Today I’m bringing you a review of a vintage ink which is something I’m doing for the first time. I’m going to try and not do a full-blown review because, let’s be honest, how many of these bottles are still out there? But I really want to show it off as I am very enthusiastic about it.
I bought the ink on eBay from the U. S. and as stated, it was unopened N. O. S. I really love Parker ink and wanted a bottle of their original, “Made in U. S. A.”, ink from the time when the company was still American. The year of manufacture is 1946! I didn’t photograph the detail of the box where it shows the date because shows very faintly on pictures.
The bottle was definitely not opened since it left factory. Due to the perfect seal, it was completely full without any evaporation. The ink, therefore, is in its original form. I have not added water or altered the ink in any way. Unless there was some internal change within the ink, I think it behaves exactly as it did when it was made and used back in the day. I doubt anyone ever imagined these inks being used some 70 years later in the year 2017!
The box itself looks pretty cool. I really enjoy this style of design. You can’t see it very well but on top of the box is a rather bold statement: “Solv-x is a magic ingredient in Quink. It dissolves gum and sediment, checks metal corrosion and rubber rot.” All right then, as long as it’s magic!
To be honest, part of the reason why I got this ink is the bottle. All right, the bottle was the main reason. I really love the shape and design overall. It was clearly designed with an eye for detail. It’s beautiful and despite the fact that today there’s probably more ink offered than there was back when fountain pens were used daily, to me personally, none of the modern bottles are as appealing. None of them come even close, in fact. The only trouble I have with the bottle is the cap’s inner lining. It seems to has started deteriorating but it’s still sealing the bottle well. The label is nicely designed as well. Overall design of the bottle is stunning, not overstated nor understated. Fancy yet not kitsch.
This image (above) shows the 1946 bottle with a newer bottle design from early 2000’s.
This image (above) shows the original 1946 bottle (left) next to two modern bottles, one from early 2000’s (middle) and a truly modern one that I purchased this year (2017). I’ve been using Quink ever since my school days and honestly, I like the the modern 2017 label the least – very uninspiring. The bottle has not changed form for quite a few decades. I think the modern bottle is actually a direct successor to the vintage one shown above, perhaps with a very slight adjustments, if at all.
Utility of the vintage bottle is excellent. It is a 4 oz. bottle and so it’s going to take a while to go through the ink. The neck is fairly large, though smaller than modern bottle offers. No problem filling large pens at all. When the ink level drops below 1/4 I imagine it is going to be a little difficult to fill a pen but we’ll see when we get there.
Talking about value, I was only able to find the ink in the U. S. There’s nobody in Europe offering the ink and that’s not surprising, of course, as Parker used to be an American company at the time. These bottles are usually recovered from places like old shops where they had had a stock of ink that never sold, for example. My winning bid for the bottle was a ridiculous 5 USD, but it cost me additional 30 USD in shipping and import charges. Ridiculous, I know, but if you think about it, there are modern inks for 35 USD that are far less in volume than 4 oz. (118 cubic centimeters or milliliters) as well as lacking coolness factor of the bygone era.
The question is whether the ink is any good, still usable in a modern world and is actually worth the price.
My rating for the vintage Parker Quink Permanent Royal Blue is shown on the following infographic. As you can see “Performance” as well as “Permanence” don’t get full marks. This doesn’t mean the ink is bad. Please read my discussion of these topics to understand the lower score.
Hue & Tone
5 out of 5
Hue and tone are the two visual characteristics that not only directly affect our emotional perception of the ink but can also restrict its usability due to excessive lightness or brightness of the ink.
This is quite a complex ink. The ink color was named “Royal Blue”. When I look at writing with this ink I wouldn’t categorize this color necessarily, by today’s standards, as “Royal Blue”. Modern “Royal Blue” seems to differ from what people recognized as “Royal Blue” back in the 40’s. It is true that color of fountain pen ink was never really standardized. Each manufacturer has their proprietary mix of dyes that represented what they think is the particular color in question. It’s all marketing.
