Friday, 28 June 2013

Three Stephens' Inks or Concentrate wins the day

Ink archaeology involves the theme of resurrection. The caked remains in old bottles spring to life with the aid of some drops of water and if the resurrected ink is not exactly its old self, it has been reinvented by time which has added or subtracted new hues and consistencies.

Today guests in Palimpsest's revival and resurrection quest are three bottles of Stephens' Ink. Palimpsest's newest addition to the HM Stationery Office collection is a cotton-reel shaped bottle which at first glance contains a petrified mass of old ink. Look at the label, however, and all becomes clear:

" Blue-Black Ink Concentrate
The contents of this bottle are sufficient to make one pint of Blue-Black Writing Fluid. Mix with the necessary quantity of cold water and stir well. Do not mix with other ink. Clean ink wells which have contained other ink. Keep concentrate and diluted ink well corked.
Henry C. Stephens Ltd Highbury London N.5"

Some ritual of revival was in order.

1. Peer into the depths of said Stephens' Ink bottle

2. Pinch some of the ink with pincer 

3.  Mix with some water in a jar 

and voilà: pitch black ink. The more ink you mix in, the darker the black you get. 

Notice how the black become blacker the more ink you put in.

This Blue-Black flows well and is still usable. Compare with the other two Stephens' inks residing at Palimpsest and the difference is noticeable. 

Take the Beast for instance. This Stephens' blue-black comes in a large cotton-reel shaped 4 oz. bottle complete with marvellously preserved label and corked cap.  It too was made by Stephens for HM Stationery Office. It is nearly full and looks good but oh the disappointment when what comes out of it is a watered-down faded blue-black. Even worse is the 1950s 2 oz. blue-black which may appear pitch black within the bottle but looks diluted when on paper. 

Concentrate has won the day.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

From Moscow with Love: The Muir & Mirrelees Pen Nib

It took Palimpsest some time, dear Readers, to decipher the inscription on the old nib. The inscription was in Russian and half-tarnished. Google Translate was not very helpful and apart from пєро which means nib the rest of the Cyrillic letters produced unintelligible translations. With some experimentation however Palimpsest struck gold. Мюр и Мерилиз  stands for Muir and Mirrelees, and Muir and Mirrelees (or Meriliz) is none other than the famous Moscow department store which bore the name of the two Scottish merchants in the last years of the 19th century. 

The Oxford Dictionary informs that Archibald Mirrielees was born in Aberdeen in 1787 and went out to St Petersburg from London in 1822 where he founded an importing business. He married fellow merchant's Andrew Muir's sister in 1844 and it was Andrew who took over the business upon Archibald's retirement in 1857. Archibald died in 1877 and Andrew in 1899 but the business expanded. In the 1880s from wholesale they moved to retail and the brothers' successors founded Russia's first department store under the name Muir and Mirrielees. 

The original building burnt down in 1900 but in its place a new one was erected. It was designed by Russian architect Roman Klein in the European Gothic style and became the place to go shopping for the upper and middle classes. The store had a catalogue and sold anything from furniture and clothing to perfume and toys. And of course it stocked pen nibs inscribed with its own name. 

Among the personalities that went shopping in Muir & Mirrelees were Anton Checkov and Boris Pasternak. Did they buy some of the nibs? We will probably never know. Andrew Muir eventually retired to London's Holland Park and founded the London Portland Cement Company. The company was passed on to his stepson Walter Philip who reportedly had to subsist on his former employees' charity when the department store was nationalised in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the company's assets confiscated. 

The Muir nib eventually found its way to Palimpsest's shop, Inklinks, where it is offered for sale once more.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Ink Resurrection: Waterman's Washable Blue

The label of the old Waterman’s Washable Blue bottle is appropriately faded as if washed away. It is preserved well: a dirty-white seagull flies wings outstretched over a deep blue sea its waves neatly outlined in white in the distance. Immersed in the sea the familiar lettering: “Waterman’s Ink” – these were the times were the apostrophe was still important – and “British Made” – this was the era when UK manufacturing was still something to boast about.

The iconic Waterman bottle designed by Ted Piazzoli of Capstan Glass Pennsylvania in the 1930s allows for the bottle to be tipped on its edge making the use of ink to the very last drop possible. Alas, no drop remained in this one bottle of Washable Blue Palimpsest came upon. Only some unsightly dry remnants were stuck at the bottom. But lo! A few droplets of water and the Non Permanent Washable Blue was resurrected. And what a blue it is!

If time has altered the original colour of this ink, it has done it well. What comes out of this bottle is green-blue, almost teal. The flow is flawless, the saturation superb – I dip the paintbrush in and then straight on apply it on Rhodia paper and the shading is magnificent. The new favourite steel pen at Palimpsest’s – a John Bond Crystal Palace (of which later) – loves to be dipped in the old bottle and flexes its muscle to produce wonderful writing.

Want to try it? 10ml inksample will be available for a few days in the shop.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pencil Archaeology 2

The pencils of the last Pencil Archaeology post justified the title: they were battered, their paint chipped, their markings barely visible. These ones here are still shining bright and they may well contest their classification as archaeological relics. 

From the Cumberland Pencil Company (founded 1916) come the "Scripto" No. 117, a hexagonal grade H pencil with its lettering curiously printed facing to right.

Also from Cumberland is the "Floral", a hexagonal HB grade pencil, that produces smooth writing.

The yellow Eagle Chemi Sealed Mirado - 172 is B grade and thus with a soft lead producing a darker line. 

The red Eagle Cardinal with the "Anchored Lead" is HB grade too, however, much harder in comparison to the Cumberland "Floral".

Equally soft is the Colebrook HB: a pleasure to write with and really more a B than an HB.

Tested on Rhodia paper.
Available to buy at my Etsy shop Inklinks.