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VocalEyes - New Place

Inkwell, 1607.


"Sir, he hath never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book. He hath not eat paper, as it were, he hath not drunk ink. His intellect is not replenished, he is only an animal, only sensible in the duller parts…"
[Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Scene 2]

Made from bronze and dated 1607, this inkwell is typical of the time when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. Now a rich brown, its cylindrical body is 10cms across, short and squat and heavy, with a flared base and straight sides. A horizontal band running around the centre is decorated with scrolling vines and flowers.  There's also a shield which contains a Merchant's mark. Near the top is an inscription which reads: Correlis Dehane [kor-ELL-iss de-HAYN], dated 1607.

Three thin vertical tubes are moulded into the outside wall of the inkwell. Spaced equally, they were designed to hold quill pens. A short brass chain attached to the top has a circular lid at the other end, used to prevent the ink from drying out when not in use.  Inside, the well is lined with glass which is broken in places.

Practical but also decorative, an item such as this would have been prized for its quality as well as its utility. It was most likely owned by a wealthier, literate individual, and the inscription could be that of the maker, or it could be the name of the original owner.

Nowadays we take the ability to read and write for granted, but things were more complex in the early modern period. The educational paths of men and women were very different and it was generally only wealthier men who were taught to read and write. While some women and those lower down the social scale may have been able to read basic texts, such as letters or household accounts, in terms of writing they may only have acquired the skill to sign or even simply ‘mark’ their name.