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Jane Austen's Ink Recipe


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#1 Wildoaklane

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 21:56

Recently, several of us have discussed various iron gall ink recipes. Today, I got my hands on the recipe Jane Austen used circa 1813.

"To Make Ink"
Take 4 oz. blue gauls, 2 oz. of green
Copperas, 1 oz of half of gum arabic, break
the gauls, the gum & Copperas must be
beaten in a Mortar & put into a pint
of strong stale Beer; with a pint of small
Beer, put in a little refin'd
Sugar, it must stand in a chimney
Corner fourteen days & shaken two or
three times a day."

In a letter Jane wrote to her sister, Cassandra on 14 October, 1813, Jane expressed her concern that the ink bottle be filled. This was in a time when she did the majority of her writing.

Does anyone know what "small beer" is?
Think only of the past as its remembrance brings you pleasure. J. Austen

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#2 BillTheEditor

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 22:04

Generally, "small beer" is beer that contains little or no alcohol. Housewives brewed it for the children. It was healthier than drinking the water (risk of cholera), since the first step was to boil the water that was to be used.

Sometimes "small beer" refers to a beer brewed from the "second runnings" of the mash used to brew a very strong beer. This was also a housewife trick -- to economize.

#3 Underskoterskan

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 22:08

Just imagine writing those masterpieces she actually did with that kind of ink and with a far from good fountain pen (considering the Waterman, with it's capillary action, was yet some 60 years in the future).

Amazing ! clap1.gif

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Edited by Underskoterskan, 02 February 2009 - 22:09.


#4 ladymaverick

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 22:09

QUOTE (Wildoaklane @ Feb 2 2009, 09:56 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Does anyone know what "small beer" is?


Small beer was the 'drinking water' of the day, back when water purification and sanitary conditions weren't what they are now.

It was alcoholically weak and would be served to adults and children alike to quench the thirst, rather than run the risk of dysentery or cholera from drinking water (making the beer involved boiling it, thus killing all the germs...although they didn't know that back then!)

Heavy manual workers and labourers could be known to drink gallons of the stuff over the course of a day to maintain their fluid levels during work.

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#5 adam11

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 00:36

QUOTE (Wildoaklane @ Feb 2 2009, 10:56 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Recently, several of us have discussed various iron gall ink recipes. Today, I got my hands on the recipe Jane Austen used circa 1813.

"To Make Ink"
Take 4 oz. blue gauls, 2 oz. of green
Copperas, 1 oz of half of gum arabic, break
the gauls, the gum & Copperas must be
beaten in a Mortar & put into a pint
of strong stale Beer; with a pint of small
Beer, put in a little refin'd
Sugar, it must stand in a chimney
Corner fourteen days & shaken two or
three times a day."

In a letter Jane wrote to her sister, Cassandra on 14 October, 1813, Jane expressed her concern that the ink bottle be filled. This was in a time when she did the majority of her writing.

Does anyone know what "small beer" is?



Wow, this peace of history is an absolute delight.

No matter how much we indeed like our writing toys, the words that are written are usually more important.

Edited by adam11, 03 February 2009 - 00:37.


#6 psfred

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 00:40

She would have been using a dip pen, probably steel, maybe gold nibbed (but untipped). In periods of economy, I'm sure she knew how to select and trim a goose quill, too. The fountain pen with self-contained ink didn't really become popular until the discovery of hard rubber. Metal pens with rubber seals were around, but were definitely leaky and very expensive.

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#7 jbb

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 00:43

Wow!!! Thanks for posting that -- it was so interesting. Are you going to try to make it? Where does one get blue gauls??

#8 Wildoaklane

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 02:23

QUOTE (jbb @ Feb 2 2009, 07:43 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Wow!!! Thanks for posting that -- it was so interesting. Are you going to try to make it? Where does one get blue gauls??

Blue galls are basically oak galls and believe it or not, I found some on ebay! Yes, I plan to make it as soon as I can get the beer stale and the copperas (iron sulphate). Jane actually used quills without steel nibs according to my research. Thus, the metal nibs seen in the movie, "Becoming Jane" are historically inaccurate. She wrote at a small table in her cottage, liking to write alone without others in the room. I just love these discoveries! rolleyes.gif

Edited by Wildoaklane, 03 February 2009 - 02:23.

Think only of the past as its remembrance brings you pleasure. J. Austen

#9 RevAaron

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 03:04

Very neat! My wife and I just watched the first half of the BBC's Sense and Sensibility last night on PBS. Very good!
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#10 jbb

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 04:28

QUOTE (Wildoaklane @ Feb 2 2009, 06:23 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Blue galls are basically oak galls and believe it or not, I found some on ebay! Yes, I plan to make it as soon as I can get the beer stale and the copperas (iron sulphate). Jane actually used quills without steel nibs according to my research. Thus, the metal nibs seen in the movie, "Becoming Jane" are historically inaccurate. She wrote at a small table in her cottage, liking to write alone without others in the room. I just love these discoveries! rolleyes.gif

After a Super Bowl is the perfect time to find stale beer.

