Lots of old ink…help!

When I bought some type I also acquired a lot of ink. Just from the labeling alone this stuff looks pretty old. Some, in fact most, are still factory sealed, but when I break the paper seal the lids will not budge. Can anyone recommend a trick to getting them open short of totally obliterating the tins? The few that were already opened have a hardened skin on top but I can still sink my thumb nail into the surface…is there a way to make this ink useable again? I am a total letterpress novice so any help is much appreciated. Thanks

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Old oil base ink is good for about half of forever.
It forms a skin over the top that seals out more air from getting to it and hardening/oxidizing it. With an ink knife, you cut down between the hardened ink and the can edge. The stuff underneath is almost as good as new ink and the press will be happy with it. You will inadvertently dip out a few bits of hardened ink. I call these crunchies. After you ink up the press, take a clean ink knife and remove the crunchies from the ink disk and rollers.
I would hardly know what to do with new ink. I have some that must be 30-50 years old.
There is no magic to opening a stuck lid. You can only get a sharp screwdriver and pry and work it round and round the lip. You may deform the can a bit, but not much. It is well worth the effort to get to the good ink under the skin.

Get some ink on your shirt and get to printing

Not a very good picture but the ATF Amtyco inks that we can see date from the 1930s/40s and came in12 “standardized” colors. ATF also sold a heat set Amtyco proofing black that would not be suitable for general printing. Stuck lids can be loosened some times by running the lid and edges under hot water, then just like stuck lids on glass bottles, they’ll usually come off. But this ink is really old and the ink between the can body and lid may well be petrified—but try the hot water trick.

I turn my stuck cans upside down in a little hot water just enough to cover the lid. The water must be, and stay hot. Let soak 1/2 hour or so. Then tap around the edge with a metal ink knife.
Winfred Reed
Black Diamond Press (Kentucky)

I usually use a screwdriver with a wide blade to get the lids off, not tried hot water. Some cans have a lip at the top and they are the ones where you have to lever the lid over the lip.

If there is a lot of old hard ink around the rim scrape off with a knife, rub dried ink off the surfaces at the top of the tin and inside the edge of the can with abrasive paper and oil the edge of the can where the can and lid meet. It helps seal the can and makes it easier to get the lid off next time.

The surface of the ink will have a thick dried wrinkly skin. Cut out sections of the skin with a sharp knife to get to the ink. Don’t stab your ink knife into the can as it may crack the skin surface and even more ink will dry out.

Over time as you print different jobs work your way around the surface. When you have finished your job seal the exposed ink with oiled paper or clear plastic sheet.

Having sat in the can for a long time the ink will be stiff, take the ink out of the can on your ink knife and put it onto a clean smooth surface and work the ink with your knife to get it moving and then transfer to your ink disk. as needed.

With old letterpress ink don’t go straight from the can to the ink disk as you may get bits of ink skin on the disk and its going to take some time to get the stiff ink into a usable state with an even coating across your disk and rollers.

Thanks everyone…I ended up using a thin spatula to the lids off….soaking in hot water also seemed to help! The majority of the ink is really stiff so much so that it is not smoothing out on the glass no matter how much I work it with the ink knife…is there a “thinner” I can use sparingly to loosen it up a little bit? I have twelve cans of this ink so it would be great if I could rehabilitate it. S.

I will assume you got down through the hard skin and got to some ink that was viscous, but quite thick and without most of the hard bits I call crunchies.
If you have a printer’s paper and supply store close by, ask if you can get a half pint or pint of printer’s varnish. It is mostly boiled linseed oil. It may or may not have something else in it. If you cannot get the printer’s varnish, get a small amount of boiled linseed oil. A pint will last you for most of forever. Find a furniture refinisher and ask if you can buy half a pill container of boiled linseed oil. You will probably get it free.
Add the boiled linseed oil to the sticky ink a couple of drops at a time and work it over with the ink knife. You want to get it to be like very heavy molasses and just barely drip from the knife when you have a big gob.

Get some ink on your shirt. Get printing.

Thanks Inky, I shall give that a try! Cheers.