The A to Z Challenge – Q for Quills & Pens #atozchallenge

It’s time for the A to Z Challenge! Hello and welcome to my main blog. My name is Rose Anderson and I’m a novelist. Join me and nearly 2000 bloggers and authors as we blog the alphabet throughout the month of April. It’s not as easy as you might think. There’s a reason Q and Z are worth 10 points in Scrabble!

For me, this year’s alphabet will be about history and historical science– things that tickle my fancy or capture my imagination. I hope you will find them interesting too.

Keep the topic rolling! If you’ve enjoyed the today’s offering and have comments or questions, add them at the end of the post in the comment section. And…if you enjoy romances with unique twists, a good deal of steam, facts, and characters full of personality and depth, scroll down for a free chapter sampler. I love to make the impossible sound plausible. Suffice to say, I have an unusual mind.


QToday’s Calliope’s Writing Tablet post is brought to you by the letter Q ~ Quills & Pens

My family was involved with living history for more than twenty-five years. Just about every weekend when our kids were young, we’d pack up our gear and go live rough in recreated time periods. For us this included museums, historical societies, assorted dedications, and history fairs and events that spanned 1670 to 1850. If you’re familiar with the living history at Colonial Williamsburg, this was us. We mainly used our love of history to teach the early natural sciences to an interested public. This hands-on lifestyle immersed us in the common modes and accoutrements of those historic eras.  It was during this time I discovered quill pens.

On Writing…

Man has been tallying numbers and writing lettersX4down thoughts for a good long while. The earliest writing found so far is on cuneiform tablets from Sumeria dated to around 3200 B.C.E. Sometime in the years that followed, linen, papyrus, bamboo paper, and parchment became man’s portable page and ink writing as we know it began. (I’ll save those details for letter P or W in a future A to Z Challenge.)

I suppose were we to delve into the origins of the pen, we’d find the stylus first. The stylus was basically a pointed implement held in the hand. The Sumerians used it on their clay tablets and the Romans used it on their tablets of wax. Any pointed instrument did the trick. It doesn’t stretch the mind too far to imagine a stylus dipped in ink. Quill pens came on the scene about 600 A.D. and held a 1200 year popularity as the pen of choice.

Feather ContourAnatomy of a quill

Feathers are follicles–this hollow stiff barrel of a bird’s feather is built for flight. Another name for quill is Calamus from the Greek kálamos = reed.  Since 1800, goose feathers, being readily available in most farmyards, were the principal source of quills. The ideal quill for size and sturdiness came from the more expensive swan feather. Eagle, owl, hawk, and turkey were also used. Quills from crows were better for fine delicate writing, but weren’t as sturdy.

No matter the donor, the strongest quills come from living birds just after their spring molt when feather growth was new and structurally strong enough to fly with. Only the five outer wing feathers make suitable quills for writing– of these the second and third from the left wing were the most desirable because they curve out of the way for a right-handed writer. Smaller tips on smaller feathers couldn’t hold as much ink in a single dip. In my personal experience I could write about ten words with a goose or turkey quill before dipping again into the ink pot.

The metal pen point was patented in 1803 but was slow to catch on. My husband has a rare mother-of-pearl pen from about 1815 and could only manage about six words before dipping. With all the extra dips required, it was no wonder the metal nibs took a while to turn people’s minds in their favor. Steel nib pens came into common use in the 1830s. By the 1900s they replaced quill pens completely. I just might save F for Fountain Pen for next year’s A to Z.


Make your own ink

How to write with a quill

A vintage film on the history of writing – very interesting.

The evolution of the pen

Growing Up Parker: My Life in Pens by Geoffrey Parker interesting Smithsonian presentation from the Parker Pen heir

Stylus, Quill and Pen: The Short History on Writing Instruments

Tomorrow~ letter R!

My Other Happenings~

Weekend Writing Warriors

There’s still time to enjoy my wild foods recipes on my other blog
Scroll back for all ten. Yum!

My Sexy Saturday

An author’s promo op for you too.


RB4U purpleFantastic authors & industry representatives all month long.

Romance Books ‘4’ Us

check out our promo services.
And…Our April contest is on. We have prizes!


Attention Authors~ My Exquisite Quills blog hosts five fun and free b1e43-eqpicpromo opportunities a week. I’m delighted to say it’s a hot spot with great exposure. Come join in!


Love Waits in Unexpected Places –
Scorching Samplings of Unusual Love Stories

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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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2 Responses to The A to Z Challenge – Q for Quills & Pens #atozchallenge

  1. treknray says:

    I am going to have to read this one to my great granddaughter. She will be interested in the quill description.

    Now instead of clay tablets we use our styluses on glass and plastic tablets.

    I love Colonial Williamsburg. I once got to go into one of the homes. The William & Mary professor my son was talking to about original documents about his mother’s ancestry told us he lived in the house for rent free as long as he kept up the maintenance. The inside is as traditional Williamsburg as the outside.

    The first time I went was after church when I arrived in the area. I went with two members of the local congregation. We saw a fenced in bull as we were walking. A little girl decided she wanted to share her apple with the bull. She threw it at the bull and scared us even though she didn’t throw far enough to excite the bull.

  2. I’m visiting from the A to Z Road Trip. I picked out this post as I am interested in the history of writing. The small number of suitable quills was news to me. Worth reading for that among all the other fascinating information.
    The Road Trip has been organised in previous years. This is my third, but I didn’t put enough effort in previously. Hopefully I’ll remember to visit at least one blog a day this time. Sue

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