Ink Showcase: Noodler's 54th Massachusetts
If you're into fountain pens, chances are high that you're aware of Noodler's inks. The brand seems to generate fans and haters alike. Champions of Noodler's inks praise their permanent properties and affordable prices, while detractors bemoan their tendency to stain and finicky performance issues. So how does 54th Massachusetts, one of the brand's staple blues, stack up?
Packaging & Bottle
Noodler's inks come packaged in simple white paper boxes with playful drawings of catfish on the sides. The boxes are also proudly emblazoned with "Made in USA," and many inks in Noodler's lineup take on an Americana motif.
Each bottle has a unique label that features imagery relating to the name of the ink. On 54th Massachusetts, the drawing depicts the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment (more on that under "Color & Inspiration" below). Though this bottle of 54th Mass. has a clean label, in the past I've sometimes received bottles of Noodler's inks that were stained with ink. Though this will be off-putting to some, personally I'm not that bothered by it and find it adds a bit of charm that reflects the realities of a small business with manual manufacturing and bottling operations.
A word of caution about Noodler's ink bottles: they're filled dangerously close to the brim. If you're not careful about how you open these bottles, an inky disaster can result. The consequences can be especially grievous if you're dealing with an ink with permanent or semi-permanent qualities. As such, I strongly recommend positioning the bottle on a flat, level surface and gently removing the cap when you go for a fill. Having said that, the mouth of the bottle is wide enough to fit just about any pen without issue.
Color & Inspiration
54th Massachusetts is a subdued shade of blue with gray undertones. I sometimes see this ink described as a blue-black, and I personally don't think that description is accurate; it's really more of a dark blue. The blue-black designation isn't entirely unreasonable, though. When put down in volume (such as in ink swatches), 54th Mass. does take on more of a blue-black appearance, but the fact of the matter is that this is one of those inks where the swatch is not entirely representative of how the ink will appear in normal writing.
The name of the ink is derived from the 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment of the Union Army from the American Civil War. The 54th Massachusetts regiment was one of the first to include African-American soldiers and is featured in the 1989 movie "Glory." Presumably, the name of the ink is intended to evoke the color of the regiment's uniforms, but I'm not exactly a history buff and can't speak to the degree of accuracy.
Like many other Noodler's inks, 54th Massachusetts is highly-saturated. One of the consequences of this high level of saturation is that the ink doesn't really have much shading to it, at least not with traditional writing. Again, when applied in volume the ink does display some variation and darker shades, but standard handwriting is mostly monotone.
On more absorbent paper, 54th Mass. takes on a decidedly more grayish tone. It's still an appealing hue, but quite different from what you might see in a swatch. It's more muted and almost all hints of black are lost.
This ink is office-friendly and I find myself using it at work pretty regularly. I like that it strikes a nice balance between being subtle and 'professional' without being boring. It's distinct enough to separate itself from the royal blues you'd typically find in office rollerballs or ballpoints, but not so distinct as to draw unnecessary attention to itself.
Noodler's inks are known for the wide variety of properties the brand ascribes to them. For 54th Massachusetts specifically, Noodler's designates the following characteristics:
- "Bulletproof" - Inks with the "bulletproof" designation are said to be UV-resistant and bleach resistant.
- "Eternal" - Inks with the "eternal" designation are said to be fit for archival purposes and resistant to fading.
- "Forgery-Resistant" - These inks are "impervious to lasers, alcohol, and solvents" and are fit for uses where security and authenticity are of importance.
- "Waterproof" - These inks are either partially or fully resistant to water.
For a breakdown of the Noodler's ink lineup and each ink's associated properties, check out this helpful list prepared by The Goulet Pen Company.
While I haven't specifically tested these properties for 54th Massachusetts, I can say that the ink is quite robust. It does have semi-permanent properties and is rather resistant to water. While those may be advantageous properties for certain writing applications, they do also have the downside of causing some annoyances when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. This ink does cause some staining, and I find that water alone sometimes doesn't do the trick. Having access to pen flush or a solution of water and dish soap can be helpful when cleaning pens and converters inked with 54th Massachusetts. In the event that you spill this ink on a surface, I've also found a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar to be effective at cleaning, though I wouldn't necessarily use that mixture on certain pens.
One unfortunate characteristic of this ink (and several other Noodler's inks I've used) is the tendency to feather on more absorbent paper. Though the ink generally performs well on Rhodia paper, even an extra fine nib will result in feathering on more absorbent paper (for example, Baron Fig or Leuchtturm). I've found this feathering to be generally tolerable in finer nib sizes, but I suspect many will find it unacceptable in medium, broad, and stub nibs.
Another negative of this ink is that show-through and bleeding are more common than with many other inks I've used. Even when using quality paper, the reverse sides of pages are sometimes unusable, and the issue is only exacerbated when using cheap copy paper.
On the plus side, dry times are relatively quick. In some instances, when using 54th Mass. on absorbent paper, dry times were as quick as 5 seconds.
In terms of flow, I haven't experienced any real issues with 54th Massachusetts, but with other Noodler's inks I have sometimes seen a tendency for the ink to get suspended at the top of converters. The issue can usually be resolved with a gentle flick of the converter with your finger, but I've also heard that some people will dilute their Noodler's inks with a bit of distilled water to give it better flow. I tested that with 54th Mass. and found the results to be mostly positive: with a 4:1 ink-to-water ratio, the ink did get better flow and the color was almost completely preserved.
It's hard to compete with Noodler's inks when it comes to value. As of the time of this writing, a 3oz (~89ml) bottle of 54th Massachusetts sells for around $12.50. At approximately $.14/ml, Noodler's inks are simply some of the most affordable inks on the market on a per-ml basis. If you choose to dilute the ink, you can stretch that value even further.