When the Roman Empire fell, it becamedifficult for religious scribes to get their hands on top quality reeds. Someone noticed that the quill of a goose feather was similar to the stylus reed, and then learned how to shape the hollow end of the feather to serve as a writing utensil. The word "pen" actually comes from the Latin word penna, meaning feather. An early reference to a quill pen appears in the seventh century A.D., in writings by the Spanish theologian Saint Isidore of Seville, who published one of the first encyclopedias. The Europeans found that writing on parchment with a quill pen altered the style of their writing: at first they used capital letters all the time, but later they developed faster styles with small letters. Can you think of a "fast" style of writing?

The writing quill remained the preeminent writing instrument for most of the Western World for over a thousand years. Early scribes wrote and decorated the pages of their manuscripts, including the Bible, with the quill pen. During the Civil War, twelve quills were issued every quarter as part of the normal stationery issue, showing that a quill was expected to last about a week in normal use. After the invention of the metal nib, quills were still habitually used as a matter of choice for many because of their flexibility and writing excellence.

When quills are plucked, the shaft (or barrel) is covered with a membranous skin resulting from the decay of a kind of enveloping sheath. The interior membrane resulting from internal decay also sticks to the barrel. The feather’s shaft is itself opaque, soft, and tough. Quills are hardened by plunging the tip into hot sand after cutting them, as the heat cracks the external membrane and shrivels the internal membrane-- both of which are then scraped away from the hardened barrel. For the finest quills the heating is repeated two or three times. Otherwise the pen can be stood in boiling water to soften the membranes for removal. Other finishing processes involved hardening in acids or alum.

For a step-by-step demonstration of how to prepare a feather as a quill, visit http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/tools/quill.htm

Writing tools, whether ancient or modern, fall into one of two categories: ones that scratch, or ones that stain. In which category is the quill pen?