Iron gall ink pleading from the New York City Mayor’s Court, circa 1700. (Courtesy of Geof Huth)Monis, Judah, 1683–1764. Biblical texts in Hebrew, circa 1740s. (Courtesy of Harvard University Archives, HUG 1580.7)n.an indelible ink once commonly used for writing and drawingBurt 1940, 102Specifying inks for government offices had its beginnings in the United States in 1894 when the legislature of Massachusetts authorized a standard ink and provided a penalty for failure to meet the adopted requirements. This standard was submitted to manfacturers and after bids had been received, a supply was purchased for the state by the secretary of the commonwealth who had the care of its distribution to all record offices in the state. Curiously enough, the ink approved was one of the iron gall tannate inks, similar in content to that which was concocted in the twelfth century from an effusion of gall nuts procured from oak trees in eastern Europe.Barrow 1948, 299A survey of seventeenth and eighteenth century documents was made to determine which type of iron gall ink appeared to have had the most detrimental effects on paper.Eusman 1998Iron gall ink is primarily made from tannin (most often extracted from galls), vitriol (iron sulfate), gum, and water. Because iron gall ink is indelible, it was the ink of choice for documentation from the late Middle Ages to the middle of the twentieth century. Iron gall ink was also easily made; the ingredients were inexpensive and readily available. Good quality iron gall ink was also stable in light. It was very popular with artists as a drawing ink, used with quill, reed pen or brush. The coloring strength of iron gall ink was high and it had, depending on its manufacture, a deep blue-black, velvety tone.Millar 2014, 107Archival institutions and traditional archival service are stubbornly physical in a world where physicality is becoming a liability, not an asset. As such, archival institutions risk becoming quaint reminders of an analog past, repositories of records valued for their historical allure as documentary symbols of a bygone age—accompanied by the enchanting smell of iron gall ink or the sensation of crumbling newsprint—more than for their enduring value as evidence.
Iron gall inks came into widespread use by the ninth century. Such inks are acidic and can cause the underlying paper to deteriorate. They are black when fresh, but the acidic reaction with paper often turns the ink brown over time.