what you use to flush Noodler’s with. If you have had the ink in your pen for a while and have not written with the pen for that time, water or a basic store-bought pen flush currently on the market won’t do well. You can make your own ammonia and water flush but then there is the fact that ammonia can make certain metal alloys, like gold, brittle over time. I do recommend purchasing at least a basic ultrasonic cleaner. Not a jewelry cleaner.

    There is, however, a new pen flush coming out by someone I know who has been making an amazing HR deoxidizer solution that I swear by. I obtained some of his new flush to try out and have been absolutely amazed. Not only does it do an excellent job as a flush, it works well as a cleaning soak for all pen materials and does not harm the metals. It removed all of the old ink stain from the inside of the cap as well as in the barrel threads on a 1930s Sheaffer Jade flat top OS I have. Not even my own strong homemade pen flush dented the stain.

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