Iron gall ink is old. Really old. Traces of it have even been found on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It has been around that long but does it belong in your fountain pen?
Iron gall became the ink of choice during the Middle Ages and was common well into the 20th century. Made from iron salts and tannic acids from vegetable sources, the blue-black is the quintessential vintage color.
Originally used with tools like reeds, quills, and later dip pens, these inks fell out of favor with good reason as fountain pens and modern formulations emerged. Not only do iron gall inks have a reputation for damaging pens but writing surfaces as well. In other words, those old formulas did not play well with paper.
Recent inks are less risky because they contain only small amounts of the offending components. Diamine, Montblanc, Lamy, and Rohrer & Klingner offer blue-black colors with R&K adding a purple version as well.
That iffy reputation made me reluctant to risk pen damage. However, when Pear Tree Pens offered an appealing discount on ink, I couldn’t refuse.
For the past week I’ve tested the two made by R&K. The colors are excellent for conservative uses and the properties are in line with some of my favorite brands. Flow, drying-time, coverage, show-through and bleed-through all measured well for me. There is some question about how light-fast these inks might be but I haven’t used them long enough to have an opinion. If you like shading, both Salix and Scabiosa are lovely.
Some people use iron galls with good success though others report these inks can do serious damage to pens if maintenance isn’t regular. Then there are those pen users who report no issues despite infrequent cleaning but I suspect they use their pens often enough to prevent ink drying out in the feed or nib. Or perhaps they are exceedingly lucky.
Despite those good reports, I find it hard to make a full-fledged recommendation for what is likely a high maintenance ink. It is worth noting that the companies that offer them are top-notch so that is an endorsement of sorts. Thus if you practice careful pen hygiene, you might enjoy Salix or Scabiosa in your regular rotation.
Using these Rohrer & Klingner iron gall inks has been a bit like tapping into history. In fact one of them could be just the mate for that vintage-looking leather covered journal I’ve been considering. Hmmm…
Rohrer & Klingner Salix and Scabiosa Inks