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The Written Word: Ink Wells, Pen Wipes, and Ink Blotters, Part Three

Posted on Friday, June 16, 2017 at 9:37 am

Ink wells are a nostalgic reminder of the old manner in which people penned letters and documents. Designs varied on these utilitarian items from simple glass containers with cork stoppers, elaborately carved crystal with sterling lids, or animal shaped vessels.

For reenacting purposes a simple glass inkwell will suffice. Secure the well to its surface to prevent spillage. Several viable inks such as Parkers, Watermanns, or India Ink are available at most online mercantile establishments.

Ink blotters and pen wipes were another important writing tool in the nineteenth century due to the messy ink splotches resulting from uneven ink distribution. Examples of pen wipes vary from very simple wool felt cloths to elaborately designed figural pieces.

Many of the ladies journals of the day, such as Godeys, included instructions, patterns, and designs for making pen wipes.

Generally speaking, the pen wipe consisted of three layers of cloth and, at times, was topped with a decorative figural shape or stitched design.

Early dip pens dripped ink and therefore the pen wipe was needed to absorb excess ink from the nib of the pen to prevent blotching on the page.

Due to the small nature of the project, pen wipes make for a lovely ladies activity at reenacting events. In addition, these very utilitarian objects provide yet another aspect of authenticity to a portrayal.

For ladies wishing to engage in journal entries or developing friendship albums, the pen wipe helps to keep the pen in neat working order so that script and drawings remain clean and well executed on the parchment.

Ink blotters became more popular in the 1850s having been a part of the writing task for centuries. Made of metal, wood, or bone, they were rounded on the bottom with a handle on top.

Once the writing was complete, felt or paper was clipped to the base of the blotter and carefully rotated over the script to absorb excess ink and prevent smearing.

One had to be careful to lift it off the page to prevent further smudges.

Whether you are a gentleman portraying a famous general sending battle instructions to the field, a soldier composing heartfelt sentiments to the home front, or a lady scripting a letter to a loved one off fighting in the war; writing was a universal task shared by both sides.

Consider adding the written word to your portrayal and increase the realm of authenticity at living historian events.

-By Kim Poovey