The use of inkwells dates back to Ancient Egypt, when scribes used stone with carved hollows to hold their ink. These developed to containers with a stopper to preserve the ink. Over time, inkwells became more orate as the upper classes undertook writing for themselves rather than using scribes. Early materials included stone, clay, or even animal horn. Gold and silver ornamented ink wells were popular with the wealthy and during the Baroque period excessive ornamentation characterized inkwells.
By the Victorian era, inkwells were even considered a fashionable souvenir as they could be designed to look like famous monuments or have scenes etched into glass. Other inkwells might be designed as a statement pieces, shaped into animals or other unique designs. Eventually though, inkwells fell out of favor with the advent of new technology such as ballpoint pens and the typewriter.
The museum collection has a number of inkwells ranging from ornate to simple. One inkwell, from England, has a unique way to keep the ink from drying out. Rather than a cap, the reservoir can be rotated on its stand.
Another inkwell in the collection is designed to appear as a horse head. The top of the head lifts off to fill the reservoir.
Before ballpoint pens gained popularity in the 1940s, fountain pens were used. Fountain pens had a reservoir allowing for longer periods of writing but still needed ink to be refilled frequently. Therefore, ink wells were still necessary for those that used such pens.
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.