As part of our series introducing you to some of our vendors, we felt you’d definitely enjoy learning more about Neil McCaffery. McCaffery’s Ink remains one of our most popular ink lines largely because the man behind these wonderful inks set out to create a stellar product. Neil had always liked calligraphy as a kid, and he started collecting fountain pens as an adult. While attending a fountain pen show, Neil met Michael Sull and bought one of his books. It inspired him to more seriously pursue calligraphy, and started a strong friendship between him and Michael.
At that time, there was no ink like McCaffery’s available in the U.S., so Neil started experimenting with making his own ink that would produce the fine hairlines needed for traditional Copperplate and Spencerian. Master Penman Brian Walker was making an iron gall ink in England, and Neil started researching how to make it and developed his own basic iron gall ink. By the time IAMPETH 2001 in Kansas City arrived, Neil had perfected the ink enough to sell it. Brenda Broadbent, former owner of Paper and Ink Arts, was vending for that show and agreed to start carrying the ink permanently.
Each bottle of McCaffery’s ink is made in Neil’s basement, which was previously his darkroom. Depending on the color, it can take from 45 minutes to an hour up to two-three days to make a batch. After the batch is completed, Neil carefully bottles every bottle, screws every cap on, and labels each one himself. He uses natural ingredients and has developed pretty standard formulas whose only tweaking comes when one of the ingredients is slightly different than a previous batch. At this point, his line includes black, glossy black, brown, indigo blue, red, red-violet, green, ivory, and white. While he doesn’t have any immediate plans to add a new color, he’s certainly not ruling out doing so in the future. Currently, he’s working on producing a carbon based, sumi type ink.
As a full-time job, Neil works as a machinist, predominantly repairing Kansas oil field equipment. It is at his machine shop that he creates beautiful inkwells. He started producing them around 2001-2002 because there was nothing like them on the market. Made of brass or stainless steel, the inkwells are quite sturdy, cannot be easily turned over, and do not leak when sealed properly. They are a popular gift item or special treat for many of our customers.
Beyond creating inks and inkwells, Neil further serves the calligraphy community by taking care of theInternational Association of Master Penman, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting’s stellar archive collection. During most of the year, these incredible historical specimens of expert pointed pen calligraphy are stored in a vault 600 feet underground. Because it is a collection that is meant to be handled each summer at the IAMPETH convention, time is spent during the year moving over older scrapbook samples to new books to keep them from being damaged. When it’s time for the convention, Neil and Michael Sull drive the collection to the conference so that all attendees can benefit from studying the work of past masters.
Neil’s personal favorite calligraphy hand is Spencerian. He loves the many variations, the actual writing, and the fluid motion control challenge of creating the hand. He also likes a nice business hand that is well executed in the old fashion way. “Besides being really pretty to look at, mastering a good business hand helps with creating the lowercase letters in Spencerian,” he explains.
Outside of work, Neil enjoys photography, cooking, reading, and competition shooting, as well as practicing Spencerian. He’s also starting to learn letterpress with a tabletop letterpress. Further, he enjoys driving and working on old steam cars. He recently attended a western steam car show where he took a 35 mile an hour tour of the countryside. “There’s so much more to keep track of than a modern car. Steam cars are highly impractical but fun,“ he says.
When it comes to what he likes most about creating supplies for the calligraphy community, he says, “I’ve met so many nice people who are amazing. That’s the best part of it all. Calligraphy is such a beautiful art form. I’m always in awe of the people who do it and the beautiful things they make. It’s just amazing what comes off of people’s pens. It’s nice to be able to contribute to the art form.”