Message in a Bottle: Ink Bottles at the Kooskia Internment Camp

Hello! My name is Kylie Bermensolo, I am a senior in Anthropology here at University of Idaho.  The Kooskia Internment Camp has provided our Historical Archaeology class with many different types of artifacts to analyze, and choosing one is always difficult. Finding an artifact that tells a story, and a story less heard, is hard to come by. However, I found some artifacts that did tell a story, quite literally.

There were several ink bottles in the Kooskia collection.  I was immediately drawn to the ink bottles because I was also interested in what sort of things people were writing about while in the interment camp. Not only this, but perhaps the ink bottles could say something about the commodities available to the internees, as well as give evidence to their economic situation. Ink bottles and ink wells are a popular collectors’ item, so I assumed that finding information about the inkbottles present in the archaeological record would be readily available. Well, I was sort of right, but it is a far more challenging task then I first anticipated.

Figure 1: LePage’s Signet Ink Bottle. Complete.

There were several ink bottles in the collection that I looked at. My most impressive pieces were two identical ink bottles that were fully or nearly fully intact. (Figure 1). These bottles were found in close proximity to each other in the field, indicating they were discarded at the same time.  They have makers marks on the bottom of the bottles, branding them as “Lepage’s Signet Ink, Made in U.S.A.”.  Presumably, knowing their maker should give a large lead into the discovery of their details such as their price, availability, and quality.  To some extent, it did. But the most interesting thing I found on LaPage’s ink is that the they were a part of the Russia Cement Company and were actually the at the forefront of glue manufactory during the 1920’s.  In fact, glue seemed to be the majority of what the company produced, and ink was only a side product. Most of their inks were “specialty” inks, featuring bright, long-lasting colors such as red and blues. (Figure 2)

 

 

 

Figure 2: Bottom of LePage’s Ink Bottle.

 

Throughout the rest of the semester, I will be looking into the archival information to find out exactly what the various bottles contained and were valued at.  At this point, it appears that ink pens were used for personal correspondence, such as letters and post cards.  Most official paperwork was typed or recorded in pencil. By the end of this project I hope understand more fully what sort of stories the ink from Kooskia Internment Camp can tell!

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