Classic Ink Bottles and A Bit of History

Old Ink Bottles Group Photo

Charlotte went to a market yesterday and came across a stash of old, empty ink bottles. She sent me a picture of what was there and, after spotting the word “Skrip” on the top of one in the photo she sent me, asked her to get it for me.

The other two are very old Winsor & Newton art ink bottles that, despite the ink being completely dried up, are in remarkable condition! These two were also found by Charlotte whilst we were searching for old pens in an antique store.

Three Old Inks Close Up Photo

I really enjoy the look of these old style bottles. You can really tell the subtle differences between today’s bottled inks and the ink bottles of way back when. Much more care has been taken to making sure the whole bottle is functional, high quality, and appealing to the eye. Those W&N boxes look fantastic (and they still make them the same now)!

Old Sheaffer Skrip Bottle Cap Photo Sheaffer Skrip Washable Blue Label Photo

This bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Washable Blue is a stark contrast to modern ink bottle designs. It has a metal cap, only a luxury on today’s ink bottles, and a very cool ink well built into the inner lip of the bottle. The well has been made such that you can tell it was made for Snorkel filling pens. A large nib won’t fit into the small space. Other bottles have this “well” feature, but it’s often a removable plastic insert that isn’t purpose-built for a specific pen.

Sheaffer Skrip Ink Bottle Well Photo

This is a bottle from a time where fountain pen use far outweighed ballpoint pen use. Fountain pen brands could afford to make special bottles that were designed only for the pens they sold, because they sold a lot of pens! Today’s ink bottles are designed to take any pen, a sign that even the brands that make both pens and ink have been forced to deal with the fact that their product is not as popular as it used to be. They can’t afford to design a pen that only works with a certain ink bottle and vice versa, because that business model doesn’t work any more.

And now many pen brands are being ruined by modern tastes. Parker and Sheaffer have since been bought out by larger companies (such as BIC) and turned into a shadow of their former selves. The Vacumatic and Touchdown filling systems, two of the most iconic in fountain pen history, have been thrown out in favour of a more modern cartridge filling design. When have you ever seen an affordable, modern, full flex nib? Back then they were relatively common, but no pen maker dares even attempt to manufacture one now.

Windsor & Newton Ink Bottle Shellac Group Label Photo

It’s a sad truth really; like the phasing out of film photography and vinyl records. There will always be the small niche in the market for things like fountain pens and tape recorders, but it’s a niche that can’t always support the brands that make those products. You’ve probably heard reports on how fountain pen use is on the rise, and that more and more people are purchasing vinyl records to listen to the classics as they were meant to be heard. This is encouraging, but you need to wonder how long it will last. Is it just a phase of “vintage = cool” that will burn out in time, or is it something that will keep up forever?

Windsor & Newton Ink Bottles and Boxes Photo

Whilst I love film photography as well, it’s sad to see that more and more film development stores are closing down from lack of business. This kind of thing shows how much we need to support the brands we love, to keep them, and the entire hobby (or passion) itself, alive for years to come. We are also responsible for conveying the joy to others in the hope that they will also share your love for whatever hobby you have, because the more people that share it, the easier it is to keep it going.

And despite all these bottles being rendered useless, either rusted or sealed up from dried ink, I think they’re fantastic for the precise reason that they’re a symbol of what things used to be like, and a contrast to what things are like now.

  • David

    Flex nibs… have you had a look at a Noodler’s Ahab?? I’ve got to get my hands on one!


    • jono

      I actually do have an ahab, and two standard flex pens. Those are semi-flex at best! A modern full flex nib is impossible to find. People these days need to resort to having their nibs modified by a professional to achieve anything close to a “full flex” nib.

      In fact, I’ve replaced the nibs on those pens with other brands. My ahab has a MontBlanc nib that I bought by itself, and one of the flex pens has a really nice Parker Duofold oblique nib that I salvaged off a broken pen!

      • David

        Interesting. Seems the only way to get a “wet-noodle” flex is to find an old one in the wild or, as a last resort, humble oneself before a nibmeister.

        Skript bottles. Seems I got two just before they were phased out. I keep them full because most of my pens will drink out of that little side well just fine. Of course, things like diving-board sized Visconti nibs are a bit awkward but most work fine, not just my snorks. Fill you bottle and experiment.


        • jono

          That’s right David, full flex pens are available online in various states of disrepair, but they can be purchased now.

          Unfortunately the cap on the Skrip bottle has rust on the inside, so for the safety of my pens I won’t be able to use it.

          Great to hear your bottles work a treat!

  • Barbara Lee I just got a Sheaffer’s Scrip bottle in the mail today – ordered from eBay for $12.00. It’s perfect. I washed out the dried ink and cleaned off the lid because I will use it to fill my Faber-Castell fountain pen. One day as I was sticking my pen down into the bottle of ink to fill it, I remembered a bottle like this that my mom had in her secretary desk drawer in the 50s and 60s. I wondered if I could find such a bottle with a well so I didn’t have to go all the way to the bottom of this bottle. I didn’t remember the name of the company; I looked up ink bottle with well and happily found this wonderful bottle that is just like I remember. As you say, my pen doesn’t go all the way to the bottom of the well because it wasn’t designed to, but if I have the well pretty full, I think it will work fine. Like you, I lament the changes and the loss of good things that work well. Thanks for the article.

  • Ashley Erickson

    Anyone know what to do or where to get replacement caps for the inkwells? i can’t find any caps alone