Removing Ink From Boxes


Back when I was a kid people used what were called Ink Pens or Fountain Pens. You could buy a small botlle of ink remover which actually worked to remove mistakes, smears, etc. I don’t know what was in those bottles - probably some bad stuff that is now banned in California.

Anyway, I’ve heard that there are now some new-fangled pens called Ball Point. Non-collectors like to use them to write stuff on cartridge boxes. My question - is there anything that can be used to remove their graffitti?

Anybody? And please, no jokes about me growing up before Ink Pens. Writing with charcoal was ancient history by the time I was born.




The stuff you remember may have been carbon tetrachloride. Used for “spot removal” and dry cleaning. Don’t know if it’s still generally available. They say it’s bad for your liver but probably no worse than the Bourbon I like. Back when I had to modify ink drawings, it was on linen and we used an electric eraser with a mildly abrasive stick and an eraser shield to protect the peripheral areas. Ball point ink may be impressed and hard to get to that way and it may not be kind to your collectable boxes anyway. Check out this product: Never used it and it’s for India ink, but it might be worth a shot.




Good old Google suggests that methylated spirits will do the job…and it should be fairly easy to get hold of.



Thanks Dave & Jim

I’ll try the methylated spirits. Does anyone know how much I should drink to make those ink stains disappear?



Ray, don’t know how much methylated spirits is required but a good water glass of distiled extract of corn should do the job too… at least for a few hours.


It’s simple,you drink til you can’t see the writing.


Dave…You are showing your age when you describe working with India Ink on cloth…!!!..I also, changed “by hand” ink drawings about a zillion times…all cad now…but we used to do the patent stuff in ink on Bristol Board…

Ray…The electric eraser works wonders on ink…India or Ballpoint, on boxes…especially on the parts with no labels…also works on labels but one has to be quite careful…i.e…no ethyl spirits before hand…!!!




Good luck with whatever you try. The thing I would fear with the solvent technique would be leaving a faint but larger mark on the cardboard but some practice runs on a test item may show you can blot it all off.

If you want to try the mechanical process, I have an electric eraser around somewhere that could find its way west perhaps in the interest of “collector box enhancement”. PM me if you’re motiviated to give it a shot.

Always thought “methylating” (adding methyl alcohol to ethyl alcohol), also known as “denaturing”, was an awful thing to do to perfectly good liquor just to get around some stupid tax stamp. There was a purpose to the Whiskey Rebellion. (And no, Randy, I wasn’t around for that…)



Thanks again everyone.

I think I’ll first try the alcohol. On the ink that is.

I’m leery of the electric eraser because most old boxes had thin paper labels and many of them are brittle with age. I know a guy who is/was a draftsman and I’m sure I can borrow an eraser and shield from him.

I still wonder why some people find it necessary to write their name on everything they own. I mean - that box of 30-06 belongs to Fred, he has it locked in his gun cabinet, and yet he gets out the ball point and writes "[color=#0000BF]Fred"[/color] on it. Maybe Fred is an ex-GI and can’t break the habit of marking everything from his skivvies to his parka. Or maybe he’s like the dog peeing on the tree.

And, why do most (some collectors included) just have to open the box to see what’s inside? It’s clearly marked on the outside and yet they can’t resist destroying the box to see for themselves.



Yea. Fred’s an idiot. Never did like him.


[quote=“RayMeketa”]Thanks Dave & Jim

I’ll try the methylated spirits. Does anyone know how much I should drink to make those ink stains disappear?


Ray drink enough meths and everything will disappear.



And, why do most (some collectors included) just have to open the box to see what’s inside? It’s clearly marked on the outside and yet they can’t resist destroying the box to see for themselves.


Simple answer; because they have no clue what the writing on a box is meaning and because (some collectors included) people have to stare at items and fondle them since they are no researchers but accumulators.

But there is more:

  • Dealers often do for obvious reasons
  • Sometimes even for serious collectors it makes no sense to have a sealed box full of scarce cartridges, basically the box and 1 or 2 cartridges will do for the research.


An old collector once said to me, “Keeping a cartridge without pulling the bullet is like owning a car but never lifting the bonnet to look at the engine, and keeping cartridges in an unopened box is like owning a rare car but never seeing it because the garage door is permanently locked”!

John E


Re: why open a sealed box?
Having been chastised for using up(as in shooting) some “collector” ammo in the distant past, I’ll try and add an “accumulator’s” take on the topic.
Ignorance is bliss. Who’da thunk when I sent a couple thousand rounds thru a mini-gun that 10 years hence I’d wished I had those bullets back. I did keep the bandoleers, some of which are available to acquire on a very well known site frequented by many here. At least I have that going for me. Infamy.
I joke with a couple of other collector/accumulators about the details some go to in their “research”. Lord knows I appreciate the efforts and the resultant info. But I just ain’t one of those guys. I accumulate things in a wide range of fields, SAA and ord being but two areas of interest. Realistically, ain’t no way I’ve got the time or inclination for research much beyond a positive ID. Not that I don’t care who the loader and what assembly line produced a particular box in 1942, to me it’s just another display item that is cool to look at. Not sure as that’s a bad thing. It’s being preserved, at least. So, to all you accumulators out there, and you know who you are, don’t go openin’ up ammo boxes! There’s some other rules, too, but that’s #1. #2 is DON’T WRITE ON IT! At least not the ones you send to Ray.



I open ammunition boxes all the time, including sealed ones, old ones, scarce ones. There is ab solutely no scholarly reason for keeping a box full - nothing is learned from a full box that is not learned from a box with one original round still in it, unless the box was packed with mixed lots or headstamps. I subscribed to the notion that it is somehow a sin or dumb to open boxes, a lot of collections would have fewer good rounds in them, including mine, probably. I would have 16 rounds of German 9mm WWII Stahlhelmabnahme Patronen (Steel helmet test loades with yellow lacquered case mouth and primer seals) and 14 other collections would have not have them. But wow, I could say I have a full box! Sorry, can’t see the sense to it. If one keeps them just so they can sell them later at a big price to someone else who thinks a full box is the cat’s meow, that’s o.k. We each approach collecting in our way.

Further, you have a nice old box, full to the gills and never opened. Oops! Dropped it on the concrete floor. Now I have the remains of a full box, split at every joint, that I can glue back together. But that’s o.k., I didn’t open that sealed box myself (least you laugh, guys, this happened to me with a beautiful full box of old Winchester 44 WCF I had with one of my 73 Winchesters. Now no one has it. It was so split and torn, I threw the remains away as I recall.

If I drop one of my boxes with one round in it, I bend over and pick it up, dust it off, and put it back in my cabinet unharmed.

I won’t say I’m sorry. If I get another full, old, rare box tomorrow and want to examine the cartridges in it to learn something about them, or simply to pass them around to my collector friends, I will get out the razor blade in a split second and start cutting!

By the way, you never know when you will find something in a full sealed box that by everything the label says, shouldn’t be in there. Not that it was an important find for rarity, but I identified a Greek clandestine headstamp years ago because there was one miixed in with standard Greek headstamps (identical cartridge characteristics) of the same date in the box.

Don’t bother to nail me to the cross on this answer. It won’t change my mind about doing what I do, or of the lack of any necessity in the study of ammunition to keep a box full.

John Moss


I am particulary interested in, although I do not collect, the British big game cartridges. Many sealed boxes of this ammunition turn up at auctions mainly because the original rifles were seldom fired. Also they were packed it fives which means there were lots of small boxes rather than one big one. So more survive unopened.

It would drive me mad to own a box of these beautiful cartridges and not be able look at them. But thats what collectors do.

It would be like marrying a beautiful woman and insisting she kept her clothes on.


I’ve tried to resist posting on this thread and couldn’t, so here goes!

Ray, I basically agree with John Moss-as much as I hate to say that since our disagreements are a lot more fun. Neither you nor I nor anyone else always know what is in a box by looking at it. A very ordinary German WWII 16rd box showed up—nothing unusual about it at all-a $10-$15 item ($45 on Gun Broker with no bids). Inside the cartridges were headstamped va (at 12) and 5 (at 6) with no other markings. No question of a broken bunter. Clearly an intended headstamp-probably for an internal test or for the plant guards or who knows. If people didn’t open boxes, we would have never known-worse, it may have gone to a shooter and passed down the barrel of a pistol. Another is the XM256E1 box I pictured in a seperate thread. Here the handwritten lot meant something, but I suspect we would have never known what without opening the box.

I’ve found screwy headstamps mixed in boxes where they shouldn’t be, ammo that is different from the label, and all sorts of stuff. Frequently with pre-WWII commercial (and some military) ammo, I have no idea what the headstamp is until I open the box. Bottom line for the guys who dig through my old boxes when I’m gone, don’t expect a lot of sealed boxes.

Having said all this—probably too much—it is up to the individual who owns the box or who owns the cartridge whether he opens it or takes it apart. I like stuff from accumulators cause they are preserving lots of “stuff” for me (or John or somebody) to open. Good on you Rick!

Ray, if you want to keep sealed boxes, That is great cause it preserves them for the future, but more important it is how you want to collect.

There are collectors who refill partial or empty boxes-which is OK, but they should put a note in them that they are refilled because they can’t (and don’t) always get them correct. Matching the headstamp (date & lot) in a WWII German box does not match the load lot or the bullet, powder or primer date and lot. Without a note in the box indicating it is a repack it can be misleading. This is particulaly true since some collectors carefully reseal the box after refilling. Carefully opening can sometimes show that it has been resealed, but sometimes not.

Me, I like research so open the boxes and look through them!!! Satisfies my “need to know”. We are all different which is why the world is fun.




Lew & Others

I have opened sealed boxes on more than one occasion, and pulled bullets too. It is always to determine what exactly is in the box or to determine exactly what the bullet and powder charge is. Like Lew, I have discovered some real surprises inside, surprises that led to research and possibly more boxes being opened. So I am curious more than I am a purist.

But, there are ways to open a box, inspect the contents, and re-seal the box without damaging anything in the process. My issue is with those who will take a knife to a box-top or paper over-label. Almost as bad are those who will partially tear open one corner of a box.

I suspect that box-openers are not doing their dirty deed in the interest of research (sorry Rick) but out of curiosity and, I almost hesitate to say this, greed. They certainly don’t want to sell that box of common 30-06 if it happens to contain a headstamp error so they look to make sure.

My particular peeve is with those whose curiosity has no bounds. I recently found a shooter who had 5 boxes of pristine T291 National Match cartridges, with double-overlabels, that had come from a sealed ammo can. If they had been mine I probably would have carefully opened one box to verify the contents, but this idiot had cut the tops off of all five boxes! Plus, he threw the tops in the trash! They were his property and he had every right to do that but even he admitted that he may have gone too far.

I have to admit that I don’t like sealed boxes without having at least one or two loose specimens to see, and even section. But, with a little patience they eventually show up.

In the end though, it’s your box or your cartridge and you can what you want. I will too.

Back to my initial post, I have sympathy for Fred who feels a need to mark his property. He probably has a six-foot high fence around his house too. Oooops! did I open another can-o-worms?

And Vince - that pretty girl is somebody’s sister or daughter. Maybe yours. I have six daughters and my sons-in-law had better not be unwrapping them. ;) ;)



Wow! 6 daughters. That explains alot.


Ray, You and I are on the same page. I got to admit that there are boxes I have never opened-like a mint box of UMC 9mmP date coded on the bottom 1910. This round was produced for such a short time and I have never seen any variations in it, so I decided there were no questions to answer and the box stayed sealed. Same story on an extremely early box of REM-UMC 9mmP.

As for Fred who writes all over his boxes, or the guy who cut the top off the sealed boxes and throws them away-perhaps someone can recommen something to remove them instead of only removing ink—just kidding.

I will share a story with you though. Earlier I posted a photo of a Precision Ammo headstamp I was after. Three days ago, I tracked some down in a range in Las Vegas that rents machine guns and sells you ammo to shoot them with. They go through a LOT of ammo in a day, and on two earlier occasions, I know they burnt through the last known remaining stock of some rare US headstamps. One was the SINTERFIRE 9mm and the other was the ICC-NTF headstamp I posted. Since the P-A stuff was pretty current, I called they three days ago and sure enough they had some. But I could only buy it by coming in. With John Moss’ help, I located a collector in Las Vegas and though he was heading out of town the next morning he agreed to pass by the range and pick up a couple of boxes of the P-A Copper Matrix ammo in 9mm. The next morning he called to tell me he was in the store, and they had just shot the last of it the previous night, swept up all the brass and boxes and trucked it to the scrap guy. Not only no ammo, but not even an empty box and a couple of fired cases!!! The guy at the range wouldn’t even put a couple of boxes aside, and I offered to pay him to put them aside until I could locate someone to pass by, or until I was out there in about 5 weeks!

We are in a hobby that many involved in guns and ammo think is crazy, and have zero time for. I have learned to appreciate those who will go out of there way to find something for us—My SINTERFIRE 9mm finally came from a guy walking through the engineering office until he found a guy who had one in his desk!