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A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A to Z: Q is for Quill Pen

How do we set down a story for posterity?

Early man recorded his stories by carving, chiseling, and painting on rocks and on cave walls-- immobile objects. Moving forward in time, pictographs wedged into wet clay, were replaced with the earliest instrument similar to a modern pen. A sharp stylus made of bone, ivory, or metal was used to scribe a wax coated clay surface. This allowed finer "writing" and developed along with an early alphabet around 1700-1500 BC. 

The Chinese invented "Indian Ink", a mixture of soot from pine smoke and lamp oil mixed with musk and the gelatin of donkey skin.

Along with development in ink, the method to deliver the ink onto the writing surface--a quill evolved, and the writing surface itself, evolved to the earliest paper. 

Papyrus and parchment papers came into use, along with reed pens and bamboo pens. Hollow plants were used to produce a fine script using ink. 

The time span of the quill pen ,over one thousand years, dominated that of all other writing instruments. Made from a bird feather, it was introduced around 700 A.D. And not just any bird feathers were used. For the strongest quill, it was a feather taken from a living bird, in the spring.   Preferred were the five outer left wing feathers. The left wing was favored because the feathers curved outward and away when used by a right-handed writer. Hmm...left-hand and right-hand pens...

Goose feathers were the most common, and swan feathers were the best--and most costly. For making fine lines (gasp! Monica Enderle Pierce!) crow feathers were preferred, and then came the feathers of eagles, owls, hawks, and turkeys. 
Quill pens lasted for only a week, then had to be replaced. 

Interesting tidbit: The writer needed an especially small knife to sharpen the quill. (origins of the term "pen-knife".)

All in all, it's interesting--and like most connected things, the improved means to set down a story showed that the  paint or ink, the delivery method, and the surface on which the story was set all evolved together, relative to each other as need necessitated. Perhaps necessity truly is the mother of invention.

I wonder if keyboards will be included in this history?  

Visit other  April Blogging from A to Z Challenge by clicking here. 





  1. We have the convenience of typewriter, word processors and computers yet there is something about quills and ink pots that is f fascinating. I think it is romantic and dramatic.
    One of the blogs I follow is called Ink pots and quill.blogspot.com.

  2. Very fascinating! It's amazing to think of how far we've come. :)
    Where Legends Begin

  3. I bless my computer every time I have to write something. When we were in Egypt we had a demonstration of how papyrus is made. And I remember typing my husband's thesis on a typewriter where you had to re do the whole page if one error.

  4. testing: A Scenic Route but replace the [ with a < and the ] with a >

  5. Thanks for this fascinating history, Teresa! ☺ I did not know the origins for the word "penknife", until now.
    Debbie @ The Doglady's Den

  6. That is so interesting Teresa - I'd never thought about the pen-knife before.
    This has been a really enjoyable challenge - I'm away on holidays, sort of, this week but had to pre write nearly a week's worth - a hard slog - so hopefully I'll be able to get an internet connection to do some tweaking, reading and visiting of others. Here's to the home stretch lol
    Fil at Fil's Place - Old Songs and Memories

  7. Interesting. Learned something new today - the origins of the pen-knife.

    Dropping by from AtoZ
    Suzy at Someday Somewhere