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Master inks filled wells around the world
By David McCormick

Master inks are a great part of our country’s history. If they could talk, what stories they could tell. Masters were used at Harvard and Yale and other colleges and universities, helping to put forward new ideas for a new country. They were found at the Civil War campsites at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Fredericksburg, helping to record the acts of bravery as well as the horrific events that took place. The masters helped pen the letters home to friends and loved ones, and record events in soldiers’ fireside diaries. The masters are partially responsible for creating a record that lives to this day.

As their name implies, the master inks would be used to fill smaller ink containers. They often survived because they could be reused, whereas smaller inks might be thrown away.

While there is a lot of information on smaller inks, master inks are somewhat overlooked.

The master inks were generally made of glass, pottery or ceramic. They come in several varieties including ’pourer’ inks, which were used to top off inkwells and the bulk type, used for filling the inkwells.

Master inks are highly collectible. Their larger size allows them to be displayed more prominently than the smaller inks. The wide variety of colors and shapes offer a wide selection to the collector. Aside from their size, shape, and color, the master inks can be categorized by their makers, countries of origin, and age.

At times, color variants and signs of wear from handling and age affect the quality of the master inks. Some examples carry the residue or stains that still remain after 100 years or more. In some master inks, especially the ceramic type, it’s not uncommon to hear a piece of the original cork

The word “inks” covers many facets in the ink industry. The term ink, denotes the black and blue-black writing fluid. The word, inks, is also the name given to the containers that hold the liquid.

The development of ink is centuries old, but the modern ink industry, as we know it, began in the early 17th century. As the development of ink progressed, the industry became more complex. Different inks were developed using different recipes. There was Gall ink, Indian ink, blue-black ink, and the list goes on.

As the population grew and people moved around the world, the need for communication also grew. The written word became ever more important. The ink industry grew from these needs. The demand for containers and vessels needed to accommodate the ink grew as well providing work for businesses supplying pottery, ceramics and glass.

At the beginning of the 18th century the ink industry settled in the western part of the European continent. A little later it found its way to the commercial centers of the British Isles: London, Dublin and Edinburgh. By the mid 19th century, the ink industry made huge strides in the United States.

P & J Arnold of London was one of the pioneering companies in the ink industry in Great Britain. The company produced different types of inks, their Blue Black writing fluid rated for it’s permanency and the red ink known for it’s brilliancy of color. Their brown crockery inks came in several sizes, and the Arnold orange trademark label can not be mistaken. Other well known English ink companies were Stephens, Price and Hyde, and Cochrane.

A little later, the ink industry took root in the United States to fill the country’s need for ink. S. S. Stafford and Sanford were two of the earlier companies. Some of the ink manufacturers such as E. S. Curtis of Boston, offered powdered ink only. They supplied the instructions for mixing and filling the ceramic and glass master inks. Later the Russia Cement Co. emerged. They were responsible for the Signet brand.

Master inks can be found in several areas. Those who love the thrill of the hunt would enjoy digging for inks that are just waiting to be found. Civil War sites, old dumps, sites of former factories and schools make excellent locations in which to search. Many times dug examples are nicked, cloudy and have lost their luster. Although these examples are not of great monetary value due to condition, they do have historic value attached to them, by knowing which battlefield, school, or dump sites they were discovered.

Prices for master inks vary greatly. Usually masters can range from a few dollars for some of the more common dug examples, and upward to hundreds of dollars for the more rare types. There are also extremely rare ones selling in the thousands. For the average collector great examples of masters from different ink manufacturers can be found from $50 to $100 each.

Two master inks were recently offered on A mid-19th century stoneware E.S. Curtis master ink, 5½in high featured its period lable reading Superior Black Ink prepared by E.S. Curtis, Boston. It was priced $125. A stoneware P. & J Arnold’s 32 ounce master ink was priced $95. The bottle was made by J. Bourne & Son. Two of the Arnold’s paper labels remained on the bottle. The bottle is 9½in tall and is listed in fair condtion.

Ruby Lane, had one master ink listed recently, a Carters cobalt blue bottle in the Cathedral pattern. “There are some factory pits and lines but no actual chips or cracks and no hazing that I can determine,” the seller wrote.The bottle measures 10in high and was priced $95


• American Stoneware Bottles, by David Graci


• Bottle Bobs, eBay Store

• Let’s Talk About Ink, by Ed and Lucy Faulkner

• A Collecting Guide to Ink Bottles by Veldon Badders

• Antique Glass Bottles, Their History & Evolution by Willy Van den Bossche

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