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Home Made Ink Recipe
Published in 1805:

"Brown...boiled-down walnut or butternut hulls that have been mashed first. Add vinegar and salt to boiling water to 'set'. Black...add indigo or lampblack (soot). Blue...powdered Indigo. 2 parts, 1 part madder, 1
part bran. Mix with water, let stand then strain it well.
 

1.Taken from the twelfth century manual On Divers Arts by monk/scribe, Theophilus: "When you are going to make ink, cut some pieces of [haw]thorn wood in April or May, before they grow blossoms or leaves. Make little bundles of them and let them lie in the shade for two, three, or four
weeks, until they are dried out a little. Then you should have wooden mallets with which you should pound the thorn on another hard piece of wood, until you have completely removed the bark. Put this immediately into a barrel full of water. Fill two, three, four or five barrels with bark and water and so let them stand for eight days, until the water absorbs all the sap of the bark into itself. Next, pour this water into a very clean pan or cauldron, put fire under it and boil it. From time to time also put some of the bark itself into the pan, so that if any of the sap has remained in it, it will be boiled out. After boiling it a little, take out the bark and again put some more in. After this is done, boil the remaining water down to a third, take it out of that pan and put it into a smaller one. Boil it until it grows black and is beginning to thicken, being absolutely careful not to add any water except that which is mixed with the sap. When you see it begin to thicken, add a third part of pure wine, put it into two or three new pots, and continue boiling until you see that it forms a sort of skin on top.

Then take the pots off the fire and put them in the sun until the black ink purges itself from the red dregs. Next, take some small, carefully sewn parchment bags with bladders inside, pour the pure ink into them, and hang them in the sun until [the ink is] completely dry. Whenever you want, take some of the dry material, temper it with wine over the fire, add a little green vitriol [iron sulphate] and write. If it happens through carelessness that the ink is not black enough, take a piece of iron a finger thick, put it into the fire, let it get red-hot, and immediately throw it into the ink."

For those who prefer a more technical explanation: The ink would be composed mostly of iron tannate or gallate. The acids are extracted from the partially decomposed bark and, after drying for storage, are freshly mixed for use with wine and green vitriol. The ink could be made blacker by adding iron or iron oxide directly. It was commonly added as metallic filings, but the method of quenching an iron rod as recommended by Theophilus will also work, as it will produce a reactive oxide scale.

2.A traditional ink recipe, this one is much simpler. Take a quantity of albumen [egg white] and mix thoroughly with the soot. Then add honey and mix into a smooth paste. The ink is then ready to use.

3.Another traditional ink recipe. Gather some "lawyer's wig" mushrooms (Corprinus comatus) and place in a glazed pot or small cauldron. Leave somewhere warm for several days to allow the mushrooms to liquefy. Pour off the liquid and either use it as it is or boil until it is about half its original volume for a blacker ink. Note: this ink is less permanent than some of the others, but is easy to produce.

There were many other types of ink in use at the time, many of them obtained by suspending black pigments in some other medium (e.g. recipe 2). Black pigments included charcoal and bone-black (obtained by burning bone in the absence of oxygen). Compounds of gallic acid were also used as the basis for many black inks, which worked by oxidizing the surface of the vellum. If you are using a modern ink, beware of pure Indian ink -- this is far blacker than most of the early medieval inks. If you do use Indian ink, add a quantity of red or brown ink to it before writing.

In Anglo-Saxon England liquid ink was kept in inkwells made of horn.


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