Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Collection of Vintage Red Inks

Here is a small collection of vintage red inks from about 1938 to 1963. Red ink is just red ink. But each company's interpretation of the color red is slightly different. All of these inks are 'writing fluid' (that's an old Sheaffer designation) for fountain pens. They have all been used in fountain pens, and work amazingly well.


Carter's Hunting Red

Carter's Ink (Boston, Mass.) changed their cubed bottle design to the 'new oval' in the early 1940s, giving their product line a new facelift. The ink looks and performs very similarly to their Permanent Red and Sunset Red from the early to late 1930s. Some have considered this color red similar to venous hemoglobin (human blood). There are definitely some brown undertones. I think it's more brick-red.


Crescent Fre-Flo Red













A carmine red produced by Crescent Products Co. (Terre Haute, Ind.). See review here.



 Sanford Pen-It Cardinal Red


Sanford (Chicago, Ill.) began producing their Pen-It ink in cute little jars, probably around 1937, up until the mid 1950s. These 1-ounce bottles were initially presented in commemorative catalin (plastic) globes for the 1938 New York World's Fair. The ink is very similar to Pelikan Brilliant Red (or Noodler's Dragon's Napalm, modern), with pinkish-orange undertones.


Pelikan Brilliant Red













Wilhelm Wagenfeld created one of the classic ink-bottle designs in 1938 for G√ľnther Wagner Company, makers of Pelikan pens and inks. This bottle was produced by Vereinigte-Lausitzer-Glaswerke VLG Weisswasser. Pelikan red ink still produced today. It is a translucent red analine dye with orange and pinkish undertones, very similar to Sanford's red ink seen above.




Carter's Sunset Red

Carter's cube shaped bottles of the 1930s are a favorite among collectors. Initially, Carter's released the 'Sunset' series of inks, with all of their brightly colored inks, even green, labeled with the 'Sunset' moniker. I presume that while there may had been many changes to their formulation, the red color has remained consistent, no matter how many different ways it has been renamed and repackaged.


Waterman's Carnation Red










Although Louis Waterman’s company is noted for the capillary feed and the cartridge-filling mechanism (thanks to its French subsidiary JIF-Waterman), one of its most well-recognized company designs comes from someone outside of Waterman; that is, the Waterman ink bottle.  Ted Piazzoli was an employee of Capstan Glass of Connelsville, Pennsylvania. As such, he designed several patented jars and bottles that he signed over the rights to the Capstan company, all but the one Waterman ink bottle.  He was granted the rights to this patent in March 1936. Capstan produced the first jars for Waterman. In 1938, Capstan was reorganized as Anchor Hocking. In the early 1950s, Waterman released its larger 3-ounce ink bottle. Carnation red has a nice rose-pink shading, similar in look to Sheaffer's Skrip Persian Rose. 

Sheaffer Skrip Red











Sheaffer Skrip Persian Rose














Here are two classic Sheaffer inks from the 1950s. Since the 1940s, Sheaffer began producing a glass bottle with a small well at the top for users to dip their fountain pen nib without dipping it straight into the mother lode.  Skrip Red is considered by many to be a "true red," whatever that means. I think it's shade represents the color of a stop sign. Perhaps you're not seeing stop-sign red in my photographic sample. However, when you brush the ink onto the page, it becomes very clear. Skrip's Persian Rose is what I call the mythical ink for two reasons: one, it's a color that has been copied by several ink producers over the past 70 years; two, because of instability of the dye, no two Persian Rose inks remain exactly the same. Some have a nice deep rose color like you see here, others have turned to an avocado green. You can still purchase Skrip Red ink new. But Persian Rose is a rare find, with bottle prices ranging from $25 to $85 for a 2-ounce bottle.


Parker Quink Red



I love these diamond-shaped bottles from the late 1950s-early 1960s. Parker's Quink ink was originally formulated in the 1930s. Quink red has a very pleasant cherry-red color that calls attention to itself when using it for marking up black typed copy. It's a bit bright as a regular writer on a filled page.
























Friday, May 20, 2011

The Story of Signet Ink (1913-1937?)

Signet Ink was a product of the Russia Cement Company of Gloucester, Massachusetts, makers of their most famous product, LePage Glue.  You’ll probably remember LePage Glue, a liquid-based adhesive contained in a bell-shaped bottle with applicator-nipple through which the glue was supposed to be applied directly to the construction paper, that was until you removed the crusted old glue off the rubber applicator.  I seem to always associate it with Sunday School on a cold Autumn day.


For most of the Twentieth Century, LePage was a household name. The company exists today, however, a shell of its glue-greatness. Before Elmer’s Glue, there was LePage.  William Le Page, an inventor, started the company in 1876 producing the first liquid form of Russian isinglass. This was an industrial glue made from the waste product of fish. There was nothing unique about Russian isinglass, usually a dried sheet that required reconstitution with water, but LePage made the product ready-to-pour right out of the can.