The color of the vintage Quink reminds me of a modern Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite, though it’s not quite as muted as there is a fair amount of warmth in the color. The fun part is that when you’re writing, the ink actually is exactly what I would call a very rich and beautiful “Royal Blue” color. As it dries the color changes to a darker, more muted blue, almost a blue-black color. This is exactly how the Pelikan’s Tanzanite behaves too, although the color is slightly different, warmer and less rich.
The ink also exhibits hue change depending on the paper used. On ivory Leuchtturm paper it looks entirely different than it does on Rhodia and still different on office paper. That, of course, is partly due to the ivory vs. white paper color but even on two different kinds of high white surfaces, the ink shows slight variation of hue.
The ink has a wonderful red sheen when pooled up. Its visibility in writing depends on the paper on which it’s used and the wetness of the pen used.
The base tone of the ink is somewhere in the middle range. It is not a dark ink by any means. However, the ink offers a good deal of “shading” (tonal variation), making for a very rich experience when using a broader or wetter nib. The pooled up areas are quite dark, making for a wonderful shading effect.
Personally, the color of the ink appeals to me greatly. Actually Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite coincidentally feels like a modern version of this ink, though it doesn’t come close in color richness. Beautiful ink indeed.
5 out of 5
Composition envelops a group of properties closely tied to how the ink is made, that is the additives and concentration of the dye/pigment component. These properties directly affect dry times, dry smear and overall maintenance requirements of the ink.
When you sniff the ink you’ll be immediately reminded of the good old “ink smell”, that is if you used fountain pens in your youth. I have and this ink smells exactly like an ink I’ve got when I was in first grade some 26 years ago. The smell, of course, is related to the additives such as biocides and stabilizers used in the ink to prevent it from mold and to assure long life of the ink even upon contamination. In other words, they are there to kill bacteria. I studied this in depth (as much in depth as possible, there’s not that much information) and found that the active substance used in vintage inks is phenol. After some time, however, it was recognized to be very toxic (deadly when ingested in relatively small quantities) and the manufacturers stopped using it and substituted it for milder alternatives (the toxicity was concerning the factory workers making the ink, not consumers). That’s probably why there’s an increasing amount of modern bottles of ink getting all moldy and nasty. Be it as it may, I am not sure what phenol smells like. It may not be phenol at at, but it seems likely that they used similar additives across brands. Today no ink smells like that anymore. Inks with a distinctive smells today are Sailor, Pilot and some Noodler’s inks. The smell, however, is quite different than that of vintage inks.
One more interesting fact on smell. I’ve been using Quink for the past 20 years and loved the smell of the ink. It was slightly different than that of the vintage Quink but nonetheless the smell was extremely pleasant. As I found out, the modern Quink I bought this year does not have that smell anymore, which disappointed me greatly. It seems that they changed their formula again. There must have been chemical additives that were not conforming to the modern, stricter norms.
All that being said, I am not one to complain about the lack of toxic chemicals in everyday environment. I personally don’t use chemicals at all if I can help it. In an ink though, I never saw the danger and it makes sense to use agents preventing degradation. But the market changes and so does the emphasis on health of workers and environmental impact of manufacturing processes. And that’s a good thing in my book. I guess the conclusion is to not drink a vintage ink, wash your hands after spillage and don’t sniff it on purpose if you can help it.
As to the “magic” ingredient solv-x, I have no actual idea what it is. And neither was I successful in recovering any concrete facts. I heard that it was a chemical called Triton-X, renamed by Parker for their own marketing purposes. Some think it was phenol which both improved the flow of the ink and cleaned the inside of the pen as well. The thing about solv-x is that it ceased to be used in Parker’s marketing material somewhere around 50’s or 60’s if I recall correctly. This was allegedly due to lack of evidence that this ingredient worked as was proposed. Makes sense. I mentioned that what manufacturers do with their ink is proprietary and the ingredients and dye ratios they use are not publicly shared, and so it is often difficult to confirm the truth of their claims.
Regarding composition of the ink related to behavior, it seems to be well balanced. Dye load seems pretty good while not being over the top. What I mean by that is that some modern inks can be too concentrated. That causes the ink to be “eternally” smearable. In other words, the ink never completely dries. The water evaporates but the dye is left on the paper in too high a concentration, which can be easily smeared. This ink shouldn’t pose any such issues. The ink was made back when flexible fountain pens were a regular occurrence. This meant that ink was put down on page in great quantities. And since this was common, it was certainly being tested for dry smear. That being said, the ink is not pale or watery whatsoever. It is very balanced as I said, offering rich color. The ink dries fairly quickly, though I noticed that with wet pen and broad nib on a coated paper the ink takes a bit longer to dry.
