Austen Authors November 14, 2016: Quill Pens

The day this blog entry posts, I will be in Arizona, visiting my aunt and recovering from another race day. And yes, I took my 70-year-old aunt to her first NASCAR race. 😉   In preparation for my trip, I needed to decide what to take with me: my laptop and my tablet or just my tablet. I have become so used to using technology to record my thoughts and stories, that I can’t imagine dragging a bulky notebook and pens and pencils with me. I got to thinking about how Jane Austen would have written when she travelled. There were many aspects to this topic I could talk about, but I decided to limit myself to quill pens.  


Photo courtesy of Random Bits of Fascination blog

I have read that steel pens or nibs were available in Jane’s time, but that they were expensive and most folks stuck with regular quill pens. The quills came from the flight feathers of geese, swans, and crows, and the one you choose to use depends partly on how finely you choose to write. Today, of course, we can buy fine-point pens and medium-point ones.   You can’t just pluck a feather off a goose and write with it. The feather has to be from a specific area of the bird—the ends of their wings. Once plucked, its shaft has to be stuck into hot sand, to make its outer membrane come off and to shrivel up its insides. There is a vascular membrane inside each feather and it gets pulled out after it dries up. The hot sand also makes the shaft hard and transparent. Sometimes that would be all the prep a pen got, but sometimes they were treated with a substance that gave them a uniform color, but made them brittle.    


Photo courtesy of Random Bits of Fascination blog

I was unable to visualize the process of giving the quill a writing tip, so I’m not certain I can describe it, but I know that they cut the tip off at an angle, and then made a slit in the barrel of the quill. They cut away the corners on each side of the slit, and made another cut to the nib to thin it down. At that point, you have yourself a pen. There were guys who did this for a living…cutting pens.   I very much would like to learn to write with a quill pen, or at least try once. In the meantime, I’ll stick with my laptop and tablet. 🙂    


Photo courtesy of Jane Austen’s World



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