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 voilĂ : 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.


  1. That is very, very nice. I like your -obsession- ahm, interest in a very specific subject. And I love the picture with the wet Henry C Stephens text. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Thanks, Allan, good to have you here.

  3. How wonderful-- do you know, dear Palimpsest, that I've just inherited an inkwell caked with a mysterious dark green ink... I was too sad to clean it-- it just seemed wrong... but resurrection--that will be just the thing! Wish me luck!
    Warm regards,