If I provided you with bread, onions, fish, eggs, and brandy, what would you try to make? Maybe you would come up with a nice slice of fish with breadcrumbs, or even some kind of a stew. Or, if you were from 18th century England, you could cook up a steaming pot of typographic ink. Yes, ink! A book in the Innerpeffray’s 20th century collection, A History of Printing Ink by C.H. Bloy, provides several recipes for the ink alongside of its history. Some of the ingredients may seem surprising to the modern reader. Take this 18th century English recipe for ink:
Take 100 lb nut oil. Boil until like a syrup. Purify by adding 2 lb of coarse bread and 12 onions. Boil 35 lb of turpentine apart…When oil half cold, add turpentine and stir. The strength of the varnish should be gauged according to the surface of the paper to be printed.
For red ink, fish glue the size of a nut should be added, or brandy, or egg white.
This ink would have been used in a printing press to print text. I had to look up fish glue and turpentine, and found out that fish glue is the skin or bone of a fish that’s been heated in water, while turpentine is distilled tree resin. So it seems that most of these ingredients are either still available, or possible to make. If you’ve ever had the idea of printing up your own 18th century-style leaflets, here’s your chance!
Going back even further in the history of printing, here’s a recipe for Chinese block-printing ink from 251 A.D.:
Lampblack was mixed in a mortar with a gum solution until it was like a paste. This was placed in moulds to dry and sold in sticks. The printer rubbed up a stick in a concave stone with some water. This ink was ideal for wood cuts and peculiarly. It was of no value for printing metal.
“Lampblack” is a black pigment made almost completely from carbon, collected as the soot of a burned substance, such as oil, fat, or resin. This is another ingredient that could still be obtainable today, albeit messily.
Books are made of more than the tales, poems, or histories that are printed on their pages. A book’s ink, paper, and binding each have their own interesting stories, and many artists devote their careers to papermaking or bookbinding. At the Innerpeffray, you can learn how many of our older books were made, peeking “behind-the-scenes” into what materials went into your favorite tomes.