A Chinese proverb says, “The palest ink lasts longer than the most retentive memory.” The Romans claimed, similarly, that ‘scripta manent’ (“written words remain”, unlike spoken ones).
One of the early-19th-century posters presented in our gallery below – which includes works by Marcello Dudovich, Leonetto Cappiello, and Sepo – claims that ink “sets ideas”.
Today, whether we like it or not, we trust modern digital memory to keep our words (and almost everything else) safe. But nobody can guarantee how long it will last.
The host of ancient texts that have reached us, still perfectly legible, prove the durability of the brown, water-based solution invented in China five thousand years ago. Traced on proper material, ink ensures human writing an almost permanent life.
Needless to say, such longevity is not always for the better: rarely is something worthy of being conserved and passed on to the next generations for centuries. In most cases, oblivion would be preferable.
So while ink has the power to last in time, we still have the freedom to sift through written material and keep only what is truly valuable.
For instance, here is a series of beautiful vintage posters promoting Italian companies that made ink… with due thanks to the digital media that in this moment – however ephemeral it may be – allows us to enjoy such works of art.