Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes

John BosleyFountain Pen Ink 55 Comments

Long before the incredibly diverse selection of fountain pen inks and manufacturers we currently know existed, there was a much smaller variety available. The number of manufacturers could be counted on two hands and colors were more or less limited to very subtle variations of blue, black, red, green, purple and brown. Still, there is a certain charm and satisfaction to using vintage fountain pen inks, especially if you also use vintage fountain pens. There’s something special about filling a pen that was made in the 1940s with ink that is from the same era.

Collecting vintage fountain pen ink can be enjoyable and rewarding. It can also be overwhelming if you’re just getting started. There isn’t much information out there to help you identify or date the various bottles and boxes you’ll come across. In this post, I’d like to help you with identifying vintage fountain pen ink bottles and boxes. Years back, I actually wrote and self-published a book about vintage inks. In fact, most of the text in this article comes from that book. I spent almost a year sifting through old magazine advertisements, manufacturer catalogs and doing other research to come up with, what I believe to be, the most comprehensive vintage ink identification guide around.

In this post, I’ll focus on the “Big 3” vintage American pen and ink manufacturers: Parker, Sheaffer and Waterman. While their inks may not be very exciting compared to modern inks, 70 years ago their inks made up the majority of what was on the market. This also means that they are the easiest to find. If you have any reservations about using vintage ink in your pens or determining if the ink is still good or not, I have some info in my post Is It Safe To Use Old Fountain Pen Inks.


Quink Summary

The Parker Pen Company began manufacturing a new type of ink in 1931. It called this ink “Quink”, which is commonly thought to be a combination of “quick” and “ink”, a reference to the inks quick-drying nature. Early bottles of Quink even said “The Quick Drying Ink” very prominently on the label. Quink’s introduction was not Parker’s first foray into ink. In Parker advertisements from as early as 1917, a Parker Pen is shown dipping itself into a bottle of Parker Fountain Pen Ink. In addition to this, an ink was marketed with Duofolds as Parker Duofold Ink. But, neither of these lasted and were replaced with Quink, which is still made today. Consequently, these early bottles are extremely rare and difficult to find.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes Parker Duofold Ink box

If you’re ever lucky enough to come across some Parker Duofold ink, don’t miss the opportunity to purchase it!

Early bottles of Quink touted the superiority of Quink. On a 16oz bottle from the early 1930s, the label reads:

1021 different formulae were developed, tested, and rejected by our laboratories before Quink was perfected. Formula 1022 produced Quink – an ink we honestly believe to be better in every way than any writing fluid ever made before. It is permanent for your records; it dries 31% faster on paper than average inks, but not on the pen point. Its color is richly deep and brilliant; its full-bodied fluidity and surface tension will make your fountain pen please you better than ever before. Don’t say Ink, say Quink.

This early Quink was sold in five different colors. As competition between ink manufacturers continued, new colors (both permanent and washable) were developed. But, adding new colors was not the only way to increase sales and drive interest in a product. Although Quink had been advertised as a “Pen Cleaning Ink” for most of its life, it was not until 1942 that Quink was advertised to contain “Solv-X”, a “magic” ingredient that “cleans a pen as it writes”. This became a major advertising point, as it was introduced during the war when pen-manufacturing supplies were in high demand and low supply. The advertising for Quink promoted the inks pen-protecting qualities.

Although Parker manufactured some inks that did not do a very good job of protecting pens (see Superchrome and “51”), Quink has been manufactured since its introduction in 1931 and is still around today. Just walk into any office supply store and you will probably find a bottle or cartridges of Quink. It is also widely regarded as an extremely safe ink to use.

Superchrome and “51”

In 1941, Parker introduced the Parker “51” to the world. This pen quickly became a favorite of the public. One of the reasons was that it wrote with wet ink, but the ink dried very quickly on the paper. Although any ink could be used with the “51”, a special type of ink was developed specifically for the Parker “51”, Parker “51” Ink. Parker “51” Ink was made to dry quickly on paper. In order to do this, it had chemicals in it that evaporated quickly, leaving behind the color of the ink on the paper with no wetness to smear. But, these chemicals also were very harmful to pens. In fact, if you have ever seen a bottle or box for Parker “51” Ink, you know that they are covered in warnings. For example, the box reads –

“WARNING – Harmful if used in ANY Fountain Pen – even in Parker Pens – except in the Parker “51” Pen for which this ink is specially made.”

