Ask the Old Guy – October/November/December 2018

Dear Old Guy,


I have a metal and glass ink well that I am having trouble finding information on. When I “google” ink wells they don’t show anything like it. Hope you can help.


Kurtis Bolson, Toronto

Hi Kurtis,


I think if you look up  “snail style” or “revolving snail style ink well” you will have better luck. The “snail” term is derived from the shape of the glass container that holds the ink. Yours is a double snail style ink well which, along with the triple, is more rare than the single type. It was manufactured to be able to hold two different colours of ink and was made in the late 1800s. The glass wells rotate on a (usually) ornate cast iron base and were “closed” when the opening met the circular  part.


 As an “Old Guy,” I can remember filling my fountain pen from an ink well located in a hole in the top of my school desk, before they came out with cartridges for the pens. Apparently these are still available today and are used for things like calligraphy.


I found it interesting to learn that the United States Postal Service actually used dip pens and ink wells in all of their branches up until the mid 1950s when they were finally replaced with ball-point pens.


There are ink wells designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique that are priced in the several thousands of dollars range. Unfortunately yours, although very beautifully designed, is not one of those. You should try to find a nice  straight or nib pen to display on the top of your ink well so it looks complete if you are displaying it. You can probably pick one up at an antique shop or show.


Thanks for your email.
The Old Guy