INK: How old is too old?

I’ve got a question about ink: How old is too old? I was given 4 cans of ink recently:

#142 P. & G. Red #62997 dated 1952
(opened, but mostly full 5.5 pounds)

#23 Green #61537 dated 1950
(2 cans, one unopened, both 5.75 pounds)

Both of these are from “The Braden Sutphin Ink Co.

Letterpress Label Black z-359 from Cleveland Printing Ink Co. No date on this one…but it isn’t a spring chick.

I haven’t brought home my press yet, and am reticent to even open these to see what shape they are in. The person who gave them to me used the black fairly recently, he said…the others were back in a cabinet…I’m guessing he hadn’t used them in at least 5 years, maybe longer. He said just to peel back the skin and go for it when I wanted to use them.

What do you all think? Are inks like fine wines…or opened yogurt?

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Don’t worry, it’s perfectly good. Unlike wine, I don’t think ink is going to get any better with age, but unlike yogurt, oil-base ink has a practically unlimited shelf life. (Note that this does not apply to rubber-base ink, which has a shelf life measured in years rather than decades.) Since it undoubtedly is oil-base ink, it should be fine underneath the “skin” of dried ink. I have some ink from the late ’50s that prints fine. Think “vintage ink” for your “vintage press” — or if you don’t want to chance it or deal with the skin, you could send it to me and I’ll put it in tubes, making it available in small quantities for anyone who perhaps doesn’t need it in 5-lb. cans!

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)


The OLD inks are the BEST!!!!!!! At least in my experience. There is usually great ink underneath the scum on top. When I first started playing with letterpress in the mid 70s, my favorite can of black ink was one that had been manufactured in 1959. Even as a rank beginner, it seemed that I could “do no wrong” using this ink. When it finally ran out, I had to look for other inks, and to this day I don’t think I have ever found an ink that performed as well as that first can.

This is great help. Thanks, everyone; I won’t shy away from using the stuff!

Devil’s Tail- I’ll check w/ my local Blick’s

Dave-I’ll probably hang onto the stuff. I may try and trade some green ink for some yellow w/ someone sometime…