Higgins inks have been made in America for over 140 years. Our Eternal® and India Inks have served artists and writers since 1880. 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? Two men who share equal credit for the existence of this world-famous ink.
Gold, Silver, and Ink!
Higgins ink made its first appearance in the west during the gold rush era. Rufus L. Higgins was an entrepreneur in Virginia City, Nevada — the center of the Comstock gold mining boom of the 1850s - the 1880s. He established several general stores starting in 1863 and purchased a soda mine in 1868, all of 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 did very well in the region. He distributed his ink in the early 1870s through Pioneer Book Store, the only book store in the city. As more people flocked to the Gold and Silver mines in Virginia City, Rufus' business boomed. He expanded his offering to include stationery and music items, which complemented his ink. Soon after, misfortune replaced success when his store burned down in the great Virginia City fire of 1875. In 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 inventions 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 exists, 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 worldwide. The most popular periodicals of the day used Higgins Inks and recommended them to artists and others in the publishing industry. 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, Charles' patented design 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 several 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 restored the branding to the original Higgins name in 2007. Even more updates are in store for the brand in 2020, including new lines of ink and a new look!
1. Forgotten New York. (2016). Charles Higgins, Park Slope. Retrieved from http://forgotten-ny.com/2016/12/charles-higgins-park-slope/
2. Grapentine, B. (2003). Virginia City, Nevada Ink Bottles of R.L.Higgins. Bottles and Extras, (Spring), 38-39. Retrieved from https://www.fohbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/HigginsInkBottles.pdf
3. 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 https://www.fohbc.org/PDF_Files/HigginsInk.pdf
4. ODell, D. (N.A.). bottlebooks.com. Old ink bottles and their histories: Charles M. Higgins & Co. Retrieved from http://www.bottlebooks.com/InkCompanyHistory/higgins_ink_company.htm
5. Green-Wood Historic Fund. (N.A.). Higgins ink bottle, late 19th century. Retrieved from https://www.green-wood.com/2014/higgins-ink-bottle-late-19th-century/
6. Unknown. (1929). C.M. Higgins dies; ink manufacturer. The New York Times, October 23, 27. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1929/10/23/archives/cm-higgins-dies-ink-manufacturer-one-of-the-founders-of-kings.html
7. Unknown. (1929). Chas. M. Higgins, manufacturer, dies at home. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 22.