The Stuff I See

  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Now, as far as the world of ancient artifacts is concerned, it was not so much of a muchness. I have handled books nearly 500 years old, I’ve had a clock carved of rose quartz at about the time of the French Revolution, and every year, people send me 8-track tapes. So it wasn’t anything so rare or antique or valuable.

But it made me say “Wow!” I realized I hadn’t seen the like in our current century, and wondered how many years I had to go back in the previous one to repeat the experience. And yet, once upon a time, I’d have known right where to go in the grocery store or drugstore to pick up a new one when I’d finished the previous one. I don’t recall how often I did it, but sometimes I bought them ahead of time, so I wouldn’t run short.

See, someone did what at least three people do every year. They cleaned off a desk and just sent everything along. This is why the Blank section has a variety of objects in it: 3-ring binders, notebooks, clipboards. In this collection I also had a box of paper clips (not unprecedented), a few pens (very common items), a box of colored pencils, a Dymo labelmaker and label tape (the sort of relic I turn up every six or seven years), and then, down in the corner, still in their little cardboard boxes, there they were.

Three bottles of ink.

Not ink for a computer printer, fried prunebread, nor an ink cartridge for a credit card machine. These were glass bottles of liquid ink.

The awe of this may elude you and, indeed, the Book fair has had donations of ink before. The Newberry is part of the land of Calligraphy, where artists experiment with letterforms and well-meaning and unsuspecting people will find themselves getting calligraphy sets or elegant glass pens from the A.C. McClurg Bookstore as birthday presents. I have seen these sets come in, sometimes utterly unopened, sometimes lightly used. And those bijou little ink bottles that come with calligraphy sets are frequently to be found in the Book Fair. (Calligraphy kits are in How To, but calligraphy books, without ink or paper, are in Art. It’s just one of those things.)

These were not THAT kind of ink bottles. These are Sheaffer bottles, squat glass bottles with little glass wells, holding four to six times what those beginner sets carry. These were for people who used ink on a regular basis, for everyday tasks, people with fountain pens that needed refilling on a regular basis. Not only did you get more ink in these bottles, but it was also, er, cheaper ink, with rather more water in it than is good for calligraphy. It also smelled better than the darker, more indelible inks. But I see by the look on your face that I am taking you into strange, distant lands.

No, I do NOT belong to the generation that had an inkwell in the schooldesk. Some of the older desks did still have the hole where the bottle of ink was kept steady, but my generation of schoolteachers were relieved to have us working with Bic stick pens. (Though one or two of us used Sheaffer ink cartridge pens. To this day, I feel I’m cheating if I sign something in ballpoint.)

But, as I say, it has probably been as long as it’s been since I last used an 8-track since I’ve bought a bottle of ink, or even seen them in the grocery store. I know a lot of people who own clocks, too, by the way, but most of them, if asked the time, will pull out their phone. Funny how, of all the ancient technologies I’ve mentioned here, it’s the 500 year-old book that everybody would still find relevant.

Anybody want to buy a Dymo labelmaker? I don’t suppose you can mark your name on your Kindle with ink.

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