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Facts About the Quill Pen
Historical records do not pinpoint a specific inventor of the quill pen. However, it is thought that the quill pen was created out of necessity by scribes who wrote and illustrated the pages of manuscripts, some of which were works of art. The quill pens they made had a short span of useful life, lasting approximately one week. The scribes' patient labors---continually making new pens and using them with such distinction---makes the history of the quill pen all the more remarkable
The quill pen apparently came into use around 700 A.D. and remained the writing instrument of choice for about 1,000 years thereafter.
The word "pen" derives from the Latin "penna," which means "feather." This is a likely reference to the geese or swan feathers that were used to make quill pens. Similarly, "pen knife" comes from the knife used to cut the quill.
No two quill pens are alike, because of differences in the quill wing shafts and the carving skills of the makers. The quill nibs were sharpened to a very fine point. Ink traveled to the nibs through slits cut into the wing shafts.
The quill pen was used to write the Magna Carta, the historic document that defined the rule of law in England, which was written in 1297 (see References).
In the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were also written with quill pens. President Abraham Lincoln was known to favor eagle quill pens (see Resources).
There is a protocol to using the quill pen. It requires a lighter hand, and the quill must be held at a slant. It should also be thoroughly cleaned after each use, particularly the nib, which can be washed in warm, soapy water, rinsed thoroughly and left to dry before the next use.
Feather Pen Crafts
Everyone uses pens. Pens have been around for thousands of years in one form or another, and quill pens are among the most familiar. Quill pens were made from long, sturdy feather quills and dipped in ink for writing. Today, gift shops sell them as novelties and people make them for history projects and plays that take place in the past. Some pens even look like "modern quills," with brightly colored feathers decorating the ends of the pens rather than serving as the pens themselves. There are several such feather and pen crafts that adults and children can create
The History of the Feather Pen
Today, we take pens for granted as they are readily available. Historically, pens were not available to every citizen. Quill pens, made from feathers, were the most common type of pen throughout much of recorded history. Making a quill pen was an involved process that required a certain skill level. Modern pens work using a similar principle as the original feather pen
According to the Historic America website, the quill pen originated in the seventh century as an alternative to the reed pen. In fact, the word pen is derived from the Latin word "penna," which means feather. Feather pens remained in fashion for hundreds of years and their use was widespread throughout the world. According to the Link Roll website, swan, goose and turkey feathers were the most commonly used feathers to make pens. These feathers feature large capillaries, allowing ink to flow more freely and making writing easier.
Historical Works Written
Feather pens were used to write some of the most well-known, historical documents, according to Historic America. The Bible and Magna Carta were most likely penned using the quill. All of the documents associated with early American history were scribed using a feather pen. The Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution were written using this tool. In addition to important historical documents, feather pens helped compose love letters, birth and death records and even shopping lists.
Historic America states that the best feather pens were made from the flight feathers of a goose. However, not every goose feather was appropriate for pen making. In fact, some geese only produced one to three useful feathers. Once a feather was obtained, the tip had to be fastened into a sharp point which could be dipped in ink. The shaft of the feather also had to be carved. The carving process was not exact and each pen differed slightly from others. Goose feathers were well received because they were flexible and helped users write smoothly.
Using a Quill Pen
A feather pen features a sharp point known as the nib, which is similar to the point on a modern pen. Above the nib, a small slit is cut in the shaft of the pen. This slit allows ink to travel from the shaft of the pen into the nib. A users had to tilt her hand and write at an angle in order for ink to properly flow. Quill pens did not last very long and were replaced about every seven days. In order to help keep a quill pen working well, users should clean ink from the nib with warm water. Submerging the entire feather in warm water will help it return to its shape.
Eventually, metal nibs were fashioned for the quill pen, which helped improve the pens' quality. Quill pens led the way to modern fountain pens. Today, quill pens are still in use. According to the Continental Feathers website, calligraphers and collectors purchase quills for creative uses. Many specialty stores stock goose feathers for crafters who are interested in making feather pens.