Antiques and Art Around Florida — Antiques and Arts Booklet_2012-2013
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Inkstands & Encriers
Lorena O. Allen


The history of inkstands and inkwells had its concept with the ancient Egyptian scribes, a profession considered princely, along with his writing materials. Although the Chinese were the inventors of ink over 4,000 years ago, the many uses and vessels to hold the ink has subsequently become objects of historical and aesthetic significance. Inkwells have metamorphosed from utilitarian accessories, to the notion of the inkstand, inkwell, standish or encrier as an object d’art. Way beyond the Chinese inkstone or the Egyptian scribe’s materials, inkstands have been created from precious and rare materials such as the ormolu mounted French “Encrier” (in Illustration #1- above) or the dore bronze and inlay workmanship of the various Louis Comfort Tiffany inkstands, all of which are appreciated as decorative desk accessories for modern collectors. Almost all of the illustrations in this article are considered “inkstands” which may include “inkwells”. Other accessories that are part of the inkstands may include sanders, a container with holes for quills, candle holders or a stamp box.

Inkwells of Historical Significance

Throughout American history inkwells played a significant role during momentous events or as a tribute to our Founding Fathers and Presidents. Thomas Jefferson dipped a feathered quill into a silver inkwell when signing the Declaration of Independence. The same inkstand was used for the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787, thereby telling the story of America’s Revolution. This silver inkstand with its inkwells flanking a quill holder set upon an oval scalloped base, (See Illustration #2), was designed by silversmith Philip Syng, circa 1752, and has become an important historical artifact to our nation. It is compared to the Liberty Bell, both of which have been preserved and are on exhibit at Independence National Historical Park.

In Illustration #3, a detail of the well known painting by artist John Trumbull, entitled “Signing of the Declaration of Independence” depicts the Founding Fathers, each individual persona brought to life and centered around the table upon which the silver inkstand is in view.

A chased brass inkstand (See Illustration #4) was used by Abraham Lincoln during the time he was drafting the Emancipation Proclamation at a desk in the War Department. It took a span of several weeks to complete the document, during which time Lincoln was also being advised by his Generals in the field of the events taking place in the Civil War.

A Plethora of Materials to Choose From

Although most encriers and inkstands created during the 18th Century are usually in museums, considered rare objects d’art, there are a plethora of styles and materials to choose from for the collector. Materials used to create inkstands and inkwells include bronze, porcelain, ivory, silver, brass, art glass or a combination thereof. It can become a challenge for the collector to be limited to only one material or maker. See Illustration on Page 8, an 18th Century French Rococo encrier with lacquered wood Chinoiserie surrounded by a ormolu mounted border, having vasiform faience’ inkwells decorated with fisherman and surmounted with dore bronze cone finials.

An example of a Victorian Paper Mache’ Inkstand with crystal inkwells and inlaid mother-of-pearl, raised on inward curving feet. (Illustration #5. ) Paper mache’ was a popular material for furniture and accessories during the 19th century and especially during the Belle Epoque period considered the “Golden Age of the Inkwell”.

The regard for inkwells as objects d’art further increased when they were considered integral to a desk set. It is not unusual for Tiffany Studios desk sets to have up to 15 desk accessories; Since a complete desk set is rarely found together, the inkstand is usually considered as a prelude to finding other pieces in the set.

In the early 20th century Louis Comfort Tiffany Studios in New York, made inkstands and inkwells in a variety of materials, including favrile and mosaic glass, dore bronze, abalone, enamel, etc., to accompany his styles of desk accessories.

Each desk set was given a pattern name after the style and sensibility of a certain period. Two of Tiffany Studios’ dore’ bronze inkstands are illustrated in #6, one each from the “Venetian” and “Adam” sets.

The inkstand on the left is part of the desk set from the “Venetian” pattern. It is made of dore bronze imitating a Renaissance pattern with strapwork and a frieze of ermines detailed in red enamel that appear to be leaping across the lower section. The dore’ bronze Tiffany Studios inkstand on the right is part of a desk set entitled “Adam”, inspired by the classical Federal period and embellished with paterae, swags and bows. Both of the inkstands have set-in glass inkwells, hinged lids with toggle enclosures.

Whimsical Animalier Inkstands

Always a favorite of collectors, the figurative or animalier inkstands were created to depict almost ever y animal, human figure or mythological creature imaginable. Below is a late 19th Century Vienna Bronze figure of a recumbent swan, cold painted in enamels of mono-chromatic white, The swan’s feathers are hinged to reveal the inkwell. (Illustration #7)

The whimsical inkwell on the next page in Illustrations #8 and #8A is a 19th Century French dore bronze piece. It has a small mouse crouching at the center of a large leaf and by the hinged inkwell. The exquisite detail of the piece insures its high value as well as the fact that it is signed by the artist and marked “Paris”.


a. The French term “Encrier” literally is translated to “inkpot”

b. The British term “Standish” literally is translated to “inkstand” a term that was used in the 18th and 19th Centuries in England.

C. The earliest patent for an inkwell was 1858.

D. Some of the first inkwells were made from animal horns.

E. The earliest advertising for inkstands date from 1783.

Advise to Collectors

Collecting inkstands and inkwells could be considered an investment as well as a hobby. Collectors should always examine signatures, hallmarks, foundry marks and country of origin which may assist in identifying and authenticating the maker, dating the piece and even in determining the value.

The Tiffany Studios desk sets usually consist of from six to twelve accessories, including pentrays, calendars, picture frames, paper racks, and of course the “piece de resistance”, the inkstand. Without the inkstand a desk set would appear incomplete and it is usually the first item a collector should try to acquire in the desk set. Tiffany accessories are easy to identify as they are always inscribed “Tiffany Studios”, each piece with a pattern number on the base.

The appraising and valuation of inkstands is based on characteristics including provenance, material, age, condition.

The Society of Inkwell Collectors (SOIC) is an advantageous way for collectors to make exchanges, develop contacts, meet vendors at conventions, further their education and knowledge and most importantly to be able to “hands-on” examine rare, unusual and valuable pieces.

The Future for Inkstands & Encriers

Inkstands and encriers and their accessories appear to be romantic icons of the past dedicated to images of Shakespeare, Lord Bryon, and our American Presidents. In the 21st Century the world has become attuned to the e-mail, I-pads and other immediate forms of communication. Hopefully, there will remain collectors who appreciate the craftsmanship of vintage inkstands, as objects d’art as well as appreciable objects.

Lorena O. Allen, M.Ed. is President of L. Allen Appraisal Studios, Inc., and is a fine art and antique appraiser/consultant and certified member of Appraisers Association of America and International Society of Appraisers. Ms. Allen lectures to museums, antique societies and other groups. Address: P.O. Box 2543, Winter Park, Florida 32790. Tel: 407-671-1139; Email: