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”)

Parker51.com

Parker51.com

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]

Penhero.com

Penhero.com

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]

Plopsite.de

Plopsite.de

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    

Huge Lot~stampin Up~(45) Ink Pads, (28) Refill Bottles & (3) Ink SpotsAntique Umbrella Eight-sided Inside Rolled Lip Amber InkwellEmerald Greem J&iem Ink BottleTough 1/2 Pint Cathedral Ink Bottle, Carter's C-103, Cobalt BlueSailor Jentle Bottle Ink Fountain Pen Shosaikan Shousaikan Shinzan Yellow GreenCrude & Early Blue-green Ink With Heavy Cross Hinge Mould Base C1860'sHand Blown Glass - Underwood Ink Bottle -cobalt Blue About 100 Years OldAdirondack Alcohol Ink Assortment 8 .5oz Bottles Silver/gold Misc Extras 7 ColorRare! Sailor Jentle Bottle Ink For Fountain Pen Akashi Beppu Mist Blue JapanEmerald Green Staffords Pint Ink Whittley Bimal Lots Of BubblesStoneware Ink Vintage Montblanc Meisterstuck 148 Fountain Pen W Box. With Original Ink BottleRare Civil War 'usa' Medical Department / Hospital Bottle-original Paper LabelBrilliant,scarce 8 Sided Ink: Jw P E N N E L L Crude & Mint.8 Very Old Chinese Snuff Bottles ~ 1 Ancient Chinese Ink Jar Vintage Lot 12 Glass Ink Bottles Ink Wells Blue Brown Green LavenderLot 7 Colored Antique Viintage Ink Well Old Bottles Blue Red Green 1800's Vintage Writing Lap Desk Slope Folding Wood Leather Fountain Dip Pen Ink Bottle Antique Elgin Ink Well BottleVtg. Sheaffer's Skrip "v" Black Ink, 4 Ozs. Bottle W/ Box 1/3 FullCarters Ink Bottle Harvest Brown With Label And Lid. 5261 X Sumi Calligraphy Liquid Ink 180ml BottlePa Carter Inx German Porcelain Figural Inkstand Inkwell Ink Bottle, C.1914Confederate Dug Stoneware Clay Inkwell Ink Bottle From Historic Civil War SiteAladine Ink Pen Set And A Vintage Limoges Porcelain Ink Bottle With Quill BoxAntique Civil War Era Shear Top Glass Ink Bottle, Great Soldier's Camp Item!8 Misc Ink Bottles Sca, Clear And AquaVintage Lot Of 12 Shaeffer Skrip Blue-black Ink Bottles (4 With & 8 Without Ink)Silhouette Mint Stamp Kit & Ink Bottles Free Shipping In UsaGreen 8 Sided Umbrella Ink Bottle Pontil With Lip Damage.2 Cobalt Blue Vintage Bottle Bromo Seltzer Emerson Baltimore Ink WellAntique Ink Bottles Tooled Lip Ink Bottle Old Bottle LotSailor X Joyful-2 Jentle Bottle Ink For Fountain Pen Katashina Rapisu Lapis BlueDecorated Porcelain Drawing Lifelike Ink Shrimp Rare Lucky Unique Snuff BottleAntique Angus & Co Clear Glass Ink Bottle As Found Very Nice IridescentAntique Green Ink Bottle As Found Very Nice IridescentAntique/vintage Ink Bottle Nr 7 As FoundVintage The Bristol Co Bristol's Recorder Glass Ink Well WaterburyDuksa's Dairy Pint Bottle Black Ink Collectible Vintage RareDuksa's Dairy 10 Fluid Ounce Milk Bottle Vintage Collectible Rare Black InkVery Nice Sheer Top Green InkwellAntique/vintage Ink Bottle Nr 9 As FoundAntique/vintage Ink Bottle Nr 8 As Found