Historical information

This design of the bottle is sometimes called a ‘cottage’ or ‘boat’ shape. The Caldwell’s handmade glass ink bottle was mouth-blown into a three-piece mould, a method often used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the maker's name engraved into the mould section for the base. The glass blower would cut the bottle off the end of his blowpipe with a tool and join a mouth onto the top, rolling the lip. The bottle was then filled with ink and sealed with a cork. This method of manufacture was more time-consuming and costly to produce than those made in a simple two-piece mould and 'cracked' off the blowpipe. The capacity for a bottle such as this was about 3 ½ oz (ounces) equal to about 100 ml.

This particular bottle is unusual as it has four sloping indents at the corners of the shoulder, most likely for resting a pen with its nib upwards and the handle resting on a flat surface. Most of the bottles made during this era had horizontal pen rests that were indented into both of the long sides of the shoulder.

Pen and ink have been in use for handwriting since about the seventh century. A quill pen made from a bird’s feather was used up until around the mid-19th century. In the 1850s a steel point nib for the dip pen was invented and could be manufactured on machines in large quantities. This only held a small amount of ink so users had to frequently dip the nib into an ink well for more ink. Handwriting left wet ink on the paper, so the blotting paper was carefully used to absorb the excess ink and prevent smudging. Ink could be purchased as a ready-to-use liquid or in powdered form, which needed to be mixed with water.

In the 1880s a successful, portable fountain pen gave smooth-flowing ink and was easy to use. In the mid-20th century, the modern ballpoint pen was readily available and inexpensive, so the fountain pen lost its popularity. However, artisans continue to use nib pens to create beautiful calligraphy.

Caldwell’s Ink Co. –
F.R. Caldwell established Caldwell’s Ink Company in Australia around 1902. In Victoria, he operated from a factory at Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, until about 1911, then from Yarra Bank Road in South Melbourne. Newspaper offices were appointed as agencies to sell his inks, for example, in 1904 the New Zealand Evening Star sold Caldwell’s Flo-Eesi blue black ink in various bottle sizes, and Murchison Advocate (Victoria) stocked Caldwell’s ink in crimson, green, blue black, violet, and blue. Caldwell’s ink was stated to be “non-corrosive and unaffected by steel pens”. A motto used in advertising in 1904-1908 reads ‘Makes Writing a Pleasure’. Stationers stocked Caldwell’s products and hawkers sold Caldwell’s ink stands from door to door in Sydney in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1911 Caldwell promised cash for returned ink bottles and warned of prosecution for anyone found refilling his bottles.

Caldwell’s Ink Stands were given as gifts. The company encouraged all forms of writing with their Australian-made Flo-Eesi writing inks and bottles at their impressive booth in the ‘All Australian Exhibition’ in 1913. It advertised its other products, which included Caldwell’s Gum, Caldwell’s Stencil Ink (copy ink) and Caldwell’s Quicksticker as well as Caldwell’s ‘Zac’ Cough Mixture.

Caldwell stated in a 1920 article that his inks were made from a formula that was over a century old, and were scientifically tested and quality controlled. The formula included gallic and tannic acids and high-quality dyes to ensure that they did not fade. They were “free from all injurious chemicals”. The permanent quality of the ink was important for legal reasons, particularly to banks, accountants, commerce, municipal councils and lawyers. The Caldwell’s Ink Company also exported crates of its ink bottles and ink stands overseas. Newspaper advertisements can be found for Caldwell’s Ink Company up until 1934 when the company said they were the Best in the business for 40 years.


This hand-blown bottle is significant for being the only bottle in our collection with the unusual sloping pen rests on its shoulder. It is also significant for being made in a less common three-piece mould.
The method of manufacture is representative of a 19th-century handcraft industry that is now been largely replaced by mass production.
The bottle is of state significance for being produced by an early Melbourne industry and exported overseas.
This ink bottle is historically significant as it represents methods of handwritten communication that were still common up until the mid-20th century when fountain pens and modern ballpoint pens became popular and convenient and typewriters were becoming part of standard office equipment.

Physical description

Ink bottle; rectangular base, hand-blown clear glass bottle with its own cork. The bottle has side seams from the base to the mouth, an indented base and an applied lip. The corners of the shoulder sides have unusual diagonal grooves that slope down and outwards that may have been used as pen rests. Inside the bottle are remnants of dried blue-black ink. The glass has imperfections and some ripples on the surface. The bottle has an attached oval black label label with gold-brown printed text and border. The base has an embossed inscription. The bottles once contained Caldwell’s blend of blue black ink.

Inscriptions & markings

Printed on label; “CALDWELL's BLUE BLACK INK”
Embossed on the base "CALDWELLS"