In addition, there are also warnings on the bottle cap, the back label, and on an insert that came packaged with the ink. The insert describes the ink as possessing “high velocity”, stating that “it will flood and gush from any other fountain pen” besides the Parker “51”. It also gives many tips on removing ink stains from various materials and fabrics.

Time has proven that this ink was dangerous for more reasons than its high velocity. Simply put, it eats pens. So, if you find a bottle of this ink and decide to use it (which is not recommended), make sure that you do not use it in pens of any value.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes Parker 51

The boxes for Parker “51” ink are quite attractive and somewhat hard to find.

Parker “51” Ink was discontinued in 1948 and Parker Superchrome was introduced that same year. Superchrome was another ink that was made specifically for the Parker “51”. Later, the box stated it was also for the Parker “21”. Although these boxes and bottles did not carry the multiple warnings of the Parker “51” Ink, they did still make a big point of saying that they were for the “51” or “21” only. Like the “51” Ink, Superchrome’s main feature was that it “writes dry with wet ink…”. It also did the same thing to pens, so the same warning as above applies if you plan on using this ink.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes Parker Superchrome

Parker Superchrome ink make a great collectible, but don’t use it in your fountain pens.

Quink Identification and Dating

Parker Quink bottles and boxes can be very difficult to date and have few major changes. As you will see with Sheaffer Skrip, there were four major box and label changes to Quink. Unlike Skrip, though, Quink seemed to change its bottle shape as well as label and box design. I like to break the identification of Vintage Quink inks down into four different eras, differentiated by bottle design rather than label characteristics: The Round Bottle Era, The Deco Bottle Era, The Square Bottle Era, and the Diamond Bottle Era. Please keep in mind that these are purely my classifications and are not official names.

The Round Bottle Era 1931-1938

Parker started producing Quink in 1931. The original bottle shape was a squat, round bottle with vertical ridges on the top of the bottle and a solid strip around the center of the bottle which is where the label was placed. From 1931-1935, the labels had vertical lines on either side of the word “Quink”. This label was replaced in 1936 with a design that lasted until 1938 and had a series of parallel horizontal lines on either side of the word “Quink”. Labeling was consistent across all bottle sizes. Colors of this era included Permanent Blue-Black, Permanent Royal Blue, Permanent Brown, Permanent Red, Permanent Green, Permanent Violet, Permanent Black, Washable Black and Washable Blue.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes quink cork bottle

This bottle of Quink uses a cork stopper and still has the box!

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes old quink ink

This is similar to the other bottle, but you can see the box is different.

The Deco Bottle Era 1939-1948

This is without a doubt the era that most people think of when they think of a bottle of Vintage Quink. The classic blue and white box paired with a beautiful bottle simply are Quink to most collectors. Although the boxes and labels look the same, there are subtle differences which can help date them. The boxes had many more changes than the labels, so labels will not be mentioned unless there was a change.

The first boxes of The Deco Bottle Era were produced between 1939 and 1941. They were mostly white with a band around the center that was the color of the ink.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes early quink box

You can see how closely this box resembles the previous box.

The first style change to these boxes came in 1942 and were only made for that year. These boxes have a white bottom third and blue top two-thirds. The next style change came in 1943. More blue was added to the bottom of the box, leaving the words “Full 2 Ounces – Made In U.S.A.” and “Contains solv-x” in a white band that surrounds the box. This style remained unchanged from 1943-1946, but there was a change to the wording on the box during each year of that period.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes blue quink box

Boxes with this white bottom were only made for a very short time.

The boxes made in 1943-1944 say “contains solv-x which cleans your pen as it writes” on both sides of the box. Boxes made from 1944-1945 omit the word “which” on one side and change the wording on the other side of the box, leaving “contains solv-x cleans your pen as it writes” on one side and “contains pen-protecting solv-x” on the other side. It was also during this time period that a subtle change was made to the labels. Previous labels simply said “Reg T.M.” under the word “Quink”. During this period “Reg T.M.” was followed by the words “The only ink containing pen protecting solv-x”. This wording is consistent with the changes to the wording on the box. As a side note, I did an audit of my bottles and boxes and found that both labels were available during this time period. I would assume that since this was during the war, the old supply of labels had to be exhausted before new labels could be printed and used, even if this did not coincide with the change in box design.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes permanent brown

Here’s a look at the different sides of boxes from this era.

In 1946, Quink changed its color selection and these changes were made to the boxes also. The bottom of boxes made in 1946 state the new selection of 4 permanent and 5 washable colors, compared to the previous 7 permanent and 2 washable colors. This is the only change to these boxes.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes box bottoms

You can see how the ink descriptions on the box bottoms changed.

In 1947, Quink boxes changed colors. Instead of the familiar blue and white, the box was now the color of the ink. The upper and lower portions of the box were the ink color and the middle of the box was white. This change lasted through 1948.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes washable green

The boxes are now in color!

I would like to quickly discuss the bottle caps used during this era. There are a variety of caps that are found on bottles of this era. The most common is the squat metal cap that has the words “Parker Quink” printed on the top. Some caps are also plastic and are about twice the height of the metal caps. Variations on this cap include a plastic version that has the words “Parker Quink” in raised plastic on the top of the cap and another version that has a smooth top with no words. Although the plastic cap with raised lettering was used on bottles of Quink from The Round Bottle Era, this cap design is found through most of The Deco Bottle Era. After auditing various bottles, there does not seem to be any “correct” cap for any given time period.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes bottle caps

The plastic cap on the left and metal cap on the right can both be found on bottles from this era.

Another interesting note is that the metal caps and plastic caps are not interchangeable (different threads), which means that Parker had two different bottles made for the same product. I would speculate that they were made by different manufacturers so that supply could keep up with demand, but after examining marks on many different bottles, I can’t prove or disprove that theory.

The Square Bottle Era 1949-1961

In 1949, Parker changed the box design for its entire lineup which consisted of both Quink and Superchrome. The bottles and boxes took a similar shape. While previous boxes were a cube shape, the new boxes became more compact and were more rectangular (the same size and shape of Waterman’s boxes). Although the size and shape changed, the box design did not really change from the ’47-’48 boxes.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes new quink

This bottle of Quink was one of the first made with the new shape.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes permanent blue

Over time the bottle and label design changed to a more modern look.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes super quink

Super Quink made a brief appearance in the square bottles before getting a makeover.

The Diamond Bottle Era 1962-unknown

In 1962, Parker changed the bottle and box for Quink to a most unique and attractive design. The bottle was made of cobalt blue glass and was in the shape of a diamond. The boxes were also diamond shaped which differentiated them greatly from all of the other inks that surrounded it on the shelf.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes super quink diamond bottle

In my opinion, the blue diamond bottles of Super Quink are some of the most attractive ever made.


Skrip Summary

Sheaffer introduced Skrip in 1922. It was touted as “The Successor To Ink” that would not gum or clog pens. Using it, it was claimed, would “end all pen troubles”. Indeed, Skrip was advertised as an ink that would improve the performance of any pen on the market. But it was not until the mid-1930’s that Skrip obtained one of its most famous features: the Skrip Well.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes skrip well

You can see the Skrip well on the upper-right side of this bottle.

The Skrip Well was intended as a way to get all of the ink out of a bottle. Bottles of Skrip were manufactured with a small glass “well” near the top of the bottle. When the ink level got low in the bottle, the ink could be manipulated inside of the capped bottle until it was in the well. Once there, it was more easily accessible for filling. This feature remained in Skrip bottles until 2002, proof of its functionality and popularity. Indeed, it was so popular, old Skrip bottles are still used for ink storage for the very purpose of getting maximum use out of a bottle of ink.

Sheaffer used a numerical system that can be found on many lables of Skrip bottles. If you’ve ever wondered what those numbers mean, here you go:

1st Number(s)
0 – Permanent Red
1 – Washable Brown
2 – Permanent Blue-Black
3 – Permanent Jet Black
4 – Washable Blue
5 – Permanent Royal Blue
6 – Washable Black
7 – Washable Emerald Green
8 – Washable Purple
9 – Washable Melon Red
10 – Washable Persian Rose
11 – Peacock Blue
V – V-Black

2nd Number(s)
2 – 2 ounces
4 – 4 ounces
16 – 16 ounces
32 – 32 ounces
S – Safeguard Refill

Make sense? If you look at a 2oz bottle of Washable Blue, its number should be 42. If you look at a 32oz bottle of Washable Black, it should be numbered 632! As a side note, I have seen a bottle that was mislabeled. The bottle was a 2oz bottle, but it had the 4oz label on it. The last number was a 4 and it said that it contained 4oz.

Skrip Identification and Dating

At first glance, almost all Skrip bottles look the same. They’re very hard to miss, with their distinct yellow and blue colors. But, look a little closer and you’ll start to see some details on the boxes and bottles that will give you clues as to the age of the ink that you’re looking at.

If you’re looking at my description of a yellow and blue box or bottle, but you’re looking at a bottle of Skrip that’s in your collection that is not yellow or blue, you are not losing your mind. You probably have an older bottle of Skrip. I like to break the identification of Vintage Skrip inks down into four different eras: The Early Era, The Brown-Label Era, The Classic Era, and the Modern Era. Please keep in mind that these are purely my classifications and are not official names.

The Early Era 1922-1933/34

Early Era inks were made between 1922 and 1933/34. These inks are typically found as bottles only, with boxes being much harder to find. They were mainly produced with two different labels, The Torch Label and The People Label. There are other label examples that are from this era, but they are much less common.

The Torch Label was Sheaffer’s first label for Skrip. It is easily identified by a torch that runs vertically along either side of the label. Labeling was consistent across all sizes of ink bottles.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes torch label

Notice that each side of the bottle label has a vertical torch on it.

The People Label replaced The Torch Label in 1928. Just as The Torch Label had a torch on either side of the label, The People Label shows the silhouette of a person on either side of the label.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes people label

The bottle on the left has people where the previous bottle had torches. The bottle on the right is an older bottle that I can’t date.

The Brown-Label Era 1934/35-1938

In 1934/35, Skrip labels were changed to a brown and yellow theme. These labels are very attractive and really stand out. Labeling was consistent across all sizes of ink bottles. This era also saw the introduction of the Skrip Well. The Skrip well consists of a small glass well that is molded into the inside of the ink bottle. When the level of ink starts to drop and filling a pen from the bottom of the bottle becomes difficult, the Skrip Well allows the user to tip the ink bottle to the side (with the lid on, of course), filling the Skrip well with ink and giving easy access to all of the ink in the bottle. Empty Skrip bottles are still prized today for this feature.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes brown bottle

Bottles from this era have the distinctive Skrip well bottle, but brown labels and boxes.

The Classic Era 1939-1959

The Classic Era is probably what most people think of when they think of a bottle of Skrip. This era introduced the classic Skrip colors of yellow and blue to the boxes and labels. Although little changed in the label and box design, there are subtle changes to help identify your ink. All labeling was consistent across all sizes of ink bottles.

All Skrip made between 1939-1943 was identified as “Chemopure”, both on the label and the box. Chemopure Skrip had directions for using the Skrip Well printed on the label. Chemopure Skrip did have the number identifying the color of ink as well as the size of bottle printed on the box, but not on the label.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes chemopure

The word Chemopure appeared on the box and bottle of this era.

In 1944 Skrip dropped the Chemopure from its labeling. It added the identifying number to the label and made it more prominent on the box, locating it between “Sheaffer’s” and “successor to ink”. Mention was made of Sheaffer’s new Triumph Nib on some of the box flaps. It also touted it’s “12 Colors”, both on the label and the bottom of the box.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes persian rose

Here you can see that “12 Colors” were advertised on the bottle.

In 1949, “Skrip” became “Skrip Writing Fluid”. This change was made to the label and the box.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes writing fluid

Here you can see that the words “writing fluid” were added below the word Skrip.

In 1952, Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel Pen. This was advertised on the tops through the 1952.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes snorkel pen

The top of Skrip boxes carried advertisements for the then-new Snorkel pens.

In 1953, advertising for the Snorkel was moved to the inside box flaps. A “#” sign was added to the identifying number on all labels, as well as on the boxes. There was no more mention of “12 Colors” on bottle labels, but this information was still found on the box bottoms. One other big change happened to the boxes in this year: The word “Sheaffer’s” was moved closer to the top of the box, above the word “Skrip”.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes peacock blue

Suddenly a # sign appeared before each number, both on the boxes and bottles.

