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    

Antique Early Blown Dark Green Umbrella Ink19th C. Inkwell French Boulle Style Inlaid Ink-stand, Bronze Lids & BottlesCobalt Blue Original Carter's Cathedral Ink Bottle Shiny Mint QuartStampin'up! - 8 Packages Of Card Stock, 7 Ink Pads, 5 Re Ink Bottles - LotVintage Whitefriars Parker 51 Fountain Pen Desk Set + Bottle Penman Ink Sapphire"extremely Rare Robber Ink"a Must See"mint"Htg 'stamped' Inkwell, 3 Others... English, American Stoneware. Ink Bottle Crock19th C. Cobalt Blue Blown Glass Funnel Style Antique InkwellRare Carter's Ink Green Mini Master Embossed W/ Pouring Spout19th C. Early Pressed Green Glass Ribbed Pattern Funnel Style Antique InkwellTatto Ink 60 Bottles..... Plus Other Tatto Equipment Antique Bottle Lot Of 5 Mold Blown Ink Bottles 1 Early Bottom Hinge Umbrella InkP J Hammond, Rare Vintage 1878 Date Inkwell Wood Case,wood Box,,great ConditionsStampin Up Bold Brights Lot Of 12 Ink Refill Bottles In Box All Seem To Be FullDeluxe Ink Pad Storage Handmade Hardwood Holds 48 Ink Pads & 48 Re-inker BottlesAntique Carter's Crimson Fluid Inkwell Bottle W Label, Dated 1870, American PenVintage Antique Style Umbrella Cobalt Blue Glass Thick Inkwell Ink Pot BottleVintage Glass Ink Well Stand And BottleVintage Green Sanford Inkwell Globe Traveler Box Glass Ink Bottle Vintage Carter's Ink BottleBest Price Kokuyo Camlin Ink Bottle Black 60ml Can Use For Any Fountain PenStampin Up Ink Pad & Ink Refill Bottle Holder Holds Forty Stamp Pads Gently UsedAntique Inkwell, Open Pontil Aqua Ink Or Perfume,2-7/8"tall,base1-7/8"x1-3/8"Antique Solid Glass (footed) Quadruple Desk Top Ink Well Stand2 Bottles Montblanc Ink Tinte Encre TintaOld Antique Stoneware 3 5/8" High Master Ink Bottle CrockBest Price Kokuyo Camlin Ink Bottle Blue 60ml Can Use For Any Fountain PenVintage Unused Bottle Sheaffer Skrip Writing Fluid #112 Peacock Blue Ink W/boxVintage Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Black Pen Ink Bottle 3/4 Full 62.5 Ml 2 OuncesAntique Wooden Lap Desk With Original Ink Bottle. Walnut? 1880's?Sailor Four Seasons Doyou And Oku-yama Fountain Pen Ink, Set Of Six BottlesParker Super Quink Ink Bottles Black And Blue