Adrian Johns

in Materials and Expertise in Early Modern Europe

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780226439686
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226439709 | DOI:

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This article deals with ink and its many varieties, focusing on how they are produced from the medieval period until the beginning of industrialization. In particular, it presents examples of preparing printers' ink. It shows that the makers of different varieties of ink, in trying to ensure the quality of their products, developed clear criteria for judging their quality, discerning good ink from poor ink, and for avoiding adulteration. The story of the establishment of industrial ink making shows that industrialization began in this field, before moving to the far more familiar fields of papermaking and printing itself. The article also discusses the practical use of ink as a material and its associations with natural magic and alchemy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It concludes that the history of ink is a history of an entire system that includes not only the material substance, paper, instruments, techniques, and places but also people, skills, and attitudes.

Keywords: ink; printing; industrialization; adulteration; natural magic; alchemy; paper; skills; material substance; medieval period

Chapter.  9969 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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