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Stephens' Radiant Blue


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27 replies to this topic

#1 ToasterPastry

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 06:26

Stephens' Radiant Blue Ink

For those of us in the States, Stephens’ ink doesn’t show up on people’s shelves, or in this case, show up in antique shops. This bottle contained some ink, largely dried. I added water before using it. The color is its concentrated state radiated blue, much like its name. Adding back the water improved flow but took away some of radiance.

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Stephens’ Ink (pronounced “stee-vens”) was ink-history, not so much by its developments, but by its success. The company was started in the early 1830s by Dr. Henry Stephens, a London surgeon, who created the “Blue-Black Writing Fluid.” There were a lot of advancements ink at the time. But Stephens was successful at producing a free-flowing ink that didn’t stick to or corrode the steel nibs. He began producing and bottling his ink in his own house. He purchased the famous Avenue House, in Finchley, of North London, where he set up his own laboratory. Upon Henry’s death, his son Henry Charles “Inky” Stephens continued and expanded the business. The Treaty of Versailles was supposedly signed with Stephens Ink.

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Here is a Stephens ink advertisement from the mid-Twentieth century, London. It is available for sale. Stephens Ink graphics and advertising was a staple of 20th Century in Great Britain, especially on rail travel.

The company continued to expand and in 1872 moved its offices to 275-1/2 Holloway Road. In 1892 the Gillespie Road factory was built near the Arsenal to designs by Henry’s son, Michael. A dominant feature of the building was a large factory chimney with STEPHENS emblazoned on it. The Gillespie Road factory was demolished in the mid 1960s when work was transferred to an old dairy factory at 100 Drayton Park. By this time the company was taken over by DRG Royal Sovereign Group. The Drayton Park building had ceased operations and was converted to apartments in the mid-1990s. By my research, the ink production stopped in the early 1960s, but this is unclear. The company survived for over 130 years before it was finally taken over by DRG Royal Sovereign.

“Inky” Stephens became a member of parliament from 1887-1900 for Hornsey, near his Avenue House in Finchley, part of North London. He became affectionately known as “The Uncrowned King of Finchley.” The Avenue House still survives today, and is available for tours, containing many of the Stephens factory artifacts.

Stephens’ Radiant Blue ink was one of their signature inks, probably a 30-year-old formula based on their various bottle designs. This is a rather popular color, produced also by other companies as Waterman Florida Blue, Gimborn Washable Blue (discontinued), and J. Herbin’s Eclat de Saphir. Judging by the bottle design, I would say it’s probably from the 1950s, although the art on the box suggests probably late 1960s. I am unsure how long Stephens was producing ink.

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What does this little exercise prove? One, this vintage Pelikan Graphos technical drawing instrument can really pour out a lot of ink. Two, the Stephens' ink doesn't pour through the paper, yet maintains its radiant blue-ness. Three, I need to keep practicing with these pens.

After I received this bottle, I added water back to the concentrated ink to improve flow. It worked extremely well. It’s a washable ink with excellent flow characteristics that provided me with no trouble. As shown in the color pallet, it’s almost identical to Waterman’s Florida Blue, just slightly darker. I purchased the Waterman bottle new about 5 years ago.

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Blue ink comparison. This ink swab comparison was photographed in the sun.

What do I look for in ink? I am a collector of vintage inks and bottles. While modern writing inks offer a variety of designer colors never heard of in their predecessors, there is something special about filling a 60-year-old pen with a 60-year-old Carter’s Red Ink. I still love modern ink, and love the color varieties. I am trying to find a daily-use ink that writes well on any grade of paper or in any type of pen. I’m not interested in sun-proof, water-proof or laser-proof inks. Most of the paper that I use is a cheap-grade company stationary that gets scanned and electronically stored. I may write on carbon paper, thermal paper, and standard printable writing paper, all within a span of 15 minutes. I despise feathering and bleeding. I never use a ballpoint pen. I may use different fountain pens with different nibs depending upon the paper or my mood. I love smooth flowing inks that don’t fill the pen cap when it’s not in use.

Edited by ToasterPastry, 23 July 2012 - 06:31.

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#2 dcpritch

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 07:04

A great review and a wonderful history lesson about an ink of which I had only heard. I'm sure some our English brethren can find this on occasion at antique stores, just as I found a few NOS bottles of Parker Quink with Solv-X last weekend, but as you said I've never seen this anywhere in the States, and I look frequently. I really like the color, especially in your writing sample which, by the way, is impressive in its own right.

