If you look to your left or right, there is probably one near you. However, nobody really thinks about pens unless they need one. But this tool has a long history and some of the things we found out about how we got to the ones we have today may surprise you.
Man, has been trying to record who he is and what he has done on everything from cave walls to clay tablets for over 5000 years. But not until the romans started trying different forms of writing was the development of pens, or some sort of writing instrument invented.
How Did It All Begin?
The Egyptians, known for some of the most beautifully detailed hieroglyphics in the world, were the first to come up with something similar to paper. It was named papyrus, and it was soft so it couldn’t be scratched with the metal stylus type instruments that were floating around at the time to use for writing. The reeds/bamboo that grew among the marsh lands were used as writing instruments for the soft papyrus.
The Romans customized little metal stylus writing instruments that they used to write on sheets of wax. Who knew? This was a good way to be able to erase the writings off the soft wax and start over. They used the flat end of the stylus to rub out the writing like today’s erasers are used on the ends of pencils
Then came the Europeans that realized you could use bird feathers to write text and create beautiful artwork on pieces of parchment. Calligraphers still utilize this art form down to this day.
In those early days, the following birds were important to the people who recorded our history and wrote stories:
- Goose feathers were the main instrument when man started using quills (feather pens) to write.
- Swan feathers were rarer to find and more expensive, but they were preferred
- Crow feathers however, made the best fine lines and were the best used by writers.
Other birds were used for their feathers but these three were preferred for their feathers structure.
These quills first appeared in man’s writing history in Seville Spain around 600 A.D. and were used till about 1800. There was no record of who exactly decided that it was a great idea to put a feather into ink and write with it, but quills were used to write such great works as the Magna Carter and the American Declaration of Independence.
It’s interesting to know that the feathers used were usually from the left wings of the birds so that right handed folks could have them flow to the right out of their sight-line.
Disadvantages of using the quills was that they only lasted a week, and then had to be replaced. This was time consuming and if it was the type of quill that did not have a ink-well type connection to it, it was harder to use because it flowed sloppily onto the paper.
The use of lead for pencils was used in France and Australia around the same time quills were being used.
Man Moves Forward
Although there are several inventors that developed nubs (the end points for quills) to form the first fountain pens, they did not commercialize them or patent them. The first known patent for the fountain pen was documented by the Romanians in 1827. The inventor was Petrache Poenaru. His fountain pen included a large swan quill that held ink that flowed into the nib.
Most people think that Lewis Waterman, the guy who founded the Watermen pens, was the creator of the fountain pen, but he was only an inventor that improved on an already existing idea.
Earlier ideas that were built did not get the ink flowing smoothly and drip free, but Waterman had the idea that the ink would flow better with the combined use of gravity and air, and he was right.
Man didn’t stop there and thank goodness he didn’t. Although I have had my share of exploding ink pens in my pockets or bags, I must say that today’s gel pens, smooth ink pens, rubber barrel pens, and now the pen that you do not even hold with 3 fingers has really changed the way we put words down on paper.
Schools are getting very open to students bringing their laptops to school to take notes, but many students will tell you, there is nothing like taking notes with pen and paper.
The relationship between a student or an employee and how they feel about their pens can get testy. How many times have you put your name on your pen to keep others from taking it? How many times have you said, “wow this pen really writes good”.
Pens are used as swag at social events to advertise. Businesses love to have their names splashed across pens.
The next time you are in a bank, look at the pen. The next time you check into a hotel, look at the pen.
Pens also cause us to be a little forgetful when they are not ours. How many times have you seen them chained to something so you don’t walk away with it? Yeah, they are tools that are with us more than we care to think about, until we need one.