I’ve experienced no issues with cleaning the ink from a pen. I actually noticed that it cleans much easier than some modern non-permanent inks. The magic of solv-x?
4 out of 5
Performance indicates how the ink performs on various types of paper regarding feathering, bleed through, ghosting and what possible other undesirable qualities it exhibits. It also indicates the flow rate of the ink subjectively based on my experience and opinion.
I wouldn’t hesitate to give this ink 5 out of 5, was it not for one little detail. Currently I use the ink in my Noodler’s #10 Dixie, which is an Ebonite piston-filler with the mighty Noodler’s Ebonite feed. The flow of this ink in the pen is incredible, amazing, truly spectacular! It flows very freely without being too wet. You guessed it, there’s a but coming. I inked my Pelikan M1000 with the ink and couldn’t write a single paragraph! The feed has simply got starved of ink! I tried the ink in my Platinum #3776 with a C nib and while there were not as obvious issues, the flow was rather dry. After that I went back to my M1000, cleaned it and inked it with a Pilot Blue just to test whether there is anything wrong with the pen. Nothing wrong, writes like a dream, wet flow and no issues with starving whatsoever.
And so, based on this experience, I decided to retract one point. I realize this is not fair as the ink was obviously designed to work with Ebonite feeds. And it does so perfectly. At the time I don’t think there were plastic injection molded feeds around.
As to how the ink performs on the page, it really is wonderful. Despite being very wet, the ink doesn’t feather or bleed. And not only on the coated papers. It is exceptionally well behaved like few modern inks are.
4 out of 5
Permanence is concerned with two main areas: water resistance and archivability. While water resistance is the “everyday” permanence aspect we enjoy and appreciate, archivability refers to longevity, that is long-term resistance to exposure to the elements. The more permanent the ink is the less it degrades in color and tone. This is difficult to guess with fountain pen ink since inks for fountain pens are not ASTM tested like artist’s paint.
The ink is marked “permanent”, yet it doesn’t get full marks? That is correct. It says on the box that the permanent colors were intended for records and documents. But it seems that permanent vintage inks are not as durable as their modern permanent counterparts (I’m referring to dye-based inks, not pigment or iron gall). A good example of this is the “V-Mail” line of inks by Noodler’s. If you’ve not heard of them, they are reverse-engineered vintage inks from WWI and WWII era. The inks would most certainly be labeled permanent by the industry standards at the time, yet their permanence is quite limited when compared to the extreme durability of modern inks.
My humble testing was simply done with water. I found that although some of the blue dye washes off, there’s a plenty of writing remaining, grayish and muted in color but still perfectly legible. (This, once again, closely resembles Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite, which displays very similar behavior upon contact with water.) I only detracted one point because when compared to modern permanent alternatives, the ink doesn’t do as well.
Also it seems to me that the longer the ink sits on the page, the more durable it becomes. And so I conclude that against water, this ink holds up pretty well. As for resistance to light and age, I cannot comment at this time. As you can see on the image of the box above, it says that there were “Four permanent colors for records and documents…” At the time there were no ballpoints with archival inks. Perhaps for a truly important documents people still used dip pens with India ink?
Since there is really no way of knowing, I decided on a new project. I’m going to test a variety of inks for lightfastness, that is durability against UV light. It won’t be a scientific test but it should give a rough idea of each ink’s strength to resist the UV light. Watch my website if you’re interested.
Here’s a comparison of the three blue Quinks that I have owned. The top is the oldest, 1946 version, below is the one from around the year 2000 and below it is the latest 2017 version. These three inks are considerably different from each other. Even between the 2000 vs. 2017 versions there are clear differences. Of course, the 1946 ink is a totally different ink that probably has very little in common with either of the modern equivalents. The color hue changed as well, from a cool blue to a much, much warmer equivalent in the most recent iteration.
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