Iron gall ink

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Iron gall ink (or gallus ink for short ) has been an ink since the 3rd century BC. Chr. Common, document-proof black ink that can be written well with steel nibs , but poorly with fountain pens (risk of clogging).

Manufacture and composition

The word “Wikipedia” was written with an iron gall ink and then photographed immediately and after 8 s, 40 s and 3 min

The production in the Middle Ages was made from iron (II) sulfate (iron vitriol), gall apples or vegetable gall , water and gum arabic (or cherry or plum gum ). The dried gall apples are mashed and overcooked, producing gallic acid (from tannin ). The iron sulfate and gum arabic are added to this. The gum arabic prevents flocculation, makes it easier to write and acts as a binding agent. With an airtight seal, the ink can also be preserved and better protected against flocculation.

The finished ink is only created on the paper by oxidation of the divalent iron with atmospheric oxygen to trivalent iron , which forms a deep black complex compound with the gallic acid. This takes about a day. To make the ink more visible when writing, a dye such as methyl blue is added, which later fades. This was partially used as a style element in the contract inks. The inks wrote black-blue and turned more or less black after drying.

But even the iron gall ink itself can fade over the years under unfavorable conditions. Faded iron gall fonts can be made visible again with a solution of potassium hexacyanoferrate (II) with excess hydrochloric acid .


Refill container 12  liters, 1950s

The iron gall ink is considered to be the most important ink of the Middle Ages and modern times up to the 20th century. Especially in the European culture, a large number of (official) documents were written with iron gall ink, including the Codex Sinaiticus , the Magna Carta and the United States' Declaration of Independence, but also Isaac Newton's theories and letters from Charles Darwin . Ink also found its way into art. Some drawings by Leonardo da Vinci , Rembrandt van Rjin , Vincent van Gogh and scores by Johann Sebastian Bach were made in iron gall ink.

These contract inks (and in some cases also office inks) were also common for fountain pens until the 1960s, at least in the business sector. Since iron gall inks in fountain pens ran the risk of clogging because of the oxidation of the starting material of the dye which also took place there, the use of such inks required a little maintenance of the fountain pens.

The only remaining large market for fountain pens is school, and for practical reasons reducible dye inks dominate the market there (e.g. royal blue fountain pens), which are easier to use and can also be easily washed out of laundry, which is not the case with iron gall inks.

In addition to iron gall inks based on ancient recipes, which are not suitable for fountain pens, there are only very few manufacturers who produce such an ink for fountain pens. The ink manufacturer Jansen (brand name De Atramentis ) produces iron gall inks. In addition, Rohrer & Klingner manufactures two fountain pen-compatible iron gall inks, each of which has a bluish ("Salix") or purple ("Scabiosa") color. In addition, the company Diamine also offers a blue-black “Registrar's Ink”. This is also suitable for fountain pens. The “Midnight Blue” ink from Montblanc in the new formulation no longer contains any iron gall. Inks in ink cartridges are less common than iron gall inks because cartridge fountain pens make it more difficult to flush regularly. J. Herbin also produces iron gall inks.

The iron gall ink can cause ink corrosion and is nowadays only used for important documents ( document authenticity ) and in calligraphy .


Official regulation for document inks (1912)

  • One liter must contain at least 27 g of tannic acid and gallic acid and at least 4 g of metallic iron. The maximum iron content must not be more than 6 g / l in the above quantities.
  • After 14 days in the glass, the ink should not show any foliage, wall fogging or sedimentation.
  • Eight-day-old lettering must remain deep dark after washing with water and alcohol.
  • The ink must flow out of the pen easily and not be sticky even immediately after drying.

Iron gall inks are (if the official regulations are met) as "document proof". To ensure that this condition is reliably met, fresh lettering should not be "erased" because it removes ink and reduces the amount that penetrates the paper structure.

Recept, make good diners (1716)

“Take 2 measures of clean rainwater in a clean dinette. Thu in it 18 Lod black gall, roughly pounded, and the dust from it sifted. Then put 8 Lod white rubber in it . Let stand again for three days and nights. Then put 8 pods of vitriol and 1 pod of alum in it, along with a glass full of vinegar and a spoonful of salt. Stir it among others. Place the harbor in the warm sun in summer, but on a warm stove step in winter, for fourteen days and stir once every day. Gives a flush nice black ink. "

Individual evidence

  1. Bartl, Anna., Bayerische Staatsbibliothek .: The "Liber illuministarum" from Kloster Tegernsee: Edition, translation and commentary of the art-technological recipes . Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-515-08472-X .
  2. Ralf Geissler: The oldest manuscript of the New Testament. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur . Deutschlandradio , March 26, 2009, accessed on October 4, 2017 .
  3. 800 years of Magna Carta: The mother of human rights . ( [accessed on October 4, 2017]).
  4. ^ The Declaration of Independence and the Hand of Time . In: National Archives . November 2, 2016 ( [accessed October 4, 2017]).
  5. Dr George McGavin: Natural treasure: How the mighty oak made Britain great . September 26, 2015, ISSN  0307-1235 ( [accessed October 4, 2017]).
  6. Retrieved October 4, 2017 (UK English).
  7. Montblanc ink without iron gall
  8. ^ GA Buchheister, Georg Ottersbach: Book of rules for chemists. 11th edition. Verlag Julius Springer, Berlin 1933, ISBN 978-3-642-98340-5 , doi: 10.1007 / 978-3-642-99152-3
  9. 1 measure = 1.67 liters
  10. 1 lod = 16 grams
  11. Recipes for the production of inks ( Memento from March 1, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 160 kB). Based on the handwriting template book by Andreas Behm, 1716; taken from Chr. Rubi (Hrsg.): Alte Berner Schreibkunst. 2nd Edition. Benteli-Verlag, Bern 1988, ISBN 3-7165-0049-6 .


Web links

Commons : Iron gall ink  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Iron gall ink  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations