These triple snail inkstands are scarce and highly desirable. This one was made either in France or in England around 1860. A picture of a similar inkstand can be seen in Huntings' "Collector's World of Inkwells" on page 152, where it is described as being French. Another similar inkstand can be seen in Jim Marshall's "Collecting Inkwells" on page 35; this one was made in England.
Although the inkwell in Huntings' book is described as being made with milk glass snails, we believe these are porcelain. They were made to hold three colors of ink, and are designated black, blue and red on the "beak." The mechanism was designed so that if one snail is revolved to open, all three will open. Currently, the red snail opens and closes alone, while the other two open and close together. It looks as though the structure holding the snails may have been bent a little bit at some time, causing the snails to be a little bit out of synch with each other. The small dish on top would hold nibs or wax wafers. When screwed tightly, the snails are held in place. When this dish is loosened a bit, the snails can be rotated so the writer can change colors without moving the entire inkstand.
The base is cast brass. The bottom of the base is filled with some type of plaster material. It looks like at some point an owner filled in a section. My husband, Phil, badly wanted to clean the brass base, which is currently very dark with a spot or two of corrosion, but we were concerned about removing the great patina from this old piece. So... we will leave this one up to its new owner to decide... to clean or not to clean!
SIZE: The base measures just under 8" in diameter. Height is about 5".
CONDITION: This stand does show its 150 years of age in a few ways. It looks like something happened on one side; there is denting on the edge and bottom side of the base in one spot. Possibly this same damage caused the structure holding the snails to become slightly bent as described above. One of the pins holding the blue ink snail in has been replaced. There is very minor chipping on the black and blue snails where they hit the base when opened; this is more felt than seen. Otherwise the porcelain snails are in very nice condition.
This is an extremely rare inkstand that would be the prize of any collection.