Updated August 2006
Ink was first used about 2500BC in Ancient Egypt and China. The modern day digger / collector soon comes to realise that our Victorian forebearers spent most of their time either drinking (nothing wrong with that), cleaning house or writing letters...this observation is based on what one might find on a typical "dig".
Ink bottles tend to be named after items which they closely resemble i.e umbrella, boat, tent, barrel, cottage, pyramid...etc. Where the shape is not characteristic then the names of the manufacturers are used for identification i.e Temple, Pridge, Field, Hyde, Blackwood, Derby, Hollidge...etc.
I have recently "re-discovered" inks and have set about acquiring some really nice British and American examples for the website. The Inks which one digs in South Africa are rather bland and are, with very few exceptions, circular, boat shaped, square ribbed and nearly all aqua glass.
This picture taken during July 2004 shows the better specimens of my ink collection it also shows what a pleasant and interesting display even a small collection can make. Let us look at the collection again in a year or so.
Aqua Glass (General)
Four different shapes of glass inks.
Generally very rare and seldom seen. The one on the left was dug in Mossel Bay, the one in the center, bearing a diamond registration mark, was bought from a British dealer (not one of those mentioned below) who unfortunately did not realise that it had been damaged and the neck ground down; it should have a neck as long as the bottle next to it, an extremely rare ice blue version.
Bell inks, described so because of their obvious shape may easily be confused with glue pots as they were similarly shaped
An unusual ice blue bottle followed by an "Arnold's London" (with pontil mark) and two classic shaped bottles.
A group of five aqua glass bell inks all dug in South Africa.
Boat Inks, named after their characteristic shape are amongst the most commonly found Victorian Ink bottles in the world. They vary in colour size and style but all have the pen rests and tall "chimneys". Pictured above are five different coloured bottles all dug in South Africa as well as (on the far right) a Scottish cobalt-blue type from the U.K.
Another group of more unusual Boat Inks from left to right; Two light apple green large size, a light aqua large size, a very scarce amber brown bottle and an ultra rare large amber brown in mint condition.
These bottles were mainly used for dispensing small quantities of ink into school desk recepticles . From the left, two early P & J Arnold bottles made by J. Bourne & Son Denby, a very unusual white glazed bottle stamped in five places "S. PLANT, PRETORIA" (dug in Kimberley), an early ink with curious applied top, a circular Doulton & Co Lambeth bulk ink and a cobalt-blue glazed small bulk ink.
Not much explanation needed here. It is generally accepted that the brown glazed bottles contained black or blue ink and the white, red ink. The first bottle (two-tone) is the smallest of three known sizes, I have not come across these anywhere else other than in the Dale Lewis collection.
Three differnet views of an ultra rare cottage ink which is embossed REDG APRIL 5 '69
These inks are highly collectable and very rare. The British dealer I bought this from unfortunately was in too much of a hurry to list it on e-Bay to realise that what he described as a "hairline" was in fact a bad crack going right around the bottle from front to rear as can be seen.
Cotton Reel Inks
Not to be confused with round inks, cotton reel inks are circular but have a rib or some form of reinforcing at the top and bottom and are named (logically) after the shape of cotton reels.
Above from left to right are an ice-blue finished lip, a bursrt lip aqua, a very unusual TALANA (early South African Glassworks) with some form of patent cap holder, an interesting plain ink with the letter C in reverse underneath for impressing into "Plasticene" modelling clay (or so the story goes, and a light ice-blue finished top bottle.
Derby (All British)
A group of five early Victorian very attractive inks. The ice-blue bottle (on the far right) being the scarcest. The aqua glass ink (second from left) is commonly found in South Africa and the (first) sealed bottle with some contents remaining is a later version with the reinforcing ridge moved up to below the top.
Blackwood & Co. Of 18 Bread St. Hill London were a well known ink manufacturer. An extemely rare glass desk ink dug in Kimberley and still in amazingly good condition. The base, which incorporates two pen rests and two nib holders is made of almost black (purple) glass. On the right is a standard circular desk ink with six pen holders.
