Victor Hugo’s ink

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Usually, it helps to take claims of historical authenticity with a grain of salt… That famous dead writers used your notebooks, for example, or that James Dean wore your khakis.

This is closer to the real deal. In 2004, J. Herbin discovered an authorization in its archives by the writer Victor Hugo to produce a black ink especially for him. The authorization remains in the archives, but the recipe has since been remade into a couple of bottles of ink. Karen managed to get her hands on one of them, and was then kind enough to pass it along to me.

This is not a fountain pen ink; Hugo wrote with goose quills, though steel nibs were becoming increasingly popular. Personally, I haven’t had much luck with feathers, but that did not put me off from trying it out with a glass pen. And what fun it was! The ink is shiny, dense, and saturated. It pops on bright white Clairefontaine and looks handsome on my ivory Habana, too. Because it’s so thick, you have to be a little more careful about bleed-through, and clean your pen carefully (and immediately) after you’re done. Still, it’s an awfully fun ink to play with. About the only complaint I have is that the bottle cap’s a bit finicky and is tough to get off and on.

There aren’t very many bottles left, but if it’s something that interests you, please let us know in the comments, and we’ll ask Herbin if they’d be willing to make more.

Here’s a picture of the bottle:

11 thoughts on “Victor Hugo’s ink

  1. I have about 1/3 of a bottle left and would be thrilled to get more so if please add me to the list of more than interested

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. I have by chance one bottle of this marvelous ink and I love it. I use a steel nib (l’ecoliere or sergent major) and have with this ink the best results ever. The ink is so dense and the shiny anthracite black colour so powerful. Bleed-through is even less a concern than with a common blue fountain pen ink on the same paper. I agree with Victor Hugo saying that I will use only this ink in the future. But it seems to be difficult to get more bottles…

  3. Great idea for Bastille Day. The ink should be interesting for sketching, especially over watercolor wash on watercolor paper. The bottle is fabulous.

  4. It’s not easy to be excited by a black ink but I would make an exception for this! Well worth buying a bottle for curiosity’s sake. And if it doesn’t automatically impart Hugo’s storytelling abilities it will still do fine for the diary…

  5. There’s a sizable calligraphy community over on the Fountain Pen Network and they use dip pens with appropriate nibs for this. I recommend you post a link over there in Market Watch and [pun alert] watch the bottles fly off the shelf.

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