Inkstick Recipes through History

China has over 2000 years history of using and making inksticks. The industry reached its heights in the Ming and Qing Dynasty when methods were most refined and a lot special formulas were devised with different aromatic, medicinal and precious ingredients. The most prestigious representative would be Old Hu Kai Wen which still produces the best inksticks.

Carbon Black from Pine and other Soots

The best inksticks are 90-99% pure fine-ground carbon with only small percentage of resin to bind the inkstick and other ingredients for aroma or special effects.

The first quality inksticks were made from 松烟 pine soot, which produces a rich natural matt dark colour still used today. However, as pine soot became extremely popular in market, the demand for pine exceeded supply resulting in partial deforestation.

沈括 Shen Kuo, 1031 – 1095 AD

In 梦溪笔谈 Dream Pool Essays the Northern Song Dynasty scientist 沈括 Sheng Kuo (1031 – 1095), proposed, possibly for the very first time that inksticks could be made from burning petroleum.

今齐、鲁间松林尽矣,渐至太行、京西、松山大半皆童矣。石油至多,生于地下无穷,不若松木有时而竭 —— 梦溪笔谈

“Nowadays, pines trees are running out in Qi and Lu areas [northeast China and Shandong province]. Even the pine trees in Tai Hang Mountain, west of Beijing are mostly cut down. Only very young and small pine trees are left. However, there is unlimited petroleum which grows under ground. The petroleum supply is endless compared with pine tree supply which is very limited.” – Dream Pool Essays.

So from 11th century onwards, oil soot from petroleum and mixed soots have become popular.

漆烟 Turpentine Glossy Black: Turpentine was first added to pine soot recipes in Song dynasty to make a glossy black finish. Now turpentine soot inksticks are typically 1/3 pine soot and 2/3 oil soot with added turpentine.  Variants such as 5 stones turpentine were created with additional precious ingredients for the imperial household.

桐油烟 Tung Oil Glossy Black: is produced from tung oil soot as alternative to pine or petroleum oil which also produces a glossy black result. Tung Oil is a perfect material for inksticks, the oil is very volatile, rich, and transparent. It can make the inkstick very long-lasting.

Historical Inkstick recipes

Period Craftsman Recipe Resources
三国 Three Kingdoms
AD 220 – 280
韦诞 Wei Dan cortex fraxini, egg white, pearl, musk Qimin Yaoshu 齐民要术 544 C. E.
墨谱法式 Inksticks Index, edited by 李孝美 Li Xiao Mei, Song Dynasty 宋代
南北朝 Northen and Southern Dynasties
420 – 589
张永 Zhang Yong sticky rice, saponin, borneol, musk, cortex fraxini 文房四谱 Four Treasure of Study, 苏易简 Su Yi Jian, 986
冀公 Ji Gong pine soot, syringa, musk, turpentine 墨谱法式 Inksticks Index, edited by Li Xiao Mei 李孝美, 宋代 Song Dynasty
唐 Tang Dynasty
618 – 907
王君德 Wang Jun De pomegranate skin, buffalo horn, bluestone 墨史 Inkstick History, 陆友 Lu You, Yuan Dynasty 元代
cortex fraxini, saponin, bluestone, herba verbenae 晁氏墨经 Chao Inksticks Index, 晁说之 Chao Shuo Zhi, 宋代 Song Dynasty
南唐 Southern Tang
937 – 976
李廷珪 Li Ting Gui buffalo horn, saponin, Gadenia florida, cortex fraxini, sappan wood, white sandalwood, pomegranate skin, fish gelatin, copperas 墨谱法式 Inksticks Index, edited by Li Xiao Mei 李孝美, 宋代 Song Dynasty
gamboge, rhinoceros horn, pearl, croton, etc. 晁氏墨经 Chao Inksticks Index, 晁说之 Chao Shuo Zhi, 宋代 Song Dynasty
宋 Song Dynasty
960 – 1279
traditional inksticks puccoon, cortex fraxini, saponin, sappan wood, buffalo horn, pomegranate skin, indigo naturalis 墨谱法式 Inksticks Index, edited by Li Xiao Mei 李孝美, 宋代 Song Dynasty
cortex fraxini, sappan wood, spikenard, pogostemon, pomegranate skin
pomegranate skin, cortex fraxini, buffalo horn, golden cypress, gallnut, croton, bluestone, saponin
hair gel, cortex fraxini
puccoon, pomegranate skin, cortex fraxini, black fungus, croton, medicine terminalia fruit, indigo naturalis, saponin, pig bile, gamboge, borneol
oil soot cortex fraxini, croton, yellow shoots, gardenia florida, nard, holy basil, saponin
hair gel, cortex fraxini
puccoon, pomegranate skin, walnut, walnut green husk, medicine terminalia fruit, indigo naturalis, saponin
puccoon, croton, cortex fraxini, yellow shoots
puccoon, buffalo horn, pomegranate skin, cortex fraxini, black fungus, medicine terminalia fruit
sapolin, sticky rice, borneol, musk, cortex fraxini
张遇 Zhang Yu borneol, musk, gold leaf 窗间记闻 Notes by Window, 马端临 Ma Duan Lin, 宋元 Song – Yuan Dynasty
叶茂实 Ye Mao Shi butea gum, cortex fraxini, equisetum hiemale linne, Chinese angelica 墨史 Inkstick History, Lu You 陆友,元代 Yuan Dynasty
赵佶 Zhao Ji styrax, etc. 墨史 Inkstick History, Lu You 陆友,元代 Yuan Dynasty
明 Ming Dynasty
1368 – 1644
沈继孙 Shen Ji Sun sappan wood, rhizoma coptidis, cortex erythrinae, almond, puccoon, sandalwood, jasmine, radix angelica, momordic benevolence 墨法集要 Inksticks Craftsmanship, 沈继孙 Shen Ji Sun, 1775
方瑞生 Fang Rui Shen pig bile, borneol, musk, rhubard, sappan wood, galangal, spikenard, asarum, clove, pogostemon, holy basil, hysimachia sikokiana, peony 墨海 Inkstick Ocean, 方瑞生 Fang Rui Shen, 明代 Ming Dynasty
cortex fraxini, croton, yellow shoots, gardenia florida, spikenard, pogostemon, holy basil, saponin
清 Qing Dynasty
1644 – 1912
谢崧岱 Xie Song Dai sappan wood, croton, rice wine 南学制墨札记 Inksticks Craftsmanship Notes, 谢崧岱 Xie Song Dai, 1849 – 1898
内务府墨作则例
Imperial Palace Household Department
puccoon, turpentine, white sandalwood, holy basil, lysimachia sikokiana, pig bile, borneol, pogostemon, sticky rice wine, guangton glue 三草墨 San Cao Royal Inksticks, Imperial Palace Household Department, 清代 Qing Dynasty
sappan wood, turpentine, puccoon, lysimachia sikokiana, white sandalwood, holy basil, bear bile, borneol, pogotemon, sticky rice wine, guangton glue 独草墨 Du Cao Royal Inksticks, Imperial Palace Household Department, 清代 Qing Dynasty

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