Higgins inks have been made in America for over 140 years. Our Eternal® and India Inks have served artists and writers since 1800. While the origins of the Higgins brand go back even further to the days of the gold rush in the Western USA. Higgins is now a brand of Chartpak, and are made at our plant in Leeds, MA.
HIGGINS: A HISTORY
Where did Higgins Ink come from, and who invented it? There are two men who share equal credit for the existence of this world famous ink.
Gold, Silver, and Ink!
Higgins ink was first seen in the west during the gold rush era. Rufus L. Higgins was an entrepreneur in Virginia City, Nevada — center of the Comstock gold mining boom of the 1850s - the 1880s. He established a number of general stores starting in 1863, and purchased a soda mine in 1868, all which served the ever growing mining community of the Comstock load. During this time, Rufus created one of the few inks produced in the west, and sold it in the only known customized embossed ink bottles in Virginia City. There are no known formulas or patents for his ink, but it is believed to have done very well in the region. He distributed his ink in the early 1870s through Pioneer Book Store, the lone store of this type in the city. Business was booming like the gold and silver mines, and as the population grew so did his businesses. He opened Virginia City’s first educational store in 1875, selling books, stationary, and music items. Soon after, he suffered the tragic misfortune of having his store burn down in the great Virginia City fire of 1875, and by 1876 he left Virginia City never to be heard from again. Records for Rufus seem to end with his bankruptcy and the loss of his business.
It's curious that Higgins American Indian ink was launched in 1880 by Charles Higgins, shortly after Rufus left Virginia City. Charles Higgins was a patent solicitor in Brooklyn, New York during the time Rufus was operating his businesses in Virginia City. Charles would seek out usable inventor's ideas to patent. His invention of the “American Indian ink” and the “Eternal Ink” were said to have happened while experimenting with dyes and inks at his sister’s kitchen table. There is some speculation that the two Higgins ink men were related, and that Rufus had sold his formulas to Charles or worked with him to create the Higgins Ink Company. No known supporting documentation has been found, however, and so the timing and common surname linking the two Higgins inks remains coincidental.
If Rufus was the first to sell Higgins ink, then it was Charles who patented and marketed the inks world wide. Higgins inks were used in the most popular periodicals of the day, and in turn, they recommended the inks to others. Charles also used artists’ testimonials to promote his inks, creating a niche in the art world that would take his brand across the globe to be the most well loved India ink of its time.
The Higgins Bottle
The bottles Rufus L. Higgins first used in Virginia City, Nevada are some of the rarest of ink bottles in the US. In 2001, one of the bottles sold at auction for $18,000. However, it is Charles’ patented design that has become the iconic shape and size ink bottle that has been used, with various revisions, into the 21st century. Charles died in 1929, and his son Tracy took over the business. Since then it has changed hands a number of times until Chartpak, Inc. purchased the company from Sanford, who had converted the bottle to plastic and sold it under their Design line of art products. Chartpak has restored the branding to the original Higgins name in 2007 and will be taking the bottle back to its original glass material in 2019-2020.
1. Forgotten New York. (2016). Charles Higgins, Park Slope. Retrieved from
2. Holabird, F. (2002). The original Higgins ink a Nevada invention: The story of R. (Rufus) L. Higgins ink bottles Virginia City, Nevada. Bottles and Extras, (Spring), 26-39. Retrieved from
3. ODell, D. (N.A.). bottlebooks.com. Old ink bottles and their histories: Charles M. Higgins & Co. Retrieved from
4. Green-Wood Historic Fund. (N.A.). Higgins ink bottle, late 19th century. Retrieved from
5. Unknown. (1929). C.M. Higgins dies; ink manufacturer. The New York Times, October 23, 27. Retrieved from
6. Unknown. (1929). Chas. M. Higgins, manufacturer, dies at home. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 22.