Curating an Ink Collection

This weekend, we were hit with a fast-moving, very destructive storm that blew in on Friday afternoon and left us without power for the whole weekend. A tree had taken down our power lines which required an electrician to come out and repair the power connection at the house and then the power company had to come out and reattach the power lines to the pole outside and then re-connect them to our house and finally turn the power back on. This left us scrambling to find a friend to let us keep our refrigerator foods in their fridge, cleaning up yard debris from the storm and endlessly searching for power to keep our phones up and running while we coordinated with neighbors, electricians and framily (our family of friends).

So, what do you do when the power goes out? You organize your ink stash, of course!

Regardless of whether you have 10 inks or 200, looking through your collection and determining what you like, don’t like, where you have accumulated a lot of the same color or realize you don’t have a single orange ink, taking time to review your ink stash can be helpful. Especially if you have plans to attend a pen show in the near future or want to keep yourself from continually buying the same turquoise ink from different makers over and over.

These are the sheening inks that Diamine let their fans name. They hosted the naming contest saying that fans could choose any name, even Robert and Maureen, so of course EVERYONE voted for Robert & Maureen and hence, an ink legacy was born. I like that the mini bottles are labelled Bob and Mo.

Step One: Inventory

If you have access to power (and I hope you do!) you can start by using a spreadsheet or FPC (Fountain Pen Companion) to inventory your collection. This is a great way to get on top of your collection. Exactly how many bottles and samples currently exist in your collection. Are any bottles almost empty? Have any bottles never been touched?

Two of the permanent inks in my collection.

This is also a good opportunity to see if you have any specialty inks in  your collection. I believe in my heart of hearts that everyone should have a bottle of black ink and/or a permanent or document ink (Platinum Carbon Black does both very well). I also think everyone should have one bottle of sheening ink — it doensn’t have to be a super sheener but the effect of sheen on paper is something that is a great addition to an ink collection and reminds us all why we fell in love with inks in the first place.

Pen BBS #111 was a very popular golden sheening ink. So hard to capture in a still image.

Do you have a stash of shimmer inks? Do you use them? If not, why not? Doing an ink inventory assessment is a good chance to evaluate the whys of your collection. Maybe you’ve never bought a shimmer ink and by doing a review of your collection, you realize THAT shimmer is the next ink you need to try. See? This is fun. Start making your shopping list.

Step Two: Swatch Your Inks

Note the pencilled S and B in the upper right hand corners of these swatches. I did them in pencil so they could be changed or erased as needed.

The first step is to just get an idea of what colors you have. You can use Col-o-ring cards to make a color wash and then label the swatch.  I have added small codes on my cards. Since I sort my inks by brand in. my Col-o-ring and by color in my Col-o-dex, I use a simple “B” for bottle or “S” for sample so that I know how much ink I have of a specific color. I am in the process of adding additional symbols as well to increase my organizational acumen. The first addition is an “x” over the “B” or “S” if I’ve used up the ink (more specific to samples) or gave it away/sold it. I would like to keep the swatch card for comparison purposes so I don’t buy the same color again.

The next step is to make it easier to browse through bottles. Using two methods, I created ink swatch samples onto my ink bottles. Bottles that had large flat tops got a swatch cut from Col-o-ring paper using a 1″ circle hole punch. I attached them with E6000 adhesive or Super Glue (glue stick won’t adhere to the plastic caps). Let the paper dry completely before cutting out the dots so the paper doesn’t tear in the hole punch. Ask me how I know this?

For smaller bottles or bottles without flat caps, I use Col-o-ring Dippers to label my bottles. I dip the Dipper card  into the bottle, add the brand and color name to the tag and then tie it around the neck of the bottle with string. Bonus: It makes each bottle look like a gift to myself.

Since I store my inks in an Ikea Alex drawer unit, labelling the bottles on the top make it easy to pull open the drawer and see the ink colors. Clearly, there are more bottles that need to be labelled but its progress.

Step Three: Purge

After inventorying, swatching and labelling your inks, you may discover you have some inks you don’t like or don’t want anymore. By going through this inventorying process, you can figure out what inks you might own in excess and where you may have a gap in your color spectrum.

If you discover you have samples you no longer want, spark up a swap with other pen fans. There are bound to be folks interested in a trade or swap on Pen Addict Slack, in any of the various Subreddits or Discord server. You might even find folks willing to swap or trade whole bottles of ink, just be sure to package them well and resist the urge to ship inks in the coldest times of the year as they do have a tendency to freeze. You could also sell excess ink.

With a current collection of over 600 bottles of ink, I realized that I have more ink then I could use in a three lifetimes. So I took on the challenge of reviewing and curating my ink collection to be a smaller, more easy to use collection. No one needs as many bottles of turquoise ink as I own.

While I love swatching and looking at all the colors, it was time to streamline the collection.

I’ve started the process of selling some of my excess inks. The first inks listed are from my Montblanc stash (Patrons got a first crack at the offerings, FYI). While I believe everyone should own one of Montblanc’s classic inks in a shoe bottle, unless the ink is a color you love and will use regularly, more than a couple is excessive (even for me). So I am keeping a smaller collection of Montblanc and selling off the rest. I’ll be continuing to list inks I’ve culled from my collection over the next few months and then I’ll probably do some ink sample grab bags because I have 100s of samples and nowhere to put them all.

Have you done a deep curation of your inks? What did you discover?

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thanks for the heads up regarding the Fountain Pen Companion. A rather nice site.
    According to their analysis, I am OBSESSED with green and blue inks with over 2/3 of my inks falling into those colours. The rest are purples, blacks and one red (Laban Ares which is lovely).

  2. FYI, under pen Pals, pen addict bingo – a porn site came up. I’m guessing that is not what you intended.

    1. We attempted to disable the site but someone else clearly has other ideas. I’ll remove the link. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I have a… complicated system. But it’s fun for me. When a new bottle of ink comes in, I immediately swab a line of color in my Ink Log, the pages of which are dedicated to colors, and I list the bottle by manufacturer, in my separate loose leaf notebook. Then the bottle goes on the shelf.

    When I use the ink in a pen for the first time, I pull out the Col-o-rings – the regular cards and the Little Dippers. I use the inked pen to label the cards. The regular Col-o-ring cards are organized by manufacturer, and the Little Dipper by color (which is harder than I originally imagined).

    And finally, for the purpose of seeing what a particular ink looks like in writing, I have a little Goulet Tomoe River notebook as an Ink Journal. I just write a small paragraph with every color inked for the first time.

    It’s a lot, I know. I don’t do an ink swatch for the bottles. My bottles are on two shelves (so far) on spice risers. I have about 200-250. I can see the manufacturer’s labels, and that’s all I need for now.

    What have I learned? Grouping by color isn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be. Is it an orange or a brown? Pink or purple? And those orange-browns? Putting them in any kind of linear order that moves into its neighboring reds or yellows is impossible. I still look at what I’ve done and am uncertain and indecisive.

    1. Organizing inks by color is a challenge. And depending on the light, that brown-orange might look more red-brown. I feel your struggles. But I like your commitment to a plan!

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