Inkwells and inkstands; Small collectibles with wide diversity and charm

The growing popularity of desks as decorative and functional home furnishings has spawned increased interest in antique and collectible inkwells and inkstands. And the broad diversity of wells and stands makes collecting and displaying them highly pleasurable.

Interior decorators sometimes spice a traditional room with a collection of electric-blue glass wells, or emphasize the country look of a decor by accenting a desk with a colorful faience inkstand. Collectors are apt to arrange an assortment of their brass and porcelain wells on a writing desk used as a room divider, and they can bring elegance to a contemporary apartment with a grouping of silver-lidded crystal inkwells on a glass table.

Because they were made for centuries, there is a diversity of wells and stands and they are compatible with a wide range of decors. In Victorian times, when more and more people were becoming literate, ink receptacles were made of countless materials - everything from jeweled gold to tin and from glass to jade.

Made obsolete in the 1940s by the arrival of the ballpoint pen, inkwells and inkstands are still available at antique shows and shops. Since they were made in quantity to service the needs of penmen for such a long time, there are wells and stands to suit all pocketbooks. The astute selection of them requires some reading about them or guidance from a knowledgeable antique dealer, particularly one who specializes in such merchandise.

It is always wise to buy the best stand or well you can afford. If it is appealing, rare, or a good representative stand or well,but has a non-disfiguring imperfection, don't shun it. You may not find another like it.

The affluent buyer will enjoy owning an 18th-century brass standish. Such a stand usually includes two ink vessels and a sander (a writing tool once used to sprinkle sand or powdered cuttlefish bones on unglazed paper), and it often carries a four-figure price tag.

Other expensive stands and wells include the tortoise and brass (boulle) ones , and art glass wells designed by Galle, Daum Nancy, and Lalique during the art nouveau period.

For less affluent buyers or collectors, there are choice crystal inkwells with silver lids, which were issued for decades by major silver companies, including Gorham, that merit attention. These well-crafted and elegant pieces range in size from small to large. They were made in numerous shapes - round, square, hexagonal, and even pyramid. Although often difficult to find, they are well worth the hunt.

Strongly appealing, too, are the jewel-like glass wells and stands in blue, amber, yellow, ruby, green, amethyst, and other shades that came in the mid- and late-1800s from numerous American and European glassmakers. They are often considered the gems of a collection; when grouped, they make an arresting focal point in a room.

Because of the number of wells and stands made to appease Victorians' appetites for possessions, desirable sterling and silver-plated wells and stands of this period are available. Other types include those of papier-mache with inlays of mother-of-pearl. And don't bypass the cylindrical pewter or the stenciled wooden S. Silliman & Co. wells, known as ''counting house'' wells.

Abraham Lincoln had a Silliman inkwell in his Springfield, Ill., law office. Civil War soldiers sometimes carried small traveling Silliman inkwells with clever spring devices that prevented the spillage and evaporation of ink. These and other traveling wells are often attractive to those who enjoy the ingenious.

Young people often favor collecting items made during the art nouveau period and art deco period. Wells and stands made during the art nouveau years by designers such as L. C. Tiffany are priced beyond the reach of many collectors. But it's possible to find moderately priced art nouveau wells and stands that reflect the free-flowing designs of the era.

The more stylized pieces of the art deco period, made of choice materials like malachite or rock crystal, are also extremely expensive, but here again there are numerous ones at fairly modest prices.

Even veteran collectors and antique dealers are constantly surprised by the unusual and cleverly designed pieces that continue to be found. And nothing adds more to the enjoyment of owning a desk than appointing it with a well-chosen inkwell or inkstand.

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