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Writing Quills

Characteristics of writing quills of the Georgian era

Our Georgian era heroes and heroines would have written with a nib-less quill, the tip trimmed to a point. Metal nibs were not used with any frequency until the late 1820s since their first iterations made the writing difficult to read, and the ink corroded the metal.

To ink a quill, dip the tip into the inkpot. It’s important not to overfill the tube. Move swiftly from inkpot to paper and begin writing. Want to sit and think? Hover the quill over the inkpot so the ink leaks back into the pot rather than all over the paper. One dab in the inkpot will get about one line of writing before needing to rewet the quill.

To write one letter, it would take about four quills since the ink softened the shaft beyond use. To keep using a softened tip would destroy the quill. It was important to have several quills at the ready to swap out for continuous writing while allowing the ink-soaked quill(s) to dry and stiffen for future use.

A few points to preserve the quill: (1) soften hard writing surfaces with felt; (2) angle the hand so the tip does not scratch against the paper. The linked JASNA article has great info about this!

Quill tips do not wear down as we might think, rather they soften when wet. If allowed to dry, a quill will last about a week before wearing down. As inexpensive as quills were in the Georgian era, it was easy to discard and grab a new one, but one could trim for extended usage until they ran out of shaft to trim. That said, mending with the pen knife to reshape a dull point is quick and easy, but cutting to reshape the nib is not—skill and expertise is needed.

Inexpensive, ready-made quills were available for purchase at the bookshop or by travelling salesmen. The more rural the area, the more likely it was writing implements would be homemade rather than purchased, but if a market town were nearby, all could be purchased with ease.

The JASNA article:

Robert Hurford, "Handwriting in the Time of Jane Austen," Persuasions, vol 3, no 1, 2009

Golden Romance Research: Writing Implements

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