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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1949, “Skrip” became “Skrip Writing Fluid”. This change was made to the label and the box.
In 1952, Sheaffer introduced the Snorkel Pen. This was advertised on the tops through the 1952.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.