When the SS Republic departed New York in October 1865 loaded with a large cargo of ink bottles, there were hundreds of glass factories large and small, from New York to Virginia. Most produced a variety of utilitarian goods such as window panes and bottles, with inkstands included among their standard items readily available for the American consumer.
In the 19th century, many people were not completely fluent in their writing skills, and these small ink bottles used with a quill pen, provided the opportunity to help educate a rapidly increasing population seeking to read and write.
By the early 19th century ink bottles were hand blown into intricate molds. Sitting in full view on ones’ desk, such bottles also had to be attractive. Since they were on constant display, they are often colorful and gracefully shaped unlike their cousins, bulk inks, also known as master inks, which were more utilitarian in nature and less attractive in form and design.
Later, as mold blowing and literacy in the country became more prolific, the demand for ink bottles increased and they became available in many different (yet often simple) forms and beautiful colors. Ink bottles were designed not to tip over and spill. With this consideration, their exact shape and style were left up to the manufacturers’ imagination.
Although infrequent, some ink bottles had the company name embossed on the side of the vessel which involved another step in the mold making process. More often, paper labels were applied to the bottle, a much simpler and cheaper process. As in the case of the bottles recovered from the SS Republic, such labels rarely survive their buried past whether in soil or at sea.