On Ink Colours

By LPC Member Stan

On ink colours,  the chiefs of British intelligence and armed services use green ink – part of a mostly forgotten hierarchical system. A few weeks ago, when  the British Chief of Intelligence went to see U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta, he was asked to sign the visitors’ book.  He brushed aside the pen that was offered and whipped out his own fountain pen with the essential green ink. The British Foreign Secretary uses red ink.

I remember hearing various prelates within the Church have a preference for specific ink colours, e.g., Cardinals write with red ink.  I  have no idea if this is true.

The literature on this topic is scant and of questionable  reliability.   I’d love to hear from anyone who has authoritative (or anecdotal) information on this topic.

Editor’s note:

Some additional items that I think that might be relevant to your post, as follows:
  1. An interesting blog post with a number of great references – Green Ink: The colour of eccentrics and spooks
  2. Another one, although there is some common information – MI6 Head’s Ink British Secret Intelligence Service’s Head uses Green Ink
  3. On page 14 of “The Foreign Office and British diplomacy in the twentieth century” by Gaynor Johnson, the author describes how Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin (c.1945-1951) wrote out his decisions in red ink – the only ink allowed in the Foreign Office.
  4. While I could not find any references to specific ink colours used by the church, I did find that several references to purple being the colour of royalty, in this particular case, the suggestion is that the colour is actually Tyrian Purple – History, Shellfish, Royalty, and the Color Purple
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5 thoughts on “On Ink Colours

  1. Very interesting topic, Stan! Sorry I can’t add much to the discussion but I do recall an interesting anecdote about ink choice in hospitals. Apparently, doctors and nurses charting patient hospital notes used to use 3 different ink colours (black, green, and red) depending on which 8-hour shift they worked.

  2. Interesting, I’ve never heard of that – and I’ve been hanging around varied and diverse hospitals for half a century! I’ll have to look into that.
    Nowadays, of course everything is computerized. and at last doctors writing can be deciphered! St

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