Dry Ink

Ink it is in the veins of knowledge and of history.  It was one of the three key materials and tools for the storing of knowledge:  The pen, the writing surface and of course ink.  Each tool and material essential to medieval scribe.  But scribes were not always stationary.  There were many scribes who moved around and they brought their quills, parchment and ink with them.  Moving liquid ink however is a bit of a pain.  It can leak and besides making a mess, you also lose the ability to lose that ink. So they used dried ink.  Just dry it up, carry it around in an envelope or some such and then just add water as needed.  Right?  Well its easy in concept but how difficult it is to that really?  Well, accidentally I went down that road. I have a container with a nozzle that I use to put ink into bottles.  For a special project a friend brought over 0.75 fluid oz  (22 ml) bottles.  I’m used to bottling ink but these bottles had a smaller neck and presented their own issues.  Ink spills are going to happen when you bottle ink and so it is wise to have something that makes clean up easy.  In this case I use a box covered in a cheap small shower curtain made of acrylic. Spills did happen, in larger amounts than normal but once I got the hang of the smaller bottles it wasn’t so bad.  My friend and I talked about many things during the bottling process including how would one go about making powdered ink.  I’ve come across several recipes that discuss turning liquid iron gall ink into powdered iron gall ink.  In some form or another they usually say, “place ink in a bladder and let dry.  remove from bladder and grind up the dry remains.  Put back into bladder add water, ( or wine or vinegar depending on what liquid base was used to make the ink,) when you want to use the ink and let stand for some number of hours. “So how would you do it today?” My friend asked. “Oh, I’d use plastic wrap as my modern analogue to a bladder as I’m not going to get an animal bladder anytime soon.  That should work because it works much like a bladder would I would imagine.  Its waterproof, non-permeable, thin and should do the trick.” Normally after bottling ink I clean off the shower curtain and move one.  This time, I had to go make dinner for the family and just plain forgot to do it.  A few days later I looked down as I passed the box and shower curtain and noticed I had dried up iron gall ink.  “Well, I think I just made my dry ink,” I though thought to myself. I got if off the shower curtain.

Shower curtain after dried ink was removed.

Shower curtain after dried ink was removed.

And onto some paper.


Small chunks and flakes of dried iron gall ink on 120 lb Bristol Vellum paper.


A different perspective of the dried ink.

And then put it into a mortar to be ground up.

Dried ink bits in the mortar before grinding with a pestle.

Dried ink bits in the mortar before grinding with a pestle.

Grinding it up was very easy.  I did a coarse grind as I didn’t want to accidentally grind it too much.

Ground up ink powder.

Ground up ink powder.

There it is all ground up.  Not much there it would seem.

Powdered ink in one of my ink bottles.

Powdered ink in one of my ink bottles.

No that isn’t very much at all. I added water to the bottle and shook it to mix the water and ink particle.  This was not the best choice.

ink particles on the side of the bottle.

ink particles on the side of the bottle.

As you can see the ink particles clung to the side of the ink bottle.  I should have just let the ink sit on the bottom with the water.  Well, lesson learned, don’t shake unless you fill the bottle all the way. I let it sit overnight as that was the amount of time I was recalled from the recipes.  Then I wrote with it.

Reconstituted iron gall ink using a Brause 0.75 nib.

Reconstituted iron gall ink using a Brause 0.75 nib on 120 lb Bristol Vellum paper.

It wrote very black.  SUCCESS! I’m going to play with this more and find out how much water will make this particular bottle of ink too thin.  However, for an accidental experiment into making dried ink and then reconstituting it and using it, I’m actually very happy my results. Next time, you know when I do this on purpose, I will plan my experiment.  I believe the following will give results that would be useful and informative. At each I will take pictures. – I will write with the ink onto a sheet of paper with a clean nib. – I will put measure you much ink I put on the acrylic or plastic so I know how much water to use to reconstitute it. – I will note the time. – I will check on the ink periodically and see how long it takes to dry. – Once dry I will attempt to measure the weight and volume of the ink. – I will look at it under my 20 X microscope and take pictures through the microscope.   – I will grind it to a finer particles. – I will look at it under my 20 X microscope and take pictures through the microscope.   – I will put in the amount of water needed to get to the pre-drying volume. – I will note the time – I will devise a way to mix the particles of dry ink and keep them in solution so that they do not cling to the container out of solution. – I will test the ink periodically by using a clean dipping pen of the same size as the original dipping pen to write the ink onto paper. – I will write the times next to each sample writing. – I will continue to do this for a predetermined amount of time in hopes of determining how long it takes the ink to reconstitute well enough to write just as it did before it was dried. For now that is the planned experiment.  I may alter it some but I plan to publish the results here on my blog. I do this blog as a stay at home parent. If you wish to support my scribal addiction and my scribal blogging habit please feel free to send me a donation.  Or you can just go to Paypal.com Once there my PayPal address is Mystborne AT Yahoo DOT com.


5 responses to “Dry Ink

  1. Pingback: December Ink Making | scribescribbling·

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