Inkwells are as old as the written word. The first inkwells were probably just fist-sized stones with depressions in them, offering scribes a natural container in which to mix powdered pigments with various types of solvents for their quills and other primitive dipping pens. As the art of writing advanced, soapstone, onyx, and marble were cut and carved into elaborate vessels for ink. Ceramics, glass, metal, shell, plastics, and even wood have all been pressed into service as inkwells.

Prior to the widespread use of fountain pens in the 1800s, people would have to carry ink with them if they wanted to write while on the road. Portable inkwells, sometimes called travel wells or travelers, were devised for this purpose. A variation on the travel well was the scribe case, which combined a container for ink with an attached holster for the pen.

Scribe cases were often made of cast brass that had been chased, incised, or enameled. Lids for the inkwell part of the case were usually hinged while the covers at the end of the pen holder were typically press-fitted.

Designers went to great lengths to prevent the ink inside their travel wells from leaking. Usually the well itself, which was often made of glass, was housed within a box to protect it from breaking. The seal for the well was also carefully engineered, sometimes combining a hinged lid with tabs that the lid would lock into. By the mid-1880s, certain types of travelers made from metal or a hardwood called gutta-percha could be screwed shut.

The things most people picture, though, when they think of inkwells are the decorative objects found on desks. Because the ink in these wells was not being transported about, decoration rather than engineering dominated these pieces. For example, the ceramic inkwells produced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries ran from elaborately glazed and gilt Limoges, Meissen, and Noritake porcelain to bulky stoneware pieces. Wedgwood produced Jasperware inkwells, Gouda made tin-glazed ones, and Japanese inkwells imported to the United States between 1891 and 1921 were labeled Nippon.

For those who collect glass, Tiffany inkwells are particularly prized, although there are plenty of more affordable pieces in pressed, vaseline, and milk glass. Glass factories from France to Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, produced Art Nouveau inkwells with frosted curving shapes or iridescent surfaces. Geometric designs were also popular, especially during the Art Deco era.

Metal, of course, was a favorite material, although sometimes bases made of brass, cast iron, or copper were designed to hold cut-glass wells. These inkwells often had places for a pen, or even two or three. Some inkwells were integrated in the bases of lamps, others incorporated calendars. And many were shaped like animals, including roosters, horses, dogs, and elephants.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Early Office Museum

Early Office Museum

This site showcases pre-1920 office antiques, including paperweights, writing ink, paper fasteners, seal pressers, … [read review or visit site]

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]

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]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Elkington & Co- Fine Victorian Silver Plated Eagle Inkwell- Antique Desk NoveltyVintage Art Deco Inkwell , Desk Set Amber Bakelite, Catalin Cherry SandFine Antique 19th C Chinese Carved Red Cinnabar Lacquer Inkwell W Original LinerAntique Umbrella Ink Bottle InkwellLovely Early Heavy Squat Ships Inkwell Non Spill Base 1800s.Victorian Silver Ink Well, 1894, 478gmGood Vintage Pair Of Glass & Brass Ink Wells Noritake Figural Clown Inkwell Antique Islamic Silver Copper Brass Cairoware Divit Qalamdan Inkwell Pen BoxWonderful Antique Leather Travelling Vanity Set Silver Mounts, Inkwells 1904Antique Vintage Leather Bound Heart Shaped Travelling / Pocket Inkwell C1913, Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Superb Antique Solid Silver & Cut Glass InkwellStunning ~ Peacock Blue Funnel Ink Well ~ American Pontil Bottle 1830 ~ AntiqueBeautiful Antique Turquoise Glass Double Inkwell For Dip PensUnusual Antique 1920's Ss Baradine P&o Cruise Ship Liner Silver Plated InkwellVintage Antique Octagonal Inkwell Of Green Glass.Rare Tiffany Studios Pine Needle Inkwell Marked 844 Tiffany Studios New York Bronze Zodiac Inkwell 842Antique Circa 1900 Tiffany Studios, Zodiac, Bronze Inkwell, No ReserveAntique Egg Barrel Shape Silver Plate Inkwell With Blue Glass Well Sterling Silver Mounted Cut Crystal 2 / Double Inkwell W Pen RestRisler Carre Sterling Porcelain Hp Floral InkwellAntique Austrian Cold Painted Spelter Metal Camel Inkwell Novelty Ink Well Antique French Hand Painted Porcelain Inkwell W/brass-signed Rm-made In FranceSuperb Victorian Silver Double Inkwell Desk Inkstand, 1896 - 687gms.Islamic Middle Eastern Spice Box Incense Burner,peacock Final Inkwell Cast BrassAntique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Inkwell, Bronze & Glass, Stamped, LargeVintage Swirl Glass Ink Well Set, Two Ink Wells And Water And Pen Holder TrayAntique 1800's/early 1900's Persian Brass Inkwell / Quill Brush Box.9 Old Ink WellsTwo Vintage School Desk Inkwells Bakelite By E S AAntique Style Wood Slide Lid Swing Open Writing Box Campaign Inkwell W Dip PenAntique Vintage Italian Porcelain Double Inkwell28g Solid .800 Sterling Silver/not Scrap Miniature Desk Computer/ink Well PhoneTwo Vintage School Desk Inkwells Pot CprsAntique Staffordshire Figurine / Inkwell - Parrot And Tiny Lamb - Whimsical!American Girl Felicity Windsor Writing Chair & Inkwell New In Box Smart Solid Silver `capstain `style Ink Well, 1931, Walker & HallVintage Pewter Capstan InkwellAntique Igloo Glass, Civil War Era, Ink Bottle, Inkwell, Pat Oct 31st 1865Antique Carter's Black Ink Glass Ink Bottles, Inkwells, With LabelsCirca 1900 French Pottery Figural Man Inkwell With SpillvaseMontblanc Jfk John F. Kennedy Ink Inkwell New In Box Montblanc Jfk Antique Cobalt Blue Glass Inkwell Writing Box Ink WellVintage Wooden Inkwell, Australian Crown Mulga Wood & Original Bakelite InkwellOld Vintage Brass Double Inkwell Estate Auction FindAntique Brass Inkwell With Glass Insert-ca. 1900-good Condition. Nice PatinaAntique Silver Cobalt Blue Glass Inkwell Desk Ink WellAntique/vintage Style Silver Top/dark Green Glass Inkwell Desk Ink Pen Pot WellVintage Japanese Ogatsu Inkstone Calligraphy Inkwell~orig. Wood Box~pen~drawingVintage Morriset Model B Celluloid Glass Inkwell With Dip Fountain PenAntique 1 1/2" Square Glass InkwellVintage Black Amethyst Toothpick - InkwellAntique Clear Glass Inkwell Writing Pen Box Ink Well CuVintage Plated Brass Travelling Inkwell Ocean Park Me Sending Chust A Card, A Nice Long Ledder~candle~ink Well~1912Nice Civil War Era 3" Clay Inkwell Dug From Confederate Camp Trash Pit -bull RunPair Of Antique "burst Lip" Ink Wells / Bottles. Independence Hall Stieff Pewter Inkwell Quill Holder B.c. 1873 Russian Sterling Silver 84 Judaica Inkwell , Russian Jewish Inkwell