Tuesday, April 22, 2008

HUES OF BLUE: A Tale of Ink

After the fountain pen itself nothing is more important than the ink you fill it with. Without ink a fountain pen is only an objet d'art, but it is not a tool. Ink, without the directing power of a pen, is only an amorphous liquid with no meaning. Pen and ink combined yield something greater than the sum of its parts, the mathematical equation of which is 1+1=3.

It's not my intention to give a detailed history of ink, that can be found on a numerous of Internet sites. Instead I'll share with you my musings on the subject of ink.

No one knows for certain where ink originated, the Ancient Egyptians, Hebrews and Chinese all used some substance that enabled them to write on parchment or papyrus. Early ink was often made from lampblack, soot, ashes, crushed berries and "ink" from cuttlefish and octopi. The Chinese are given credit for having created India ink which combined soot, oil and grease into a substance that would adhere or bind itself to the writing surface. Ostensibly ink is a binding agent which burns itself into the paper. Because early inks were high in acidity, early manuscripts and documents bear holes where the ink has eaten through the parchment. The presence of these holes is one way to discern the authenticity of ancient documents.
Because of the corrosive nature of early inks, the nibs on many antique pens show signs of erosion. For an ink to be balanced it should have a pH level between 6 and 7. Low pH (2, 3) veers towards acidity; very high pH levels (9, 11) are high in ammonia content. In either case, both extremes are bad for pens.

Nathan Tardiff is the founder of Noodler's Ink, absolutely positively one of the best ink brands on the market. All of Noodler's inks have a neutral pH and are safe for fountain pens. In addition they are often designated as being "bulletproof" which means they are impervious to chemicals, bleach and other agents, once the ink has dried on the page. Nathan has a standing offer of $1000.00 for anyone who can remove his ink from a check or any other paper stock. In the past this could only be accomplished with India ink or indelible ink which is not safe for fountain pens. India ink in particular contains shellac and when this ink enters the capillaries of the pen's feeder system the pen will be damaged and in need of serious repair. Never, ever put waterproof, permanent or India ink in a fountain pen - NEVER! Nathan uses the term bulletproof as opposed to waterproof which means they are safe for pens but become permanent when pen is put to page. Noodler's also produces inks that will not freeze in sub Arctic temperatures and inks that contain lubricants to keep a pen's mechanism functioning smoothly. I'm sure there hangs a sign on his laboratory door that reads, "Genius at work."

Among my favorite inks in current use are:

Noodler's Red-Black: A nice combination that's pleasing to the eye; slightly chocolate
(Ottoman Rose is also quite nice.)

Noodler's Legal Blue: A professional business blue that's bulletproof & forger proof
(Available only from Art Brown International Pen Shop.)

Noodler' Heart of Darkness: Darker than a black hole in deep space or in Calcutta

Noodler's X Feather: You could write on a paper towel and it will not feather or bleed

Noodler's Bay State Blue: A blue that's vibrant and electric; brilliant beyond belief

Private Reserve's Naples Blue: My everyday blue, aesthetically pleasing to mind, body & soul

Private Reserve's Avocado: A warm embraceable green

Private Reserve's Quick Drying Ultra Black: Deep, dark and intense

Private Reserve's Purple Mojo: In the words of Austin Powers - Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

There are many manufacturers of ink: Diamine from England, Aurora from Italy, Sailor from Japan and Pelikan from Germany all mix wonderful pigments. The thing to remember is that the combination of pen and ink is very unique. An ink that works wonderfully in one pen may not work as well in another pen of a different make or model; you have to experiment until you find the right match-up. Be sure to rinse out your pens at least once a month to avoid clogging problems. A good rinse is important when switching between inks not only for reasons of color but also for the differences in brands. I suggest that you purchase a nasal aspirator which is great for flushing out the nib and feeder.

Scribo Ergo Sum


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