In the 1200s, especially in Europe, the quill pen began to replace the reed pen which had been in use for over 1000 years. Quill pens were often made from the feathers of geese, swans, and turkeys. The best pens were made from flight feathers.
The quill pen was a great improvement over the reed pen. It was much more durable and held the ink better. Unlike the reed pen, which produced a strong line with a pattern of broadening and narrowing, the quill pen could be used to produce a much more consistent and finer line.
The thickness of the writing produced by a quill pen was determined by how broad or thin the pen tip or nib was cut. The nib would be cut to a point and then the tip split. This allowed the ink to flow to the point when light pressure was applied. The tips of quill pens wore out with use and would have to be periodically sharpened or recut.
The introduction of the metal pen in the 1840s marked the beginning of the end for quill pens. The new metal stamping technology of the Industrial Revolution allowed metal pens to be made quickly and in large numbers inexpensively. The metal pens were very popular. For they were both durable and easily affordable. Quill pens however, continued to be used and were still being mass produced into the early 1900s.
The following photographs show how quill pens were manufactured in England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The shafts of the quills were first hardened by heating them.
The quils were next examined. Any defective quills were discarded. The remaining quills were then sorted into groups based on size and intended use.
A Skilled and experienced cutter could produce a finished pen in seconds with a few quick strokes of a sharp knife. The cutting process not only included cutting the pen tips but, in some cases, the feather barbs would be trimmed or shaped as well.
The finished quill pens were tied into bundles
and were now ready for sale to shops.
An assortment of quill pens.
This article has been adapted from and the accompaning photographs taken from:
- "How men learned to write" Mee, Authur and Holland Thompson, Ph.D. (Editors-in-chief), The Book of Knowledge The Grolier Society, New York (1912) Vol. 11, pages 3399-3406. [photographs from page 3401]
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