Our knowledge of inkwells is mostly gleaned from archaeological analysis. But let’s start with ink: some form of it was found in cave paintings in France and China. While the Sumerian cuneiform script, the earliest known form of writing, gradually spread to India, Asia Minor and Greece. On the other hand, the Chinese used their own ideographic writing with the aid of a vertical brush.
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Writing as we know it
It should be noted that without ink in some form, writing might never have existed. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a most important invention was the inkwell. The inkstand followed soon after. Chemists began to make ink and sell it in bottles to top up inkwells. Indian ink, in spite of its name, was invented in China. Various colours could be added as required. In its early days it contained water and texts could easily fade when wet. To remedy this vinegar was added to fix it. Quill pens were dipped into the ink.
The earliest inkwells
The earliest models of inkwell were made of wood or stone, some dating back to very early times. At the beginning of the eighteenth century pewter inkstands were introduced, mostly for use on ships. They had however a very wide base to avoid spills in rough weather. Much more recently a similar type began to be used in banks and post offices.
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Table top inkwells
On the writing table of any self-respecting gentlemen an inkstand was a ‘must’. The materials used: precious woods, but also porcelain, papier maché and silver. They often had trays for pens, a compartment for stamps and even a candle holder for melting sealing wax.
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The most beautiful and elaborate inkwells can fetch high prices at auction. A Starr & Frost Sterling Silver glass inkwell is worth 500 dollars. A silverplate model with a drumming musician can fetch 150 dollars on line. While a model in brass with a pug dog, 525 dollars.