Friday, 27 May 2011

Olde Ink

What’s in a name? The Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1500-1820, authored by Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl, is a treasure for those who want to put their 18th and 19th words in context. All kinds of names are explained and referenced from Acorus to Zoobditty. 
And there is plenty of ink:

Inkstand, ca. 1500 Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Red ink was made from alum and gum Arabic with brasil, advertised as ink “of superior brilliance – red ink in which there is no waste (1790), “ink from wood of Brazil made, Glowing bright with ruby red (1794). 

Printing ink “made of nut-oil, or linseed-oil, turpentine and lamp-black (1727-41)

Printers black was made from burnt wine lees with the addition of some ivory black or fruitstone black.

A use for cotton: cotton fibres were left unspun and placed in the bottom of ink pots to absorb the ink and prevent spillage.

Sandbox in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Sandbox was a box with a perforated lid for sprinkling sand as a blotter onto the wet ink of the manuscript (earliest use 1572).

In 1705 it was discovered that a solution of cobalt chloride produces an almost invisible ink which becomes blue when warmed and disappears on standing in moist air.

A black hair powder was made by mixing starch with Japan ink.

Various ingredients were used in the making of ink. Apart from gum Arabic, there was also Roman vitriol, alder fruit, green copperas (sulphur compounds of iron, Myrobalan (the astringent plum-like fruits of various tropical species of Terminalia), wort (an infusion of malt).

Terminalia or bastard myroblast by Dinesh Valke

Entries from the Dictionary of Trade Goods and Commodities by Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl, 2007, published partly on British History Online.


  1. "Alder fruit" - this means alderberries?

  2. A while ago I bought a book that describes how to make ink now and how it was made in the past and was fascinated by the variety of inks that have been produced in the past.
    Thanks for the photo of the sandbox. I was surprised to see that is seems to be quite small, as I thought blotting sand wasn't used sparingly.

  3. I think the fruit of the alder tree look like green pine cones. The sandbox is not tiny. As far as I remember this one must have been around 4 inches wide?