(Too many?) Recipes

Iron Gall Ink

How-to, step by step

In most recipes, a pattern emerges by which the galls are harvested and crushed, then left to soak in the solvent, after which the iron (II) sulfate and gum are then added to the solution. The similarities, however, end there—in some cases, the recipe differs entirely—and, to illustrate, here are just a few of the thousands of examples of iron gall ink recipes over the centuries.

Patricia Lovett’s video for the British Library (shown on bottom left) offers a wonderful introduction to the making of iron gall (specifically oak) ink.

A great resource for all things iron gall ink – including an extensive list of manuscript translations of the 1596 Book of Secrets manuscript (a probable translation of an earlier German manuscript that details many, many recipes) – is the Dutch Cultural Heritage’s website. A collaborative effort by many institutions, this resource details the history, composition, and conservation issues surrounding iron gall’s use over many centuries.

Some more modern attempts to make iron gall ink have proven the success of the original recipes in all of their variations. The Institute of Historical Research’s study, as presented by the University of Pennsylvania, details Sara Charles’ process in a series of photos (with the help of a furry assistant!), while a few students at West Dean School of Conservation prove that not every first attempt yields the best results.

The Scribal Workshop shows a few interesting variations; their illuminated manuscripts custom-made for sale are beautiful, so they’ve perfected a good modern recipe. Similarly, children’s book author Katy Beebe details her own recipe as a companion to her Brother Hugo book, and provides an excellent link to Yale University’s Special Collections Preservation Unit’s book on ink and pigment recipes.

Kelly Fernandez and her team of docent workers at the Herb & Shakespeare gardens at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, & Botanical Gardens also tried their hands at making ink, as did Ines Fonesca and their team in the St Andrews Special Collections department at the University of St Andrews, UK.