For most of the Twentieth Century, LePage was a household name. The company exists today, however, a shell of its glue-greatness. Before Elmer’s Glue, there was LePage.  William Le Page, an inventor, started the company in 1876 producing the first liquid form of Russian isinglass. This was an industrial glue made from the waste product of fish. There was nothing unique about Russian isinglass, usually a dried sheet that required reconstitution with water, but LePage made the product ready-to-pour right out of the can.

For most of the Twentieth Century, LePage was a household name. The company exists today, however, a shell of its glue-greatness. Before Elmer’s Glue, there was LePage.  William Le Page, an inventor, started the company in 1876 producing the first liquid form of Russian isinglass. This was an industrial glue made from the waste product of fish. There was nothing unique about Russian isinglass, usually a dried sheet that required reconstitution with water, but LePage made the product ready-to-pour right out of the can.

In 1887, LePage moved the factory to the banks of the Annisquam River in Gloucester, just off lower Essex Avenue. The company was originally called Russia Cement, later LePage. Following his success with industry, Le Page began a heavy marketing campaign for the
same mucilage repackaged for home use. In fact, LePage is best known for their aggressive marketing that created a high demand for an ordinary product, a style of marketing still copied today by some well-recognized ink manufacturers.

As the company grew, the product line was expanded to include multiple adhesives, lubricating oils and ink. Signet Ink was introduced in 1913 with a product line that included Black, Blue-Black, Blue and Carmine Red, and later Peacock Blue (turquoise).  The inks were marketed directly at volume discounts to the wholesalers (jobbers) who helped advertise and sell the ink directly to retailers. Based on the bottle design and labels, Signet Inks were
produced through the 1930s. By 1950, Russia Cement was long out of the ink making business.*

As his most successful operations were the target of litigation by his former partners, William Le Page was forced to retire from the business which he made famous. The glue and mucilage company continued operations bearing his name.  The company has since left Gloucester.  The factory site along Lower Banjo Pond has been torn down and turned into affordable housing. LePage exists now as a Canadian-based maker of adhesives and sealants for construction and DIYers.

As a purist of fountain pens, I naturally assumed that vintage ink belongs in a vintage pen. Usually these inks are rather acidic, but I use pens with gold nibs, and don’t keep the ink-filled instrument lying around for weeks at a time.  I loaded my old John Holland pen with this 90-year-old ink and proceeded to go about my day, not trying to create any sort of attention to myself while writing in office charts. A year or two ago, I‘d be running around yelling, “this is freaking 90-year-old ink,” like I’d discovered the Holy Grail or something. This time, I tried to keep it cool and see if anyone noticed. Surprisingly, no one seemed to care.  I guess most people don’t recognize 90-year-old ink unless some nut runs around the office screaming about it.  Sure, the ink over the years has faded a bit, more grey than black. But it still handled quite well. A writing sample is shown here. So the bottlegoes back to the trophy shelf (of odd collectable items that have significant relevance to only me) in the event of the great ink-shortage Armageddon, or if someone asks me, “can you even use that ink?” The answer will be yes.

Writing sample using black ink (shown above).

Preparing this article could not have been done without the help of Vanessa Le Page. Vanessa is the great grand-daughter of the company's founder, William Le Page. Vanessa also serves as the family historian, and has documented her voracious collection of company memorabilia on her website. She currently lives in the Toronto area, where she earns a living designing cakes. 

* So when did Russia Cement (LePage) stop producing their ink? An article from the Gloucester Daily Times, September 30, 1954 indicated that LePage has long since stopped making inks.  Given the author’s ready access to accurate information, this article is probably accurate in its assessment.

However, CL Brown’s “Differentiation of inks by electrochromatophoresis,” appearing in Microchimica Acta Vol 44, No. 12, 1729-1734, 1956, suggests that Signet Ink was still available, since it was used in the analysis. Perhaps it was a bottle sitting in the author's office. 

JW Bracket, Jr. performed a similar analysis of ink by chromotography using “locally available inks.” (Appears in “Comparison of Ink Writing on Documents by Means of Paper Chromatography” in The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Nov. - Dec., 1952), pp. 530-539).  Signet Ink was obviously not locally available at the time. But Carter’s Permanent Midnight Black, Morriset Black, Higgins Carbon Eternal Black, Quink Permanent Black, Sanfords Penit Jet Black, Sanfords Permanent Royal Black, Skrip Washable Black, Skrip Permanent Jet Black, and Superchome Jet Black was available, and consistent with ink produced at that time.

In a personal communication with Vanessa Le Page, she stated that she had Signet and LePage Ink bottles possibly from the late 1950s to early 1960s. However, pictures of bottles of these inks on her website are more consistent with bottles produced from the mid to late 1930s, given the style and design of bottles consistent with glass manufacturing industry of the time.