Local News

June 25, 2014

Do you know what this is?


This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is an ink well.

Some readers took a guess at the identity of the artifact.

Larry Klaaren wrote via Facebook: “"I think know what this is. We dug up something very similar on the old Cedar Creek school grounds on our farm."

Lee Ann Simmers-Dickey also wrote on Facebook: “Looks like a ink well and stand to me."

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert did some research on the artifact. She wrote: “Ink Well

This artifact is a souvenir ink well – from Lookout Mountain. Quite a common trinket for the time it was sold. Made from a burl of knotty wood, probably cedar, it has a small glass bottle attached to the top with a nub of brass for a pen rest.

Ink wells were a necessity when using a quill or dip pen. The nib or point of the pen only held a small amount of ink which was released onto the paper through capillary action from a small slit in the nib. Metal nibs were expensive and feather or quill nibs were fragile so it was important to use clean ink and store it properly.

Inventors started looking for a more convenient way to carry ink and pen about 1000 years ago. Hollow tubes made from quills or wood were inserted in larger tubes, but the problems with leakage and continual ink flow made many early attempts useless. It wasn’t until air flow and its effect on ink was understood that new pens were developed.

Starting about 1825, inventors began to modify pens into fountain pens. These writing tools were able to hold ink and not leak, but the container of ink still needed to be filled and early designs required an eye dropper to fill the tube. It wasn’t until 1907 when Walter A. Schaefer of Ft. Madison, IA invented a lever-style filler that created a vacuum did this problem get resolved. However, the writer s till needed to carry a bottle of ink or an ink well to constantly refill the pen.

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