The term ink blotter refers either to a handheld rocking device or simple blotting paper, both used to absorb excess ink when writing with fountain pens. Before blotters were invented, the preferred (albeit expensive) method was sprinkling salt over fresh written text to speed the drying process.
Hand blotters came into fashion during the early 1800s, and generally featured a small handle mounted on a curved base, whose bottom surface was covered in felt and gently rocked over written text to absorb wet ink. These rocking blotters, or rockers, were made of various sturdy materials like wood, stone, metal, porcelain, or glass.
Blotting paper was first manufactured in the United States by Joseph Parker & Son in 1856. Parker (no relation to Parker Pens) became the industry leader after recognizing the absorbent quality of softer paper sheets made without adding a binding element, or “sizing,” to the paper mixture. The result was a thicker card material that absorbed ink without damaging a pen’s nib or smudged written words.
Blotting paper was eventually designed to attach on the underside of rocking blotters, which could be placed within a flat, decorative frame on the desk surface. Businesses quickly recognized the potential for advertising on blotting paper, and began customizing sheets with company marketing. Ink blotting paper thus became a form of business card, often given away by bankers or insurance salesman. Other decorative styles included alphabet script diagrams, monthly calendars, or even pinup girls.
A fashionable professional of the early 20th century typically owned a complete writing desk set (pieces typically included an inkwell, letter opener, and other useful items), using a rocking blotter in conjunction with a blotting-paper surface. The blotters of this era were often made of colorful pressed glass with handles in the shapes of objects or animals.
The dual advancements of quick-drying inks and ballpoint pens in the 1950s made blotters obsolete for most writers. However, a resurgence of interest in fountain pens provides enough business for companies like J. Herbin, founded in 1670, to continue to make classic ink blotters today.