In 1956, RC-35 was added to Skrip. RC-35 fluoresced under UV light. This added security feature was to ensure that documents written with Skrip were detectible if they were altered. The Snorkel continued to be advertised on these boxes until 1959.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes rc35

RC-35 was added to Skrip near the end of this era.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes emerald green skrip

While I don’t have an exact date for this box, it is from the late 1950s. This design was used in the early 1960s as well.

The Modern Era 1960-2002

After The Classic Era, Skrip labels and colors started to change and become more modern. The yellow on the box and label changed to a lighter, more Canary Yellow and the blue also became lighter, more of a Light Blue. The boxes and bottles also stared to say “Skrip Ink” instead of just “Skrip” or “Skrip Writing Fluid”. For bottles of this era, there is one important date that can be used to identify some of the early inks. Any ink that was made before 1964 will still say “Sheaffer’s”. It was in 1964 that the company changed it’s name to “Sheaffer”. So, if your Modern Era bottle or box says “Sheaffer’s”, it was made between 1960-1963. If it says “Sheaffer”, it was made in 1964 or later.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes newer ink

Notice how the name changed from Sheaffer’s to Sheaffer and the font also changed.


Waterman Summary

Of all the pen companies, Waterman has been making ink the longest. Exactly how long is not entirely clear, but it is thought to have been producing ink since around 1900. Early Waterman Inks came in a variety of shapes and sizes. It was manufactured in large 16 and 32 ounce bottles, desk bottles and also in small traveling eye-dropper containers. Whereas some of the large ink companies at the time such as Higgins or Sanford’s focused on business applications and selling bulk quantities, Waterman seemed to be just as focused on selling a consumer ink with which to fill his or her pen.

Because Waterman had been selling ink to fountain pen buyers for many years before either Parker or Sheaffer introduced their own lines of ink, Waterman must have had a great advantage before the Depression hit. This advantage can even be seen in today’s market, as Waterman’s bottles from that time period are much easier to find than Skrip bottles. Consequently, Waterman may have not felt the need to advertise its ink quite as much during the 1920s, as it is not mentioned very frequently in period pen advertisements.

In the mid 1930s, America was working its way out of the Great Depression. Every consumer wanted to get the best value for his or her dollar and every producer wanted to get that dollar. Quink had recently come into the picture and was competing for market share. Sheaffer introduced the Skrip Well. Waterman had to do something to compete in this market that had changed so much in the last decade. In 1935 Waterman’s introduced the “tip-fill” bottle, which could be viewed as a design that was in direct competition with the Skrip Well. The “tip-fill” bottle design allowed the bottle to be tipped onto a faceted side when the ink level became low, allowing easy access to the remaining ink inside of the bottle. This basic bottle design has been seen little change in the last 70 years and is still in use today.

Waterman Ink Identification and Dating

Waterman Inks have been around almost as long as the fountain pen. With that kind of history, there have been quite a few variations to the box and bottle design. Some of the earliest ink bottles you are likely to encounter are the yellow and blue boxes from the 1920s. These bottles were round and were manufactured into the mid 1930s. Around 1935 Waterman changed the bottle and box design. The new bottle shape became the familiar Tip-Fill design. Because the size of the bottle changed, the shape and size of the box changed as well. Waterman Ink was the first to adopt the shape of bottle and box that is still the most popular today.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes Waterman old bottle

These older Waterman bottles are quite attractive.

Shortly after the bottle design was changed to the Tip-Fill design, there were more changes made so that each color now had its own unique image that was printed on the box and the bottle label. For example, Patrician Purple had a picture of a gondola in Venice while Tropic Green had a picture of palm tree on a beach.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes waterman patrician purple

Early tip-fill bottles featured full color labels and boxes.

In 1947, the boxes were changed to a more uniform design. The boxes were yellow and now displayed a circle that had the same image as before inside of it. Initially, the label on the bottle still had the same image as before, but eventually it was also placed in a circle, which made the label and box similar.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes waterman south sea blue

Bottles and boxes started to look more similar with a uniform yellow border.

At some later point, likely the mid-1950s, images were completely removed from both the bottles and boxes and were replaced with text that said what color the ink was.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes waterman carnation red

Eventually the artwork disappeared, to be replaced by simple text.

Other Interesting Inks and Bottles from Parker, Sheaffer and Waterman

If you look for vintage inks long enough, you’re sure to encounter some bottles and boxes that don’t quite fit into the descriptions above. That’s part of the fun of collecting them! You never know what you’re going to find or if you’ll ever see it again. While there are some truly unusual things out there, I want to show you a few that you’re more likely to come across.

