Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This past weekend I was in Staples, one of my favorite stores. I spent a small fortune on ink for my printer. I also perused the pens, but couldn’t find one I liked. I’m persnickety about pens and only certain ones will do.

So, as I was researching a topic for today’s blog, I came across some recipes for ink. I thought about my visit to Staples and how easy modern technology has made my job as an author.  I can type a digital document on my computer, send it across the room to my wireless printer, and it will print it out for me neatly and without splotches. Mistakes are easily remedied.

But back in 1877, people used pen nibs/dip pens (or in a pinch, a feather quill). Pen nibs were metal tips with capillary channels, mounted on a handle or holder, often made of wood. The pens were dipped into ink and then writing commenced. Can you imagine writing a whole rough draft of a book with that method?

Here are some ink recipes from The Circle of Useful Knowledge (1877), by Charles Kinsley.

Common Ink
To 1 gal. boiling soft water add ¾ oz. extract logwood; boil two minutes, remove from the fire, and stir in 48 grs. bichromate of potash, and 8 prs. prussiate of potash. For 10 gals. use 7 ½ oz. logwood extract, 1 oz. bichromate of potash, and 80 grs. prussiate of potash; strain; 6 cents should buy the first, and 25 cents the last.

Black Copying Ink
Take 2 gals rain water, and put into it gum arabic ¼ lb., brown sugar ¼ lb., clean copperas ¼ lb., powdered nutgalls ¾ lb; mix, and shake occasionally for ten days, and strain; if needed sooner, let it stand in an iron kettle until the strength is obtained. This ink will stand the action of the atmosphere for centuries.

Red Ink
In an ounce phial put 1 teaspoonful of aqua ammonia, gum arabic size of 2 or 3 peas, and 6 grs. Of no. 40 carmine; fill up with soft water, and it is soon ready for use.

Yikes! That’s a lot of work, and I, for one, am really grateful for my computer and printer, not to mention pens that already contain ink.

For the curious, here is information about the ingredients:

I'm not sure what bichromate or prussiate of potash is, but I think it was somehow obtained by leaching wood ashes and processing that with metal.

Extract of logwood is a purplish-red natural dye obtained from the Logwood tree. The logwood tree is a spiny tropical American tree (Haematoxylon campechianum) in the pea family. The extract is obtained from the dark heartwood.

Copperas is also known as green vitriol and it is an iron sulfate.

A nutgall is a nutlike swelling produced on an oak or other tree by certain parasitic wasps. It’s also called gallnut.

Aqua ammonia is a solution of ammonia.

Carmine is a pigment of a bright-red color obtained from the aluminium salt of carminic acid, which is produced by some scale insects, such as the cochineal scale and the Polish cochineal.

Gum arabic, also known as acacia gum, chaar gund, char goond, or meska, is a natural gum made of hardened sap taken from two species of the acacia tree.


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