Stephens Endorsing Ink

This morning, while working on the project, I came across a bottle of Stephens blue endorsing ink.


Actually, I found a second bottle of violet endorsing ink later in the day, but by then I’d solved the mystery of what endorsing ink was and what it was used for.

Google and wikipedia gave me the clues. Endorsing ink was a particularly indelible ink that once used was difficult to remove from a document, and was resistant to fading and the effects of mould and mildew. As the bottle was next to some classic nineteenth century steel nib dip pens – one a rather nice bone handled one, and crucially the patient ledger that recorded scripts dispensed and so on, its use was clear – to provide a permanent record of what was done.

This particular bottle dates from sometime after 1930 – exactly when is not clear, but it lists the manufacturer as HC Stephens pty ltd, and Stephens set up an Australian manufacturing subsiduary in 1930 in response to import duties on ink. Stylistically the label could be from any time from the thirties to the fifties.

The second bottle looks older stylistically, and crucially does not say where it is made, so I would guess the twenties rather then the thirties but the label is damaged so one can’t be totally sure.


However, it does say it’s for rubber stamps, and given that there are a couple of inking pads, including this rather nice art deco Dalma one next to it,


and some rather cracked stamps we can say that the purple ink was possibly used for official purposes stamping invoices etc


Now this would just be a curiosity, except for HC Stephens history.

Prior to the 1850’s, clerks usually made up their own ink from powder. Stephens were innovators in that they were among the first manufacturers making up premade ink in bottles, ensuring a consistent product with repeatable performance. And their ink was not just ink. A lot of their inks were designed to be permanent, as in the days when everything was handwritten, record keeping involved writing out clear and legible records of what had been done.

Stephens’ ink was of such quality for it’s resistance to fading and the effects of mildew and mould, that in the nineteenth century the British India office – essentially the colonial administration in India, mandated the use of Stephens ink for record keeping. Not for nothing was good old HC (Henry Charles) Stephens known as Inky Stephens. He also did pretty well out of the business, enabling him to build a rather swish family home in Finchley in London.

In its time Stephens was a household name, now it’s all but forgotten. Why?

In part due to the rise of digitisation, online records management and allied technologies such as the photocopier did away with the need for rubber stamps and high quality ink. After all when there was only one copy of a single document, you cared about its permanancy. When you can copy or print as many as you like and the master document is kept online, you tend to treat paper copies as disposable ephemeral things.

And while it is simply just another example of the past being another country where things are done differently it’s still interesting to learn that in the nineteenth century the bureaucrats of the India Office were worrying about the permanancy of their written records…

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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