Ed #9 Understanding Ink

Overview

Words are things; and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
- Lord Byron

It was made of carbon black, lamp oil, and boiled donkey skins. It smelled bad. And it changed the world.

Next to beer, wine, and cooking oil, ink is one of the oldest—and most influential—liquids made by humankind. In fact, the oldest known recipe for ink dates back almost 5,000 years, to the late II Dynasty in Egypt. Carbon black was mixed together with lamp oil that contained a gelatin derived from boiled donkey skins. The gelatin gave the ink its viscosity, along with a strong odor that had to be masked with musk oil. Other early ink recipes called for fruit or vegetable juices, secretions from octopi and squid, and blood from shellfish.

Of course, writing ink is different than printing ink, as Johannes Gutenberg discovered in the mid-1400s. When the inventor of the printing press first tried using it, he found that water-based writing inks were too thin and runny to print clearly. Taking a page from the painters of the day, who were beginning to use oil paints, he replaced the water with linseed oil, and became the creator of printing ink as well as printing.

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