Thanks for setting the gold standard for reviews of vintage inks!

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That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

— Samuel Johnson

 

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#3 inkstainedruth

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 13:38

Pretty color. The swab doesn't do it justice, BTW. I had never heard of this brand, so +1 on providing the history of the company.
Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

edited for typos

Edited by inkstainedruth, 23 July 2012 - 13:39.

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

#4 encremental

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 16:46

Thank you for that blissful blast of nostalgia - that's my childhood in a bottle, that is!

Radiant Blue and Washable Quink were the only inks I was allowed until I was 11, when in a rite of passage on entering secondary school in 1963 I was presented with a red Osmiroid 65, a bottle of Stephens Black, and a pair of long trousers in clerical grey 'Terylene'.

I do think a little of the radiance may have evaporated over the years; I definitely remember it being brighter and more of an electric blue than Quink (a little like Herbin Sapphire). It also had a divine smell - a bit like violets and pencil shavings. Does your reconstituted bottle smell of anything?

John

#5 ToasterPastry

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Posted 23 July 2012 - 17:09

I do think a little of the radiance may have evaporated over the years; I definitely remember it being brighter and more of an electric blue than Quink (a little like Herbin Sapphire). It also had a divine smell - a bit like violets and pencil shavings. Does your reconstituted bottle smell of anything?

John


The smell is not divine. It's not violets and pencil shavings. It's not especially volatile. It has a smell of library paste + latex paint + sonic booms + DDT + Bisquick + Jello (and all things wonderful from the early 1960s).

When I initially saw it, I said "ah-ha, a vintage alternative to Baystate Blue." I think adding back the water took some of that radiance out of it. Whether or not the saturation is the same, its hue is near dead-ringer for Waterman Florida Blue.
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#6 PDW

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 13:25

Just received a part-filled bottle. The ink is moving slowly in the bottle, so a little dilution is in order.

If you want to know more about the Stephens Collection, see http://www.london-no...ites/Stephens/. Its a small museum, but there are some nice things there.

edit:typo

Edited by PDW, 11 December 2012 - 11:01.


#7 PS104

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 05:03

Thank you for sharing this. It is a beautifully radiant color and the history was a much-appreciated bonus. Even the bottle is beautiful.

#8 georges zaslavsky

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 21:46

very nice vintage ink :thumbup: thanks for sharing
Pens are like watches , once you start a collection, you can hardly go back. And pens like all fine luxury items do improve with time

#9 Stylus156

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 01:41

What an original, worthwhile, intriguing, and appreciated post.

Great work on uncovering facets of this interest and forum that I have not seen yet. It's comparable to the review of a vintage Conklin I saw recently.

Thanks much for the unique approach and a modern angle of this history!

Best,
M.

Edited by Stylus156, 23 December 2012 - 01:42.


#10 dcpritch

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 13:39

What an original, worthwhile, intriguing, and appreciated post.

... comparable to the review of a vintage Conklin I saw recently.

Thanks much for the unique approach and a modern angle of this history!


I agree, and though its off topic I wonder if you could share a link to the vintage Conklin review you referenced? History well done is always worth reading.

How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

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#11 essregistrarsink

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Posted 17 February 2013 - 20:56

Very interesting posting about Stephens ink especially as I worked for Stephens ( and later DRG ) from 1962 until 1972. Apart from manufacturing writing inks Stephens also made a large variety of speciality inks for example, meat marking ink, ink to mark crustations to research their traveling habits, plasterboard marking ink, Stephens Registrars ink etc.
When the move was made from Gilespie Road, Highbury to the old Express Milk depot at 100 Drayton Park, by that time the volume of ink sales was declining and as a result Stephens gave up making ink in large circular teak vats holding thousands of gallons of ink, instead they opted to make smaller quantities in plastic barrels. I bought one of the old Teak vats from Stephens and I had the timber machined into usuable timber. As the lengths of teak was planned so the colours of the various inks which had been mixed in the vat were revealed. Incredible to see it's life history revealed in a rainbow of colours.
Upon leaving Stephens to start my own company I took with me the Registrars ink business. I am still selling Registrars ink ( Iron Gall Ink) theough my company ESS (Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies..Though we do not promote this name any more favouring ESS )
Vic Stevenson.

