Thursday, 16 December 2010

Alizarine Ink


Ah, if I hadn’t had to write all these words! All warmth, immediacy, and energy of feeling are gone the moment the word, veiled in Alizarin ink, stands on the page.

Friedrich Nietzsche to Carl von Gersdorff, Basel, September 1869

Today’s ink comes from the 19th century. Alizarine ink was the creation of one Christian August Leonhardi, who in 1854 set up a chemical plant at the 16th-century site of flour mill and glass factory in Dresden, Germany. In 1855 Leonhardi filed a patent application with the Saxon Ministry of the Interior, where he wrote proudly:

“This ink is different. ... It deserves rightly to be called the best ink known until now and the best and most perfect ink.”

Leonhardi’s innovation was the addition of Alizarin dye which is derived from the madder root. Madder gave Leonhardi’s ink a “beautiful blue-green colour” that turned when dried into the “deepest black.” Alizarine ink did not contain gum Arabic and was advertised as free flowing, perfectly suited to steel pens, indestructible, resistant to the effects of acids, fumes and time.




Leonhardi’s was an unoxidised gall ink, that is oxidation was prevented for as long as possible, thus keeping the ink free from insoluble deposit and giving it much greater power of penetration to the paper, explains Mitchell in Inks their Composition and Manufacture (1904). Indigo made the writing blue and within eight days it turned to black. Leonhardi eventually dropped madder as unnecessary but the ink kept the name Alizarine nevertheless.


Alizarine Ink Recipe
42 oz gall nuts
3 oz madder
7 ½ oz green vitriol
2 oz indigo,
3 oz wood acetate of iron
15 oz water

Boil gall nuts and madder in water to produce 5 lb 20 oz of decoction. Filter. Mix in green vitriol, indigo, iron acetate.

Guaranteed not to mould or leave sediment at the bottom of your inkwell. Alizarine ink can be bought in dry form (ink tablets) and then mixed with 6 parts of hot water to form “an excellent writing fluid” (though the latter claim is doubtful as this method tended to produce particles suspended in water).

Alizarine ink was very popular in its time. Was it the one Nietzsche longs for when he complaints in a letter to Malwida von Meysenbug on Sunday, 1 July 1877:

This ink is terrible and I sent for it especially! But they have not given me the real thing.

Friedrich Nietzsche in Basel, 1875

The Leonhardi company survived until 1953 and today produces ink under the name of “Barock.” The company’s website has an online museum with images of Leonhardi’s old factory, info about its history and the ink recipe and patent. Leonhardi’s ink is mentioned in David Carvalho’s Forty Centuries of Ink (1904) and in The Household Cyclopedia of General Information (1881) where a recipe can also be found. See also C. Ainsworth Mitchell, Inks Their Composition and Manufacture including methods of examination and a full list of English patents, London 1904.

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