The Old Coot works in ink

Blotters! Ink blotters to be specific, used with inkwell ink. I was working on an article for the Binghamton Press a few years ago; it was about writing with a dipping pen and liquid ink when I was a kid. We had holes in the upper right corner of our desks, designed to hold an ink well. In first and second grade our work was done in pencil; the hole remained empty. When we made it to 3rd grade, we switched to ink; the neatest writers went first (girls). The teacher placed an ink well in the hole and handed the student a pen holder, a pen point and a small bit of cloth to clean ink off the pen point. She then filled the inkwell from a quart bottle with a snorkel nozzle and finally gave the lucky ink “graduate” a blotter to dry the ink so it wouldn’t smear. I was among the last group (all boys) to get “inked.”

Anyhow, I bought some old fashion point holders, pen points and ink to experience using the primitive writing instrument I grew up with, only slightly more advanced than the quill pen John Hancock used to sign the Declaration of Independence. I made the same blots and smears on the paper as I did all those years ago. (I’d foolishly decided to write the article with pen and ink) Three blobs on a paper in third grade and you lost your ink “privilege.” No ink for a week. A worse punishment (to the ego) than being sent to the cloakroom for a peashooter war behind the teachers back. An “ink” time-out felt bad; made you try harder when you your inkwell was filled again. Nothing like failure to help you succeed. Makes you wonder why today’s society works so hard to help kids avoid it, giving every player on every team, winners and losers, the same reward, a certificate, a trophy, or both. Earned or not. No signal there to try harder, to work on your shortcomings.

Back to the subject at hand. Ink Blotters!  I found a bunch of them for sale on eBay – you can’t buy them in a store, at least I couldn’t find any. The ones I received were long in the tooth, handed out by advertisers in the day. I now use mine for bookmarks and notice the ad copy every once in a while; it gives me a kick to see how things were promoted back in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. An ad for the Scotch Woolen Mill got my attention the other day and started me on this writing path, an all wool full suit and or topcoat or overcoat for only $23.00! Coat and pants alone, $20.00. Just pants, $7.50. That got my chuckle reflex going.  Then comes the company promise – “A 30-year record of knowing how to build clothes that fit and satisfy” – “Ask to see our deluxe grade woolens on display with your local dealer. 

A scowling Scotchman stares out from the ad; he’s wearing a wool tam cap; a bolt of plaid wool fabric is wrapped around his left shoulder. The ad sold me, but I was 70 years too late. I bought a dozen of those advertising blotters for less than seven bucks. Some with legible, but mirror image ink stains on the blotting side. All entertaining. Highly recommended for bookmarks. And, if you are fast, you can blot a coffee dribble on your shirt before it sets. If you do, someone might give you a certificate!  

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1 Comment on "The Old Coot works in ink"

  1. Douglas R Johnson | August 19, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Reply

    Merle – nice work! I always enjoy your articles. Remember baseball in the ’50s – DRJ

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