Thursday 2 June 2016

How to make ink

First have a look at this short blog I've just written for the Times Literary Supplement  about a little-known ink museum in London, The Stephens Collection (which is wonderful), then enjoy this set of instructions (in rhyming couplets) for making ink, which appears on the museum website and comes from a volume published in 1571 entitled A Book containing divers Sorts of Hands:

To make common yncke of Wyne take a quarte,
Two ounces of gomme, let that be a parte,
Five ounces of galles, of copres* take three, 

Long standing dooth make it better to be.
If wyne ye do want, rayne water is best,
And as much stuffe as above at the least:
If yncke be to thick, put vinegar in,
For water dooth make the colour more dimme. 

In hast for a shift when ye have a great nede, 
Take woll, or wollen to stand you in steede; 
whiche burnt in the fire the powder bette small 
With vinegre, or water make yncke with all.
If yncke ye desire to keep long in store,
Put bay salte therein, and it will not hoare.
If that common yncke be not to your minde,
Some lampblack thereto with gomme water grinde.

A main ingredient, galls, is the round growth - an abcess, if you like - produced on an oak tree bud as a result of the laying of an egg by a gall-wasp (Cynipidae). The tree responds to this mild violation by creating a gall, a lump that resembles, in size and shape and colour, a Malteser. This, when crushed, turns into a a fine jet-black powder which, once mixed with water, or wine and/or vinegar, produces a black fluid recognizable as ink. At least that was the way it was done until Inky Stepehens patented his world-conquering blue/black writing fluid. Which takes us back to my TLS blog. 

Attempting to explain ink to a sceptical ten-year old who has grown up in a wholly digital world, I said it was a cheap, portable, liquid version of the internet. He didn't believe me.

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