The quill was used to scribe important documents in our history and was the sole writing implement up until the 19th century. I personally have incorporated the use of quills in my own novels, but never really knew much about them aside from the basics: they were used to write stuff (duh) and they came from birds (duh).

So, I did a little research to see what I could find on the quill. If you stick around long enough to read several of my posts, you’ll see that I’m a curious person who likes to research odd little things that pop into my head and then share my findings. Was that a collective cheer I heard?

At any rate, the quill…  Yes, it was made of a feather, usually that of a swan or a goose. However, the feathery part was usually completely stripped off so it actually resembled a stick rather than the full plumed sheath most people think of. I guess that’s something to consider the next time I write abut a character brushing their chin with their quill, huh? So, just a feather – sounds easy enough, right? Not so much. You couldn’t just go out, pluck a few feathers and start writing – there was a little more tweaking needed than that.  After all, this was before the 19th century and nothing was easy then.

First of all, there was the feather selection. The most wanted feathers were the largest on the wing and decreased in value as it decreased in size. I’ll refrain from a size reference here (you’re welcome). From there, the feathers were thrust into hot sand to harden the quill, otherwise it would not be hard enough to write with at all.  After the quill was hardened, the tip was cut at an angle and a nib sliced into it. A little bit of ink and you were finally ready to write.

Now, the parchment back then was not the smooth paper we are used to today (Claire Fontaine, I love your silky vellum!). It was typically made of wood pulp that ground down the delicate quill tip. A quick swipe of a blade and the qill was sharp again, but the repeated process of doing this wore it down rather quickly. On average, a quill usually only lasted about five days depending on how often it was used.

While the idea of having a quill perched in my fingertips while scratching my thoughts on thick parchment is a romantic notion, I think I’ll stick to pens that last months (assuming they don’t get lost in my purse) and a laptop that gives me the fabulous option of cut and paste (and undo).


  1. HAH! I figured out how to comment (i.e. I found the registration link).

    So, length matters, the tip matters, how it’s used matters. Nope, nothing Freudian there. XD

  2. Hot sand, huh? Never new that part. I’ve always loved the idea of writing with a quill, sounds so romantic, but like you, I’ll forego the struggles. Have enough already with edit-revise-polish. Love that you’re blogging. I’m following. Lalala!

  3. Hi – Madeline…

    I’m not so much a pen and quill girl, but I do remember my typewriter and carbon paper. 🙂

    So love my computer now.


  4. Thanks so much for swinging by my blog, ladies!! Ash, you crack me up (and I think you’re a lil onto something there…) Jay, I can’t even imagine having to edit with a quill! Lynn, I am right there with you. 🙂

  5. Ash, LOL! Yup, it’s not the size of the pen; it’s what you do with it. (Yeah, uh huh, right.) 🙂

    My brain workds too fast for pens; I need keyboards. (I type 100 wpm, so my thoughts just barely keep up with my fingers. That gets me in trouble more than I care to count.) I’d be in deep doo-doo if I lived 200 years ago.

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Madeline!!

    • Carla, I’m right there with you! Not to mention my chicken scratch writing. I would NEVER know what I wrote!! LOL Sounds like a keyboard is definitely the way to go for a 21st century author. 😉

    • Glad you liked the post 🙂 Trying to come up with a first post was harder than I thought it’d be!! So, seriously, if I finally did this, you have to join me. Just sayin 😉

  6. What a gorgeous photo! And an interesting blog as well. I seem to remember reading references to “mending my pen” — wonder if those were talking about quills or the later pens which were made of — what? Now you’ve got me contemplating a research hunt . . .

    • It’s way more romantic to think of them with full plume, not so much with stick-like quills. LOL Interesting question about Jane Austen and what she wrote with – part of me wants to guess a quill for traditionalism, the other part wants to guess pen (because aren’t we authors always looking for the latest and greatest ways to get our ideas on paper?). Thanks for stopping by!! 🙂

  7. Wow! Only five days? I think I’m with you and will stick to my pen. (My favorite is 15 years old and given to me by my groom on college graduation day.)

    Great blog!

    I’ve added you to my favorites list! 🙂

    • That’s sweet that you still have the pen your hubby gave you 🙂 (definitely a little more life in that than a quill! LOL) Thanks for adding me to your favorites list!! 🙂

  8. Love the info on quills!! Now I’ll rethink my image of Mr Darcy writing his note to Elizabeth Bennett!!!!

  9. I learn something new every day. Thanks, MMM!

    P.S. Not sure if I should be proud or scared that I’m the only dude on here?!? 😮

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