Dig Deeper: Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand

Sengbusch Self Closing Inkstand from Excavation, August 2011

A few weeks ago, some artifacts were recovered from the Brody-Emmons complex. These included a wide range of glass containers, as well as other finds. What is nice about finding early 20th century glass, is that there is a lot of information that can be recovered from the item. Unlike glass and metal today where paper labels alert the consumer on their purchase, many of the items are imprinted with their brand name and contents.

One of the finds was glass container with a bakelite (an early type of plastic) lid. Imprinted into the lid was “Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand, Made in USA, Milwaukee, WI” as well as a barely legible patent date and number. Research revealed that this type of inkstand was first introduced in 1907 by  Gustav Sengbusch. In the patent he wrote that these inkwells were designed “designed for mounting in school desks and for like purposes.” Its not surprising then that this type of inkwell would be found in an area around MSU.

Sengbusch Self Closing Inkstand from EBay User Imeon

The story behind the Sengbusch Self Closing Inkstand is a classic invention tale. Gustav Sengbusch was hard at work as a book keeper in the early 1900’s. After taking hours to complete a single ledger page, his inkstand tipped and ruined the entire page. As a result of this event and his frustration he decided to design an inkstand that couldn’t be closed. It was this that led to the creation of the Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand Company. The inkstands he designed were created to prevent tipping, allowed one hand access to ink, and prevented evaporation.

Every artifact that we find on campus has a story, and while it may not be as easy to dig up information we still learn more about the campus and community of MSU.

Works Cited

Cowell, W. 2009. An Inkwell and A Mystery. In The Pennant, Fall 2009: 10-11. Electronic Document. http://www.pencollectorsofamerica.com/pennant/FALL%2009%20PENNANT%20FINAL.pdf

9 thoughts on “Dig Deeper: Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand

  1. Pingback: Archaeology 101: Artifact versus Feature » MSU Campus Archaeology Program

  2. I got interested in the Sengbusch inkwells back in 1960. Have collected a few over the years. They had a wide variety of designs.

  3. I have a white porcelain Sengbusch Ideal Junior Stamp Moistener. It is marked on the bottom “SENGBUSCH, IDEAL JUNIOR, MILWAUKEE 3. WIS. MADE IN U.S.A.”.

    The “3” is the postal zone, which larger cities used back before zip codes were introduced.

    I am trying to date the item. What years did Sengbusch use their postal zone “3” on their products.

    I’ve looked at several pictures of this item online and have not found one that includes the postal zone.

  4. I inherited one of these inkwells from my father who had it from the earliest days of my memory. It is mounted to a thick plank of oak with a plaque on it reading:
    “This material was taken from the original hull of the U. S. Frigate Constitution keel laid 1794 rebuilding 1927”
    Is this possible? Are there any known examples of this inkwell mounted to such a piece of Naval History?

  5. i have a crystal set 2 inkwells beautiful crystal with crystal plate they sit in and long old fashioned ink pen

  6. they are signed sengbusch self closing ink stand co. millwaukee,wisconsin anna showalter

  7. If Anna Showalter has photos of her crystal set, we would love to see it. Ours has this maker + 3 patent dates and has two inkwells but no pen. Has she has her appraised?

  8. Walt Boost, your ink stand is a US Frigate Constitution souvenir made from wood removed during the 1927 restoration and sold to make money for this restoration. They were sold at the time for $15.00 and included a paper knife also made from USS Constitution wood.

  9. My last name q Sengbusch,great grandson of Gustav. The story is true.

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