( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Having lately had occasion to search several Parochial Registers, I found the earliest in date, in almost every instance, the most legible. This is undoubtedly owing to the care or better method of preparing ink in former times than the present. The entries in many registers of as early a date as 1538 were still black and beautiful, and, to all appearance, likely to preserve their brilliancy and colour for a long period. Entries in the same registers within the last fifty years were nearly obliterated, the ink being of a dusky red or pale green, arising either from the improper proportions of the materials used, or from the badness of the materials themselves. Some one of your numerous correspondents will be obliging enough, perhaps, to inform a constant reader, through the medium of your valuable Magazine, whether any chemical preparation or infusion will restore the nearly decayed colour; if so, how is it to be made, and how applied? It will be considered a farther obligation if any gentleman conversant in chemistry will give, through the same medium, an approved formula for making an indelible ink, which shall flow easy from the pen, and require no great skill or trouble in the preparation.
The following extracts are from the Parliamentary Report respecting the " Ingrossing" of Bills ; a Committee having been appointed on that subject to ascertain whether the plan of ingrossing might not be abandoned for the common hand. The extracts regarding the superiority of the ink of olden times are exceedingly curious, and merit the attention of the scientific, as well as of those who are anxious about the preservation of records :
In the number of records you have examined in the different offices, have you observed that the ink has given way lately ?--I have, in the records written in what I call this mercantile way, observed that it may be probably not owing to the badness of the ink, but owing to the very imperfect mode of writing now; certainly we do not know how to make ink ; that I believe from observation.
You conceive the ancient ink much more likely to last ?—Yes ; I have had charters and documents in my hands, for the purpose of being translated, and the ink has been entirely chipped off, but I have been enabled to make it out by the impression which was made at the time of writing on the parchment, by the pressure of the pen, in many cases ; I do not know whether it is indigo, or what, but there was a blue tinge remaining, which has enabled us to make it out, though the ink was gone.
Do you not think that it would be a very proper measure, if Government were to take some means of inducing gentlemen of chemical science to prepare some ink for public documents ?--It would be an invaluable thing. My own opinion is, that if an infusion of oak bark were added to the common ink, that it would render it more stable than it is now.
When the ink was obliterated, and you have been able to read the record from the marks which have been left by the pen, was it in the ingrossing or court hand ?—In the court hand ; written before the Act of Parliament of George II.
Do you know whether the records in the Court of Exchequer, some forty or fifty years ago, were written with a much better ink than we now have in use ?—I have observed that the records of the Court of Exchequer are certainly more black, and consequently more legible than others.
Were you never led to inquire how that was ?—No.
Do you observe that to come down to the present day ?—No ; I speak of modern records--that is, within sixty or seventy years.
Have you any knowledge of the ink peculiar to the Exchequer?—No, I have not.
Mr. William Tubb, examined.
What office do you hold ?—I attend for the Deputy of the Chief Usher in the Exchequer.
It has been stated to the Committee that there was in the possession of the usher a receipt for making ink for the public offices ; are you able to state to the Committee whether that receipt now exists? —To the best of my knowledge or belief I do not believe that receipt ever existed. The Chief Usher procured the materials from a drug-gist, and they were given to an old man, who used his own discretion in making this ink ; the Chief Usher only supplied the materials.
When was that ?—Previous to the year 1815 .
Who was the old man who used to make the ink ?—A Mr. Brown of Westminster, residing close by. I know the quantity of materials that were used, if that would be of any service.
You know the quantity of materials used to make a given quantity of ink ?—Yes ; we continue now to supply the Court of Exchequer with ink ; another old man now makes it.
You know the materials of which the Exchequer ink was composed? —Yes.
Will you state what you conceive to be the materials ?—Forty pounds of gall, ten pounds of gum, and nine pounds of copperas to forty-five gallons of rain-water.
Do you conceive that those are the same materials which have, time out of mind, been used in the Exchequer ?—1 conceive they were used by this old man, whose ink is so very much prized; this receipt was taken from the mouth of this old man.
John Bailey, Esq., examined.
Do you consider the ink of the present day equal to that used a hundred years ago ?—It is not half so good ; it is exceedingly bad. In the Rolls of Chancery, in many instances, I have seen, from Henry the Eighth's time downwards, that the ink has chipped off; that was not the case anciently.
Have no means been taken to secure a good ink for records?—Not that I am aware of; in the Rolls of Chancery there are lines frequently in which there are not more than a few letters perfect.
Have you any knowledge of any ink now used in one office superior to that used in any other?—No, I am not aware of any distinction.
How has the ink for the last hundred years been ?--It has been of a glutinous nature, which peels off; that has been the case from the reign of Henry VIII. ; as to the earlier records, a piece of parchment might be put into water and left for two or three days, and it would not be injured; that has been tried; for several years there have been attempts to wash them with soap and water; that has not the least effect, but the ink remains brighter and firmer than it was; there was more iron used in the ink in former times than there is now, which has eaten more firmly into the substance.