Do It Yourself: Ink

Mike Rendell’s blog post on ink reminded me of some recipes for ink that I’d seen in manuscript recipe books. Here’s a simple one:

Take a quart of Wine or Rain water which put into a pot, and put to it 4 ounces of Galls grossly Beaten; let it stand 4 days now and then stirring it, put it to two ounces of Coperas and 2 of Gum Arabech and in 14 days it will be good Inke. (Wellcome Library, MS.8002)

An oak gall (or oak apple) is an outgrowth on the tree created by a reaction to wasp larvae, which use it as a type of nest and a source of nutrients. These are high in tannic acid and have been used for ink and dye since the time of the Roman Empire. Those from the horned oak are spiked, as in this, slightly more complex recipe:

Four ounces of Spicked Galls, Two Ounces of Logwood Chips Two Ounces of Green Copperas, One Ounce of Gum Arabic Boil for one Hour the Galls and Logwood Chips in two quarts of rain Water, strain the liquor into a pitcher, put to it the Copperas and Gum Arabic, stir it occasionally for forty eight Hours, that the Gum may be perfectly dissolved, then strain it again into a Bottle for use. Let the Bottle be well corked. (Wellcome Library, MS.3082)

Copperas or green vitriol is ferrous sulphate, manufactured on the Kent and Essex coasts since the seventeenth century and also used in the woollen industry. Gum arabic is hardened sap from the acacia tree and is still in use as a stabiliser, in food as well as inks and glues. Logwood chips are another source of dye, which would have been purple, grey or black depending on the acidity of the preparation, so this second recipe may have produced a stronger colour than the first.

I’ve found varieties of this recipe in many manuscripts, but I’ve also seen red ink used and even one that was positively sparkly! If anyone knows what would have been added to produce that effect, I’d love to know.


2 thoughts on “Do It Yourself: Ink

  1. Pingback: The Giant’s Shoulders: The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition | From the Hands of Quacks

  2. Pingback: Horse sense – Eighteenth-century recipes

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