#11 dcwaites

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 04:32

QUOTE (Wildoaklane @ Feb 3 2009, 01:23 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (jbb @ Feb 2 2009, 07:43 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Wow!!! Thanks for posting that -- it was so interesting. Are you going to try to make it? Where does one get blue gauls??

Blue galls are basically oak galls and believe it or not, I found some on ebay! Yes, I plan to make it as soon as I can get the beer stale and the copperas (iron sulphate). Jane actually used quills without steel nibs according to my research. Thus, the metal nibs seen in the movie, "Becoming Jane" are historically inaccurate. She wrote at a small table in her cottage, liking to write alone without others in the room. I just love these discoveries! rolleyes.gif

My understanding is that steel pen nibs were not commonly available until after the 1830s. From about 1810 till then they were a luxury item.

I must find out what they did in early Australia for ink. First, there are no oak trees here. Secondly there is no stale beer...


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#12 jbb

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 05:23

QUOTE (dcwaites @ Feb 2 2009, 08:32 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My understanding is that steel pen nibs were not commonly available until after the 1830s. From about 1810 till then they were a luxury item.

I must find out what they did in early Australia for ink. First, there are no oak trees here. Secondly there is no stale beer...

Does that mean no beer sat around long enough to get stale?

It would be interesting to know what they made ink of in Australia.

#13 Wildoaklane

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 12:33

QUOTE (dcwaites @ Feb 2 2009, 11:32 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My understanding is that steel pen nibs were not commonly available until after the 1830s. From about 1810 till then they were a luxury item.

I must find out what they did in early Australia for ink. First, there are no oak trees here. Secondly there is no stale beer...


Indeed they were a luxury item and the Austen's, after the death of their father in 1805, had very limited means. In a letter written by Jane on Tuesday, 12 October 1813, she expressed concern about having enough sugar in the tin for her sister's visit. Thus, even having sugar with which to make ink was a concern. Now you've aroused my curiousity about the oak galls. However, the no stale beer thing is completely understandable with a rowdy group of Aussie's roflmho.gif

Think only of the past as its remembrance brings you pleasure. J. Austen

#14 Chris

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 12:55

Well, I recently tried a couple of beers that I would certainly allow to go stale as they were (perish the thought...) almost undrinkable.
One was "banana bread beer' and the other was cherry flavour sick.gif
Whether they would make stinky ink, I don't know mellow.gif

Otherwise, I do agree - what is stale beer?

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#15 Paddler

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 13:51

If you let oxygen get into the beer for a while, it begins to develop a taste of wet cardboard. If you let enough light hit it (I think the color green is most troublesome), it develops a "skunky" flavor. Heineken comes to mind. I would call the cardboard flavor "stale", but I'm just a homebrewer, so what do I know? tongue.gif

On another subject: Where are oak galls found? I have hiked in the woods in many places and have never seen one. There is a pin oak in my back yard. It gets tiny galls on its leaves. They look like green grains of rice. I don't think these are the ones used to make ink.

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#16 Shangas

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 14:02

Wow...beer in an ink-recipe? No wonder people kept licking their nibs back then.

And yes, "small beer" was a weak (though, according to my understanding), still alcoholic beer, which was primarily brewed for children. Back then, everyone drank booze. Drinking straight water was dangerous due to pollution. so everyone, including the kids, drank beer or ale. Kids had their own special brews, which would be weaker than adult beer, to stop them getting too tipsy.
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#17 jbb

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 14:35

QUOTE (Paddler @ Feb 3 2009, 05:51 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
On another subject: Where are oak galls found? I have hiked in the woods in many places and have never seen one. There is a pin oak in my back yard. It gets tiny galls on its leaves. They look like green grains of rice. I don't think these are the ones used to make ink.

Paddler

The oaks on one section of the road leading up to my house have loads of oak galls -- a fact I only just noticed after all these posts about it. These are approximately the size of a plum. I'm in Northern California.


#18 Wildoaklane

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 14:52

dcwaites: Does sumac or rhubarb grow in Australia? Those and tea are alternative sources of tannin and have been used to make ink.

Paddler: Wikipedia has a good article with pics of oak galls. They tend to grow down on the smaller branches of the tree where the leaf buds would normally form had it not been for some pesky wasps laying their eggs.

Now, to keep my husband from drinking the beer before it has a chance to go stale, hmmmm, that's a hard one! If I follow the recipe, I have to sit it in the chimney corner. How does one keep the cat out of it then? sm_cat.gif
Think only of the past as its remembrance brings you pleasure. J. Austen

#19 eilu

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 15:16

"Blue gauls" = ancient French smurfs. biggrin.gif Likely very difficult to find nowadays.
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#20 rzed1001

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 15:53

QUOTE (Wildoaklane @ Feb 2 2009, 09:56 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Does anyone know what "small beer" is?

It refers to Gordon Brown and Tony Bliar - two failed British Prime Ministers.






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