THE WRITE STUFF

In Bottles by Augusto ToledoLeave a Comment

The palest ink is better than the best memory.”

Ancient Chinese Proverb

Like many so-called ancient Chinese proverbs, this could have originated from the Qing Dynasty or from a travelling ink salesman.  An alternative, and somewhat more magniloquent, version – “The faintest stroke of ink in a record book is more illuminating that the most vividly recalled memory.” – suggests the perfectly sensible proposition that writing things down on paper (an incontrovertible written proof) is infinitely better than trying to remember them (with one’s faulty memory).

At a tine when large-scale bookstores were non-existent, these early inks - circa 1920's - were principally marketed to the Department of Education, which mandated students in most schools to use fountain pens. The popular BIC ballpens were still to arrive in Philippine shores in the 1950's.

At a time when commercial bookstore and stationery chains were non-existent, these circa 1920’s inks – with “Quesada’s Ink” embossed on the bottle face – were principally marketed to the Department of Education, which mandated students in most schools to use fountain pens. The popular BIC ballpoint pens had yet to arrive in Philippine shores in the 1950’s.

Filipino chemist Eugenio Quesada (1898 – 1974) is credited with having invented one of the earliest inks in the Philippines.  According to his 87-year old son Hector, Professor Quesada, one of the foremost PhD graduates of the University of Santo Tomas, the first Filipino pharmacist of the Philippine General Hospital, and Dean of Pharmacy at the National University in 1922, was a prolific inventor of fountain pen ink, mimeographing ink, school paste and even brake fluid.  Their homes in Manila – first in Quiricada St., Tondo, and then in J. Berlin St., Sampaloc – were also the factories in which the grinding, mixing and bottle filling operations for the “Quesada” brand of ink took place.  The Second World War put a premature end to this enterprise, and the brand was eventually consigned to the dustbin of history.

Appearing in the May 8, 1926 edition of the Philippine Free Press, this printed advertisement extols the virtues of locally-made "Quesada's Ink" - it is high-grade, it does not corrode pen nibs, and it costs less than its imported counterparts. The "E. Asuncion" noted at the bottom possibly refers to Dr. Quesada's mother (Engracia Asuncion) whose family owned a building along Rizal Avenue, Manila.

Appearing in the May 8, 1926 edition of the Philippine Free Press, this print advertisement extols the virtues of locally-made “Quesada’s Ink” – it is high-grade, it does not corrode pen nibs, and it costs less than its imported counterparts. The “E. Asuncion” noted at the bottom possibly refers to Dr. Quesada’s mother (Engracia Asuncion) whose family owned a building along Rizal Avenue, Manila.

An equally intriguing historical account is that another Filipino chemist – Dr. Francisco Quisumbing – invented the “Quink” brand of fountain pen ink sold by the Parker Pen Co. of the U.S. A 1923 PhD graduate in Plant Taxonomy, Systematics and Morpohology at the University of Chicago, Dr. Quisumbing supposedly worked with Parker Pen and developed an ink that was non-corrosive, non-clogging, water-resistant and quick-drying.  According to fountain pen lore, the “Quink” name is a portmanteau of “Quisumbing” and “Ink,” but the Parker Pen website attributes it to “Quick” and “Ink.”

These "Quink" bottles are circa 1960's in the red, black and blue-black primary colors. Containing the chemical Solv-X, a refinement made in 1939 which dissolved sediments and cleaned the pen when writing. The paper labels on these specimens are marked "Made in the Philippines for The Parker Pen Company" by a local company called Exclusive Distributors Corp., and the punt mark of "San Miguel" is embossed at the bottom. La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel started its first glass making plant in Manila in 1938.

These “Quink” bottles are circa 1960’s in the red, black and blue-black primary colors, and contain the chemical Solv-X, a refinement made in 1939 which dissolved sediments and cleaned the pen when writing. The paper labels on these specimens are marked “Made in the Philippines for The Parker Pen Company” by a local company called Exclusive Distributors Corp., and the glass maker’s mark of “SM” is embossed at the bottom. La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel started its first glass making plant in Manila in 1938.

