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The Great Inkwell Experiment


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#1 D Armstrong

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 21:14

We are happy to have launched our Great Inkwell Experiment, investigating evaporation rates from antique and vintage inkwells. A general discussion thread for suggestions and constructive criticism can be found at: http://www.fountainp...poration-rates/ I'm intending this thread to be a concise post for the experiment itself, so that it is easy to keep up with the results.

* * * * *


There have been several thoughts expressed recently here, expressing concern about how useful old inkwells are due to evaporation rates. It occurred to us that it might be useful to have some empirical evidence either for or against (or, more likely still, both) this feeling. We have a number of inkwells in our stock, spanning a couple of centuries and any number of designs, so we are in a good position to try out a variety of types. It is our hope that this will provide everyone with a better idea of what to look for, or not, in an inkwell for regular use. (Conversely, we may even prove that inkwells are useless in modern life. Who knows?)


A. The Proposal


1) Six inkwells of different design will be filled and closed with nothing more than their original lids. Included will be:

a) glass well with a simple gravity-closing hinged lid;
b) glass well with a silver snap-close hinged lid;
c) metal well with glass insert and a hinged outer cover (thus with space between the insert and the cover);
d) wooden well with glass insert and an unhinged cloth-lined wooden lid;
e) glass writing-box bottle, with threaded brass lid;
f) pottery ink bottle, with a new, replacement, cork;
g) (control) plastic graduated cylinder, open;
h) (control) modern glass ink bottle with plastic lid and synthetic lid liner (J. Herbin)



2) Each container will be filled with distilled water. Water has several advantages:

a) it has universally known qualities: everyone knows how water behaves in their own environment, and it will thus be easier to translate how water
behaves relative to your own preferred ink, rather than, say, comparing how the J. Herbin ink in the experiment compares to your Noodler's;
b) it is easily available, should anyone want to duplicate this experiment;
c) it is clean and cheap.


As we are comparing loss from an inkwell, rather than how different inks evaporate, the actual material won't make a difference so long as it is consistent through all of the containers.


3) All containers will be kept in the same enclosed space (a section of our lawyer's bookcase.) Relative humidity will be recorded daily.


4) Each container will be opened briefly on every seventh day. This will help to approximate the air exchange which happens during normal use. While some people may open their ink containers more often, and some less often, we felt that once-per-week is a good compromise which will reflect average use. When it comes to evaporation, this is actually a fairly important factor. A gas (in this case, the ink solvent represented by water vapour) will expand to fill all available air in a given pressure system. In plain language, fresh air is empty space for the water vapour to fill, and every time you open your ink container, you let in more fresh air. How much of a difference will this make to ink evaporation? I'm not sure, but we are trying to duplicate normal use, and normal use includes letting in fresh air every time you fill or dip your pen. And, we are only opening the containers briefly because the majority of users are filling fountain pens; the variation between dip pen and fountain pen use might be a subject for future study.


5) Each container will be monitored by weight daily, for four weeks. (Mass is more accurate than volume, as we won't lose any volume to the testing equipment. And it's cleaner and easier.) We will use the metric system throughout, as it can accurately place data to multiple decimal places. This is important, because we can trace even the minimal loss of volume from tighter-fitting lids.


6) Data will be recorded and converted to per cent loss, and the final results graphed. We will post the results on a weekly basis, as it's more fun that way. Results will be posted to both the Fountain Pen Network and our own website (http://www.restorersart.com). Additionally, we will publish the results electronically (in PDF format) and encourage wide distribution.


B. The Subjects


note: for full-sized photos, see the mirror of this posting at: http://www.restorers...o-the-subjects/


A. glass well with a simple gravity-closing hinged lid

Posted Image Posted Image

B. glass well with a silver snap-close hinged lid

Posted Image Posted Image

C. metal well with glass insert and a hinged outer cover (thus with space between the insert and the cover)

Posted Image Posted Image

D. wooden well with glass insert and an unhinged cloth-lined wooden lid

Posted Image Posted Image

E. glass writing-box bottle, with threaded brass lid

Posted Image Posted Image

F. pottery ink bottle, with a new, replacement, cork

Posted Image

G. (control) plastic graduated cylinder, open (right), and H. (control) modern glass ink bottle with plastic lid and synthetic lid liner (J. Herbin) (left)

Posted Image





C. The Beginning


We have launched the experiment, as of February 18, 2011. We are recording data manually, and also with a spreadsheet; weekly results will be posted in subsequent postings on this thread, so stay tuned…



P.S.: We welcome any thoughts or questions you may have. I'll be monitoring the comments thread regularly, so feel free to post your thoughts there.

edited to remove smiley emoticons which got swapped in by the ipboard for some reason, and some minor formatting.

Edited by D Armstrong, 19 February 2011 - 21:24.

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#2 meghan

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 21:27

What an interesting experiment! I can't wait to see how this progresses.

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#3 D Armstrong

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 18:01

Here are the results of the first week's observations (keep in mind that the A to H colours match the A to H labels in the original posting, above):

Posted Image


There are some interesting observations, and some obvious conclusions.

