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    

Superior Indelible Ink WellBeautiful Amber Umbrella Ink Light Amber Excellent Condition! No Res!Stampin Up! Huge Lot 6 Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Mint Melody, Blue +Old Rare Vintage Antique Civil War Relic Confederate Umbrella Inkwell Bottle Stampin Up! Huge Lot Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Pink Passion, Banana +Stampin Up! Huge Lot 6 Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Brilliant BlueStampin Up! Huge Lot 6 Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Almost AmethystAntique Thomas Ink Bottle With Black Cat Paper Label And StopperStampin Up! Huge Lot 6 Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Close To Cocoa ++Stampin Up! Huge Lot 6 Classic Ink Pads And Refill Bottles, Really Rust ++Stampin Up! Lot 4 Classic Ink Pads & Refill Bottles, Pacific Point, Real Red ++Stampin Up! Lot 4 Classic Ink Pads & Refill Bottles, Pumpkin Pie, Tangerine ++Mint Open Pontil 1850s Igloo Ink 12-sided Crude Laid On Ring Lip Perfect With NrScarce Embossed Cone Ink: Dovell's Patent. Mint Condition.A Brilliant, Flared Lip Underwoods Ink. Mint, In A Strange Yellowish Tint-2 3/4"Vintage Fountain Pen Ink Bottle By John Holland Gold Pen Co. CincinnatiPontiled Octagonal Umbrella Inkwell Antique Style Solid Thick Glass Square Cobalt Blue Inkwell Ink Pot BottleAntique Lh Thomas' Ink No. 29 Violet Writing Copying Bottle Black Cat EmobossedAntique G D Paris Depose Decorative Dragon Floral Chinoiserie Inkwell 1900s Yqz 2 Ink Bottles 1 Blue/green J&iem Turtle Back & 1 Red Daniel Waterman's RecorderVintage Embossed Sheaffer’s Skrip Ink Bottle, Hazel Atlas Glass Co.Stampin Up! Real Red Classic Ink Pads, Refill Bottle, Roller & Candy Cane WheelVintage Antique Style Solid Clear Square Thick Glass Inkwell Ink Pot Bottle Vintage 4 Oz Bottle Sheaffer’s Skrip Ink V-black For V MailVintage Carter Ink Co Mucilage Glue Bottle Black Americana Boston Ma Chicago Il Montblanc Fountain 18kt Gold And Ruby Pen With A Bottle Of InkVintage Fountain And Caligraphy Pens With Extra Tips And Vintage Ink BottlesPretty Cobalt Blue Stafford's Master Ink With Pouring SpoutVintage Eugene Dietzgen Co. 3/4 Oz. Ink Bottle With Cork StopperGreat Dietzgen Antique Ink Stand/pen Filler - Cast Iron - Nice Shape W/bottle!Rare Vintage 1985 Sanrio Blue Tuxedo Sam Ink Stamp Or White Out Bottle (empty)!5 Unmtd Rubber Stamp Dies Tropical Postcard Envelope Ink Bottle Vase Open Box