Ink Recipe Analysis – Book of Secrets Diverse Ways of Making Ink 1596

I’ve been very busy lately.  Besides being the father of a 7 month baby, I am the autocrat and class coordinator for a scribal event coming up in April, and I have a paid job as well.  Not that I stopped doing scribal stuff, I just couldn’t get to my blog.  I hope you will forgive me.

Period recipes for ink are always interesting to me.  They had different priorities because they had different tools, not to mention their view of how the world worked wasn’t the same as ours.  So it is of use to do a comparative analysis of various recipes and compare it to how we might make the ink today.  One thing I found is that on average, they used a lot more Gum Arabic than we would have.

You can find the recipes from the Book of Secrets Diverse Ways of Making Ink 1596 here

Analysis of Ink Making recipes from the Book of Secrets shows something interesting in the amounts of dry ingredients used.
Gum Arabic (GA) is always a beaten powder form.  Copperas = FeSO4 = Iron Sulfate

A – Recipe for Paper – 4 oz GA, 6 oz gall, 4 oz Copperas

B – Recipe for Parchment – Same

C – Another recipe 1 – 4 or 5 oz GA, 13 oz gall, 13 oz Copperas.

I skipped one because it has no measurements in it whatsoever.

D – Another recipe 2 – 2.5 oz GA, 4 oz gall, 2 oz Copperas

E – Another Recipe 3 – 3 or 4 oz GA, 1 oz gall, 1/2 Cup Copperas

F – Another Recipe 4 – .75 GA, 1 oz gall, .75 oz Copperas

G – Another Recipe 5 – 1 part GA, 2 handfuls gall, 3 part Copperas

A quick check shows that GA to Copperas for recipes:

- A, B and F the amount of GA and Copperas are the same

- D has more GA than Copperas

- C and G have roughly 1/3 GA to Copperas

- E we would need to weigh out 1/2 cup of copperas to get the answer.

A quick check shows that for GA to Galls recipes:

- A, B, C, D have 2/3 GA to Galls

- E 3 or 4 times GA to Galls

- F – 3/4 GA to Galls

- G We have no way to know.

Comparatively period recipes use a lot more Gum Arabic that modern recipes do.  Why is that?  I’m working on an objective comparative analysis of the amount of GA in recipes, the kind of pen being used (Reed, Quill or Metal Nib), the angle of the surface being written on and the material being written on.  It will take a long time to do but it should provide some very interesting and very good results.

My hypothesis is that using a feather quill the ink would flow off the quill fairly easily.  This makes sense as feathers are by design resistant to liquids especially water based liquids which would include inks.  So you need something to increase the viscosity of the ink and Gum Arabic works wonderfully to do that.

Another thing I find interesting when reading these recipes is the various liquids used for the ink.  We see:

Water, Wine, Strong Wine (Brandy), Beer and Vinegar.

They were very resourceful in period weren’t they?

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4 responses to “Ink Recipe Analysis – Book of Secrets Diverse Ways of Making Ink 1596

  1. Have you encountered any other hypotheses as to why gum arabic was used much more in the past? Did you formulate your hypothesis based purely off of your own experience, or were you inspired by other people?

    • //Have you encountered any other hypotheses as to why gum arabic was used much more in the past?//

      Yes.

      //Did you formulate your hypothesis based purely off of your own experience,//

      No.

      // or were you inspired by other people?//

      Yes.

      I have been making ink for about 5-6 years now. I have had many and various conversations in that time and occasionally the topic of the binder (in this case gum arabic,) would come up. Various, ideas were tossed out. However, very few of them seemed to have very much in the way of validity. This one seems to work best.

      The objective test will be of great use to determine the validity of the hypothesis.

  2. FYI
    Another thought to follow Is that according to Daniel Thompson, medieval and renaissance Gum Arabic was not always the same gum arabic that we know. Cherry gum, which is significantly weaker, was used as gum arabic. DVT also suggested that apple gum was used. He discredited the idea that plum gum was used. He found it too weak.

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