Firstly, there was some up and down fluctuation of mass for the first couple of days. I'm not sure why this was the case, but a longer observation period may shine more light on this.

Secondly, the pottery ink bottle (with new cork) is among the top performers, with 100% retention.

Thirdly, and this is the obvious conclusion, even at this early date, the simple glass insert in a metal holder with a fairly loose lid © is doing abysmally. In fact, it is doing worse than the open control container. Ironically, this type is among the most available today. (As a side note, this puts me in mind of the old axiom about suits of armour in museums: their small size is not because the people in medieval times were physically smaller than we are today. They are smaller because the surviving suits were ornamentally made, largely for the young nobility. The truly representative armour was always used to pieces, literally; too valuable to store away where it would be preserved for posterity and scholars. Perhaps the really efficient inkwells were used so much that there aren't many left?) Of significant contrast is the fact that the wooden-cased inkwell (D), despite a similar overall design to C, has almost no loss.

We shall continue with the experiment in the weeks to come; expect the next batch of results a week from today (and I'm interested in feedback: feel free to comment or muse on the other thread).
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#4 WOBentley

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 19:23

first of all...thanks for doing this...very interesting indeed! :notworthy1: :thumbup:
My only suggestion would be to add a list or table of the inkwell "letters" and the percent retention or loss (either by period or total for the experiment...or both). It is a bit hard to distinguish the various colors on the graph for my eyes, but I do like the graph as a graphical representation of the overall results...

Edited by WOBentley, 25 February 2011 - 19:23.

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#5 amyx231

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 20:02

er...whats the H?

#6 WOBentley

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 20:46

er...whats the H?

H. (control) modern glass ink bottle with plastic lid
It's written next to G instead of below it so not as obvious.
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#7 Black Rose

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 20:54

G. (control) plastic graduated cylinder, open (right), and H. (control) modern glass ink bottle with plastic lid and synthetic lid liner (J. Herbin) (left)

Posted Image



er...whats the H?

See quote above.
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#8 amyx231

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 21:09

H did good!

#9 D Armstrong

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 22:26

Heh heh. H did good, indeed, but I'm frankly gobsmacked by D and F.

I've uploaded a PDF of the spreadsheet with the raw data here.
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#10 amyx231

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 22:37

i kinda wanna buy a (tiniest) soda, drink it, and keep a ink mix or something in there. i mean, corks work :yikes: !

#11 D Armstrong

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 18:58

Here are the results for week two of the experiment:

Posted Image


As you can see, I've worked on making the chart a little more readable. The raw data can be found here, and of course the key explaining which inkwell is which is below, in the early posts in this thread.

And so, the trends continue. It is pretty obvious that C is a complete failure, without some kind of retrofitted seal. Likely it will be completely empty by tonight or tomorrow. We have several similar types, and I may set up a repeat experiment among similar types, just to see what kind of variables different designs introduce.


A and B, representing the most commonly available types of inkwell, also need some sort of seal. However, the real stars are the pottery bottle, the travelling bottle, and the wood-cased glass insert.

In any case, we shall soldier on through the entire four weeks; expect another update on Friday next...
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#12 whichwatch

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 20:10

Here are the results for week two of the experiment:


Wow - they're quite dramatic. Guess I won't be trying ink in my antique inkwell without trying to fabricate some type of seal. However, I am encouraged by how fast the changes occur to try a few different types of seals and maybe repeat your experiment on my own.

#13 amyx231

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 23:27

theyre selling candy in plastic test tubes with a cork. i might end up using that for a travel buddy :) (er, maybe not)

#14 amyx231

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 23:29

im concerned about the modern ink bottle however - does this mean that when we buy ink, it will get darker and darker?

#15 Sleepy

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 23:58

What was the starting volume of liquid?

#16 D Armstrong

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 16:39

im concerned about the modern ink bottle however - does this mean that when we buy ink, it will get darker and darker?


The modern ink bottle (H) is the narrower blue line along the top, at 100% the whole time. You might be getting it confused with the lighter blue line (A), which is in the middle.
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#17 D Armstrong

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 16:41

What was the starting volume of liquid?


Starting volume was different for each bottle. We filled each one pretty much to the top, which we are comparing relative to the others (hence "100%", rather than "5 ml", "3.5 ml", etc.)
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#18 Sleepy

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 17:25

So the worst performer has lost nearly the whole bottles worth in 2 weeks!? I'm just trying to explain the results based not just on airtight ness.

#19 amyx231

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 19:23

im concerned about the modern ink bottle however - does this mean that when we buy ink, it will get darker and darker?


The modern ink bottle (H) is the narrower blue line along the top, at 100% the whole time. You might be getting it confused with the lighter blue line (A), which is in the middle.



ahh. okay. didnt even see that line.

#20 WOBentley

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Posted 05 March 2011 - 19:24

I think "A" really supports my observation that my modern Montblanc hinged lid gravity closure inkwell was very poor at preserving ink. I may try to develop some sort of seal for it as It is quite nice to look at and would be even more lovely with some Kon-Peki or Asa-Gao in it...but not at 35% loss in two weeks (that translates to $5/week loss :yikes:)

Edited by WOBentley, 05 March 2011 - 19:24.

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