Writing With Period Ink

On Saturday February 4, 2017 I posted about making ink from a period recipe book.

The redacted recipe.

To Make Ink for Writing on Parchment (A Booke of Secrets: Shewing diuers waies to make and prepare all sorts of Inkes… 1596)



6 oz Aleppo Oak Galls
4 oz Ferrous Sulfate (Green copperas)
4 oz Gum Arabic, crystals


1 1/3 cup Water
1 2/3 cup Vinegar
1 2/3 cup Wine


Dry ingredients

– Separately crush each dry ingredient until it becomes a powder.

Wet ingredients

– Combine water, vinegar and wine into one container.  Stir.

– Pour the solution of water, vinegar and wine into three separate containers in equal parts.

Combining Wet and Dry Ingredients

– The powdered galls, copperas and gum arabic go into separate containers filled with the solution of water, vinegar and wine.
– For each separate ingredient sift it through a sieve and put into its own container with the water, vinegar and wine.
– Cover each container

Ongoing directions

– For the next 24 hours stir each container three to four times a day.  Cover back up when finished

– At the end of 24 hours heat the container  with the galls.  When the solution begins to boil, take it off the heat.  Stir.  Continuing stirring until the oak gall solution cools down to warm.

– Combine all three solution into one container. Cover.

– Stir three to four times a day for the next 48 hours.  Cover after stirring.

You now have a good ink for writing on Parchment.

That is the redacted recipe.

What I did wasn’t that.  I missed one step because I wasn’t being careful. I missed another step because I just couldn’t follow it that day.

The first variance from the recipe was that I broke up and crushed the oak galls but I did not powder them.  I simply did not have the energy and ability to do so that day.

The second variance was that I did not in fact boil the oak galls at the end of 24 hours and then combine all the containers.  Instead I just soaked them all separately for all three days (72 hours).  I did boil the oak galls and stir until warm at the end of that,but that wasn’t the actual directions.

Here is the actual recipe from the book transcribed as it is written by THL Geffrei Maudeleyne:

Take halfe a pint of water, a pint wanting a quarter of wine, and as much vineger, which being mixed together make a quart & a quarter of a pint more, then take fix ounces of gauls beaten into fmall pouder, and fifted through a fiue, put this pouder into a pot by it felfe, and poure halfe the water, wine, and vineger into it, take likewife foure ounces of victriall, and beat it into pouder, and put it alfo in a pot by it felfe, whereinto put a quarter of the wine, water, & vineger that remaineth, and to the other quarter, put foure ounces of gum Arabike beaten to pouder, that done, couer the three pots clofe, and let them ftand three or foure daies together, ftirring them euery day three or foure times, on the firft day fet the pot with gaules on the fire, and when it begins to feeth, ftir it about till it be throughly warme, then ftraine it through a cloath into another pot, and mixe it with the other two pots, ftirring them well together, and being couered, then let it ftand three daies, till thou meaneft to vfe it, on the fourth day, when it is fetled, poure it out, and it wil be good inke. If there remaine any dregs behind, poure fome raine water (that hath ftand long in a tub or veffell) into it, for the older the water is, the better it is, and keepe that vntill you make more inke, for it is better then clean water.

To make Inke for parchment
Make it in all points like to the inke aforefaid, only take a pint of water, & of vineger and wine a pint more, that is of each halfe a pint.

Thus the reason I gave you the redacted recipe first.

So what could go wrong?

Well first of all we don’t know what kind of pint or quart is being talked about here.  Liquid ingredients had their own Gallon, Quart, Pint and Cup at this time.  Some were grouped together. Beer and ale were both standardized under Queen Elizabeth I (our time and place) at 272 cubic inches.  Wine however was 282 cubic inches. (A Dictionary of English Weights and Measures From Anglo-Saxon Times to the 19th Century. Zupko, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Milwaukee and London 1968).  Each thankfully by this time had four quarts and eight pints.  No, not all gallons did.  We are not told which gallon to use.  A modern American gallon is 231 cubic inches.  (While a modern Empirical gallon has 277.419 cubic inches.)  That is 41 cubic inches less than an English beer and ale gallon.  And 51 cubic inches less than an English wine gallon from around the time of the recipe.  272 cubic inches = 1.17749 modern imperial gallons.  282 cubic inches is 1.22078 imperial gallons.  So the quarts and pints would be larger  than our modern ones.

And that is just the beginning of the problems.  This entire book was translated from Dutch into English.  Measurements were not entirely codified between countries at this time.  Did the translator also translate the measurements?  We have no way to know.  Not without in depth research and/or a helpful version of the weights and measurements book for the Dutch.

So what did I do?  For expediency sake I used modern measurements and called it good.  I plan to make the recipe again, not skip any steps. I will do the math to get the correct volume of liquids assuming a wine gallon as one of the ingredients is wine.  I will then do the math to get the volume for four quarts as well as eight pints.

So how did it turn out?  Pretty darn well actually.  I used two different sized pens.  It has been my experience with period inks that writing small gives the most consistently black results.  When you write large though period inks can “gray” themselves out.  I tested the ink on three different writing surfaces.


The top is written on Bristol Vellum.  The middle is written on pergamenata. The bottom is written on parchment.  On the paper and the parchment both large and small writings are full black without any defects.  The “e” for the parchment in the picture is fully black in person.  And that thing on the left of the parchment in the picture, just an ink splotch from some time ago.

The pergamenata had a varied result.  Writing small the ink is wonderfully black.  Writing large and it grays out.  I varied how much ink allowed down in each stroke.  The more ink I allowed, the blacker the ink was able to turn.  Here is a closer look


The top “S” I wrote some months ago.  It is my normal ink recipe and as dark as it will ever get.  The small “SMile” is perfectly black with this new batch of ink.  The large “smile” on the bottom of the picture is varied.  The “s” is grayish”  The first two strokes of the “m” are good but the third grays out”.  The “i” was purposefully put down over wet with ink.  It is very black but dried puckered and is not a very crisp letter.  The “l” is nice but grays out along the spine.  The “e” is a bit heavy on the ink but not super wet.  It looks nice but is not well formed.

This is the recipe from the book for writing on parchment.  That leads one to believe that it should be superior when written on parchment to when it is used on paper.


Even in person that is a hard call to make.  Upon very close inspection though I see that the hair thin lines on the parchment are indeed hair thin.  On the paper they are not.  The parchment has a slightly crisper and cleaner look than the paper version does.   So I would have to say that yes, this ink writes better on parchment than on paper.  At least for this experiment.


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