A boxy cash register to keep employees honest
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    Auction Finds

    Inkwells recall a different era of keeping in touch

    The emerald green inkwell caught the eye of my auction buddy Janet. She had intended to bid on it, but she was in another room waiting for a sweet little antique Underwood typewriter to come up and missed the inkwell.

    As for me, I was drawn to the entire inkwell collection. I love inkwells, and when I saw so many different styles on the auction table I had to linger for a while. The auctioneer would later announce that they were part of someone’s collection, but that was obvious.

    Some of the inkwells were crystal, some were metal, one was stone and one was porcelain with roses (it needed a good cleaning). This person also collected the accoutrements of writing. There were several half-empty bottles of ink, some bearing names both long forgotten and still around, and desk accessories, including two figurative pencil sharpeners.

    Emerald green inkwell.

    Emerald green inkwell.

    The inkwells and accessories beckoned to a time when pen, ink and paper were the common tools of communicating.

    It seems that inkwells have been around for ages. Early Egyptian aristocrats used scribes to write their correspondence with quills dipped into ink in inkwells. The Egyptians later produced glass inkwells, followed by the use of animal horns in other countries.

    Early inkwells were usually made of glass, and were held inside a box to keep them from breaking and shut tight with a lid to keep the ink from spilling. Some of the famous glass makers such as Tiffany, Noritake and Limoges made elaborate inkwells.

    Part of the inkwell collection.

    Part of the collection of inkwells and desk accessories at auction.

    The designs were pretty simple in appearance, but that changed during the Renaissance when gold, silver and precious metals were used. Through the years, the style and look reflected the periods of history – from ornate porcelain during Queen Victoria’s reign to fancy maidens amid nature during the Art Nouveau period.

    Portable inkwells were created around the 17th century for those literate enough to do their own writing, most notably the well-to-do. These were in ornate boxes that included not only the necessities of writing (paper, quill pens, ink) but also sewing items, toiletries and medicine. Civil War soldiers carried portable inkwells so they could write back home to their loved ones. During much of the 18th and 19th centuries, china inkwells were made in England to be sold as souvenirs in America to appeal to women.

    In the late 1800s, Lewis Waterman invented the fountain pen, which held its own ink and led to the demise of inkwells. In the 1930s, the ball point pen was patented by Laszlo Biro.

    Portable travel inkwell.

    Portable travel inkwell.

    While the inkwells at the auction did not bring in big bucks, the right types are collectible and prized, such as Tiffany’s. At an auction in Scottsdale, AZ, last year, a Tiffany desk inkwell circa 1904 sold for $840 (with the buyer’s premium). A Loetz glass shell inkwell sold for $660.

    The sale included two separate collections of more than 600 vintage and antique inkwells and fountain pens.

    Here are some of the inkwells from the auction I attended:

    Lion's head inkwell.

    Lion’s head inkwell.

     

    Mahogany desktop inkwell.

    Mahogany desktop inkwell.

     

    Opened bottles of ink.

    Opened bottles of ink.

     

    Glass and metal inkwells.

    Glass and metal inkwells.

     

    Carved stone inkwell.

    Carved stone inkwell.

     

    Part of the collection of inkwells sold at auction.

    Part of the collection of inkwells and desk accessories at auction.

     

    A cylindrical travel inkwell.

    A cylindrical travel inkwell.

     

    Figurative pencil sharpeners in the shapes of a globe and cannon.

    Figurative pencil sharpeners hidden inside a globe and under a cannon.

     

    Desk accessories: from left, a brass box marked John Sheaffer's; center, message holder; right, oversized paper clips.

    Desk accessories: from left, a brass box marked John Sheaffer’s; center, message holder; right, oversized paper clips marked Spencerian.

     

    Ceramic inkwell with rose motif.

    Ceramic inkwell with rose motif.

     

     

    A fancy desk inkwell.

    A carved cornucopia inkwell that looks to be Bakelite.

     

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