Earlier Parker ink bottles, circa 1930's, were made by several American glass manufacturers, including the Owens-Illinois Glass Co.

Earlier Parker ink bottles, circa 1930’s, were made by several American glass manufacturers, including the Owens-Illinois Glass Co. Touted as “revolutionary” at the time, Parker launched a campaign to send anyone who mails a postcard with his name on it a free sample of its ostensibly 20,000-word introductory 2-fluid ounce bottle. While this may have coincided with the time that Dr. Quisumbing worked at the company, the offer was endorsed instead by Parker’s Chief Chemist Galen H. Sayler.

This specimen, a slightly smaller emerald green bottle of Parker ink, was probably made even earlier.

This specimen, a slightly smaller emerald green bottle of Parker ink with no visible marking, was probably made even earlier than the 1960’s.

Dr. Quisumbing is reported to have returned to the Philippines after World War II, and to have attempted to organize the Philippine Ink Corporation under the post-war Japanese Reparations Program. His failure to do so was attributed to too much government bureaucracy. You could say he saw the handwriting on the wall.

A December 1960 advertisement in Kisplap Magazine shows a bottle of locally made "PIC Ink" manufactured by the Philippine Ink Corp. It would appear that after Dr. Quisumbing's aborted attempt to found this enterprise, another party succeeded to do so. The "R. G. Nicolas" noted as the distributor of PIC Ink still survives today, and in the same Blumentritt, San Juan address, as Nicolas RG Inc., a busine ss engaged in chemicals and printing and lithographing inks.

However, a December 1960 print advertisement in Kisplap Magazine shows a bottle of locally made “PIC Ink” manufactured by the Philippine Ink Corp. It would appear that after Dr. Quisumbing’s aborted attempt to found this enterprise, another party did succeed in doing so. The “R. G. Nicolas” noted as the distributor of PIC Ink still survives today, and in the same Blumentritt, San Juan address, as Nicolas RG Inc., a business engaged in chemicals and printing and lithographing inks.

“Quink” and “Quesada’s” were not the only inks in the news during the early 1900’s. Visual artist, fashion designer, art curator and Carlos Palanca award winning writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando fondly recalls her elementary school days at St. Theresa’s College in San Marcelino St., Malate (probably the early 1940’s), where the stationery shop sold blue or green “Bonton” ink (“The Way We Were“, Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 25, 2013). As early as 1927, the Matsui, Sawamatsu & Mori, a partnership in the Philippine Islands doing business under the name “Osaka Bazar,” had been selling inks in bottles with the trademark “Bonton,” which was imported from the Ogura Chemical Factory in Japan. A local businessman – Sotero Chua – thereafter began selling his own ink in bottles with a similar brand and design, and was sued for fraud and unfair competition. In a landmark decision in 1934, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Japanese partnership, and Chua’s registration of the patent was subsequently cancelled.

Dark and pale green square bottles, molded with cork-stoppered tooled lips, embossed with "Ogura's Bonton Ink" one one side and a Japanese character at the bottom, are likely specimens from the 1930's.

Dark and pale green square bottles, molded with cork-stoppered tooled lips, embossed with “Ogura’s Bonton Ink” on one side and a Japanese character at the bottom, are likely specimens from the 1930’s.

A vintage print advertisement of"Bonton Ink" warns the public to "beware of imitations," possibly as a result of the unfair competition suit. The ink apparently was available in larger round bottles. The exclusive distributor, Osaka Boeki Kaisha Ltd. still does business at Alvarado St. in Binondo, Manila.

A vintage print advertisement of”Bonton Ink” warns the public to “beware of imitations,” and highlights the “embosed (sic) letterings” as a mark of authenticity, possibly as a result of the unfair competition suit. The ink apparently was available in larger round bottles. The exclusive distributor, Osaka Boeki Kaisha Ltd., still does business at Alvarado St. in Binondo, Manila.

Yet another Philippine-made American ink was Shaeffer’s “Skrip” in the classic top well design.  Produced in the 1950’s, “Skrip” was originally meant only for Shaeffer pens, but many aficionados consider it a “safe” ink for most models and brands. The Philippine Writing Fluid Co., Inc. bottled this Fort Madison, Iowa product, and the iconic glass container featured an ink well built into the upper lip of the bottle to prevent the deep dipping of the fountain pen’s nib and feed, which would have necessitated cleaning after every refill. The well, however, is relatively small, and is probably more useful for Shaeffer’s “Snorkel” pen (promoted in 1952 as having a “dunk-free” nib), which had a complex ink-filling mechanism that consisted of a small extendable tube underneath the nib to avoid dipping when operating the filler plunger.

The specimen in the middle has an intact paper label, and a metal cap (today's bottles are mostly covered by plastic or rubber lids) with instructions - "Tighten cap, tip bottled to fill the well." An embossed "SM" mark at the bottom indicates that this particular bottle was sourced from San Miguel.

The specimen in the middle has an intact paper label, and an atypical metal cap (today’s bottles are mostly covered by plastic or rubber lids) with instructions – “Tighten cap, tip bottle to fill the well.” An embossed “SM” glass maker’s mark at the bottom indicates that this particular bottle was sourced from San Miguel. Today’s Shaeffer’s ink bottles are marked “Slovenia” underneath, following the sale of the company first to Societe Bic S.A. (of BIC ballpoint pen fame) in 1997, then to A.T. Cross Co. in 2014.  Fountain pen assembly was relocated to China, and ink production was moved to Slovenia.

In this print advertisement from a 1954 issue of the Philippine Free Press,

In this print advertisement from a 1954 issue of the Philippine Free Press, the benefits of the exclusive top well design are accentuated – “no deep dipping, tipping or groping.” Shaeffer’s, which manufactured both washable and permanent inks, seemed to have used its “Snorkel” fountain pen line in this advertising campaign to underscore the ease of ink filling.

No memories of the inks of our past would be complete without mentioning Higgins “India Ink,” originally founded by Irish immigrant Charles M. Higgins, who established the Higgins Ink Co. in Brooklyn, New York in 1880. Interestingly, “India Ink” did not originate from India.  The process of making this drawing fluid – composed of soot from oil lamps, water and a binding agent – was already known in China as early as 3,000 B.C. The material for carbon pigment, an essential element of the formulation, was often sourced from India, hence the name. Warns acclaimed writer and pen collector Jose Dalisay, Jr. (“Penman No. 84: Pens and Inks”), “…never put India Ink (like Higgins) in a fountain pen; it’s meant for calligraphic and technical pens, and will surely clog your fountain pen’s feed…”

Circa 1960's bottles of Higgins "India Ink" came with a rubber stopper or a screw top cover. Higins was bought by the Sanford Ink Co., then by Faber-Castell, and is currently owned by stationery and office supplies maker Chartpak, Inc. The cover included a glass dropper that allowed the transfer of the liquid to a separate receptacle

Circa 1960’s bottles of  1-fluid ounce Higgins “India Ink” (behind) came with a rubber-stoppered cap or a screw top cover. Higgins was bought by the Sanford Ink Co., then by Faber-Castell, and is currently owned by stationery and office supplies maker Chartpak, Inc. The cover included a glass dropper that allowed the transfer of the liquid to a separate receptacle. Earlier versions of the bottle (front) – circa 1900’s – came in smaller 3/4-fluid ounce containers. Other “India Ink” brands included Winsor & Newton, Dr. Ph Matin’s, Speedball and Staedtler.

In the days before Microsoft Word and electronic mail, writing letters, wedding invitations, birth certificates and even university diplomas first required a steady hand to immerse a fountain pen’s nib into a bottle of ink, before skillfully, if painstakingly, executing the lines and the lettering, and finally ending with an appropriately elaborate swirl and flourish. Especially with romantic correspondence, one either had a draft version of the contents, or was eloquently extemporaneous, as there were no “Delete” buttons nor “Edit” options, and a less than perfect message simply ruined the moment. Alas, the handwritten letter is a sadly evanescent art, and a glimpse at the ink bottles of the past only serves to remind us of a bygone time when the writer, becalmed and unanxious, carefully composed his thoughts, put his pens to paper, and – with all the elegance of epistolary etiquette – wrote a complimentary close and affixed his signature before sending it to his beloved.

 

 

 

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