Wartime Ink

During World War II, special ink formulas were introduced that worked well for writing V-mail (or Victory mail). In short, written letters were scanned and placed onto microfilm, which was easier to ship overseas to troops. The V-mail ink supposedly scanned better than regular ink. All three major ink manufacturers made a version of ink for V-mail. Quink called theirs Micro-film Black. Skrip was V-Black. Waterman simply labeled their boxes as “Ideal for V-mail”. All of these inks were only made during WWII.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes vmail ink boxes

These inks were specifically made for V-mail during WWII.

Alternatives to Normal Boxes and Bottles

Some inks came in different boxes and bottles than others. Some of my favorites are Parker Superchrome. These bottles initially came in metal tins, later to be replaced by cardboard sleeves. I think that both are very attractive.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes parker superchrome tin

Parker Superchrome came in metal tins and cardboard sleeves before the standard ink boxes.

Early on, mostly in the 1920s when ink bottles only had corks to seal them up, ink was available in hard rubber jars that were meant for travel. These jars had threaded lids that sealed or stayed closed better than a cork could during travel. Metal travel containers were also available to hold special ink bottles meant for travel. Again, these metal containers had threaded lids that better protected against spills.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes hard rubber skrip bottle

On the left is a metal ink container, on the right is a hard rubber ink container. In the middle is a unique little glass bottle.

In the image above, you can see in the middle a very small glass bottle. This is the same shape as larger Quink bottles of the era, just much smaller. If I remember correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong), these were given away as samples by some ink dealers and are very tough to find.

Larger 16 and 32-ounce Bottles

When fountain pens were the only option, people went through a lot of ink. Instead of buying lots of small 2 or 4-ounce bottles, large institutions such as schools, banks and offices would buy ink in bulk by purchasing 16 or 32-ounce bottles. These larger bottles are a little harder to find than the smaller versions. Pens were never filled from the large bottles. Instead, all large bottles have some sort of spout to pour the ink into a smaller container or bottle which people would then fill their pens from.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes large 32oz bottle

I was lucky enough to find this 16-ounce bottle of Skrip from the mid-1920s with ink still in it! Shown next to it is the matching 2-ounce bottle.

Identifying Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottles and Boxes skrip v-black

Even during the war, V-mail ink came in large bottles. This 16-ounce bottle would have written a lot of letters to soldiers!

Comments 55

  1. Very interesting John. Obviously it’s easier for you to collect old inks from your country. Here in the UK the nib capital was Birmingham, and fountain pen brands were plentiful. However, I don’t know much about the indigenous ink. Schools bought Crown ink, and Diamine ink was still trading under a previous name. I have bottles of Platignum ink and W. H. Smith’s ink (a stationery chain). Until I read your article I thought Waterman was French because all the bottles I have and came across said Made in France. You’ve got me interested. I’ll try to do some research.

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      Noel, I would love to have access to a variety of vintage UK inks! I’m glad to hear that you have some vintage ink yourself. In addition to the United States, Waterman ink was made in the UK and in France, but Waterman himself (and the company) was originally American. I think that later (post-1950s) it may have primarily become a French company, but don’t know much about the history.

      1. Thank you for your very informative article! If found it by researching a bottle of Waterman’s Tropic Green that I have. Interestingly, the bottle bottom says “Waterman’s Registered Made in Canada”

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  2. A most excellent survey! Thank you for taking the time to document, in a timeline fashion, the changes to the packaging over the years. Seeing this for each brand is quite helpful. Most of my vints are in the Sheaffer realm but I have a few of the others, and it is always good to be able to place them in their spot in pen history.

    Well done!

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  3. Great post. I love those “pre-yellow-blue” Sheaffer bottles. Now I understand the letter, you are really into vintage inks 😀

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  4. Hi John, Great information. I grew to love Sheaffer products during high school. Great seeing the vintage ink bottles and boxes. Do you still sell your book, Vintage Inks? If so, I’d like to buy a copy. Thank You!

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      Thanks, Laurie. I don’t know what it is about Skrip, but that’s the ink brand that everyone used in school. No one ever has fond memories of Quink or Waterman! I don’t sell the book any more. It was self-published and I sold through my copies. One of these days I’d like to turn it into an ebook, but not sure when that will be.

      1. Thanks John, Yes, good old Skrip ink. It was always reliable and easy to find almost anywhere. I’m currently building up a little Skrip stockpile. Also, thanks for letting me know that you may do an ebook about Vintage Inks! Laurie

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  5. Hi, John!

    I suspect the “Non-Clogging” Skrip was one of the earliest bottles.

    Before Skrip, Sheaffer made an ink that worked wonderfully in pens that only used Skrip (Sheaffer employees’ pens), but when used in pens that had remnants of other inks, it caused severe clogs. It was a marketing disaster.

    When Sheaffer launched Skrip, it was careful not to call it “ink”, lest people mistake it for the old formula. Hence the “Successor to ink” tagline. And, probably, the “Non-Clogging” claim on the label. I expect Sheaffer quickly realized it would be best not to mention clogs, because it reminded people of the earlier disastrous formula.

    The rarest Skrip bottle of all is referred to as “heart-shaped”. I’ve seen a 1920s ad for it, but the design was only offered for about a year, and I’ve only seen photos of two of them.

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      Thanks for the info, Larynxa! I had no idea about Sheaffer’s earlier ink. Looks like I need to see if I can find more info on it!

      I’ve never seen one of the “heart-shaped” bottles. I have a new quest!

  6. Excellent article, John. Just what I’ve been looking for. Clear and precise. I was wondering, There are lots of sites that describe and define the various pens, particularly when it comes down to dates. But has anyone done a similar article like this on the dates and styles of the cases or boxes the pens came in? I can sort get some info from some ads but haven’t found anything specific on those cases or boxes Thanks.

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      Thank you, Charles. I am not aware of an article that covers fountain pen cases or boxes and dates them. It would be great to have as a reference, but I am definitely not the person to write it. If you ever find one please let me know!

  7. Hi John, another question for you. Regarding the QUINK WWII-era V mail ink. I’ve seen two boxes, one is the one you show that just says Micro Film Black at the top. The other is the same box but says For V-Mail at the bottom. Any idea on the dates for these boxes?

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      Hi Charles, good question! I just checked my boxes and looks like I have both. The ones that say “For V-Mail” across the bottom are newer, as they are the version that omits the word “which” on one side, putting their production towards the very end of the war.

  8. Hello there. Thank you for doing all this work. I’m lucky enough to have one of the silver coloured metal travelling ink bottles with Waterman’s stamped into the screw-on top. Theres a dull patch the size of a label on the body of the container. It must’ve been the original label but l have never seen one. I should like to give this to a friend who already has my Victorian writing slope. Do you think there’s any chance of seeing what the label would have looked like? Or even getting a replacement? I simply have no idea where or how to look. Would be grateful for any advice.

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      Hi Pauline. The silver bottles are so great! From everything that I’ve seen, including old advertisements, they didn’t have labels on them. Still, things were not very consistent in the early days of fountain pens, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find some that had labels. I have no idea where you’d be able to get a replacement label. I’m sure you’d probably have to recreate it yourself.

  9. I have a empty Waterman Blue/Black ink bottle and a Parker Super Quink Permanent Blue/Black ink bottle made in Canada

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  10. Thank you for your time looking into these. I would like to add to your photos of the waterman’s ideal ink. I have a bottle and box of the blue, I believe would have been the first of the changed in the 1930’s. It has the old label it is in blue and white, it’s blue ink. New bottle design.

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  11. Hi John, I’m a fountain pen novice but found this article really interesting. I have a question that I hope you can answer: was vintage ink, say 1940’s or 50’s ink, the same chemically as today’s inks? Thank you. Joe

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      Hi Joe, glad to hear you enjoyed the article! I don’t think that most inks from the 40s-50s are the same as ink today. For one, the smell is completely different, so there were ingredients in older inks that are not found in newer inks. If you compare apples to apples (or Quink to Quink), they may use many of the same ingredients, but older inks often touted proprietary ingredients such as Solv-X that are no longer found in modern inks. I will say that the colors haven’t changed much (at least for those older inks that are still around), but again, I don’t know if they use the same dyes or not.

