Vintage & antique ink bottles

(a work in progress)

In my recent exploration of the world of fountain pens and inks I’ve been collecting a few old British ink bottles – both glass and stoneware. I always try to buy pieces that have a maker’s mark and/or label just so that I have something to research. 

The great age of letter writing really started when the adhesive postage stamp was invented in 1837, followed in 1840 by the publication of the penny black stamp – the world’s first postage stamp, which heralded the start of the “penny post”. In 1852 the high-street pillar box was brought in and a highly literate society now started the boom in pen use and letter writing. Fountain pens came in at the turn of the century and continued in use as ubiquitous pieces of everyday life until first cartridges and later ballpoints were brought in in the 1960s. See here for more

Before the 1840s ink had been sold as a solid block or as a powder that you diluted to use but around the 1840s we see the start of retailers selling penny bottles of pre-prepared inks in little disposable ink-well bottles made of glass or stoneware. Larger users of ink, such as schools or businesses, could buy pourable “master” bottles to fill their ink wells from in multi-pint sizes. The larger sizes were always produced in salt-glazed stoneware and the many potteries of the day in the Midlands and in London produced these wares in addition to their usual plates and cups etc. 

Identifying ink brands is quite difficult because, even if the bottles were originally labelled, after 100+ years the label has gone leaving whatever in impressed on the bottle, which is often just the name of the pottery. Rarely you get a bottle with the ink brand’s name impressed on it (e.g. “Stephens, Aldergate” or “P. J. Arnolds”) but it’s clear that often ink companies just bought unbranded bottles and then pasted their own labels on them. 

Ink brands

  • P. & J. Arnold Ltd.: , Aldersgate Street, London. Established 1724. Mainly used Bourne of Denby bottles. Merged with Stephens in 1942 when their factories were bombed. 
    • 15cm bottle = 8oz in liquid volume
    • Stoneware Ink Bottle - Picture 1 of 4
  • Henry Stephens, Aldersgate, London: Established 1832; The biggest competitor of P. J. Arnold – Stephens even set up his factory in the same road.  
  • ?Street & Day, London: [is this an ink manufacturer or a pottery?]
    • Pre-Owned, Antique 1880’s, Brown Stone Ink Bottle, Marked Street and Day London - Picture 2 of 2
  • Swan Ink, by Mabie Todd: 
    • Vintage Swan Blue Black Ink Glazed Stoneware Bottle - Picture 1 of 2
  • Hollis & Co., [“Ship Lane” & “14 Old Street”], London
  • Blackwood & Co.: See here.
    • Blackwood & Co Patent Syphon Stoneware Victorian Bottle - Large 8 inches high - Picture 2 of 6
  • Pridges Inks, London NE: 
    • Original Antique P[RIDGES INK London NE Stoneware Ink Bottle - Picture 1 of 4
  • Hyde & Co., 61 Fleet Street, London:
    • [A list of exhibitors at the Paris Exhibition in 1867] THE LONDON GAZETTE, OCTOBER 19, 1866: Hyde and Co., 61 Fleet-street, London. -Writing inks, sealing wax, manifold writers, patent clamp copying apparatus.
  • Field’s Ink & Gum: 
    • Large Field’s Chymical Non-Corrosive Ink Vintage Stoneware Ink Bottle Bourne - Picture 1 of 3
  • Farthings, London: 
    • Vintage  Master Ink Bottle With Original Label farling london Ink Stoneware - Picture 1 of 7
  • Caley?:
    • Antique Victorian Stoneware Bourne Denby Caley Ink Bottle 10.5" Tall - Picture 1 of 3
  • Lyons Ink: 
    • Aqua Lyon's Ink Bottle - RD. No. 121415 - Picture 1 of 5
  • Walkden’s (Cooper, Dennison & Walkden Ltd, London) 
    • Walkden's Stoneware Writing Fluid Ink Bottle Label J Bourne & Son Derby with Ink - Picture 1 of 14
  • Mayall’s:
    • Vintage Stoneware Small Mayall's Ink Bottle Lable Advertising  - Picture 1 of 2
  • W.G. NIXEY (Egg-Shell Enamel “Berlin Black” and Fine Black Varnish):

Bottle makers

  • J. Bourne & Son Ltd., Denby Pottery, near Derby:
    • one of the largest potteries producing all kinds of stoneware even to this day 
  • Doulton & Co. Limited, Lambeth:
  • Lovatt & Lovatt, Langley Mill, Notts: That name used 1895 – 1930
  • Bailey & Co., Fulham: made a patent, non-drip bottle design in white stoneware
  • [W.A.?] Gray, Portobello [, Edinburgh?]: 1856-1926
    • Vintage Gray of Portobello Stoneware Ink Bottle                         907371 - Picture 1 of 6
  • [J. Stiff, Lambeth]: I don’t have an example of this maker. See here
  • Price, Bristol: 
    • Antique Price Bristol Ink Bottle 155mm Tall - Picture 4 of 4
  • George Skey, Tamworth:
  • Bailey & Co., Fulham:
    • Maker of a Patent, non-drip bottle 

2 Replies to “Vintage & antique ink bottles”

  1. I have a sealed bottle of Velos black endorsing ink ½ oz priced at 1/6. Any idea if it is worth anything.

  2. I have no idea really but it’s unlikely to be worth much (£10-£20?) unless a collector really needs it to complete a set. It’s one of the nice things about this subject, that you can buy a lot of stuff very cheaply 🙂

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