Inkwells are used by writers and artists to hold ink for use with quill pens, dip pens and brushes. Ancient Egyptian scribes used small pieces of stone with hollows in them to hold their various colors of ink, as well as to mix the powders and solvents used to make ink. These developed over the years into larger clay containers and eventually fitted with a lid to protect the ink from spills and evaporation.
In Europe a scribe would do the task of corresponding for the aristocrats, as it was considered to be menial work. Inkwells remained basic until the Middle Ages when gold and silver styles first appeared. The 17th century baroque style brought heavily decorated inkwells. Baroque, a French word, roughly translates to: elaborate with details.
In the 1700’s liquid ink was manufactured and sold in wide bottom glass inkwells. The wide bottoms helped to prevent spills. Further developed during the American Civil War, small, portable, lidded screw-top and clasp-top inkwells were provided to soldiers. Quill and dip style pens were used well into the early 1900’s. You may recall seeing old wooden school desks with the hole in the top for the inkwell. Although pencils became more accessible in the early 1900’s these desks with the holes for inkwells were used in rural schools until the 1950’s. In the 1940’s the ball point pen was invented and this allowed the public access to affordable pens that were less messy and easier to use. Quill pens are still used by artists as it is the only way to truly achieve the desired scroll work effect.
Ornate and extravagant inkwells are highly collectible and are found in a large variety of styles. Inkwells are designed to be more of a decorative showpiece, not often made to carry around, but to display and hold ink in a stylish way. Inkwells can be made of various materials including glass, soapstone, onyx, marble, porcelain, horn, cast iron, ceramic, Bakelite, silver, gold, brass and pewter. Inkwells often feature a pen rest, some incorporate calendars or hinged compartments, and more modern inkwells can have lamps attached.
The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a wide selection of antique inkwells, ink bottles, pens and supplies. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.
Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.