#12 Mr.Rene

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Posted 17 February 2013 - 23:58

Greetings,
some ink bottles from my collection. Mostly were made hire in Chile.
Enjoy,
René.
:thumbup:

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#13 Lloyd

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Posted 18 February 2013 - 01:49

Very interesting posting about Stephens ink especially as I worked for Stephens ( and later DRG ) from 1962 until 1972. Apart from manufacturing writing inks Stephens also made a large variety of speciality inks for example, meat marking ink, ink to mark crustations to research their traveling habits, plasterboard marking ink, Stephens Registrars ink etc.
When the move was made from Gilespie Road, Highbury to the old Express Milk depot at 100 Drayton Park, by that time the volume of ink sales was declining and as a result Stephens gave up making ink in large circular teak vats holding thousands of gallons of ink, instead they opted to make smaller quantities in plastic barrels. I bought one of the old Teak vats from Stephens and I had the timber machined into usuable timber. As the lengths of teak was planned so the colours of the various inks which had been mixed in the vat were revealed. Incredible to see it's life history revealed in a rainbow of colours.
Upon leaving Stephens to start my own company I took with me the Registrars ink business. I am still selling Registrars ink ( Iron Gall Ink) theough my company ESS (Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies..Though we do not promote this name any more favouring ESS )
Vic Stevenson.


It's an honor to have you here. Your ink has many fans.
"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."
Oscar Wilde

#14 dcpritch

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 15:54

Very interesting posting about Stephens ink especially as I worked for Stephens ( and later DRG ) from 1962 until 1972. Apart from manufacturing writing inks Stephens also made a large variety of speciality inks for example, meat marking ink, ink to mark crustations to research their traveling habits, plasterboard marking ink, Stephens Registrars ink etc.
When the move was made from Gilespie Road, Highbury to the old Express Milk depot at 100 Drayton Park, by that time the volume of ink sales was declining and as a result Stephens gave up making ink in large circular teak vats holding thousands of gallons of ink, instead they opted to make smaller quantities in plastic barrels. I bought one of the old Teak vats from Stephens and I had the timber machined into usuable timber. As the lengths of teak was planned so the colours of the various inks which had been mixed in the vat were revealed. Incredible to see it's life history revealed in a rainbow of colours.
Upon leaving Stephens to start my own company I took with me the Registrars ink business. I am still selling Registrars ink ( Iron Gall Ink) theough my company ESS (Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies..Though we do not promote this name any more favouring ESS )
Vic Stevenson.



Thanks so much Vic for filling in some interesting details, and welcome to FPN! Like Lloyd and many others here on FPN, I have a couple bottles of ESS Registrars ink and consider it a favorite. I have always loved wood products and would greatly appreciate seeing a photo of the rainbow teak you described. What a great story!

Thanks for sharing, and for becoming part of FPN.

DAVID

How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

— Samuel Johnson

 

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#15 dcpritch

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 15:57

Greetings,
some ink bottles from my collection. Mostly were made hire in Chile.
Enjoy,
René.


René, great photos! Fantastic stuff.

How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

— Samuel Johnson

 

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#16 torstar

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 16:15

A very enjoyable review, thanks!!

#17 Bo Bo Olson

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 17:50

Upon leaving Stephens to start my own company I took with me the Registrars ink business. I am still selling Registrars ink ( Iron Gall Ink) theough my company ESS (Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies..Though we do not promote this name any more favouring ESS )
Vic Stevenson.

ESSR :notworthy1: :thumbup:
It's very nice to know "our" ink has a nice long history. I'd just thought it a 'modern' niche product for churches. :embarrassed_smile:
I did a 17 nib, 47 paper test of your ink...would have looked much better had I a scanner, instead of using a large magnifying glass to photograph through.

Better writing would have helped too. :rolleyes:

Edited by Bo Bo Olson, 20 February 2013 - 22:12.

German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.

www.nibs.com/blog/nibster-writes/nibs-germany & https://www.peter-bo...cts/nib-systems,

 

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#18 Colin68

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 08:32

Thanks for the history lesson - I live near Avenue House and had no idea about its inky significance. Going to do that tour as soon as I can!
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#19 Dickkooty2

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Posted 03 October 2013 - 22:16

A great history! And ot prompted a letter from a first-hand participant! What an interesting post and perosnal view of the ink business.

 

Thank you!

 

PS

 

Do you happen to know if Stephens ever offered a pen, maybe called "Autograph Luxe"?



#20 Bemo

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 22:32

Thank you for bringing this thread back up. I love the ESSRI. Are there any other ink recipes that were saved?








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