Falling leaves, trees shedding their fruits and nuts, change of seasons … brought me to remember the method of early ink … the crushed gall of an oak mixed with rainwater to start with …
|Oak trees turning to autumnal gold|
Thank goodness the human has always wanted to write about items of interest … even in the very early civilisations … Greek, Egyptian, Roman, the Dark Ages into the Middle Ages …
|Jean Mielot (d 1472) writing in|
Theophilus Presbyter (c 1070 – 1125 AD), is probably the pseudonym of Roger of Helmarshausen, a German Monk … who it is thought compiled detailed descriptions of various medieval craft arts …
… one of his works is divided into three books:
- · Painting techniques, paints, and inks, especially for the illumination of texts and paintings of walls;
- · Production of stained glass and techniques of glass painting;
- · Techniques of gold-smithing and metalwork.
Theophilus and the other Benedictine monks would have worked in a Scriptorium (“a place for writing”), a necessary adjunct to a library.
|Oak Apple Gall|
It appears to have been Theophilus who recorded the ‘recipe’ for Iron Gall ink, which became the prescribed ink for all governmental records – in England the Exchequer finances, royal income, sheriffs’ accounts, chancery rolls – administrative accounts … all recorded and held as pipe rolls.
|Example of a Pipe Roll by|
the Ticknor Organisation
Pipe rolls are named after the “pipe” shaped formed by rolled up parchments on which records were normally written.
Oak Apples or Oak Galls are the common name for the large, round, vaguely apple-like gall commonly found on many species of oak.
|From De Materia Medica|
It may surprise you that the oak apple gall ink was the main medium used in writing in the Western World from the 5th century to the 19th century, and was still being used in the last century:
- · Da Vinci doodled with it …
- · Bach used it for his compositions …
- · the Constitution of the United States was drafted in it …
- · and the Domesday Survey (1086 AD), William the Conqueror’s historical record of his lands, property etc in England after he conquered in 1066 AD.
There are two types of ink … carbon ink, made of charcoal or lamp-black mixed with a gum … this was used in the ancient and eastern worlds … with recipes for the ink occurring until the 12th century.
|Jean Mielot - held in Brussels Royal|
Library (by unknown miniaturist)
The second is this metal-gall ink, usually iron gall, made by mixing a solution of tannic acids with ferrous sulphate (copperas); it too requires added gum as a thickener, rather than an adhesive. After the 12th century … this was the ink used by the craftsmen in later medieval manuscripts.
Gall inks were to be found in the third century, but there was no literary tradition of explaining them until the early 12th century, confirmed by Theophilus.
|Quill with some ancient letters|
The scribe needed to work quickly … it was a two-handed operation … the left hand held a knife for sharpening the quill and for erasing mistakes … before the ink had really soaked in to the vellum.
|Here it is shown that gall-ink|
is destroying paper
Gall-ink could not be used with paper as it is too acidic eating through the paper, but in the days of calfskin vellum, the tannic acid ink bit into the page making the lettering indelible.
|A facsimile of De Materia Medica with vellum cover|
It is thought that Theophilus put a ‘recipe’ down for iron-gall ink into his book on crafts … and thus the scribes in the Middle Ages started to use that ink … giving us the many basic dark black/brown ink inscribed words we find in our ancient manuscripts today – throughout the early western world.
|Male Gall Wasp|
Galls are caused by wasps laying their eggs in developing leaf buds … there are a variety of galls … our oak apple gall, the oak marble gall, oak artichoke gall and the acorn cup gall to name a few of these distinctive forms.
So we have wasps to thank that we have records which can be read today … but also the ingenuity of our forebears … crushing galls with rainwater, and realising that a stronger ink was possible when different earths were used.
|Home made oak gall inks|
Iron gall ink is tannic acid … which occurs naturally in plants, fruits and other life. It has been extracted and utilised by civilisations for thousands of years.
Look out for the oak galls as you walk the woods this autumn … and think where these blogs originated from millennia ago … a funny old world!
|Three quills in different stages|
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