It would be natural to assume that ink bottles date to the beginning of glassblowing and the written word, but prior to the 18th century, the most common form of ink was a cake or powder, which the writer would mix with water. It was only in the late 1700s that liquid ink in wide-bottomed bottles was widely available for sale.

Ink bottles differ from inkwells in that the bottles were designed to serve a purely utilitarian purpose (i.e., to hold ink). Inkwells, on the other hand, were often more decorative, the sort of thing you’d want people to notice on your desk. Consequently, inkwells were more expensive than ink bottles.

One way to categorize ink bottles is by size, though they can be divided in plenty of other ways as well. Small ink bottles, which tended to hold just 2-4 ounces of ink, often came in cylindrical shapes, as well as squares, rectangles, or other polygons. Larger ink bottles rarely came in shapes other than cylinders.

Of the cylindrical bottles, there were various versions. The 'cone' shape was the most common. These bottles had flat bottoms and sloping sides, making them steady and unlikely to spill when a pen or quill was dipped—this is the main reason why cone bottles are so prevalent.

Square or rectangular shaped bottles often came in different and creative forms. For example, San Francisco & Pacific Glass Works was responsible for making school house and cottage shaped bottles adorned with faux windows. Even more interesting are the multi-sided (more than four) ink bottles. These often look like a combination of rectangular and cylindrical bottles. Then there are the oddball shapes, which tend to be more sought-after, including 'teapot,' 'umbrella,' and 'turtle' (it really does look like a turtle!).

Though many ink bottles are made of glass, not all are. In fact, it is difficult to come up with a material that hasn’t been used for ink bottles at some point—stone, wood, metal, bone, and rubber have all been shaped in the service of holding ink. Of the glass ink bottles, some were hand-blown while others were molded.

No single manufacturer had the monopoly on ink bottles. Indeed, just about any company that produced glass dabbled in ink bottles at one point or another. Many makers had their o...

Some collectors accumulate ink bottles by era. For example, there are those who prefer 19th-century bottles to all others, while others fancy just the ones produced during the middle of that century. But as with all glassware, color is paramount to collectors. The most valuable colors are unusual ones like yellow and purple, while colors like aqua and clear are more common. Embossed bottles or ones with intact labels also increase an ink bottle’s value, adding aesthetic appeal as well as important information about the bottle's origin.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ernesto Soler's extensive homage to one of the most popular pens ever produced, the Parker "51," introduced in 1941… [read review or visit site]

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Bill Lindsey's fantastic bottle identification and information site. Loaded with detailed descriptions and diagrams… [read review or visit site]

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

There's a ton of information here, but as with bottles, you have to dig to find the best stuff. Start with the famo… [read review or visit site]

Jim Mamoulides' vintage and modern pen-cyclopedia. Start at the main gallery, featuring detailed articles (with pho… [read review or visit site]

Bottle Cap Index

Bottle Cap Index

Assembled by Gunther Rademacher with the help of several other contributors, this collection of over half a million… [read review or visit site]

Norbert Lamping's collection of 600+ ceramic bottle stoppers, Hutter stoppers, swingtops, swivel stoppers, and ligh… [read review or visit site]

Old Spice Collectibles

Old Spice Collectibles

Lather up with Creighton Fricek's complete chronology of collectible Old Spice shaving products. Start with the bot… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Op Odd Sized Cone Hogan And Thompson Red Ink Bottle Pliladelphia Pa Harrison’s Columbian Ink Bottle Open Pontil Sided PerfectVictorian Rosewood Writing Slope With Inlaid Mother Of Pearl, Ink Bottles & Key.Early 20thc Carters Cathedral Cobalt Blue 32oz Ink Bottle W Orig Label*nr* Carter's Cathedral Master Ink Ryto Bottle: Cobalt Quart, Boston Ma, Ca.1930Awesome "target Top" Teakettle Ink In An Extremely Rare Mold, Plum/grape ColorMont Blanc Ink Bottle - Tinte Ink Encre Tinta 50mlCobalt Carters InkStampin' Up Versamark Plaid ~ 5 Ink Pad & 7 Ink Bottle Refill Reinker ~ Misc LotPottery Bottle - Old Jug Lager Nashville, Tenn. OriginalNoodler’s Ink 3 Oz Bottle Of Freeze Resistant Eternal Polar BlueNoodler’s Russian Bulletproof Eternal Ink 3 Oz Bottle Of Pasternak BlueLook!!! A Neat Aqua Open Pontil Master Ink With Massachusetts OriginsEarly Pontiled Umbrella InkVintage Pelikan Souveran Fountain Pen Desk Stand With Ink Bottle Boxed RareVintage Ink Well Set With 2 Bottles.inlaidOld Oriental Lot Of Free-blown Japanese Ink Bottles & Droppers_inkwell SetAntique Bailey Fulham Ink Bottle Cream Stoneware Impressed Circa 1860s/1880sEarly Embossed Sheaffer's Skrip Ink Well Bottle Pat. Applied For-hallmark RareSet Of 3 Pottery Carters Master InksWonderful Carters Ink Bottle With Box & Airplane Graphics. American Blue Ink.19c.hand Blown Aqua Glass Barrel Inkwell Ink Well Bottle Pot ~ Swirl Neck PontilVintage 32 Ounce Waterman's Blue Black Ink Bottle In Box. Nice!Vintage Sanford's Fountain Pen Ink Pint Embossed Bottle Beautiful Twist Top Vintage Chinese Blue And White Cuboid Ink BottleAntique Brown Glaze Clay Cone Shaped Ink Bottle StonewareAntique Black Sanford Ink JarFor A Hole 1-3/4" Embossed 100 Yr Old Glass Inkwell For Childs Wood School Desk Vintage Sheaffer Skrip, Pilot, Sanfords Ink Refill Bottles3 Early Crude Cotton Reel Ink BottlesSet Of 3 Crude Early Fields Ink And Gum Bottles.Mont Blanc Meisterstuck 149 With Ink Bottle--us Shipping OnlyAntique Ink BottleJunk Drawer Lot,vintage Bottles Of Ink & Calligraphy Pen Tips,higgins,pelikan,,Variety Of 10 Ink Bottles, Various StylesAntique ** Carter Cobalt Blue Diamond Shaped Ink Bottle ** 2 Oz.Sheaffer Calligraphy/calligrapher Ink - 2 Bottles ( 1 Blue And 1 Black )Vintage Cast Iron Lietz Drafting Mechanical Inkwell No Glass Ink Bottle Dunbar Bottle Taunton, MassLt. Amber Carters Cone Ink - Unusual Mold MarksInkwell Brass Base Great Patina Chas Higgins Glass Ink Bottle Nice Label 1800sTheo Alteneder & Sons Inkwell, Patent Nov. 14, 1930 + Glass Ink Bottle