Alphabe Thursday … P is for Pen
The pen is one of our most useful instruments of expression; to share knowledge and in the the shaping of the letters. Before or after the advent of printing no tool has been more important than the pen.
One of the first writing ‘papers’ used by the Egyptians was Juncus maritimus a rush plant which grows in marshy areas almost anywhere in the world including England. The ink used by the first scribes was made from soot or charcoal mixed with gum and water and shaped into a cake to fit a writing palette.
The pen made from the same rush plant was firm and of varying thickness some as narrow as 1/16th of an inch. The rush stem could be used in different ways. First as a brush with one end bruised so the fibres spread. Secondly for adding colour the drawing end was sharpened to point without a slit to give a line of equal thickness either way. Thirdly, and most important as a pen, which was cut at an angle to give a regular writing edge.
Later in about 600 BC the Egyptians were using a hollow stemmed reed, Phragmites aegyptiaca, cut with a slit much like a modern broad-edged quill.
In about 190 BC when the papyrus was replaced with vellum and parchment as a writing material. Then came the quill pen made from the large flight feathers of a bird, which was a similar shape to the reed and had a hollow barrel.
So while the quill became the primary instrument for writing in Europe, the reed continued to be used for certain letter forms, such as Greek cursive script.
There were attempts to produce a metal pen of bronze, copper, silver, gold and bone during the 18th century but none replaced the feather quill.
Metal pens were first manufactured in England at the beginning of the 19th century. While craftsmen would not consider using a metal pen on vellum and parchment, the ‘modern’ pens proved invaluable for the scribe or calligrapher when he undertook specialist projects such as posters, notices, memorandum and correspondence when cost, speed and time were very important.