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  12. John,

    In starting my vintage ink collection I use your work as my template. In fact, it is what inspired me. My vintage Parker “51” collection got me to ask the question “What inks are safe?” Your writings came up in my search engine and boom, I got the vintage ink itch. Then I found your YouTube video which was also a great help.

    When I stumbled upon two unopened bottles of Chemopure Skrip Blue Black earlier this year I grabbed them (knowing from your article their date of manufacture). That started it. I have you to thank (or blame). I love writing with vintage ink. Most of my new inks (Diamine, Pilot, etc.) are being ignored. Hope you can write a follow-up someday..

    Thanks again for your work.


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  13. I have a carefully-washed-and-ready-for-refill Skrip bottle with that brilliant little well. I loved and still love that feature. It did make filling a pen so easy every time. Inside the lid was a well-made paper disc that was designed to cushion a tightly screwed on lid. So long as this item was in place, there was never a problem with ink leaking when you tipped the bottle. — In fact I still have that inner disc in place in the my Skrip bottle. When I last washed the bottle etc., I made a point to wash and rinse the disc as well. It seems survived in a useful state. I had a Sheaffer snorkel pen that was eventually stolen from me. d*mn! It was a wonderful pen.
    I recall an ink that was readily available in the 1950s and early 60s. I think it was called Sanford. It came in what looked like small, nearly tiny, ornamental pressed glass bottle with squared cube shape and a screw on metal cap typically colored to match the ink contained inside. They came in an assortment of colors and were I think popular particularly with girls who used them for personal correspondence on then chic onion skin paper.
    Thanks so much for all this history.

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      The Skrip bottles with wells really are fantastic. That little paper disc is very important, so I’m glad you were able to keep yours in good condition. The small bottles you’re thinking of were indeed made by Sanford. The ink was called Penit. I love using them to hold ink sample vials!

  14. Thank you. Very helpful. Here for research on an illustration homework assignment. Very interesting.appreciate all your study.

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  15. Hi John, great website. I got a bunch of vintage ink from you when you moved to California, and I have been slowly adding to the collection. I have a pen inked exclusively with vintage ink (I love the Quink Violet, Skrip Emerald Green, Waterman South Seas Blue, and the Microfilm black) and use them interchangeably. I also use the Parker 51 Tunis Blue in a cheap Wing Sung 3008 so far without problems. Send me an email if you get the chance.

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  16. Hi John
    Thank you for your time and sharing this forgotten history. I am refinishing a children’s school desk that has a ink well hole. I’d like to find a original ink product. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  17. Interesting – I’ve just found an old Waterman bottle in the garden at my farm in Wales. Sadly no label. It specifeis 2oz on the bottom, I’ve found some photos that suggest Waterman changed to 50ml at somepoint – any idea when so I can try and date the bottle further?

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      What a great find, Jenny! To be honest, I would have assumed that any bottles outside of the US would have always been in ml, so I’m afraid I won’t be much help in dating yours.

  18. The UK didn’t start to swap to the metric system until about 1965. Interestingly though, there was an American military camp just down the road from here in WWII, so there’s always a chance it was an American ink bottle – if only it could talk!

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  19. Hi John
    I came across your excellent article while trying to research a bottle I recovered while excavating a former WWII Camp in Scotland. The bottle is complete (empty) with no labels or lid. However, I have narrowed it down using your article as it is round but it is a screw top rather than cork, so does this put it into the 1939-48 era.
    Many thanks

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  20. Was Skrip V-Ink iron gall? I have bottles of Parker Microfilm Black which is still very black. All my bottles of Skrip are a lovely Sepia. I’m not bothered because the Sheaffer V-Ink black now Sepia is the loveliest sepia color I’ve seen.

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      1. My bottles of Parker microfilm black are still very very black. It doesn’t resemble Sheaffer‘s color in any way size shape or form.

  21. I wonder if you have any information about a wooden tray with 24 ink bottles that I recently purchased? I can’t find anything about it online, but I have found a couple of similar bottles. The bottles have “FOR A HOLE 1 3/4 IN” in the bottom. They came in a wooden tray with holes cut in it for the bottles. There are a few tops that appear to be like pottery, although they may just be aged cork – they have some weight to them. I’m just curious if the tray was a carrying case or maybe an artist assortment. I would appreciate any help you can offer.

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      Hi Denise, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. It sounds like a great find, though. Sorry I can’t help out, but it sounds like you’ve got something pretty nice!

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