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Antique & Collectibles Showcase Magazine Sept/Oct 2007
by Michelle Greysen 2007
(no part of this article may be copied or used without written permission of the author)
Inkwells ... the lure of an era gone by
By Michelle Greysen
Is it the romance of dipping the feathered quill’s precise sharp nib? The thought of a desperate lover penning a love-sick plea in tear stained ink by flickering candlelight? Perhaps a picture of the astute banker signing-off on a hard earned mortgage-release in the dirty thirties, with the elegance of a fine document and the professional dignity of a well flowing pen? Whatever the vision, all good reasons for the love affair of late with inkwell collecting and the loss of an era gone by.
It seems as a culture, the more addicted to our computer and the quick stoke of the keys we become, and the more desensitized we are from the days of a pride in penmanship and the art of the written word, the more we are drawn to the romance of the inkwell and the dip of the nib pen.
For practical purposes we do not sway back to the pocket pen full of staining ink, but we are definitely reverting back to graceful written notes on elegant stationery, and lovely desktops with which to sit and write them from. The draw to the inkwell seems a logical fit and the feverish passion of late for collecting them has been comforting to those who feared the loss of our written word to the sometimes too-fast paced technology consuming our pride of personal penmanship.
In the early 1700’s glass and pottery ink bottles starting showing up from English makers and commercially by the 18th century ink was a production commodity with large ‘master bottles’ produced by which to refill smaller ones. By the mid 1800’s it became fashionable to produce colours and clever shapes in the hopes of a non-tipping bottle. Early ink-bottles came in all forms and materials, often in a likenesses to people and animals, with geometric styles and both clear and coloured glass. As manufacturing became more successful, so did the sophistication of the inkwell and what was previously a simple bottle, and often clay or stoneware, became elegant desk top display pieces which rang of status and wealth.
By the 1930’s, with the early turn of the century pen-filler designs perfected, one carried their ink right in their pen and the need for decorative bottles declined and functional less ornate bottles were removed from the desk top to a drawer.
Collectors hunt for a variety of inkwells with some collecting all styles and others preferring an era or a theme. Popularity is over-ruled in this personal collecting arena, by personal preference as unique as one’s own handwriting. A treasure to one collector may be a dog to another, as for example, the figural inkwells are loved or hated but catch prices now in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. What they lack in refinement, they make up for in character. From camels, to dogs, birds, monkeys, elephants, turtles and more they are often heavy metals of brass or bronze.
The late Victorian era came with ornate metals and plump cherubs. Next the Art Nouveau era in the late 1800’s graced natural forms and lovely maidens, mostly in metals and bronze, followed by hand-painted porcelain inkwells, or inkstands, that were as pretentious as the drawing rooms and libraries they were displayed in.
The turn of the century, with its wealth and decadence brought about the popularity of the showy souvenir inkwell often fashioned in natural materials from the resort area from which it was purchased, such as seashells, papier-mâché, and metals. The Arts and Crafts movement and industrialism brought a style and the advent of the wood carved examples from Germany’s forests and as far away as Africa’s black ebony, and a finer souvenir form the likes of the Eiffel Tower and beyond. By the 1920’s and the Art Deco movement the inkwell took on a more streamlined utilitarian polished executive look, and by the 1930’s the marriage of the pen and ink had all but taken the romance out of the dipping desktop inkwell.
As with all antiques there are reproductions and fakes out there and one should always buy from a reputable dealer and where you can touch and examine your purchase. No good shopkeeper will mind holding an item overnight while you do some thinking on it, giving you time for some information gathering on your potential purchase. The bottom line of course is buy what you love and what is in your collector budget. When a more favourite find comes along one can always trade-up as your collection takes shape and you find your area of interest and knowledge. Enjoy the alluring hunt for the harder and harder to discover inkwells.
(no part of this article may be copied or used without written permission of the author Michelle Greysen)