Like many practical inventions, creating ink from plant and mineral dyes has been traced back as far as 3000 B.C.E. in Ancient China. However, the inkwell does not appear to come along until 400 B.C.E, when Ancient Egyptian scribes used pieces of stone with hollows in them to hold their ink. The hollows were also used to mix the powders and solvents used to make the ink. Over the years, the wells developed into larger clay containers and eventually were fitted with a lid to protect from spills and evaporation.
In Europe, correspondence between noblemen was also done through scribes; members of the aristocracy were considered too important to write their own messages. Inkwells remained basic in design until the Middle Ages, when they were engraved and made of silver or gold. The 17th-century baroque style brought extremely ornate inkwells; they were often painted with intricate designs and cast in gold. In the 1700s, liquid ink was manufactured and sold in wide-bottom glass inkwells to prevent spills. Further developed during the American Civil War, soldiers were provided with portable, screw-top or clasp-top inkwells for their diaries or to write home to family.
Quill and dip-style pens were used well into the early 1900s. Although pencils became more accessible in the early 1900s, wooden desks in rural areas were designed with holes in them for inkwells. These were used into the 1950s. The ballpoint pen was invented in the 1940s, and this allowed the public access to affordable pens that were easier to use and not as messy.
Quill pens are still used by artists today, for projects involving (but not limited to) calligraphy.
Extravagant inkwells are highly collectible and are found in a large variety of styles. Inkwells are generally designed to be more of a decorative showpiece, not often made to carry around. They are crafted 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, while some incorporate calendars or hinged compartments. More modern inkwells can even have lamps attached!
The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a wide selection of antique inkwells, ink bottles, pens and other art supplies. Come entice your creative side and visit us on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles!