Ink Permanence: Or is everything just going to fade away?

  I have no data for this, but I imagine most fountain pen users have more bottles of ink than pens, and quite a lot of us can probably say they have more ink than they are ever likely to use. With that being the case it seemed remiss that I haven’t yet done a post on ink. So without further ado…

  I have a small handful of permanent inks (mostly Noodler’s) in my ink drawer, with one or two exceptions they were largely not bought for their permanence, but for other properties. This is because (brace yourselves) I don’t really care about if an ink is permanent. There are a few exceptions to this, if I’m addressing a letter or a parcel I’ll use a permanent ink, and often when sending letters through the postal system I’ll use a permanent ink too (after the Romanian postal service seemingly turned a fire hose on one of my letters). Generally though if I use a permanent ink it’s because I like some of its other properties.

  I think a lot of people’s desire for a ‘permanent’ ink comes from a quite understandable place of not wanting whatever it is they’re writing to disappear. Quite often I’ve seen threads that ask some version of ‘I want to write something my kids and grandkids will be able to read’. I completely get this, I keep a diary and I’d quite like it to be around as long as I am, maybe a bit more. But here’s the thing, I’m not sure permanent ink is going to help.

In my day job I deal with a lot of historic documents, the oldest of which are 500 years old. Most of those written in the last 100 years were written with fountain pen, and I don’t imagine the original authors gave much thought to ink choice. Mostly it looks something like Quink washable blue, or something equally bland and seemingly not permanent. This, along with a bit of my own experience has led me to the following conclusion: Almost all inks will stay on the page for years and years provided they are stored correctly and carefully. You see I also come across quite a few documents in poor condition, but none of these are a sheet of immaculately preserved paper where the ink has just faded from it. No, sometimes the paper is covered in mould or the paper itself is disintegrating, or being eaten by iron-gall ink. One of the more saddening things I’ve come across was a bundle of letters from Jane Austen which had been kept in a leaky loft and had essentially turned into mulch. The ink would likely have been waterproof, but unfortunately that’s not going to help in that kind of situation. Some documents are simply lost, either by accident, malice, overzealous tidying or poor custodianship. You see the harsh reality is that when preserving a document for years, decades or even centuries the ink isn’t really the weak link. Keep your diaries, letters or whatever else at the right humidity, away from water and light, entrust them to the right people and they’ll probably survive, regardless of the ink used. But store them badly or loose them and the sad fact of the matter is that even the most super-permanent ink won’t save them.

So, what’s the point of all this? Well I’m not saying never use permanent ink, if you’re making notes outside and it might rain then a permanent ink is probably a good choice, likewise for addressing letters or signing cheques and if you just like permanent inks then go for it. But if what you want to do is preserve your written word for as long as you can, then don’t worry too much about the ink you’re using, but instead think about the bigger picture of how they’re going to survive the years.


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