Sadly all the hinges and most of the caps / covers of these inks are long gone.
Left to right, a LIONS ice blue dome, an aqua typewriter ink, an unmarked light ice blue umbrella and a light cobalt American umbrella.
A beautiful (and extremely rare) ice blue bracelet ink, a pontilled early American umbrella, a Turtle ink and a strangely shaped bottle, the purpose of which we are not aware?
The bottle on the left is a scarce J & IEM igloo from the U.S.A. The other four are varieties of Blackwood & Co. London.
Fairly common, especially if un-embossed. From left to right; Blackwood & Co, plain Aqua large, apple green Hyde London, plain mid cobalt-blue, an unsual bottle incorporating a spare nib holder?, a scarce embossed XXX INK ana a locally dug J.J.Field, London.
Also known as dwarf ink the penny ink derives its name from the price paid for these early stoneware bottles. Pictured above, a group of five bottles containing black or blue ink, all dug in South Africa.
A goup of five red ink bottles. The middle one embossed on the shoulder "Hollidge, London". It is unusual for these penny / dwarf inks to bear any embossing or potters mark.
A cobalt-blue medium sized pourer, a scarce small Morell, a Hyde London aqua glass and an unusual Pridge earthernware bottle picked up on a building site.
Pourers are also found in an apple-green colour which is exceptionally rare.
Pourer inks were used to top up smaller ink wells.
Really Way-out Inks
A sheared neck birdcage ink showning the door and feeders on each side next to a cobalt-blue teakettle ink complete with cap.
A nice group of six colorful round inks all dug in South Africa. The dark olive green bottle on the right is an early TALANA South African made bottle.
School Desk Inks
These are highly sought after to complete the authenticity of restored oak and cast iron school desks behind which so many of our generation suffered silently.
The left-hand bottle is interisting and valuable, embossed on top DEPOSE AWD and beneath in antique script AJ Willeryet Bruges. The other two are South African. The one on the right is RH Morris Cape Town.
Note the different diameters, it is difficult to match a Desk Ink to a school desk as these rescepticles were ordered from the potters by the desk manufacturers and holes made to size.
Spill Proof Inks
As the name implies, an ingenious idea from the turn of the previous century. The first picture shows the bottle in its upright position and to the right, the level of ink contained without spilling. Next, a British bottle with removable plug for cleaning and on the right, a spectacular pontilled early American bottle.
Square Inks with double pen rests
Group of five South African dug inks.
Square Inks with four pen rests
A nice group of three early Victorian sheared neck inks.
Square Top Inks
Generally accepted as having contained red ink (if you have ever dug one and cleaned it you will agree!) these salt-glazed Doulton Lambeth bottles are really beautiful. Each one bears a diamond registration mark which can be used to establish it's date of manufacture.
Click here to enlarge
The above group shows a very rare apple green, turquoise, large aqua (also known as a marquee) and a scarce mid-blue variety.
The tipper ink, Rd No 687097 is an ingenious invention allowing maximum usage of the ink with a minimum of waste. The top row pictures these bottles in their "normal" position. When the ink level drops too much, the bottle is "tipped" into an upright position allowing the remaining ink to accumulate into the bottom. The clear glass bottle (far left) is probably an earlier, prototype version as it can not tip without assistance. The ice-blue example is extremely rare and there is no recorded cobalt-blue Tipper Ink (not yet).
As the name implies, small ink bottles were equipped with ingenious leak-proof closures. The one pictured above shows open and closed positions.
Antiquebottles.co.za is indebted to the honesty and integrity in their dealings, of the likes of Raymond Barker, William Bentley, Michael Flude, John Goulding, Peter Grant, Andrew Howitt, Rick James, Norman Lewis, Mike Merry, Jonathan Ryland, John Sharp, Paul Stewart and Mike Waters