Inks have transformed humans’ ability to advance science and technology for thousands of years. Writing stores information in a way that nothing else could for more than 5,000 years and ink has a very large role in that storing of information. Despite this though, it seems that ink was taken for granted by those who put it to use the most. It can be absolutely frustrating trying to find recipes for old inks or any good descriptions of the ink making process. Even today studies on ink are rare.
So what are some books on ink making? What’s out there?
“Forty Centuries of Ink” by David N Carvalho
That is the short title of the book. The long title is rather amusingly stale.
“FORTY CENTURIES OF INK
A CHRONOLOGICAL NARRATIVE CONCERNING INK AND ITS BACKGROUNDS
INTRODUCING INCIDENTAL OBSERVATIONS AND DEDUCTIONS, PARALLELS OF TIME AND COLOR PHENOMENA, BIBLIOGRAPHY, CHEMISTRY, POETICAL EFFUSIONS, CITATIONS, ANECDOTES AND CURIOSA TOGETHER WITH SOME EVIDENCE RESPECTING THE
EVANESCENT CHARACTER OF MOST INKS OF TO-DAY AND AN EPITOME OF CHEMICO-LEGAL INK. ”
THE BANKS LAW PUBLISHING CO.
By DAVID N. CARVALHO.
The information in this book is 109 years out of date. And despite it being from the Victorian/Edwardian era it is one of the best resources about the history of ink I have found. It keeps to simple studied facts and basic chemistry as well as discussing simple experiments and observations. 40 Centuries quotes laws and regulations written about ink and gives examples as to why they may have been needed or in some cases even provides exact quotes as to why. It does contain some recipes for ink from before 1600 AD.
I obviously like this book and find it very useful. That said it is out of date and so the information in it has probably been updated and improved upon.
I was recently gifted a print copy of:
“Inks: Their Composition and Manufacture” by C. Ainsworth
The book is in English and was original published in 1904 and this is really just a rebinding of a facsimile of that original book. It can be found in print as well as in electronic formats
The book comes just after the Victorian era and steps into the first half of the Edwardian Era. I generally distrust information coming from this era as this era is responsible for many urban myths we hold onto strongly today as fact. One example being that Halloween is at the same time as Samhain. However I digress.
I first glanced through this book and then I have thumbed through it. I have yet to have the time to sit and read it thoroughly. This book was published in 1904 so obviously it is going to be out of date on many things. The book is not a good resource for finding recipes for inks prior to 1600. It also contradicts itself a few times that I have found so far. In one place it says they have no recipes for iron gall ink prior to 1660. In a previous chapter in the book they have a recipe for making iron gall ink from the 1590s.
So what is this book good for? It does a very good job of showing us how to talk about ink, how to describe ink as well as how to study and report findings on ink. It gives us a good framework of how to approach the study of ink making as well as a vocabulary to have a discussion about ink that goes beyond just recipes and the ink making process. It talks about different ingredients, different cultures use and manufacture of inks. And for those interested, it has a a gem of a listing of every ink patent from the 17th century to 1904.
I know I will enjoy what “Inks: Their Composition and Manufacture” has to offer, but to do so I will be reading it very critically. The book is 109 years out of date and modern science and subsequent discoveries since its publishing have rendered some information as incorrect. But that is the nature of what good science and study is, progress in understanding.
Recommendation: A good book to have as a resource, but take it with a shaker full of salt, or to put it another way, understand that it is full of information we today know is wrong. At the time of its publishing it was one of the best resources of its time. Not a book for the new ink maker.
Not a book on ink but an article showing how the study of ink has real world application:
This article talks about how the modern study of old inks was used to prove the authenticity of a document from 300 AD. Proving authenticity of historical documents is very important.
I hope the resources I provided will be of use. If you happen to know of any other resources about the study of ink, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT telling us about those resources.