Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to the countinghouse

After a month hiatus, the Clerk returns. Lest you should think your humble Clerk has been lacking in industry, this past month has been occupied with travel to Grand Portage to participate in the Annual Rendezvous and greet visitors to the post in the countinghouse.

Beyond that trip, the days have been taken up in my "other life" as a puppeteer in performance and in building characters for a company in northern Minnesota.

However, I have returned.

During this period my experiments with ink have continued. I have taken the greater part of the ink I have produced in the past and dehydrated it producing a powdered ink. I had earlier stated that I wasn't enthralled by the produced outcome, the product having much particulate residue and seemingly quite thin.

I was wrong!

After using this reconstituted ink, I found that it worked quite well. The liquid applied quite nicely to the paper. At first contact the ink was quite a faint gray, but within seconds as it dried, the ink took on a dark complexion. This is possibly due to the tannin etching in the paper's linen/cotton fibers, but perhaps the iron sulfate play some part.

I have yet to strain the reconstituted ink to remove the particulates as some instructors of the 18th century advise. They claimed that the particles interfere with the flow of the ink but I have not found that to be the case.

More as it develops.

On a related theme, I have also been exploring what form actual period powdered ink took. In my search, I found the following information which I posted in another forum:

Whilst searching out information on forms of powdered ink, having gone the dehydrated route, I found this series of abstracts from Smithsonian workshops. The particular one that caught my eye was Elissa O’Loughlin's on Powdered Inks.

"Powdered iron gall inks are not reconstituted inks. . . The packets, usually made of paper, allowed the user to carry large quantities of ink without the bulk of the liquid. The ink was mixed with water as needed, and presumably formed a dark writing ink within a short period of time."

Which caused my question about the time element since "a short period of time" was defined.

"Erasmus is said to have carried powdered inks with him on his travels. One could assume that they were in common use when writing materials went “on the road” with officials such as circuit court judges. Colonial American records contain many references to these inks. Benjamin Franklin sold them in his shop in Philadelphia, and the Congress of the United States purchased large quantities of the ink in paper packets."

This is an interesting note on the actual types of the ingredients, as opposed to the commonly used materials:

"One extant sample of powdered iron gall ink in the U.S. National Archives (c. 1830) exhibits some properties which suggest that the form of the iron was chosen carefully. The powder is light brown-gray in color, appears finely divided (not clumped) and the particles of gum are glassy and brittle."

Apparently, rather than the ferrous sulfate (iron sulfate) obtainable from chemical houses (school supply warehouses), the type used possibly used was pure heptahydrate, not hygroscopic and so does not readily oxidize in air.

Another thread to pursue.