Scholla: An Old Recipe For The Making of Ink April 12, 1946

The following recipe for the home manufacture of ink is found in German in the 1748 issue of the Christopher Sower almanac, Der Hoch-Deutsch Americanische Calendar:

“It often happens that if people in our country have something to write they will take gunpowder and water, and make ink, and write with it, even sending such writing to Germany; if such writing is carried about a bit, it is completely rubbed out so that it cannot be read; whoever does not feel the need of much writing and of keeping good ink on hand will do better to pulverize a piece of cherry tree gum the size of a bean, to let it dissolve in as much water as half an egg shell can hold and to add the powder afterward for then the ink will not wipe out. Whoever takes the gallnuts from oak trees in the late summer when they are ready to fall and are soft, then crushes them and presses the juice into a clean glass or a vessel which is not dirty, and finally adds copperas or vitriol the size of a thick hazel nut to a gill of juice, he indeed will have very good ink at that very moment.

If one adds that much gum arabic or Pennsylvania (penna) cherry-tree gum or peach-tree gum mean that the ink will not flow freely from the pen, and with too little it will grow moldy, and will acquire a skin on the surface. Gallnuts, if they are dry and are boiled for a while in vinegar and water in a clean container, if vitriol and gum are added later, will produce ink. The shell of the adler root will have the same effect.” (Copperas mentioned in the almanac, is a green crystalline ferrous sulphate used in ink making; vitriol is a sulphate of copper.)

The Almanac recipe is a definitely one for making black writing ink in small quantities. In order to realize that modern method is comparable, one should note, for example, the recipe given in the World Book Encyclopedia, The Quarrie Corporation, Chicago, Vol. 9, p.3454 (1943):

“One pound of bruised nutgalls, one gallon boiling water, five and one-third ounces of sulphate of iron (Copperas) in solution, three ounces gum arabic previously dissolved and a few drops of antiseptic such as carbolic acid. Steep the galls, for 24 hours, strain the infusion, and add the other ingredients. . . The iron in the copperas acts upon the tannin in the solution of the nutgalls, and on exposure to the air turns this black.”

The Gallnut is obtained from a species of oak called the gall-oak. A variant form for gallnut is gall-apple, sometimes even nutgall. The German version in the Sower almanac also uses the form, oak-apple (Eich Aepffel).

Whereas nutgall are used in the manufacture of black writing ink, lamp-black mixed with linseed oil is used in the manufacture of printers ink. For this reason, lamp black (Kienruss) gained frequent mention in the advertisements of the Sower almanac. The old Pennsylvania German illuminators are said to have made black ink out of burnt grape vine twigs. Ink was colored also with the berries of pokeweed. -Russsel W. Gilbert, Selingrove, PA

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