One of the most whimsical and intriguing items in the world of writing instruments and stationery is invisible ink. To me, it recalls childhood experiments with lemon juice and Encyclopedia Brown books. To others, it may be studied as a practical form of steganography.
To my surprise, I learned that the world’s most distinguised ink maker manufactures a commercial invisible ink, and that I could buy it at a local shop.
The packaging is charming. A bottle with a simple frame pattern label reading:
30ml J. Herbin
It’s light pinkish colour, and fountain pens are not recommended. My bottle shows significant signs of crystallization around the cap and top of the bottle after light use, so that’s probably why.
Although I’d love to buy a fancy dip pen, for now a General’s nib holder and some Speedball nibs suffice. A blank Rhodia pad also seems in order. I start scribbling away.
Is it invisible? Well, it’s less visible. The ink is wet, and there is a slight tint, so the very curious can probably tell that the paper isn’t as prisitine as it once was.
I let the paper dry and take it to my halogen lamp. Holding it near, the writing slowly comes to life in an aquamarine blue. This is thoroughly fascinating to see. What’s almost as intriguing, is that walking away from the lamp, the ink fades back to “invisible”, as if one saw the paper reveal a secret, temporal message.
Is it truly a method for secret record keeping and communication? It probably suffices for some purposes.
Some possible uses for invisible ink:
Sketching tentative ideas
The Blackfeet Indian Pencil is a unique creation. It is a quality pencil that has a varnished natural wood encasing that was years ahead of others in recognizing that the natural beauty of wood grain could be embraced by the public, if presented properly. The varnish is thick and polished – it doesn’t look like (and isn’t) something one would find at a generic office supply store.
The original had black imprinting with a small horse and rider logo, and the words “THE BLACKFEET INDIAN PENCIL” and the digit 2 for the lead hardness. There is a silver ferrule and light pink eraser. It writes nicely and the lead doesn’t crumble or splinter. A later version had a black ferrule and dark pink eraser. Unfortunately, this later version doesn’t maintain the quality of the classic version – the varnish is thinner, making the pencil less pleasant to hold, and the black ferrule doesn’t match the pencil as well, and can distract the eye.
The pencils were made in Browning, Montana by the Blackfeet Indian Writing Company as part of a tribal owned economic initiative. I gather up to a hundred people may have been employed at the company’s peak, but it sadly appears to have been dormant the last few years.
The Rhodia pad is an icon for many. The classic pad is easily recognizable by the famous orange cover. It’s a model of efficiency and design – the front cover has three designated folding points, known as scores, which allow the cover to be neatly folded over the back. The standard pad has 80 sheets of fountain pen friendly 21.3 lb. “High Grade Vellum Paper”, with a light purple squared 5×5 mm rule. The sizes range from 3.3″x4.7″ ( 8.5cm x 12cm) to the magnificent desk filling 12.5″x16.5″ (31.8cm x 42cm) . It’s not too hard to learn this – the backs of the larger pads all have charts of the standard offerings. The sheets have perforations that line up with the top score so that the pad stays neat as sheets are removed.
Apart from the classic pad, there are ruled and blank versions, and a special accounting variant. There are also a couple of yellow paper models, and the delightful No. 120, the Rainbow model with four colours of punched A4 graph paper!
The Rhodia line also has coil ring notebooks (which one wouldn’t typically classify as “pads”) and even a graph paper mouse pad, with detachable sheets. I won’t discuss these here.
I first discovered these pads when I saw the No. 38 (the giant 12.5″x16.5″ pad) at a local fountain pen shop a few years ago. It just looked awesome to me. I had never seen such a giant pad of graph paper. I like to draw charts and figure things out on paper, and it just seemed like a very useful aid. Also, the paper itself is much nicer than found in the writing pads at typical office supply stores.
Here’s a link to their corporate catalogue: