An inkstand is a stand used to store pens and other writing instruments. Inkstands were originally called standishes and they were first introduced to England in the early 17th century. During this time silversmiths made attractive looking inkstands and they became quickly became popular.
Silver inkstands made during the 17th century looked like large plain rectangular boxes. They had two flat covers and a handle in the middle. One example dated 1685 can be found at Her Majesty's Treasury. As time went on, the styles changed. A casket type was introduced in the 18th century and these types often contained a drawer to hold sealing wax.
Throughout the 18th century the most common style was that of a rectangular tray with containers for ink, sand, and wafers. There was one variation which had a hand bell that covered the wafer box in the center of the inkstand. This hand bell was used to summon over a servant when a letter was ready to be sent out. This bell was later replaced by a taperstick.
Styles changed even more during the George III era (r. 1760-1801). During this period, glass containers with silver tops were fitted on the base of the tray. One container was pierced with holes in order to store pens that weren't being used. Another container had smaller holes in order to be used as a sandcaster for drying ink. A third container held the ink.
Steel pens were introduced around 1805 but they weren't used much until years later. For this reason, it's not uncommon to find 19th century inkstands fitted with quill holders and sandboxes.
Antique silver inkstands are rare and they can sell for hundreds of dollars. Some early pieces can sell for over $1,000. Most antique silver plated pieces will sell for over $100.
If you're looking to buy one of these antiques then it's best to look for pieces that are marked with the type of silver (sterling, etc) and manufacturer. This is because over time parts of the inkwell could have been replaced. In addition, snuffer stands have been converted into inkstands by adding wells. The value of any piece decreases when parts of it get added, lost, or replaced.
The Book of Old Silver